Hercules, or the 22nd Labor of Hercules, is a Jean Claude Constantin puzzle which he used as an exchange puzzle at IPP 22 where he made copies in wood. This version was made by Bits and Pieces and was available from Puzzle Master.
This copy of the puzzle measures 4.75″ x 4.75″ x 0.6″ with machined aluminium pieces, and a plastic tray. The anodising on the aluminium pieces makes all but the black piece stand out against the black plastic tray, so this is an attractive puzzle sitting on a puzzle shelf. The pieces are accurately milled, and fit the tray well, with little additional room beyond that needed to solve the puzzle.
For me, the plastic tray is pretty poor. In my copy it’s not very well made, with a number of small lumps of plastic around the inner edge of the tray, and while not flimsy, it does feel cheap next to the aluminium pieces.
As both Brian and Gabriel have pointed out the finish on the aluminium pieces is pretty poor. There are some very noticeable milling marks on all the pieces, and the anodising process has left some uneven colour, which is most noticeable on the blue piece. I have a number of metal puzzles which have been coloured this way, and the is probably the poorest example I’ve seen. Not much to ask to have the pieces finished to a slightly higher standard.
That aside, the puzzle is well made to tight tolerances, and as such, the puzzle solving experience is not affected. I do have one small gripe here though. The puzzle comes in a cardboard box which exactly fits the tray and no more. That means that the puzzle comes shipped in the solved state. I would be fine with that, however inside the cardboard box, the puzzle is in a sealed plastic bag, with the solution, face up, on top of the pieces. Really if you want to solve this one yourself, ask someone else to unbox it for you, and hand you the pieces and tray separately, as there’s no easy way to even open the box upside down and have the pieces fall out so you can solve it ‘unseen’.
That aside, the solution provided is particularly inelegant. Much like both Brian and Gabriel, I found an alternate and much more elegant solution to the puzzle, which I believe to be the originally intended solution from what I have been able to see of Jean’s exchange picture. So if you find yourself unable to avoid seeing the solution the puzzle is shipped in, I’d say try for this alternate solution, I think you’ll prefer it anyway!
Overall this is a good copy of the puzzle, and for the price you really can’t argue. Well worth picking up a copy as it’s a great little puzzle, and not too challenging that you’ll find the satisfaction of a solved tray packing puzzle before you pull out all your hair.