Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
11Jun/141

Lomino Cube 4

Back in 2012 I was fortunate enough to attend IPP, and during the Puzzle Party day where you can buy and sell puzzles, I was able to purchase myself a copy of George Bell's exchange puzzle "Lomino Cube 4". George is a regular reader, and often comments on my posts, so I'm waiting with interest to see what he thinks of this review!

Lomino Cube 4 by George Bell

Lomino Cube 4 by George Bell

So what is a Lomino? Well the puzzle pieces used are all "L" shaped, and were named "Lominoes" by Alan Schoen, or so George tells me in the introduction to the puzzle. Lomino cube 4 is a set of 13 polycubes which have to be packed into various 2D and 3D shapes. A complete set of lominoes of order n consists of all lominoes that fit inside an n x n square. This puzzle consists of two complete sets of order n=4 plus one extra L tetromino (of volume 4). In the accompanying booklet, George sets out ten puzzling tasks which he lists in roughly increasing order of difficulty.

The image above shows the state the puzzle is deliver in, with the two complete sets packed into the "accordion" grid with 4 gaps remaining. As I'm sure you can guess already, one of the challenges will be to put that last Lomino into the accordion along with all the other pieces. But that's not the first challenge!

The puzzle is made from laser cut parts which are all a good size. Each cubie is 3/8" and the pieces are cut from clear acrylic. As you will see in the photos, the clear pieces make for some amazing finished objects, and I'm sure if I had more time, you could create some really nice effects with the right lighting. The tray itself is cut from three 1/8" thick sheets of acrylic, and are joined together to give the striking sandwich appearance with the solution shape showing through in bright orange, against the royal blue of the rest of the tray. Of course it didn't need to be 3 layers thick, but George added a second solution shape on the back of the tray, adding to the challenges. And that's not all, there's a third solution tray shape on the back of the booklet. There's a lot of puzzling in these ten challenges!

One possible 8x8 solution

One possible 8x8 solution

The first challenge is to create an 8x8 square, using all the pieces. Given that there are several tens of thousands of solutions (814,732 in all), I don't really have a problem showing just one of them here. I have no doubt that any puzzler with a little time can find a way to fit the pieces into an 8x8 square. From there, the next challenge is a little more difficult. Create a 4x4x4 Cube.

One possible cube solution

One possible cube solution

Now, I may have exaggerated. There's over 3 million ways (3,391,045 to be exact) to construct a 4x4x4 cube, so again it shouldn't be too much of a challenge. This time it's a 3D solution shape and given the reasonably small size of the pieces, and their slick finish, you may find yourself knocking the pieces over as you work toward a solution. That may just have been me and my fat fingers though.

Another tray on the reverse

Another tray on the reverse

Another of the challenges is to fit all the pieces into the "quilt block" shape in the reverse side of the tray. Again there are hundreds of solutions (406 in total) so giving away just one isn't that much of a help. You'll have no real problems in finding a solution yourself. There are a few other challenges involving packing the pieces in various ways, the last of which is to create a 3D shape which looks like the Dome on the Capitol Building. George doing his part to help make the puzzle themed to the IPP destination that year.

Once you've solved all of those, there's a set of 4 additional challenges to really test you. I'll not spoil them, but it's fair to say that they will make you think, and really add to the challenges. One of the more interesting from my perspective is to pack all the pieces into various solution shapes, where no two identical pieces have touching faces.

Overall, given that I have found a liking for packing puzzles, the Lomino Cube is a very approachable puzzle, with many solutions to each of the challenges (mostly) so that you don't feel frustrated by not being able to solve one, and can easily lose many hours to the puzzle. It's also well designed that all the pieces can be fairly readily self-contained, and that makes it a good puzzle for traveling. If you don't have a copy, head over to George's website, and see if he has a copy available, you'll not be disappointed.



4Jun/143

One Four All & All Four One!

Not long after my wife and I moved to California, she got in touch with Mr Puzzle and ordered some puzzles for me for my upcoming birthday. Yes, I knew back then she was a keeper! One of the puzzles she decided on was One Four All & All Four One! designed by Arcady Dyskin & Pantazis Houlis. Themed around the Four Musketeers, I guess the look appealed to her, and I certainly wasn't disappointed when I opened my presents!

One Four All & All Four One!

One Four All & All Four One!

This is a very simple four piece puzzle, with a frame, with the simple goal of "placing all four cubes into the rhombus frame, in such a way, that the entire structure (frame and cubes) are interlocked (i.e. there are no loose parts)." Yes, I used simple twice in that sentence. Do I even need to comment on what that means?

One Four All & All Four One! info sheet

One Four All & All Four One! info sheet


Each of the cubes is 3/4" and the frame is 3 1/2" x 3" x 1 1/8". The cubes appear to be Maple, Lacewood, and two others probably native to Australia if I know Mr Puzzle. Sadly I can't find much more information about them, suffice to say they are contrasting woods. This particular copy was used by Pantazis as his exchange puzzle at IPP30. The puzzle was also entered into the design competition at IPP30, and received a top 10 place in the judging. As you can see from the info sheet, each of the cubes has been given the designation of one of the four Musketeers. It doesn't change the puzzle any, but keeps a nice theme flowing.

As you've probably guessed, the reason I've not written about this before now is because the puzzle is so simple. It's so simple in fact, that even with the solution printed on the other side of the card, it took me a very long time to solve. This is not just a logical challenge to understand how to interlock the pieces, but also a dexterity challenge to place all the pieces in the correct orientations within the frame. And trust me, juggling four pieces inside the frame at precise angles is anything but simple.


I don't normally talk about puzzle solutions, or show them, but in this case I feel I'm justified. Amusingly, on the solution side of the puzzle card, it states "Beware: Even knowing the solution, it is not easy, and some musketeer skill is needed!" Forget musketeer skill, a bloomin' Ninja would struggle with this one. I have no doubt that when Mr Puzzle made these, he tested the fit of each and every one of them. And I have to commend him for that as this is one infuriating puzzle. If there's an easy way to get the cubes in place I've not found it. Yes, I did solve it, and I took a photo to prove it. If you want to see it, click the link here.

It looks great, and it's one heck of a challenge. I doubt it will live on my shelves solved as it's so challenging to put together, but it is a great puzzle, and really deserves some recognition. You may struggle to find a copy, but if you spy one for sale or see it in someone's collection, don't pass it up. It is worth a crack.



2Jun/145

ODD Puzzle

Way back in 2011, when I was at a puzzle party here in the Bay Area, I had a play with a clever little puzzle, by Iwahiro called the ODD Puzzle. A simple three-piece packing puzzle, that was anything but simple. It's taken me three years, but I now have a copy of my own .... and I had to make it myself!

Odd Puzzle by Hirokazu Iwasawa (a.k.a. Iwahiro), made by TheJuggler

Odd Puzzle by Hirokazu Iwasawa (a.k.a. Iwahiro), made by TheJuggler

Back when I first saw the puzzle, the only copy available was a version by Philos. It was made from Beech and measured 4.7" x 4.7" x 3". The fairly plain appearance hid a superb puzzle, that was the grand prize winner at IPP28. Now it's mostly sold out everywhere you look, and no real indication of when or if it will be available again. The only place I've been able to find it is at Puzzle Sport in Germany.

I played around with the copy at Stan's and really liked the puzzle. It was clever and really needed you to spend time playing with the pieces in the box to understand just how they interacted with each other, and what movements are possible. I was unfortunate that the puzzle was sitting in its solved state when I picked it up, and it was more of a challenge to remove the pieces for me. If I'd not seen the solution I think I would have required a lot more time to understand how it would be possible to get the pieces in there. I had mostly forgotten about this puzzle which if I'm honest is rather a shame.

The Facebook picture that started all this.

The facebook picture that started all this.

Fast forward three years, and I spotted a Craftsman copy of the puzzle made by Iwahiro on one of my friend's Facebook pages as his profile picture. (ed: There's a funny story there, but I'll come back to that.) Seeing that picture spurred me into hunting for a copy, and having failed, I asked a couple of my puzzle friends if anyone had a copy of the puzzle. Amusingly, the closest (geographically) to me had a copy of the puzzle, and agreed to lend it to me. A couple of days later, we met up and exchanged a few puzzles, had the obligatory play with a few new additions to each of our collections, and he left me with a copy of the ODD Puzzle, as well as a puzzle from his collection where a couple of glue joints had broken, that he asked me to fix for him.

Fairly quickly I took a host of measurements from the reference copy, and set about making a copy of my own. I really liked the look of the craftsman version with the 'core' having a different wood to the outer parts of the pieces so looking through my stock, I picked out some Lacewood and Yellowheart to make the pieces. Rather than describe the process in detail, the images below should show the highlights. (As ever, click for larger versions.)

Initial glueup of the pieces

Initial glueup of the pieces

Basic blocks cut

Basic blocks cut


ODD shapes, 'O' still too thick

ODD shapes, 'O' still too thick

Boxes cut, and ready for glueup.  Base pre-finished.

Boxes cut, and ready for glueup. Base pre-finished.


Box glued up, unsanded and still no finish yet

Box glued up, unsanded and still no finish yet

Finished!

Finished!


Of course as you can see, when you're making one, it's not a lot more work to make two, or three, so I made three copies. When I was posting pictures, on my own Facebook pages during the build, I was contacted about buying copies, so I'm glad I made extra. One interesting build fact is that I pre-finished the bases before I glued up the boxes. The reason being that I was going to be unable to finish the inside of the base once the box was glued together. One benefit to pre-finishing is that the glue won't stick to the finish, so the base will be truly floating. I also pre-finished the inside walls of the box before I glued on the strips that create the gap. Again, I wasn't going to be able to get a brush inside the box to finish it to the level I wanted, so I finished it first, leaving clear areas where I was gluing up the pieces so that the glue would stick.

Iwahiro's version, next to my copy

Iwahiro's version, next to my copy

As a quick comparison, the pieces for both copies are identical in size, and can be interchanged between the boxes. In Iwahiro's version he has mitred joints in the box with slip feathers for strength. I used a shoulder joint on my box and didn't add splines (a.k.a. slip feathers). I did however change the way the top of the box is made, extending my slats all the way through the sides, making that joint stronger, unlike Iwahiro's version where the slats are entirely inside the box. There's not real difference, just a choice I made.

A look at the bottom of the puzzle made from Chakte Viga

A look at the bottom of the puzzle made from Chakte Viga

My the boxes in my copies are made from Katalox with a Chakte Viga base. I think the contrast between the dark, almost black sides with the bright orange base looks great, but then I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't.

This was the first time I'd used the Beall Wood Buff system since I bought it. Fellow puzzle maker John Devost uses it on most of the puzzles he makes, and having used it now, I can see why. The finish achieved is incredible. It's a high gloss shine, which really makes the wood look great, and gives it an amazingly smooth feel. It also means that the pieces in the ODD puzzle slide against each other with virtually no friction. That means that the slick plastic sheet added in the bottom of Iwahiro's version isn't needed in the copies I made.

One of my friends commented that the only thing missing from my copy was the slip feathers on Iwahiro's box. I joked that I'd considered adding Holly slip feathers, but in the end didn't do so. (Now I didn't mention at the time that I didn't have a jig built that would allow me to create slip feathers in a box) All I can say to that now is ...

Different wood choices, and slip feathers added

Different wood choices, and slip feathers added

They're not quite finished yet, (and I'll update this when they are) but I've added the slip feathers, purely for the aesthetic of them, and rather than have them flat, I put them at an angle just to add detail.

I mentioned earlier that there was a funny story related to me making the puzzles. As I mentioned, I was prompted to make these having seen the picture on a friend's Facebook. After posting pictures of the copy I'd made, the friend who had the picture sent me a message asking if I could send him measurements of the puzzle, so he could make his own. He didn't have a copy, and seeing me making my copies kicked him into deciding he should make his own copy, since he'd been meaning to do it for a while. So, I was prompted into making a copy having seen his photo, which prompted him ... Well it amused me at least!



29May/141

A few changes and things you may not even have noticed

WordPress

This will be a rather short post, since it's not a puzzle review but rather one of my infrequent general ramblings. Many of you won't notice a lot of the work that goes into maintaining the blog as it's pretty mundane stuff like making sure WordPress is up to date, and the latest security fixes are applied. All rather dull, and uninteresting for most of you.

Recently I've been making a number of updates which you may not have noticed, but I hope will become useful. Quite a few people have asked if I allow people to register with the blog, allowing them to get notifications of new posts, and to possibly allow access to some subscriber only content. Up till now, I've not really had anything like that, but there are a few pages lurking around that you don't see, and I have kept for my own info, like a Puzzleography of the puzzles I've made, details about the number of copies, woods used, who bought them and the like.

So in the last few days, I've finished adding all the pieces of the puzzle to allow you to register with Puzzling Parts, and login. Once you do, you'll see a couple of new menu items will pop up along that top bar. And one of those is the records I've been keeping about the puzzles I make. It's still a little bit of a work in progress as I clean things up, but you might find it interesting.

As always, feel free to leave me comments and suggestions below. I do try to respond to everyone that gets in touch.

Filed under: Random Musings 1 Comment


27May/140

Penta Beams

Oskar van Deventer has been at it again, and this is the latest (well latest published as far as I know) design from the incredible puzzle generating mind of the Dutchman. This time it's an intersection of six pentagonal sticks to form a pyramidal shape. The goal is to take the sticks apart, and put them back together again.

Penta Beams by Oskar

Penta Beams by Oskar

3D printed by Shapeways, the pieces are dyed into six bright colours (plus black and white) and have a solid feel to them. the trapped powder inside each stick really adds weight and a feeling of quality that can sometimes be lacking in Shapeways printed materials. The puzzle measures approximately 3.5" tall once assembled, with each stick being 3.5" long with a 7/8" cross-section.

The sticks just keep on holding.

The sticks just keep on holding.

The fit is perfect, and each of the sticks holds the others at the right angles all the way until the last two pieces. That certainly makes this a much more enjoyable puzzle to play with, as you don't feel like you're fighting your own fingers and wrestling with a dexterity challenge.

Six pentagonal pieces

Six pentagonal pieces

There's one key piece, followed by five notched sticks which must be removed in sequence to take the puzzle apart. While it's not trivial after the pieces are mixed up, I'd say that this is certainly an approachable puzzle for most people. Having taken it apart, and mixed the pieces, then left them alone for a while, I was able to put it back together in around 20 minutes. Now, I'm no expert in this style of assembly puzzle, but it was both fun and a good level of challenge for me.

Penta Beams is available from Oskar's Shapeways shop if you'd like a copy of your own.



22May/140

Cast O’Gear

It's been a while since I reviewed any of the Hanayama puzzles, and I have quite a few to get through, including a few of the newer puzzles. The Cast O'Gear though is one from my early puzzling that I remember solving having been given a copy by my Dad. Designed by Oskar van Deventer, and originally named Sunflower, this was entered into the IPP Design competition back in 2001 where it received an honorable mention. In 2002, Hanayama produced this version under the name Cast O'Gear.

Cast O'Gear in the starting position

Cast O'Gear in the starting position

The antiqued Bronze look of the puzzle seems to have people divided about its appearance. I personally like it. It's a fairly average size for a Hanayama puzzle, measuring in at 3" at its widest, by 3.5" tall and 1.5" deep it's a solid puzzle although not too heavy for its size. The goal is to separate the two pieces by following the step maze to the exit.

In its starting position above, there are a number of key features that help with solving the puzzle. The small triangle on one face gives both direction and orientation information about the cube. and the indents on the 'gear' allow for orientation of the gear relative to the faces of the cube. One additional piece of information not visible in the photograph, is the arm which is inside the cube has a hole in it, giving the ability to create a visual reference for each arm.

The exit to the puzzle is on the opposite face of the cube, and the cutaway on one of the arms can pass through a corresponding groove in the face of the cube, when it has been aligned correctly. There are 120 possible states that the puzzle can be in based on which arm is inside the cube, the orientation of the gear, and which of the six faces the gear arm is inside. To make things a little harder, it's not possible to transition from all faces to all other faces. The cube is designed with a number of beveled edges to allow the gear to rotate, as well as a couple of sharp edges which prevent the gear from rotating. So often you think you're on the way to the exit, and find the path blocked by a sharp corner.

Each face also has a curved cutout in the central cross, which allows the gear piece to be rotated by 90 degrees. You can only move in one particular orientation though, governed by where the cutout is, so again you find that you may want to rotate the gear in one direction, however find that path blocked.

Moving the gear around the cube

Moving the gear around the cube

With some logical thinking and planning, this shouldn't be too tough a puzzle, however it's easy enough to get lost and go round in circles, trying, and re-trying the same paths, and making little progress. It had been a long number of years since I had solved this puzzle last, and it was certainly no walk in the park. I spent a good half hour just fiddling before realising why certain moves were blocked (must have been having a slow day) and then setting about to find the correct path to the exit. By checking the orientation that the gear needed to be in to allow it to be removed from the cube, then working back through the possible rotations and moves between faces, the path was easy enough to navigate, despite needing some paper and pencil to plot the moves in reverse then execute them.

Solved, with the gear removed.

Solved, with the gear removed.

There are a minimum of 16 moves needed from the starting position to separate the two pieces (if my counting is correct), however as with any maze, you may end up taking far more moves by the time you take into account the dead ends and back tracking that is likely to end up in the solution path.

There are lots of puzzle shops where you can buy your own copy, and it's available on Puzzle Master as you might expect. If you don't have a copy, I highly recommend it, as it's a great fiddle toy, that you can spend a lot of time just moving the gear around the cube, and not really trying to solve the puzzle.