Marcel Gillen’s Rolling Pin

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Marcel Gillen Hidden Mazes

Happy New Year to all my readers. Here’s wishing all of you a great year in 2014. I hope it’s a puzzling one, for all the right reasons. This year, I kick off the reviews with a set of rather special puzzles from Marcel Gillen. Over the next few posts, I’ll review some of Marcel’s hidden maze puzzles.

Marcel Gillen Hidden Maze Puzzles

Marcel Gillen Hidden Maze Puzzles

I’m very lucky to have been able to borrow these puzzles from a good friend who knows that I’ve solved all of the Revomaze puzzles, and suggested that I should play with the puzzles pictured above. He really wanted my thoughts on Marcel’s puzzles, given that they predate the Revomaze by quite some time, and have very similar puzzling aspects.

This review will focus on the large rolling pin, sitting on the stand in the photo above. This is probably one of the heaviest puzzles I’ve played with. If you think the Revomaze is heavy, weighing in at ~600g, this is in the ultra heavyweight class. The Puzzle is solid Aluminium, and weighs in at a whopping 1714g, yes it’s nearly three times heavier than a revo! One thing that I really had to get used to was working with the weight of this puzzle. It’s not easy to spend a lot of time working on something quite this heavy.

Marcel's signature initials on the end of the sleeve

Marcel’s signature initials on the end of the sleeve

End to end, the puzzle measures 15″, with the main body of the pin being 7.5″ long. The body of the puzzle is 2.25″ in diameter, and the handle is 1.25″ in diameter. On one end of the body Marcel’s signature initials can been seen on either side of the handle. As you might expect, they will serve some purpose as a reference when solving the puzzle.

I first wrote about this puzzle back in June 2012 after attending a local California Puzzle Party where I didn’t manage to solve it, but did make what I thought was pretty good progress. To my knowledge the puzzle hadn’t been opened by its owner, however at one point it was sent back to Marcel as it had a problem and needed to be fixed. When it came back, the solution to the maze was marked on one end of the handle. Seems like Marcel needed a little help opening it. Even with those helpful markings, it still hadn’t been opened. One of the requests I was given when I borrowed the puzzle was to clean off the black marker which showed the solution, so before I started playing with it again, that’s exactly what I did. After all, what’s the point in the puzzle if you already have the solution!

Taking on the challenge of opening this beast, I set about understanding what was going on. If you’ve read my comments about the puzzle previously, you’ll know that there’s a hidden maze which is etched into the handle of the puzzle. There’s a sprung pin on the inside of the sleeve which is used to traverse the maze. (Sound familiar to anyone?) As you start the puzzle, you can feel the tension as the pin rides up onto the top of the maze, and for anyone who is familiar with the Revomaze puzzles, that familiar click is present when you take a wrong turn and drop off the maze.

Unlike the Revomaze, there’s no quick reset back to the start in this puzzle, and when you make a mistake, you’ll have to navigate the traps all the way back to the start of the puzzle to try again. While other maze puzzles have walls which you can rest the pin against, there’s no such feature here. This is a one way trip riding on top of the walls. Think of it as one long bridge with no walls.

I should probably note that mapping the puzzle is a lot simpler than other hidden maze puzzles I’ve played with since you can use the traps to map the maze. By falling off, then carefully mapping the traps, you can figure out what’s left. With a single way back to the start, it’s much harder to map using such a method, so I do believe that this is much simpler to solve for anyone familiar with mapping techniques used for hidden maze puzzles.

After around an hour of figuring out and mapping the path, falling off many times along the way, I reached the end of the maze.

Having solved the maze once, this is the reward

Having solved the maze once, this is the reward

At least I assumed I had reached the end, as I was able to see the brass circle in the photo above. At this point I was a little disappointed that I was unable to remove the handle from its sleeve, to be able to see the maze, but was pretty happy that I’d made it to the end. Investigating a little more, I found that the circle was in fact a brass rod which came out of its hole…

The Brass rod as a prize for solving the maze once

The Brass rod as a prize for solving the maze once

The question now is what to do with that rod. My first thought was that if I removed it, then returned the puzzle back to its starting position, perhaps it would allow the pin to drop into the hole I’d left by removing the rod, and let me remove the maze that way. Given that Marcel is an expert designer, I assumed that he wasn’t going to let me remove something from the puzzle which would lead to it ending up broken, I set the pin aside, and returned the puzzle back to its starting position, hoping that it would now allow me to remove the maze. I was wrong, but I was in for a surprise.

When I got back to the start, the core traveled a little further back that it had been able to previously, and exposed a new hole at the other end of the puzzle. It was just the right size to accept the brass rod, so that’s exactly where I put it. Of course now I need to solve the puzzle again! So back to the start, I go ahead and solve the puzzle again. This time it takes me a much more respectable 15 minutes to get back to the end, but I still can’t remove the handle.

After engaging the old grey matter, I realise what is going on. The brass rod is creating a bridge at the end of the puzzle allowing the pin to cross over what would otherwise be a trap, and lets me remove the handle. It took me a good few attempts to get this to work properly, but fortunately Marcel hasn’t been too nasty, and has provided a ramp in the last trap of the puzzle allowing me to take as many attempts as I need to find and cross my new bridge.

Rolling Pin maze exit

Rolling Pin maze exit

Having finally removed the handle, you can see exactly what the brass rod was doing, creating a narrow bridge, at the same height as the main maze, allowing the pin to remain compressed and move onto the outer side of the handle, freeing the maze to be seen in all its glory.

The pin used no navigate the maze inside the sleeve

The pin used no navigate the maze inside the sleeve

Looking down the inside of the sleeve you can see the maze pin in the middle of the sleeve. It’s a sprung pin, fixed inside the sleeve and isn’t removable. Probably a good thing as it’s a fairly small part and would be easily lost. (I managed to drop the brass rod at one point, and watched it roll under the table I was sitting at. It’s big enough that I found it easily, but being non-magnetic, it could have been a problem!)

My fingers after solving

My fingers after solving

Given that the puzzle is raw aluminium, it had a rather interesting side effect, in that it left my fingers rather silver. Exactly the same thing happened when I played with it at the Puzzle party so I was expecting it this time. I’m not entirely sure whether there’s just some aluminium dust on the puzzle as a result of the pin rubbing against the surface, or whether the natural oils in my skin react with the aluminium. Regardless, I needed to wash my hands, and took the opportunity to clean the entire puzzle at the same time. (Ed: Don’t worry, no water was used in the cleaning of this puzzle.)

Rolling Pin ramps

Rolling Pin ramps

Having a close look at the maze, you can see the ramps which are etched into the walls of the maze to allow the pin to move from the traps back up onto the level of the maze. Pictured above are the two ramps at the start of the puzzle. One from the start point to enter the maze, and one from the end of the traps back to the start of the puzzle. While I’m not going to show the entire maze here, the small section you can see shows how the puzzle works. The Pin rides on the higher area of the puzzle, and the lower cut-out sections are the traps. This is where you end up when to take a wrong turn. As you can see, the puzzle is incredibly well made, and it has stood up very well to many years of use.

Overall this is a great puzzle, with many similarities to the Revomaze puzzles. Perhaps this is closest to the Green Revomaze puzzle if I were to draw a comparison, however this puzzle does pre-date Revomaze by many years and includes the feature that the maze must be solved not once, but twice in order to truly say that the puzzle is solved and remove the core. No chance of getting lucky in opening this puzzle!

What I found to be even more impressive is how you reset the puzzle for the next person. To reset the puzzle, simply take the brass rod, and return it to the deep hole at the start of the maze, then slide the handle back into the sleeve. The maze pin simply rides onto the handle, then drops back into the maze. Navigating back to the start takes a few seconds, and the puzzle is ready to be solved again. Very clever, and so simple.

I had a lot of fun playing with the rolling pin. There’s no gimmicks here, and the clever mechanism which allows the maze to be removed is very well executed and adds an extra challenge to the puzzle that I found to be very rewarding, especially after understanding what was required.

I’ll review the other two puzzles soon, so stay tuned for more of the Marcel Gillen Puzzles.

Revomaze Gold Extreme

This entry is part 6 of 11 in the series Revomaze

It’s been a while since I reviewed a Revomaze puzzle, and since the last time I talked about them, there’s been a couple of new puzzles released from Ashton Pitt. We’ve had a couple of special editions in the form of an Orange, and a Lime, and the final puzzle in the Series 1 set was released. That puzzle was the Gold, and was shipped almost exactly a year ago.

The Gold Revomaze

The Gold Revomaze Puzzle

I’ve already covered the basic puzzle in my first review of the blue, so for general information on the Revomaze puzzles, I’d suggest reading that post here.

The fifth and final puzzle from Revomaze in the Series 1 is the Gold. This puzzle, like the Bronze and Silver isn’t available as a plastic puzzle in the Obsession line, as it’s not possible to create some of the internals in plastic.

The Gold is rated by Revomaze as having a difficulty of 100/100 (extreme) and an estimated opening time of 250+ hours. The fastest opening so far is listed as 400 hours. It is described as a dynamic maze and is the hardest puzzle to be released to date from Revomaze. Only part of the puzzle is listed as being mechanical. There is also an algorithm, which needs to be solved in order to be able to open the mechanical puzzle. Each Gold is listed as being unique, and I’ll talk a little about that later.

If you’ve read the Silver review, you’ll remember me talking about the “not-a-canyon”, which was an area where the core was able to spin. Something we’d not seen in a Revomaze puzzle previously, and certainly had many of us scratching our heads as to how that could happen. Well Gold starts that way, and really doesn’t get much better.

Very early on in the puzzle, you’ll find yourself going in circles, with the occasional notch you can drop into. You may even find that from time to time that notch isn’t a notch, and becomes a path further into the puzzle. At first it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense, and if you’re lucky, within a short time, you’ll find yourself with the core as far out as you’ve seen it with any of your other puzzles, but there’s no dot, so you know you’re not finished. And let’s be honest, if the puzzle is rated as the hardest to date, you’d be a little upset if it was that easy.

So you’ve now got the core as far out as you can, but it’s not done much for you, and really at this stage you have little idea what you did to get it here. So you decide to go back to the start, and spend some time trying to figure things out. Of course, getting back is almost as much of a journey as getting to where you are!

The challenge here is to figure out what’s going on and understand what allows you to move from one ‘ring’ to the next. Like any other Revomaze, this puzzle can be mapped although you probably think that’s not true initially. As with any other Revomaze puzzle, I had to sit and map things out, and although it seemed like I’d need to do something special for this maze, it does map out the same as any other and I resorted to my usual Excel based map.

Now as I mentioned previously, the mechanical puzzle is only one small part of the Gold, and that is where many people on the Forums have expressed disappointment, myself included. The reason is that in order to open the puzzle, you need to solve an algorithm, in the form of a set of cryptic clues to be able to get a code which can then be applied to the puzzle to let you open it.

Sound complicated? Well the clues are certainly cryptic, and will need you to think so far out of the box that as of writing this a year after the puzzle was released, no-one has solved the algorithm to the satisfaction of Chris Pitt. That alone tells you all you need to know as far as I’m concerned.

For me, I found the algorithm to be very off-putting. I have loved the Revomaze puzzles from the first one I played with as they are challenging mechanical puzzles. Sadly the Gold is not a mechanical puzzle. It’s a combination lock. You get a code, enter it, and the puzzle opens. That may be over simplifying things, but at the bottom line, it’s exactly what we have.

Chris tried to create a puzzle which could not be opened by cheating, and wanted to have a puzzle were each and every copy was unique. The algorithm allowed him to do that, and with a minimum number of internal parts, each puzzle in the 250 puzzle run could be made unique. Sadly for me, and I know I’m not alone, that also took the Gold away from the original spirit of the puzzle.

When you receive the puzzle, and get the algorithm clues, you’ll also get a three letter code with the puzzle. When you register your puzzle with Revo HQ, you’ll need to send this code as part of the email. From there, you’ll receive another three letter code in return. These are the starting point for solving the algorithm and getting the solution code you’ll need to open the puzzle. Of course without understanding what’s going on in the puzzle, and how you’d apply the code to the puzzle you’re not going to get very far.

You’ll also get a warning that excessive use may damage the puzzle. Given that this was expected to be the most challenging puzzle, with over 250 hours of puzzling expected, what exactly is excessive use. It turns out that the warning was issued because there was some discussion about brute forcing the puzzle by trying every possible combination (in theory 25^3 or 15,625 combinations). I don’t think you’re going to damage the puzzle by trying to solve it, but perhaps trying 15k+ combinations is excessive!

There are clues and useful markers inside the puzzle for the observant puzzler, and there is a lot to learn in the puzzle. I lost track of how long it took me to open the Gold, however I finally opened my copy in August 2012, after playing on and off (mostly off) for eight months. I was number 7 to open the puzzle and there have been only 15 puzzles opened in total so far. Strangely enough the puzzles being opened are a little like busses. There are none opened for ages, and then four come along at once.

Revomaze Gold Open

Revomaze Gold Open

Having opened it, I think it’s fair to say that it is a challenging puzzle, and may well be the most difficult Revomaze released to date. There are certainly fewer people have opened Gold than any other Revo. I don’t think it’s my favourite in the series, and for me Bronze still holds that spot.

Oh, and there is no dot on the shaft if you were looking for one.

The review wouldn’t be complete without me mentioning a few of the issues that have been discovered since the puzzle was released. There have been a few puzzles which had to be returned to HQ for repair, and it is possible to get the puzzle in a state where it is jammed, and you can’t navigate through the puzzle. In most cases, this can be easily fixed without having to return the puzzle, but as with anything that may not always be the case. As with any of the Revo puzzles, excessive force is not required, and could damage some of the parts inside the maze.

I’ve spoken with many other people who have been working on the Gold puzzle, and many people have expressed opinions about their experiences. This puzzle is not for the faint of heart, and will test you far beyond any other puzzle in the series. Just be sure that you’re willing to spend a lot of time thinking and working on the algorithm before you take the plunge and get one. My personal feeling is that the Gold was a let down, and not the pinnacle of an excellent series of puzzles as it should have been. Chris I know has learned a lot from this, and will go on to bigger and better things I’m sure.

If you’re still working on the puzzle, and don’t want to know more, then I’d stop reading now. The remainder of the review is rather candid, and may reveal a few things about the puzzle that you might not want to know. Continue reading