Next up from my collection of 2012 Karakuri Christmas Presents is the Half-Finished Box from Hiroshi Iwahara. Fortunately, he did finish the box, and it's just that name which isn't complete.
I love the look of this box, and the wood is particularly nice. It has an almost greenish tint, which I'd normally be happy in saying is Lignum Vitae, however the wood is listed as being Shiuri Cherry. With deep strong grain and a wonderful colour I really like it. 3.25" x 3.25" x 3.25" in size, the outer box is a good size, and each of the panels moves smoothly as you'd expect.
Sadly this isn't a totally new work, and is something of a reproduction of his 2008 Christmas present "Confetto Box". There are two compartments to find, and finding the first marked 'A' is certainly easier to find. The mechanism has been slightly modified from the original to ensure that all 6 plates move to get to the hidden area.
The Second compartment has been stamped in the centre of the recess. Sadly neither of the two hidden compartments are very large, as the mechanism takes up so much space around the central core. It's a nice box, and good mechanism. If you don't have a copy of the Confetto Box then this is a good one to pick up if you can. If you already have the box from 2008, then you may be disappointed by this one.
Ninomiya's 7 Step Secret Box
My fourth Christmas Present was the lottery from this year which I was lucky enough to win, so added Ninomiya's Box to my collection. With over 60 years experience making puzzle boxes, Ninomiya's work is highly sought after, and for good reason. Known for his incredible Yosegi patterns, this box is a perfect example of the skill and mastery of the art.
The photographs, really don't do this work justice. Not only is the Yosegi beautiful, and perfectly crafted, the fit and finish of the box is incredible. It is near impossible to see the seams between the panels, and what looks as though it could be a seam isn't! All four sides of the box are decorated with the Yosegi, as is the inside of the box. I have no idea how much time went into making this, but of all the boxes it is the most detailed and in some regards most impressive of the puzzles.
Measuring 3" x 4.25" x 2.25", and made mainly from Katsura, this is a seven move box (I know you'd guessed that already right!) where both sides of the box move in the process of solving the puzzle. There is a lot more work in making a box where both sides move, and the normal is that only one will move. I was even more impressed when handing the puzzle to a friend and watching him getting stuck trying to solve it. Something I hadn't realised previously is that the sequence is keyed, and there are false paths in the 7 steps, so it game me even more respect for the work done on this box.
As an overall summary which I think applies to all of this year's Christmas presents, none of the boxes are challenging from a puzzle perspective, and as such many people have commented that they are disappointing from that regard. I have to agree to some extent, as there have certainly been more challenging puzzles to come from the Karakuri group, however these are not the most expensive boxes made, and are as close to 'mass produced' as you really get where the quality of craftsmanship is still so high.
I was fortunate enough to win the lottery and was able to purchase Ninomiya's box, and I'm really glad I did. It's one of the stand out boxes from those I received this year. I have only one more box to review, so stay tuned for that soon.
You may also be wondering why I'm including the boxes that each of the puzzles came in in my photographs. I'm not just trying to be artistic, but actually each designer has their own box style, so even before opening the puzzle box, you know who the puzzle came from. If you're a member and not familiar with the designers boxes, then maybe this will help serve as a guide for you.
Secret Base 2 was Hiroshi Iwahara's 2011 Christmas Present from the Karakuri Club. I didn't have him as one of my designers last year, but I was fortunate enough to be able to borrow this box to play with.
The Secret Base 2 as you might have guessed is based on the original Secret Base puzzle which I've not played with myself, but am aware of how the mechanism works. In this case, I think that partial knowledge may have made my solving of this box more challenging!
Made from Oak, Walnut, Birch and Bubinga this puzzle measures 3.5" x 3.5" x 3" and is beautifully finished as any Karakuri box is. The mechanism is wonderfully smooth, and the first movement seems almost magical as the pieces slide past each other. It's actually a very difficult puzzle to describe without giving much away.
With my knowledge of the original Secret Base, I found the first move fairly quickly, and even the next step didn't take me long to identify. After that however I was a little stumped. The final movement is rather unexpected and quite nicely hidden.
I've taken the photo above very carefully to give nothing away about how this opens, but it does at least let you see the movement of the pieces. Once open, there's a reasonable sized space inside and unlike the original Secret Box, there's only one compartment to be found in this puzzle.
Overall a nice box with an interesting twist. Well worth picking up a copy.
Firewood by Hiroshi Iwahara is another beautiful looking puzzle box available from the Karakuri Creation group. Living up to its name, this pile of sticks made from a number of exotic woods really does look like a bundle of firewood, wrapped with string ready to be sold.
The puzzle was designed for an exhibition with a "forest" theme. Created in April 2011 this is the newest box from Iwahara(at the time of writing), and is a really cute box. It's not the largest puzzle box out there, but is still a pretty good size at 5"x 4"x3.75". Sitting in your hand, the puzzle feels good, the rounding of each firewood log makes it very tactile, and you find yourself turning it round and round. Now this may be because you can't find out how to open it, as none of the logs in the centre of the puzzle seem to move and the outer logs are all glued together.
With over 10 hardwoods used in the puzzle, there's a great array of colours and textures, making this a real feast for the eyes. I know that at the very least there's Katsura, Oak, Rosewood, Zebrawood, Purpleheart, Bloodwood, Bubinga, Cherry, Black Ebony (big guess on the ebony) and Maple in there, based on my limited ability to identify woods from visual inspection. (Note: I may be entirely wrong, as there's no conformation from the Karakuri group on this, so it's all a guess)
I spent around 10 minutes poking and prodding the logs on this box before I found the trick, and the drawer popped open rather satisfyingly. It's not the most challenging puzzle box out there, but it does exude a charm which is hard to pass up. The 'lock' really is incredibly simple, and it makes me smile each time I close it, with the drawer pulling itself back into place, then pop it back out with the trick. Very simple, but hugely satisfying.
"When we tie up a belt or paper tape well, a knot that is called "Chiyo-Musubi" is completed. In Japan, it is said to be a lucky knot."
This fine looking box from Hiroshi Iwahara of the Karakuri Creation group is a sliding puzzle box with two hidden compartments requiring 19 moves to open both. The interesting point about this puzzle box is that the slides which conceal both hidden spaces cross one another, so the resulting mechanism is much harder to produce than a standard box. Iwahara notes that the shape of this particular knot is a Pentagon, but it is also possible to produce a Heptagon. He's not planning to make a Heptagon version as a puzzle box though.
Created back in April this year, and measuring 9.5" x 5" x 2.75" approximately, this is a big puzzle box, and it feels really solid when you're solving it. I don't exactly have small hands, and this box feels big to me when I'm working on it. I didn't do too well on my wood identification in the video, as the only thing I got right was the Walnut! So to correct that, the box is made from Walnut, Oak and Angsana, giving it the striking appearance. To look at it, you really can get the feeling that someone has taken a plank of wood and knotted it like a belt.
I borrowed this puzzle box from Derek Bosch (yes he has a good collection and has been very kind to lend me chunks of it at a time), so I'm not sure if it's just his copy or not, but the panels are fairly loose, to the point that when solving it, some of the panels would slide back to where I'd moved them from as I turned the box over in my hands. While it doesn't take away from the box, it can make it a challenge to open, as you have to be careful that panels don't slide around on their own as you move the box. Not realising that a panel slid back after you moved it preventing further progress can be a pain.
This is a really nice puzzle, and I have to admire the design, especially the ability to have pieces passing over and under each other to make a very slick puzzle. If I'm honest, it's not my favorite puzzle from Iwahara, but it's by no means a bad puzzle! It took around 10 minutes to open the box and find both hidden compartments the first time. Having gone back to it later, I can see that this could take much longer as the order you open the compartments does seem to come into play, so I may have been lucky the first time and opened them in the correct order.
Overall, a very nice puzzle and one which would certainly stand out next to other puzzle boxes, both for its size and striking contrast of woods.
I was very fortunate to be invited to the California Puzzle Party yesterday hosted by Stan Isaacs at his home. Having no idea what to expect, I packed up the Pagoda Puzzle boxes, and Stickman #2 and headed for Stan's house.
On arrival, the door was opened by Dick Hess, who was in town, and was one of the reasons that the puzzle party happened when it did. My fiancée Jen and I were ushered into Stan's house, and shown through to one of the back rooms which was a little larger than the hall we were standing in.
Walking into the room, from floor to ceiling are shelves with books, and puzzles. One wall which had two full shelves, and many more puzzles scattered through the books, was almost entirely Stewart Coffin originals. Needless to say I picked up a good few and had a go at solving them during the day, including a Pennyhedron, Scorpious, Diagonal Cube, The Reluctant Cluster and a Hexagonal Prism.
Looking around the room, it's difficult to know where to start. There is a shelf of Karakuri puzzle boxes, A Topsy Turvy mounted on the wall, various co-ordinate motion puzzles on stands and sitting on top of puzzles, and desks with assortments of puzzles littering them. As I look around in wonder, not knowing where to look, or what to pick up, Dick Hess comes over and hands me a small box and tells me it's a small memento of the day.
I'm now holding a really elegant, but what looks like overly complicated disentanglement puzzle, very much of the tavern puzzle style. Thanking Dick, I played for a few minutes without making much progress, before putting the puzzle back in its box to play with in my own time, so I could talk with the increasing number of puzzlers turning up, and try my hand at a few of the puzzles sitting out. Before doing that however, Dick had a number of puzzles of his own design with him that he was selling to anyone who wanted them. I decided to pick up his IPP28 puzzle "The Family Puzzles", "Hybrid 54 - Loop and Twister", and The Yak Puzzle.
Reviews of all of the puzzles from Dick Hess to follow later, when I've had time to sit down and play with all of them.
On top of one of the desks were a number of burr puzzles, including a maze burr. Also on show was the complete set of Wunder Puzzles from Eric Fuller. Having had no luck with #2 myself, I had a play with the original, which I was able to solve fairly quickly. The three follow a nice progression in complexity, and it certainly helps to have solved the first two before trying the third. Guess I may have to go back and pick up the other two as they are all really nice puzzles. Let's just hope Eric has a few left!
Also sitting on the table was a copy of Rojer's "Alles Rojer".
I have to admit, I spent quite a lot longer playing with this dexterity puzzle than I care to admit, and I did not solve it. To be fair, I felt a little better when no-one else there solved it either. Getting past the first obstacle seems fairly straight forward. To get past the second needs some sort of puzzling zen which I did not possess.
Things by this point were getting fairly crowded in the room I had been in as a number of other puzzlers had turned up, including Derek Bosch, Ray Stanton, Bill Darah to mention a few. Jeff Chiou from MagicPuzzles.org also walked through the door at one point, so it was nice to talk to a fellow blogger, and to meet Jeff in person, having read his blog for some time before starting my own.
Chuck Sommerville of Chips Challenge fame also arrived at one point, sporting the same shirt as can be found in his latest came Chuck's Challenge on the iPhone. The likeness is uncanny!
Just standing talking with everyone there, and hearing about their experiences whether from designing puzzles, solving, or collecting was fascinating, at least to me. Jen on the other hand was less impressed.
As time was flying by, I was told I should really see the rest of the house, as there were many more puzzles elsewhere. And that is an understatement. Stan showed me out to "The Puzzle Room". The photos will say far more than I can (and sorry they're not better but I forgot to lift my camera and was stuck using my iPhone to take pictures) but if I thought I was lost previously ...
I could have spent weeks in this room. Boxes of puzzles from floor to ceiling (nearly 8' high), and only enough space to walk around the central stack of boxes. From talking with Stan, this is the result of 25 years of puzzle collecting. There are some amazing puzzles tucked away in this room, and I had only a short amount of time to spend, however there were Charles O. Perry puzzles in here, Hanayama Cast series, IPP puzzles going back many years, and in a random box I opened, a number of Karakuri Christmas presents including Iwahara's House with Trees box. It's an amazing insight into Stan's collection, but really I was only able to scratch the surface of what he has hidden away.
Coming back into the main house, and exploring more of the puzzles sitting around I cam across a collection that most puzzlers dream of. A complete collection of Marcel Gillen's Chess Pieces. Not only were these just sitting next to the fireplace, but they were free to play with, and I couldn't resist. They are a stunning set, and really beautiful to open. I doubt I will ever own a set of these, but at least I have been able to play with them.
With the tour of "The Puzzle Room" complete, and nearly four hours having passed since I arrived, I went back to playing with a few of the other puzzles Stan had out. In the main living room, there were a number of Karakuri puzzle boxes, which I spent some time playing with, including "The Coffee Cup by Akio Kamei, and "Three-cornered deadlock" by Hideaki Kawashima. So many puzzles, it really was hard to choose what to try to solve.
One puzzle I spotted sitting was the "Odd Packing Puzzle" by Hirokazu Iwasawa (a.k.a. Iwahiro). Having read about this puzzle on Brian's Damn Puzzle Blog I had to have a go for myself. Having played with the puzzle myself, I really like the design of this puzzle. It's a good honest puzzle where everything is on show, and there's nothing hidden. There are only three pieces and the idea is to get all of them into the box as shown in the picture I took. To be able to get more than just one piece into the box, you really have to spend time understanding how the pieces can move inside the restricted space you have. And it's not obvious at first how they can all move. There are many more degrees of freedom in that tight space than you may think at first, and when you finally understand how things move, this puzzle is a joy to solve.
While playing with various puzzles, I picked up a three piece aluminium burr. This was an unconventionally notched burr which is only solvable using co-ordinate motion. While playing with this, Ray Stanton who happened to be talking to Jen about mobile phones at the time said he had one of his own design in the car with his having no internal voids if I wanted one. Of course I said that would be great, and gladly accepted his offer. When I asked him what he wanted for it, he shrugged it off saying he didn't want anything, "Maybe at another party" he says. Yet another case of puzzlers being a generous bunch and such a great group of people to spend time with.
Before leaving there was one last puzzle I spotted sitting on the table. Tanacube, by Bill Darah (who was standing next to me) was sitting on the table, and I couldn't resist trying this puzzle. For more information, go to the Tanacube webiste, for all the background. The copy Stan has is the beautiful six wood version, with tight fitting pieces, and a really solid construction. The six pairs of pieces form the cube in this very challenging puzzle. What makes it harder is that there is a unique solution in which adjacent pieces always have different colors. The state the cube was in when I got it was this unique solution, and getting it back to that state is no simple task. Another wonderful puzzle, that I am very pleased to have been able to solve.
While playing with the Tanacube, Bill pulls a bag out from a pile of things he brought, and promptly asks the room "Is there anyone who doesn't have one of these?"
What he's holding is his IPP exchange puzzle from IPP29, Shades of Donuts. Bill then goes on to explain that he found this puzzle in a dollar store, and decided to buy it and take it home, as the back of the box promised an interesting logic puzzle. Getting it home, he found out that there was no puzzle, just a tray of donuts, and some text on the back saying that there was a puzzle. So Bill set about creating the set of cards on the right in the photo which was the set of rules for each puzzle. In total there are 60 'challenges' on the cards making for an interesting exchange puzzle. The real work here was all the time Bill put into creating the cards, and not the physical puzzle itself. Amazingly, Bill notes that there are a number of mistakes on the original cards, from the 2009 IPP, which he submitted after finding them agreeing that working on such a puzzle at 2am is not the best idea.
I'd like to say thank you to Stan Isaacs for hosting the party, his hospitality and collection were both superb. I hope to be invited back at some point in the future as there were so many puzzles, it just isn't possible to enjoy them all in the few hours we had.