Neil's Puzzle Building Blog

Chip by Hiroyuki Oka

Chip was created as a Christmas Present in 2007 for the Karakuri group members by Hiroyuki Oka. It's name comes from the small 'chip' of wood which is stuck to the top of the box by a magnet. This is the last of the Puzzle boxes Derek Bosch recently lent me to solve.

Chip by Hiroyuki Oka

Chip by Hiroyuki Oka

Here is what Hiroyuki Oka has to say about this puzzle box:

This is one of the Secret Boxes. At first, you need to move a device to open the box.. But you can’t see the mechanism from the outside. Maybe you can find the place of the device with the attached small wood plate.

Made from Walnut, Katsura Agathis, Rengas and Magnolia, there's a lot going on in this box. The inlay is nicely done, and adds detail to an otherwise plain box. The checker board chip made from a number of small cubes laminated together is a nice touch as this didn't have to be such an ornate part of the puzzle. The box is a slightly squashed cube measuring approximately 3.5" x 3.5" 2.75".

As the description hints, there is a hidden mechanism in this box, and the small chip attached to the box is the clue to finding it. There's nothing hidden about the fact that the chip is held in place by a magnet as its visible when you flip the piece over.

Initially, none of the panels on the box will move at all, so whatever is keeping the box locked needs to be moved before anything else will happen. Having had a few other puzzles in the past where magnets have been used, I tried all sorts of ideas like flipping the piece over to repel the magnets, hoping this might move the device and let me open the box, but I was having little success.

With a closer inspection of the box, and a lot of searching I found what I was looking for and what the description hits at. After that it was a fairly simple sequence to open the box requiring only 5 moves.

I think I spent around 20 minutes on this puzzle to open it and while I do like it, it's not one of my favourites. The walls of the box are just a little too thin for my liking, to the point that the base has a degree of flex if you press it, even gently, with your fingers. (And most people familiar with Japanese puzzle boxes will use several fingers and press gently while pushing panels to see what moves.)

A nice box, and I am grateful to Derek Bosch for lending it to me so I could solve it.

P.S. Happy 4th of July to all my friends reading in the US. American flag


Free Dial by Shiro Tajima

Free Dial by Shiro Tajima was his Karakuri Group Christmas Present in 2005, and is another of the puzzle boxes Derek Bosch recently leant me.

Free Dial by Shiro Tajima

Free Dial by Shiro Tajima

The description of this simple looking box is anything but plain. I love reading the descriptions the designers give their puzzles. So often it reveals either something about the puzzle, or the designer.

Actually in this tiny box is loaded the enchanted power! Try! Let's turn the red dial in the front of the box. What happened? Probably it will be fantastic things. You might have a romance, might receive a message from somebody that lives far off in the Universe, or...?

Made from Japanese Raisin tree, Chanchin and Walnut, this box measures approximately 2 3/4" x 2 1/2" x 2 1/2". The big red button on the front is fairly appealing, but no matter how hard you push it's not going to depress. When Derek gave me this box I assumed that the slightly wider plate was the top, however the Shiro Tajima's page on the Karakuri website shows it as the bottom. Personally, I think I prefer it as the top.

Free Dial by Shiro Tajima

Free Dial upside down

I'm giving nothing away by telling you that the button will spin fairly freely, and that the plate just slides off. There's no mechanism, no lock, nothing clever here. It just slides right off.

Free Dial by Shiro Tajima

Free Dial by Shiro Tajima

Unfortunately that really doesn't help much. You're left looking at a plain top to the box, and you can see the very top of the red dial. After playing on and off with this box, I wasn't having a huge deal of success. That said, I had a fairly good day of solving puzzles, having finally cracked the Box with a tree so I had picked this back up that night, and in an 'Aha' moment, saw how to solve this one. All in all I spent around 30 minutes puzzling over this box.

It's a beautifully simple puzzle, and as with most puzzles, you have everything you need in your hands to open it, if only you can think enough outside the box to see it. In this case, thinking on top of the box may help as well. The thing I like about this puzzle is that everything is on display. There is nothing hidden, so no clever tricks or hidden mechanisms that you have to feel your way around.

The opening of the box is quite special and rather unexpected. It could easily elude you unless you pay close attention to what you see, and for that reason I really like it. This is a great little puzzle and I highly recommend playing with one if you get the chance. Given that this was a Karakuri Christmas present, there aren't that many around, but it may appear at auction occasionally, so keep your eyes open.


Cube Box by Akio Kamei

Thanks to the kindness of fellow puzzler Derek Bosch, I have a host of new Karakuri puzzles on loan to test my puzzle solving skills. I'll be going through those puzzles and reviewing them as I go. This is the first in that series of reviews.

Note: This post has been modified from it's original posting to remove potential spoilers.

Kamei's Cube Box

Kamei's Cube Box front

Kamei's Cube Box

Kamei's Cube Box Back

This box was made as a Christmas present for Karakuri Club members in 2005 by Kamei, and has the code M-34 from the Karakuri catalogue. The box is made from Walnut, Keyaki, Rose-wood measuring just over 2" x 2" x 2".

The Karakuri information about the puzzle box says "
Kamei divided a cube into four triangular pyramids. Of course Kamei had to create a new way of opening it and the new mechanisms for this box only. At first Kamei imagined that each triangular pyramid should move radially. But Kamei gave up this design because the mechanism became too complicated. Finally Kamei decided on “Translation”.

I'm not sure how much that tells you about the box, but I always find it interesting to see how the designer describes his puzzles (or her, I'm not sexist here!)

The box itself looks great, and as with all of the Karakuri boxes that I have opened, the fit and finish of this box is excellent as you would expect from a Karakuri box. Initially there is no obvious movement from anything on the box, and no rattles to indicate a hidden mechanism. Given the way the outer panels have been designed, there's little to help you get a hold on the puzzle to start trying to move the panels. That mirror finish makes things tough.

Fortunately, the grooves between the panels are fairly deep, and allow you to get a purchase, to start checking for movement. Before too long you'll find a panel that moves, then another and another. The box expands slightly as you move each of the panels in turn, releasing the locks keeping the box closed.

Clicking the image below may show spoilers. Don't click if you don't want to see.

Kamei's Cube Box open

Kamei's Cube Box opened

After unlocking the box, it splits into two halves and in one Kamei has stamped his signature. It's a nice mechanism, and I dread to think what Kamei was trying to do originally that became too complex. One thing I have found is that putting the two halves back together to close the box is a little tricky. The fit between the sections of the puzzle is so tight and given how the panels are arranged, it's very easy to close one, which will prevent the lid from being able to be placed back onto the base.

This is a very nice box, and is typical of Kamei's work. Unfortunately, as this was a Christmas Present it is no longer available, so the only way to acquire one would be through a puzzle auction. If you get the chance I'd recommend it as it's not only a good looking puzzle, but a novel mechanism as well. Thanks again Derek for lending me this puzzle box.


Karakuri Small Box #1

When I won the auction on Puzzle Paradise recently for the Stickman Box #2, Robert was kind enough to throw a small extra into the package when he shipped it to me. He didn't mention what it was, only that he'd include a little extra for me to pass around at Puzzle Parties.

When to package arrived, I found buried amongst the packing peanuts a Karakuri Small Box #1.

Karakuri Small Box #1

Karakuri Small Box #1

There are a number of different versions of this particular box, with a different outer appearance. The internal mechanisms however are the same. This particular box is KK-1-3 and is made from Keyaki, Katura and Walnut.

This should be a really simple box to open. The information from the Karakuri group themselves is "At first, we produced around 10 works through trial and error to create "Karakuri Small Box Series". This was the most popular work among those works. If you know the solution, you can open it with only 3 moves. But, almost no one can open it without knowing the solution. We named it just "#1", so we wouldn't give you a hint with the name."

I have to agree, that this is a tough little box. It took me around 20 minutes to open over several weeks messing with it for a few minutes each night before I went to bed to open it. The solution is really simple, but only the first move is obvious. After that two clever little tricks are used to make opening the box a little harder.

I really like this box, and it brought a smile to my face when I finally opened it. The Karakuri small boxes are a great way to get an affordable Japanese puzzle box that not only looks good, but has enough of a challenge to slow you down.

These can be bought from a number of sources including directly from the Karakuri Creation Group or through Puzzle Box world or Puzzle Master .


Everyone loves Cake.

This time I have a review of the four Karakuri Cake Boxes, 1 through 4. I picked these up from PuzzleBoxWorld.Com a family run business specialising in puzzle boxes.

I am already a member of the KaraKuri Club, however these were at a good price, and I can't really say no to adding new puzzle boxes to my collection.

Each box is an inch wide by 2 inches long, so none of these are big boxes, and by Japanese measurements would be considered as 2 sun boxes.

In general all the boxes are superbly made, and each has it's own unique opening mechanism, making all of them worth having. None of them are difficult to open, requiring no more than 3 moves, so I had each of them open in less than a minute. If you like this style of puzzle, then I'd say they're worth picking up, but don't expect them to challenge you.

The first box entitled "Cheese Cake" is what I would consider the most 'standard' of the boxes to open. It follows the usual pattern of sliding end panels, and is fun for it's design more than it's solution.

The second in the series entitled "Fruit Cake", and it's easy to see why, is a little unconventional. At first, the lid will move a millimetre and no more. There seems to be nothing else which moves, and it leaves you wondering. After a short time exploring, you'll come across the solution. It's not a standard puzzle box, but does follow a fairly simple locking mechanism that is well enough hidden to keep people guessing.

Number three in the series is entitled "Chocolate Cake", and judging by the dark brown wood used, it would be a fairly rich cake at that. No huge surprises here, it's pretty standard and won't pose any real challenge to someone familiar with puzzle boxes. Again more fun for its looks than the challenge.

Finally we have "Marble Cake". The Zebra wood used in this box giving it it's distinctive look. This one had me stumped for the longest time. When you've been looking for and finding sliding panels, to find that none of the panels on this box move at all tends to throw you off the solution. I think this is my favourite of the four just because of the mechanism used. If you were only to buy one, I'd make it this one.


Some New Puzzles

This is the first puzzle review I've done here, as I've not made any real progress on my own puzzle, so I thought I should throw something up about the three Karakuri Christmas boxes I was lucky enough to get.

For those not familiar with the Karakuri group, they are a set of master puzzle designers in Japan who create exquisite puzzle boxes. Of all their work I have seen, from the simplest and cheapest of their works, to the most complex, all are superbly handmade from some beautiful woods, and will look superb in any collection.

I was lucky enough in the post Christmas lottery to get all three of the boxes I was looking for. They are "The Magic Hat" from Shiro Tajima; RL and Snake Cube from Hideaki Kawashima.

All three boxes arrived inside their own cardboard box, and sealed in plastic inside that box. It may seem strange but all three of these boxes are fairly large for puzzle boxes. RL is the largest at 7" cubed.

After opening these, I played briefly with each, but couldn't open any of them. With the exception of the Magic Hat, the others had a standard sliding panel mechanism, however they didn't open obviously.

RL was the first I opened, and it has a rather nice mechanism. Without giving anything away, there is a dual mechanism here that may throw some people off, making this more interesting to give to your friends to try. It took around 10 minutes for me to open this box, and it opens in 3 moves, so not a complex box by any stretch however it is a very pleasing box with a good internal space. I also think there may be a second compartment in this box, so I will play with it more to see if that is the case. The contrasting woods used here with the dark main panels, and the light stripes gives the box a very strong presence. Mr Kawashima even added a note to say that with age, the dark wood will continue to darken which is nice, so you don't think anything is wrong with the puzzle. As someone who is working with wood, I know this and it's entirely natural, however not everyone may know that this could happen.

My box has a couple of lighter areas in the dark wood, which is probably a result of the piece of wood being used having been covered where the rest was exposed to light. You can see this in the picture, both on the top panel to the right and the top of the front panel. I have no issue with this, and it will darken within a short time, but it may upset some people as they may feel it detracts from the look. Personally, it's wood, I love that it's not a ferfectly uniform colour.

As a slight aside, Purpleheart which is a vibrant purple when first cut, will become a darker brown with age, so although a lot of puzzle designers and wood workers like it for it's bright purple colour, it is work remembering that it's not going to stay that way.

The Snake Cube was the second cube I managed to open however it really should have been the first. It has a fairly standard sequential sliding panel mechanism, however the final move caught me out. I expected the panels to continue to slide, however once the lock mechanism is released, the lid lifts off. It's very well seated so doesn't fall off, and you can move the box around quite easily without discovering this (as I did for about 10 mins). On my third attempt (and after having opened the RL box) I opened this since the final step is the same. The contrasting red and light woods used on this box give it a really pleasing look, and it's a nice piece to display. I feel all the works from Karakuri fall into that category though.

The final box I opened was the Magic Hat. This is a beautiful box, that seems to have no obvious way to open it. The Rabbit on the top is attached to a circular piece of wood under the lip of the hat rim, and will spin freely. Nothing else seems to move, and spinning the rabbit just makes him (or you) dizzy. I did eventually figure out how to open this box, after around 30 minutes, and was treated to a wonderful detail inside the box. The mechanism is remarkably simple, which I think adds to the effect when you finally open it. Of the three this is probably my favourite, as it has the best fun factor, and will be a piece that people want to pick up when they see it.