Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
11Jan/1311

Rhombic Maze Burr

At IPP32 in Washington DC, Derek Bosch unveiled his latest puzzle design, the Rhombic Maze Burr or RMB for short, and took names of people who were interested in ordering a copy. I've been fortunate enough to have both of his prototypes to play with for the last few months, and it's about time I let you see them.

The large and small RMB's side by side.

The large and small RMB's side by side.

If you're familiar with Kagen Schaefer's Maze Burr then this might look a little familiar to you. Indeed it's a very similar design, but Derek has taken it one level further by transforming the frame from a cube into a much more complicated Rhombic frame. That means that the number of moves to open the puzzle can range anywhere up to 350+ moves.

The goal of the puzzle is to slide the plates and work toward removing the plate which has a slot cut to allow it to be removed from the frame. The plates are dual layered, where the top layer moves in one axis, and is connected by a pin to a lower plate which moves in the orthogonal axis. The lower plate has a pin screwed into it which runs in the maze tracks cut into the top plate. As you move the bottom plate, it sticks out through the frame, preventing the adjacent plate from being moved in that direction. To be able to solve it, you often need to think several moves ahead to make sure you don't block your progress. It's much simpler than it sounds and the video should show things much more clearly than I can describe them.

With the same set of plates, much like the Maze Burr, the way the plates are arranged changes the number of moves required to solve the puzzle. Initially Derek had two sizes of the puzzle available, the small and large as seen above. Derek was also offering two different materials, having both a fully 3D printed version, and one with Acrylic plates. Add to that a possible option to change the colours to whatever combination you wanted, and it's an attractive offer. The large puzzle measures around 4" at it's widest, and the small is around 3". Both are a good size however I'd say given that I have reasonably large hands I prefer the larger size.

Having been able to play for a while I can say that both versions work exactly the same, so the size doesn't change anything. With the larger fully 3D printed version, the friction between the plates initially was making it a challenge to slide them, however as the plates rub past each other they quickly become much smoother and I didn't find it to be a problem. Given that I was the first person to really play with this copy, I had some breaking in to do. In some regards it may have been helpful since Derek had configured the larger maze in one of it's harder configurations so when I found a stiffer plate it tended to mean I was moving in the right direction. With over 300 moves (assuming I didn't backtrack) it was quite a challenge, but after 4 months of playing I did finally solve it. It's an epic challenge, but certainly possible. With logical thought and analysis of what needs to be moved, you can continue working in the right direction.

The small version showing how the pieces move.

The small version showing how the pieces move.

The smaller version was configured in a much more manageable setting with around 50 moves required, and I was able to solve it in around an hour. Learning from the simpler configuration I was able to apply that to the more complicated setup as the same principles apply. Of course if you get entirely stuck, you can unscrew the pins and always reset the puzzle so you're not going to be stuck.

The large RMB with two plates removed to be reconfigured.

The large RMB with two plates removed to be reconfigured.

Since Derek gave me these versions to play with, he has been hard at work and is now able to make the mazes scalable, and has also etched letters into the frame and maze plates to make it much simpler to describe how to configure a particular maze. These modifications will be available when the puzzle goes into production later this year. The puzzle will come with a booklet containing around 50 configurations for the puzzle, and I know Derek has done analysis with 5 additional exit plates although there are no plans at this point to include the additional exit plates. The puzzle has been computer analysed producing 20 Terabytes of data so I can assure you there is no shortage of configurations to keep you busy!

One thing to note is that as you can see, with the Shapeways 3D printed frames the white discolours reasonably quickly and can end up looking quite dingy. One option is to dye the frame a darker colour which should help. Derek has also hinted to me that he may offer a DIY version of the puzzle which would be cheaper, but there's no details about what that would be at this point.

From the photograph above showing how to reconfigure the plates, you can see that the puzzle is hollow, so there is empty space inside, however the opening to that inner space is rather small.

If you're interested in a copy of Derek's RMB, then let me know and I can pass on Derek's details to you.



16Oct/120

Two Keys

Two Keys is a laser cut dual layer maze designed by Jean Claude Constantine. Thanks to Puzzle Master for sending me a copy of this puzzle to review. This maze puzzle will have you guiding the Steel rivet through two mazes from the start square, to the exit hole.

Two Keys by Jean Claude Constantine

Two Keys by Jean Claude Constantine

As you can see this is a plain but good looking puzzle which is accurately cut from Maple Ply and Walnut Ply, with a top frame of perspex. Overall, the puzzle measures just 4" x 2.5" x 0.5" so this is almost a pocket sized puzzle. The perspex serves little purpose other than to hold the top Maple maze in place as you navigate the steel rivet through both mazes. The puzzle is very similar in concept to several other puzzles by Jean Claude Constantine such as the Laby Box which I have reviewed previously, and many of his lock style puzzles. Many of his puzzles are based on Gray Code and this is in a similar vein.

One of the dead ends

One of the dead ends

The Lower maze which is fixed interferes with the movement of the pin as you move the upper maze requiring you to backtrack several times to get to the exit. There are a number of dead ends in the maze, however most of these are fairly obvious so should not provide much of an extra challenge.

Two Keys Solved

Two Keys Solved

Puzzle Master ranks this as a Level 5 (Easy) puzzle, and I have to agree. This shouldn't take more than a few minutes to solve, although it's a good puzzle to give to new puzzlers since it's fairly easy to solve, and you can see everything in the puzzle. With no hidden elements, most people will be able to solve this quickly before they lose interest and feel fairly good about doing so.

Two Keys Alternate Challenge

Two Keys Alternate Challenge

If you're looking for an extra challenge, then try flipping the top maze section over once you've solved, it and re-solve with the maze in as seen above. This adds a slightly different challenge, although not any tougher than the original orientation.

This is a fun puzzle, and a good distraction to sit and idly fiddle with it, moving the pin back and forth through the maze. This is an affordable introduction to many of Jean Claude Constantine's puzzles, and a good place to start if you're looking for a simple challenge.



25Dec/113

Perplexus Epic

Yesterday I reviewed the Perplexus Rookie, and a long while ago, the Perplexus. Today it's the turn of the Perplexus Epic, the third in the series from designer Michael McGinnis. Given that my review of the Original Perplexus is regularly in the top five posts read on my blog each month if not the most read, clearly there's a lot of interest in the puzzles.

Perplexus Epic

Perplexus Epic

The Epic is the hardest of the series of Perplexus puzzles, covering 125 stages from start to finish. With four starting points, this time labelled as Practice A, B and C (along with the actual start) this is a serious challenge, and completing the track from the first stage all the way to 125 is a serious dexterity challenge.

The Epic is larger than the original Perplexus at 8" in diameter and really is a step up in difficulty. Sticking with a much sharper White, Blue and Grey colour scheme, it certainly seems as though this edition is no longer aimed at the younger market, but at the serious puzzler. It certainly looks good sitting on the top of my puzzling shelves. Ok, so it's the book shelves, that just happen to have puzzles scattered over them as well as the books.

Having spent quite a while trying to make it from the start to the end in one try, I can confirm that this is not an easy puzzle. There are many more moving elements in this edition, with more hump backed bridges, stairs, single walled tracks, drops, tunnels and jumps than either of the other puzzles that you're not going to make it through this one without some serious practice. When I first started trying to solve the Epic, I had real difficulty being able to get beyond the fifth section - the fourth being a see saw which has a drop at the end of it meaning you have to get the speed just right or you'll miss the landing. And that's not the most challenging obstacle in the puzzle.

The bottom of the Epic

The bottom of the Epic

One of the new challenges I found in the Epic is just finding an angle to be able to see the ball and the current stage of the puzzle at certain points as there's so much going on in there it's not always obvious how to hold the ball to get the best view to be able to progress, and you're going to have to be able to see where you're going if you hope not to fall off.

The Epic really lives up to its name as a seriously challenging puzzle, that you're going to get a lot of hours of play from. That is if you don't throw it across the room in frustration. While I don't recommend throwing it, I really do recommend picking up a copy. Amazon and Puzzle Master both carry the puzzle for a very reasonable price so you really can't go wrong.

Finally, let me wish all my readers a Merry Christmas. I hope Santa has been good to you and brought you many new puzzles to keep you busy through all the food that's sure to fill you to the brim.



24Dec/111

Perplexus Rookie

A long while ago, I reviewed the Perplexus by Michael McGinnis, and at that time, it was a day or two before the release of two new puzzles in the Perplexus line, the Perplexus Rookie and Perplexus Epic. It's been quite a while, and I've had them for some time, so I figured it was about time to review those two new puzzles. The first of two reviews will look at the simpler version, the Perplexus Rookie.

Perplexus Rookie

Perplexus Rookie

Much like its bigger brother the Rookie sticks to bold bright colours which will appeal to a younger audience, however it is a little smaller than the original at 6.5" diameter. It also has less checkpoints from start to finish with only 70 stages. Again, unlike its bigger brother, there's only one entry point to the maze rather than three, which certainly hints at this being a simpler version.

I'd certainly agree that this is much more of an introductory puzzle, and I was able to make it from the start to the end after only two attempts. Much faster than I was able to complete the original Perplexus! Despite the simpler nature, it's still a very fun puzzle, and I have to admit that I really enjoyed solving it. Since solving it initially, I've gone back and resolved it a number of times, which really is the mark of a good puzzle.

The end of the puzzle has a really nice touch, in that the finish is surrounded by a clear plastic bubble. Clearly it's there to prevent you just starting the ball at the finish and claiming you're done, but it also serves as a focal point when the puzzle is solved. Since the start and finish are back to back with each other, it really finishes the puzzle nicely.

If you have younger puzzlers who watched you play with the original, or you're looking to help with dexterity, this is a great item to have, and the kids will have problems putting it down. Amazon and Puzzle Master both carry the Perplexus line, so go on, pick up a copy!

Come back tomorrow to see what I have to say about the Epic.



27May/110

Magic Dice

Magic dice is another Puzzle Master designed and built wooden puzzle, where the object is to remove a small marble from the inside of the dice. Thanks Puzzle Master for sending me this puzzle to review.

Magic Dice by Puzzle Master

Magic Dice by Puzzle Master

The 2 4/5 inch cube is made from Rubberwood, and has countersunk holes on each side corresponding to the faces of a dice. As far as the magic part of the name goes, I have no idea where that came from. Inside the cube, a small marble is trapped, and runs along tunnels, forming a sort of simple maze. By looking through the holes in the sides, and tilting and turning the puzzle, you can navigate the marble through the maze until it can be removed through the side with the single hole, which is slightly larger than the others on the cube. The outer cube is well finished, and looks great. The inner 'maze' is a lot rougher, and the finish of the wood isn't as high as on the outside.

Getting the marble to that side is a reasonable challenge. There are no internal stops on most sides of the cube, so it's easy to have the marble run from one side of the cube to the other, without pausing anywhere in the middle. A gentle hand, and the occasional 'hop' is required to coax the marble to where you need it. There is an added challenge by not being able to see through the puzzle on all sides. Given that the holes represent a dice, there is no visibility in the centre of the puzzle on the #4 side for example.

Magic Dice Solved

The Marble removed from the puzzle

Puzzle Master rates this is a level 5 puzzle (easy) and I'd agree. It's not a tough puzzle, but can be a little frustrating as you watch the marble speed past where you wanted it to stop. I took around five minutes to remove the marble, and I suspect most people would be the same. Overall a fun puzzle, just don't expect it to keep you entertained for hours.



12May/111

Free The Key

Following on from my recent theme of maze based puzzles, this is a review of Puzzle Master's metal puzzle, "Free The Key", designed by Oskar Van Deventer and produced by Puzzle Master themselves. I'd like to thank Puzzle Master for sending me this puzzle to review.

Free The Key

Free The Key by Puzzle Master

At first glance this is a nice looking puzzle, and has a solid feel to it. It's much larger than I expected, at around 4.5" long by 2". The puzzle I received has some discolouration around the gold ring as can been seen in the photographs, which spoils the look slightly when close up, but sitting on the puzzle shelf you'd never know that.

The object is to remove the brass ring from the key, and then return the ring to its starting point. It seems like a simple enough objective, and really is. There are a few dead ends and more than one start point, as with any good puzzle of this type. The arms on either side of the puzzle interact with each other meaning you occasionally have to back track and re-orient the ring to get over the dual obstacles. It does mean that you have to look ahead to see which notches in the ring you'll need to have lined up before you progress too far down the key.

Where the puzzle is let down slightly is that the fit of the ring on the main shaft of the key is slightly loose. This leads to what I'd consider cheating where you can angle the ring so it is not 90 degrees to the shaft of the key, permitting the spikes on the key through a gap in the ring it was not intended to go through, simplifying the puzzle at points. This aside, it's a fun puzzle, and is well made for the price.

Free the Key partially open

Free the Key by Puzzle Master partially open

Puzzle Master lists this as a difficulty level 8 puzzle, however I feel that it should be lower, maybe around a 5 or 6. I solved this in under 10 minutes, both removing the ring and returning it to its starting point, and had little trouble in doing so. If you've not played with this type of puzzle before, it may provide more of a challenge, but a more experienced puzzler will have little difficulty with this one. If you're looking for a gift for a younger puzzler, I'd recommend this, and it's the sort of puzzle you'd have no worries about passing round.

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