Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
30Apr/131

Blockhead

I have gone through a period in my puzzle collecting and solving where I have felt quite good about packing puzzles, so when Brian Menold over at Wood Wonders offered copies of the Blockhead puzzle designed by Bill Cutler, I couldn't pass it up, especially given his choice of woods.

Blockhead, designed by Bill Cutler, and made by Brian Menold

Blockhead, designed by Bill Cutler, and made by Brian Menold

Blockhead is a four piece packing puzzle which at first glance looks pretty innocent. 4 cubic pieces put into a square tray, what could be simpler? Brian has made this copy using Pear pieces in an Oak tray with Paduak splines. It's a really good looking puzzle and it's a big puzzle too. Measuring in at 4.25" x 4.25" x 1.75" the pieces are big when you're playing with them, and the whole puzzle has a really solid feel to it.

By now you'll have realised that any time I state that something is simple, it couldn't be further from the truth. Removing the pieces from the frame having up-ended it, you'll quickly realise that the nice, square, regular appearance of the blocks in the solved state was rather misleading.

Blockhead pieces

Blockhead pieces

As you can see, the blocks are more like the type of saw cuts I made as a child playing in my grandfathers shed, than the type of absolutely square sides that puzzle makers strive for. Not only are the pieces anything but square, but the inside walls of the tray are also not square. They are as slanted as the pieces, and will clearly play a part in getting the pieces back into the tray. So now that you understand what makes this so puzzling, it's easier to see what makes it such a good puzzle.

This isn't an overly difficult puzzle, but will provide a good solving experience and there are some parameters which will help you narrow down the possible combinations, meaning it's not out of the realms of a determined person to solve before too long.

Brian's work is superb, and each new piece I buy from him, the quality seems to be better and better. Given the prices he asks for this work, even the limited run puzzles, you'd be hard pushed to find a better copy of many of these puzzles elsewhere. Not to mention that Brian also threw a copy of a diagonal burr into the box along with my order, so there was an unexpected pleasant surprise when I opened the box.

Allard, Kevin and Oli have both written about the Blockhead, so go read their views too.



8Mar/133

Lean 2

During IPP 32 last year, Dave Rossetti presented another Stewart Coffin tray packing puzzle as his exchange puzzle. Numbered #255 in Stewart's numbering scheme, this was isn't made by Stewart himself, but by the woodworking master Tom Lensch. Given that I have a number of puzzles made by Tom, and I thought I was getting better at these packing puzzles, it seemed like a good idea to pick up a copy of this one.

Lean 2 with the four pieces

Lean 2 with the four pieces

As you can see this is another simple four piece packing puzzle. The additional challenge here is that the tray is two sided, meaning twice the puzzling fun ... or frustration. Tom has crafted this using four different woods for the pieces, Zebrawood, Marblewood, Canarywood and Bubinga (I'm guessing on the Bubinga) with a Walnut framed tray. Measuring in at 5.5" x 5" and nearly 1" thick, it's a good puzzle to work on, and not too big that it can't be slipped into a bag and taken with you.

Given that I picked this up in August, you may ask why it's taken so long to write about. Well as it happens, I solved the first side fairly quickly. It took me several hours over a month or so as I'd pick it up and fiddle, then put it back down. I was fairly happy with that and feeling quite confident so moved on to the second side, and promptly failed to make much progress.

Lean 2's second side with the four pieces

Lean 2's second side with the four pieces

I was a little disheartened when a good puzzling friend sent out an email asking for people to send him all the solutions they'd found for this puzzle. The suggestion was that there were a couple of false solutions that could be made. Well I got back to it and kept puzzling. After another couple of months, and several emails back and forth with my friend, I'd sent him 4 invalid solutions to the second side, but seemed to be no closer to the actual solution.

After another month of puzzling on this one I have to be honest and let you know I admitted defeat and asked for help. I dropped an email to fellow blogger Allard who had already solved and written about Lean 2 and asked for his help. I wasn't looking for the solution, I'm not that much of a defeatist, but he kindly took pity on me and sent me a location for one of the pieces. I should note that I'd been sending Allard my 'solutions' and none of those I'd found worked on his copy of the puzzle, so he knew that I had given this one a fair shot.

With the hint in hand, I had the second side solved in about 2 minutes. Overall, this is a great puzzle, and kept me busy for many months. If you enjoy packing puzzles, then definitely pick this one up, it's well worth the money and will keep you busy for quite some time.



9Jan/133

Hercules

Hercules, or the 22nd Labor of Hercules, is a Jean Claude Constantin puzzle which he used as an exchange puzzle at IPP 22 where he made copies in wood. This version was made by Bits and Pieces and was available from Puzzle Master.

Hercules a.k.a. 22nd Labor of Hercules

Hercules a.k.a. 22nd Labor of Hercules

This copy of the puzzle measures 4.75" x 4.75" x 0.6" with machined aluminium pieces, and a plastic tray. The anodising on the aluminium pieces makes all but the black piece stand out against the black plastic tray, so this is an attractive puzzle sitting on a puzzle shelf. The pieces are accurately milled, and fit the tray well, with little additional room beyond that needed to solve the puzzle.

For me, the plastic tray is pretty poor. In my copy it's not very well made, with a number of small lumps of plastic around the inner edge of the tray, and while not flimsy, it does feel cheap next to the aluminium pieces.

As both Brian and Gabriel have pointed out the finish on the aluminium pieces is pretty poor. There are some very noticeable milling marks on all the pieces, and the anodising process has left some uneven colour, which is most noticeable on the blue piece. I have a number of metal puzzles which have been coloured this way, and the is probably the poorest example I've seen. Not much to ask to have the pieces finished to a slightly higher standard.

Looks like lots of room in the tray

Looks like lots of room in the tray

That aside, the puzzle is well made to tight tolerances, and as such, the puzzle solving experience is not affected. I do have one small gripe here though. The puzzle comes in a cardboard box which exactly fits the tray and no more. That means that the puzzle comes shipped in the solved state. I would be fine with that, however inside the cardboard box, the puzzle is in a sealed plastic bag, with the solution, face up, on top of the pieces. Really if you want to solve this one yourself, ask someone else to unbox it for you, and hand you the pieces and tray separately, as there's no easy way to even open the box upside down and have the pieces fall out so you can solve it 'unseen'.

That aside, the solution provided is particularly inelegant. Much like both Brian and Gabriel, I found an alternate and much more elegant solution to the puzzle, which I believe to be the originally intended solution from what I have been able to see of Jean's exchange picture. So if you find yourself unable to avoid seeing the solution the puzzle is shipped in, I'd say try for this alternate solution, I think you'll prefer it anyway!

Overall this is a good copy of the puzzle, and for the price you really can't argue. Well worth picking up a copy as it's a great little puzzle, and not too challenging that you'll find the satisfaction of a solved tray packing puzzle before you pull out all your hair.



15May/120

The Distorted Cube – STC #61-A

What seems like a very long time ago now, way back in August in fact, Tom Lensch offered a number of puzzles through Puzzle Paradise. At that time I picked up a copy of the Two Boxes puzzle which I wrote about some time ago, and this Stewart Coffin Design. It's taken quite a while to get round to completing all the challenges set by Stewart for the Distorted Cube, but I've finally done them all, and it's about time I wrote about it!

The Distorted Cube, STC #61-A, showing the Box, Lid and Four Pieces

The Distorted Cube, STC #61-A, showing the Box, Lid and Four Pieces

As you can see, the puzzle consists of four puzzle pieces, made from 14 edge beveled cubic blocks, which have been joined together in different ways, as well as a rather unique rectangular covered box (But I'll come back to that!) The copy I have is made by Tom Lensch, and is from a run he did in August 2011. The box is Canarywood, and the pieces are made from a rather interesting Maple called Ambrosia. Ambrosia maple comes from regular soft maple and Hard Maple trees that have been infested by the ambrosia beetle. The small beetle bores a network of tunnels and short galleries called cradles. A fungus is responsible for the blue, gray and brown streaks and decorative patch work that accompany each tunnel and adjacent wood. The streaks and patch work add a unique look to this hardwood without affecting its structural integrity

Stewart Coffin first made this puzzle in 1988 in a very limited run of about 8 puzzles, and then again in December of 1996 making around 12 copies. He described it in Puzzle Craft in the 1992 edition, and in the 1996 run produced a puzzle sheet to go with the puzzle. You can see that sheet by following the link here.

The puzzle consists of a number of challenges, each of which uses the pieces in a slightly different orientation, which really explores the huge number of possibilities that these four shapes can be combined. One thing I found as I moved from one challenge to the next is that human nature starts to get in the way. As you find one solution, your brain becomes fixated on that orientation, and starts to rule out other possibilities, making finding the solution to the next challenge more difficult.

Challenge #1 Solved

Challenge #1 Solved

The First challenge is to pack the four pieces into the box so that the cover placed on top of them will be flush with the top of the box. A variation of this is to first lay the cover in the bottom of the box, in which case, the puzzle assembly will be flush with the top. Just so you can tell I wasn't cheating, I went with the latter option.

Challenge #2 Solved

Challenge #2 Solved

Challenge number 2 is to place the lid into the slot at the side of the box, converting it from a rectangular box, to a cubic box. Now place the four pieces into the cubic configuration. Again the top of the assembly will be flush with the top of the box. (No, you're not allowed to have extra pieces sticking out, despite how many combinations I found where this was the case).

Challenge #3 Solved

Challenge #3 Solved

For the third challenge, the cover for the box is put to the side, and the pieces have once again to be packed into the now much larger space so that they are still flush with the sides and top/bottom of the box. This really shows just how many ways there are to make use of the space (or possibly the holes in the cubes) to pack them more or less efficiently, depending on the space you have available.

I really love the versatility of this puzzle. What seems like a simple configuration of four pieces allows a lot of different configurations, and as I found many hours of happy puzzling.

But the challenges don't stop there! If you put the box to the side, there are yet another two challenges to try to solve. (And I'm pretty sure from my playing around with the pieces that there are more that Stewart just didn't list!)

Challenge #4 Solved

Challenge #4 Solved

Challenge number 4 has us making a square pyramidal pile using all four pieces.

Challenge #5 Solved

Challenge #5 Solved

The final challenge that Stewart set is to create a triangular pyramidal pile using only three of the pieces. Of course he's not telling you which three to use. That's up to the puzzler to figure out!

Overall, this a great puzzle and I'd highly recommend picking up a copy if you see one for sale. I spent many hours playing with this over several months, and still enjoy going back and re-solving the various challenges. I may even look further into the combination of the pieces to see if there are other combinations possible, as there are certainly some combinations of the pieces which were not used in any of the original five challenges.



28Mar/120

Impossible Square

Continuing on my packing puzzle challenge, the second puzzle I bought from Brilliant Puzzles was Impossible Square. Have a look at my review of Log Jam which was the first of the puzzles in that shipment. Puzzle Crafthouse also have a copy of this puzzle available.

Impossible Square

Impossible Square

Much like the Melting Block puzzle, the goal of this one is to fit the red block into the tray, so that the lid can be closed. Fortunately, the lid also doubles as a base, so until you solve it, you're not left with a badly fitting box! As is normal with this style of puzzle, at first look there seems to be little free space, and fitting that extra cube in seems nigh on impossible (hence the name).

The puzzle measures 5" x 5" x 1.25" and is very well made. The pieces are all very nicely cut and well finished. If I were nitpicking, the tray is a fraction larger than it should be, but really that's me being very picky. It certainly doesn't change the puzzle any, and there are no extra solutions as a result.

I found this puzzle fairly straight forward, and it's certainly not one of the more difficult packing puzzles I've tried. I was able to solve it in under 5 minutes, so for me I felt pretty good. As I've mentioned before, packing puzzles are not my forte, but maybe I'm getting better.

Having lent this to one of my work colleagues, he also solved it within 5 minutes, so I'll say that this isn't a hard puzzle, but it certainly is a good looking puzzle, and had the effect that it does look impossible to start with, and once solved, it's a very elegant solution. One thing which seems to help with this particular puzzle is the symmetry in the pieces. Unlike a number of other packing puzzles, having a number of identical pieces, limits the number of possible solutions, and I feel makes things easier. Really you only need to solve one corner and then the remainder are copies of that corner.

So just to show that it's possible, here's the puzzle in its solved state...

Impossible Square Solved

Impossible Square Solved

Ok, you really thought I was going to give you the solution? But that said, all pieces are in the box, but you'll have to trust me on that! The puzzle does come with a solution included on a folded sheet of paper so you're not going to accidentally see it, but I honestly don't think you'll need it. If you do, you know it's there.

This is a great little puzzle, and well worth the small price that both Brilliant Puzzles and Puzzle Crafthouse are asking for it. It may be quite simple, but it's a great puzzle to hand to new puzzlers to get them hooked!

Note Puzzle Crafthouse is the new name for Creative Crafthouse. They have a new website, which is much newer and cleaner than the old site, but don't stress, it's the same company with the same great service and puzzles

Tagged as: , No Comments


7Mar/123

Log Jam

I recently put in an order for a few wooden packing puzzles since I've found a liking for them recently, after spending a long time not being very good at them. I made an order with Brilliant Puzzles who have a good selection of wooden puzzles at very affordable prices. The first of those puzzles I'll be reviewing is Log Jam, or "Log Pack" as it is known on the Brilliant Puzzles site. The puzzle has seven pieces in the tray, and an eighth in the end. The goal of the puzzle it to fit the extra log into the box, in typical packing puzzle style.

Log Jam by Vesa Timonen

Log Jam by Vesa Timonen

Designed by Vesa Timonen, this is a fairly well known puzzle design, and was entered in the IPP 22 design competition where it was known as Lox in Box. I've been looking to try it for a while, after reading Brian's review and having seen various copies of the puzzle in friends collections. The copy from Brilliant Puzzles is not expensive, and as I was ordering something for Jen, I decided to added this to my order. Creative Crafthouse also make a copy of this puzzle.

The puzzle comes sealed in shrink wrapped plastic, with the solution sheet folded and on the bottom of the puzzle. At least you can avoid accidentally seeing the solution. It's 7.5" x 2.75" x 1.25" and made from two contrasting woods. If I were to guess I'd say the wood used is rubberwood, which seems very common in the cheaper, mass produced puzzles that I have seen recently. Given the price, the quality of the pieces is what you'd expect. This isn't a high end collectors piece, but a puzzle to be played with.

The fit of the pieces is fair, and the puzzle functions exactly as it should. As nice touch, and something which seems fairly common with this design is that the extra piece has a place in the end of the puzzle for storage so that the puzzle can be kept in its unsolved state without leaving pieces stacked, or losing the piece.

When I had seen this puzzle elsewhere, I'd tried mentally solving it, so before I started I had a few ideas to try. After a few minutes I'd exhausted those, so I had to think a bit. Sorting the pieces, and then looking at what I had let me see a possible pattern, and after another few minutes of playing I had the solution. It's a very elegant solution, and well worth getting a copy to play with. The design of the pieces and the initial presentation leads you down one avenue of thinking while the actual solution is quite different. It is something that I have noticed with these 'fit the extra piece in' style puzzle that the initial presentation is often designed to start you off on the wrong path, and this is no different. Very clever.

Closeup of one of the pieces

Closeup of one of the pieces

In the solved state, the fit is not as close as I would have expected, and there's still a degree of wiggle room in the tray. Not enough that there's a different possible solution, so perhaps it's just the perfectionist in me looking for more. As you can see from the closeup of one of the logs above, the finish on the pieces is pretty rough, and the tray shows some signs of the fit and finish not being stellar. But as I mentioned earlier, this is a puzzle to be played with, and not a collectors piece, and that is reflected in the price.

For the price, this is a great puzzle, and I'm happy to have had the chance to play with it.

Tagged as: , , 3 Comments