Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
27May/140

Penta Beams

Oskar van Deventer has been at it again, and this is the latest (well latest published as far as I know) design from the incredible puzzle generating mind of the Dutchman. This time it's an intersection of six pentagonal sticks to form a pyramidal shape. The goal is to take the sticks apart, and put them back together again.

Penta Beams by Oskar

Penta Beams by Oskar

3D printed by Shapeways, the pieces are dyed into six bright colours (plus black and white) and have a solid feel to them. the trapped powder inside each stick really adds weight and a feeling of quality that can sometimes be lacking in Shapeways printed materials. The puzzle measures approximately 3.5" tall once assembled, with each stick being 3.5" long with a 7/8" cross-section.

The sticks just keep on holding.

The sticks just keep on holding.

The fit is perfect, and each of the sticks holds the others at the right angles all the way until the last two pieces. That certainly makes this a much more enjoyable puzzle to play with, as you don't feel like you're fighting your own fingers and wrestling with a dexterity challenge.

Six pentagonal pieces

Six pentagonal pieces

There's one key piece, followed by five notched sticks which must be removed in sequence to take the puzzle apart. While it's not trivial after the pieces are mixed up, I'd say that this is certainly an approachable puzzle for most people. Having taken it apart, and mixed the pieces, then left them alone for a while, I was able to put it back together in around 20 minutes. Now, I'm no expert in this style of assembly puzzle, but it was both fun and a good level of challenge for me.

Penta Beams is available from Oskar's Shapeways shop if you'd like a copy of your own.



18May/140

Peppermint

I wasn't able to attend the IPP in Japan last year however given that I was getting married, I had a great excuse, and I'm not complaining about my choice of location. It did mean however that I missed out on a number of new puzzles from the IPP. Fortunately, I have a few friends who did go, and I was able to borrow some of the Japan Puzzles. Peppermint is a 3D printed puzzle designed by Scott Elliot for the Puzzle Exchange, and was digitally manufactured in colorful ABS by Bradley Rigdon at PrintTo3D according to Scott.

Peppermint.  An exchange puzzle from Scott Elliot.

Peppermint. An exchange puzzle from Scott Elliot.

You can read all about the design process for the puzzle over on Scott's blog here if you're interested. I certainly recommend it as it really shows the work that goes into refining a puzzle design. The finished puzzle measures 2.25" x 1.75", and seems like a fairly large puzzle in your hands.

Peppermint.  Unboxed.

Peppermint. Unboxed.

The puzzle consists of four pieces, which combine together into two linked sub assemblies. The outer shell doesn't move, while the sphere in the centre is free to rotate around. If you're familiar with the Cast Marble from Hanayama, then you'll have a fair idea of what's going on here. The difference is that you can only see the sphere from one side of the puzzle. On the other side is a closed dome that hides the sphere away.

Peppermint.  Taking the pieces apart

Peppermint. Taking the pieces apart.

Once you've found the right alignment of all the pieces, it will rotate apart smoothly, before coming apart into four separate pieces. Putting it back together is a simple case of reversing the process. there is a little bit of thought required to align the pieces correctly, but nothing that will stump you for long.

Peppermint.  Showing off the sub assemblies.

Peppermint. Showing off the sub assemblies.

Overall it's a fun puzzle and it looks great in the vibrant colours of the ABS plastic. I'm seeing more and more puzzles being produced by 3D printers, and the quality is really impressive. For rapid prototyping, and the ability to play with designs just hours after they are conceived is incredible. I don't see it replacing the feel and look of natural wood, but I can't deny that it's an amazing technology.



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.



10Dec/120

Mirrorkal – “You and Mona Lisa”

Several months back, I received a copy of "You and Mona Lisa", a Mirrorkal puzzle, designed by Ivan Moskovich and produced by Recent Toys. So why has it taken me so long to write about it? Well truth be told it's taken me this long to solve it!

Mirrorkal - "You and Mona Lisa" Solved

Mirrorkal - "You and Mona Lisa" Solved

The puzzle is an interesting variation on the 15 puzzle, with this version having 9 tiles, plus the space needed to move the tiles which is conveniently placed off to the side of the puzzle. What makes the puzzle unique and quite so challenging is that the image you see when looking at the puzzle is being reflected by an angled mirror from an adjacent piece. The goal, as with any other 15 puzzle is to scramble the tiles, and then restore the original order so you can see the picture of the Mona Lisa.

Mirrorkal Escher

Mirrorkal Escher

The earlier version of the Mirrorkal Puzzle was a removable block version where the nine puzzle pieces were stored in a frame. In that version you are able to remove the cubes and inspect each side, allowing you to match the correct side with the corresponding mirror to make up the solution. With the sliding tile version, things are much more challenging. Since the cubes can't be removed, you will have to either position the side of the cube you want to see with the empty space adjacent to it, or place it in the centre and surround it with mirrors pointing at the cube, to allow all sides to be seen. Having done this you'll need to remember what picture is where, and then position each tile in the correct location to make the final image. Oh and if that's not enough of a challenge, remember that since you're dealing with mirrors, the images are upside down on the sides of the cubes!

If you'd like more information on the Mirrorkal Escher, Brian and Gabriel have both written about it.

Mona Lisa Scrambled

Mona Lisa Scrambled

As you can see, once the puzzle pieces are scrambled, in most cases they no longer show parts of the Mona Lisa image, making the challenge even more difficult. Something else which you need to take into account is that there may be more that one cube with the same a part of the final image on it, so not only do you need to find the parts of the image, and place them in the correct spot to be reflected by the adjacent mirror, but the piece you've identified may not even be the correct one. This happened to me where I was trying to place the last two cubes, and they were swapped from where they needed to be. It turned out that I needed the other piece with the same angled mirror, which I'd already placed in the opposite corner.

Mirrorkal - "You and Einstein"

Mirrorkal - "You and Einstein"

As an interesting note, the 15 style version of the puzzle originally used an image of Einstein, but was later changed to the Mona Lisa. The workings of the puzzle is still the same, just the images which were swapped. In fact if you look at the frame of the puzzle, it still reads "You and Einstein". Puzzle Master still has copies of the puzzle with the original Einstein image if you'd like that version.

Whether you're looking for the slightly harder challenge of the sliding tile version or a simpler puzzle with the framed cubes, both versions of the puzzle are well worth picking up and I can highly recommend them. These would make great stocking fillers, although you may need fairly big stockings!

For some more thoughts on the Mirrorkal - "You and Mona Lisa" puzzle, Gabriel's Review has some more thoughts.

Note: Sorry about the poor images in the review. Given the mirrors in the puzzle, it's not easy to photograph.



6Dec/121

Cerebral Rings

The Cerebral Rings puzzle is an interesting plastic puzzle produced by Magnif. My copy came to me from Puzzle Master in the last shipment of puzzles I had arrive from them. This was a puzzle I was interested to play with as it seemed rather different than many I'd played with recently, and I hoped would be a nice change of pace.

The Cerebral Rings in their starting position

The Cerebral Rings in their starting position

The goal of the puzzle is to move the red plungers inside the circular shafts to positions where it will allow the black rings to slide apart in a coordinate motion, separating the three parts which make up the rings. Measuring 4" wide x 1.75" high the puzzle is a good size and the plastics used have been well finished to give a really glossy appearance as you can see in the photographs. All the edges are nicely chamfered and the curves used in the plungers mean that they are comfortable to press when you're playing with the puzzle. The fit of the pieces is good, making it difficult to see the seams where the three frame sections join.

One downside which I have to mention about this puzzle is that the inside of the tubes have been coated fairly heavily with a lubricant. Clearly the idea was to make the pieces move easily inside the tubes. Unfortunately, at least on my copy the amount of grease used was excessive, and then you push the red plungers inside the tubes, your fingers end up covered in grease, making for a fairly unpleasant experience when playing with the puzzle. The first thing I did when I opened the puzzle was to take a rag and clean out all that grease. Sadly even with all the grease in there to start with I found there were times when the plungers would get stuck in the tubes and require significant force to move them past the obstacle which they were stuck on, allowing full travel through the tube.

From the Manif website, the puzzle comes with the following description: "Fabled to have been found among the effects of the renowned astronomer Johannes Kepler, was an early version of the Cerebral Rings. This challenging puzzle baffles astronomers, astrologers and mathematicians alike. It was said that Kepler’s students had to master the expanding layers of the Cerebral Rings and the red plungers within, solving the puzzle in order to progress to apprenticeship. There are hundreds of possible combinations and only 8 solutions."

Personally I think Kepler would be turning in his grave at the idea that the puzzle was used as part of an apprenticeship, as the puzzle really isn't that challenging, however it makes for a good story! It is true that depending on how you count a move, there may be hundreds of combinations, and only eight solutions, but sadly once you've found one, there's really no need to find any others, as there's not enough of a difference to make it worthwhile. That said there are some nice elegant symmetrical solutions if you care to look for them.

The Rings sliding apart

The Rings sliding apart

Note: The image above does not show a solution. Ed

As you can see once you've found the correct combination, the rings slide apart passing each other in a coordinate motion which means that they do indeed expand as they come apart. The fit of the pieces is very good here, so starting the motion can be quite a challenge. Finding the correct spot to push on the pieces so that they glide past each other is not obvious, and as with many puzzles, placing your fingers so that you're not blocking the motion can be tricky.

Puzzle Master rates the puzzle as level 8/10 (Demanding) and Manif rates it 2/4. I have to say I think it's closer to the lower end of the scale but could certainly provide a good challenge if you're not paying attention. I enjoyed playing with the puzzle even if it did take a very short time for me top solve it the first time, somewhere under 5 minutes. It was a good change of pace to the other puzzles I've been playing with recently and would make a good Christmas present for the younger puzzler.

The Cerebral Rings pieces once solved

The Cerebral Rings pieces once solved

Once you've solved the puzzle everything comes apart, leaving you with the six plungers, and three black ring sections. The rings are all identical so re-assembly is fairly simple. Overall a fun distraction even though it's not an overly challenging puzzle. It is well made, and the contrasting colours will make it stand out on the puzzle shelf. Definitely one that people will pick up and have a fiddle with.



29May/121

Moeraki Games 4

The series of Moeraki games are produced by Kasimir Landowski, and are a series of sliding tile puzzles, where the object is to scramble the pieces then return them to their unscrambled state. The Moeraki 3 and 4 puzzles can be purchased from Casland Games along with versions 1-5 in electronic format.

In an interesting story, Ivan Moscovich created the same puzzles and patented their design in the US in 1985 (US patent No.4,509,756) and were licensed to Meffert Novelties in 1983. The digital versions were licensed to Sony-Online. Shortly after posting my review I was contaced by Ivan requesting that I consider removing my review as a result of the dispute over the puzzle. Since the original review I did for Moeraki 4, and re-posting this today, Ivan and Kasimir have reached an agreement around the puzzles sale and distribution, and I'm pleased to be able to once again restore the review with full consent of both Mr Moscovich and Mr Landowski!

Moeraki Games 4 (hard version)

Moeraki Games 4 (hard version)

So why Moeraki? The designer happened to stumble across a website on the Moeraki Boulders: round rocks found in New Zealand, near the village of Moeraki on the east coast of the country's South Island. The rocks are not formed from erosion but were naturally created like pearls and Kasimir thought it suited his puzzle and hence the name.

I ordered both Moeraki 3 and 4, as I like my physical puzzles, however they both come with a PC version of the game included on a CD, so you get both when buying the physical puzzle. Personally I think there's a lot to be said for being able to physically push the pieces yourself, however it's a nice bonus, and certainly helps in learning how the pieces interact before messing up such a nice looking arrangement.

Unfortunately, the electronic version is Windows PC only, so if like me you're a Mac owner you're out of luck. Fortunately, there is iOS versions available for iPhone/iPad/iPod, including standalone versions of 3 and 4 for $.99 each, and a pack including all 5 for $2.99 which I think is a great deal.

The puzzle itself measures 5.5" x 5.5" x 0.75" and is certainly a well made and solid puzzle. It comes in a clear plastic box wrapped in a cardboard sleeve (entirely in German) which holds both the puzzle, and the CD with the PC version. Sadly mine suffered some rough handling on its way to me and most of the plastic pegs inside the box which hold the puzzle in place had snapped leaving the puzzle free to bounce around inside the box. Fortunately that didn't damage the puzzle at all, so isn't a big issue.

The plastic coloured beads have a glass like quality to them and really reflect the light, giving a lot of depth to the rings. The movement of the pieces is incredibly smooth, and each ring is easily turned by pushing lightly on any one bead. The board itself has coloured inner segments which are a guide for returning the puzzle to its solved state once scrambled. Interestingly, there's no real reason why you should have to do this, as any colour could be placed at any outer section of the rings, and it certainly adds an additional challenge trying to swap the colours to a different starting position.

The playing board consists of three interlinked circles of coloured beads, which intersect at six points, meaning that moving the beads in one circle affects those in one of the other circles. Given the six points of intersection in the three rings, the interaction between rings in this version is higher which adds to the difficulty level. This is even more true when you look at the version I have where the beads in the centre are not all the same colour!

If you have a look on the website, then you'll see that the version of Moeraki 4 which is available has only four colours instead of the seven seen in my version. That's thanks to Kasimir sending me a unique hard version rather than the regular version! It is available as an option on the electronic version as a possible combination to play, but clearly Kasimir has read my blog, and knows I like a challenge! Having played around with the puzzle for a while, solving it by ignoring the colours in the centre isn't too hard, and I can normally solve it from a well shuffled board in around 8 minutes. Solving for all seven colours however is much harder and takes me around double that time. So I'd rate this as a challenging puzzle, but it's one that you will be able to solve (unlike me and the Rubiks cube).

From playing the electronic version, there are a number of different possible patterns which can be made from the same basic board, including a version where there are only two colours, and each adjacent bead is an alternating colour, and the version on the website where all centre beads are clear, rather than the three extra colours in my version. The board in the puzzle has a plug which has been glued in place during assembly to prevent the beads being removed, however it would be easy enough to make additional beads available when ordering to make these configurations possible, and be able to configure the game board for some of these options. Maybe that option could be available in future versions.

Overall, I think Moeraki 4 is an excellent puzzle, very well made, and a lot of fun to play with. Now I just need to work on improving my time to solve it. I highly recommend picking up a copy from Casland Games or if you're more of a mobile puzzler, consider the iPad/iPhone/iPad version which is great value, and every bit as challenging. For €20, which includes the PC version, that's a great price.

I'll be reviewing the Moeraki 3 soon, but feel free to look at Gabriel's review until I do.