Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
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.



22Jan/121

Cyclone Puzzle

The Cyclone puzzle is a fun and very cheap plastic puzzle, made from 30 thin, flexible plastic pieces, which combine together into a tricontrahedron, and is based on the original lamp from Holger Strøm. To find out more about the original have a look at the IQ Light site. I got my copy of the puzzle in Black and Red from Puzzle Master, but there are lots of colour combinations available. This version is produced by The Lagoon Group

Cyclone Puzzle in its box

Cyclone Puzzle in its box

The puzzles comes in a simple plastic box with the instructions "Can you take apart this devilishly difficult Cyclone Puzzle and then Rebuild it? Take our word for it, this is not a quick puzzle to master!" The box is fairly plain, but the silver banks which outline the text really make it stand out, and it seems to set the puzzle off very nicely. The contrast between the Red, Black and Silver really works, giving a very classy look to the whole package.

Cyclone Puzzle

Cyclone Puzzle

Taking it out of the box, it's clear that the structure is very stable. Despite each of the individual pieces being very thin and flexible, once they are joined in the tricontrahedron shape, they have a lot of strength. Removing the first piece is a challenge, as you don't know quite how strong the pieces are, and you do need to pull and wiggle the pieces with reasonable force to get the tabs to separate. There really is no need to worry though as the plastic is tough, and will take a fair amount of abuse. Once the first piece is out, removing the rest is much easier. While the structure doesn't fall apart, there's less tension in the rest of the pieces, so you'll find the rest of the tabs come apart with relative ease.

Cyclone Puzzle pieces

Cyclone Puzzle pieces

As I mentioned before, each of the thirty pieces in the puzzle are identical, so with a pile of pieces in front of you, it shouldn't be too hard to put this back together. Puzzle Master rate this as 8/10 - Demanding, but I didn't find it overly difficult, as the pattern to assemble repeats as you progress, so it's a fairly fun puzzle to take apart and solve. The difficult part comes in the initial assembly steps being able to keep the pieces in place. If you are stuck, there's a solution here. Depending on your preference, you can build it with all similar colours together or in an alternating pattern. Either way you'll end up with a good looking sculpture. Personally I think I prefer the contrast with the alternating colours.

Cyclone Puzzle looking inside

Cyclone Puzzle looking inside

As you're rebuilding, the inside looks every bit as good as the outside, with the faces of the tricontrahedron easily identifiable.

When I was invited to my first Puzzle Party at Stan Isaacs house, last year, as part of the tour of his puzzle collection, Stan actually has one of the original lamps hanging in his living room. After seeing it, I had to pick up a copy myself. I may not have the lamp, but this is a really good second place. And to be honest, I'm tempted to get a small LED bulb and put it inside this puzzle. It might not let out much light, but it would be fun.

Oli also reviewed this puzzle a while back, so have a look at his review too.

As a very cheap puzzle, and a fun build, this is a good one to have in your collection. The kids will enjoy playing with it (if they like this sort of thing) and if not, it will look good hanging from your ceiling.



25Dec/112

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.

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