Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
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/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.



7Sep/110

Zauberflote – Magic Flute

Eric Fuller recently offered a few new puzzles through Cubic Dissection and I picked up "Zauberflote" designed by Gregory Bendetti as well as "Stand Py Me" which I reviewed recently. Both puzzles sold out very quickly.

Zauberflote translates as "Magic Flute" and is an opera in two acts composed in 1791 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Gregory wanted to make a series of puzzles which had a link to the opera which he enjoys.

Zauberflote - Königin der Nacht pieces

Zauberflote - Königin der Nacht pieces

In a change from my usual style, I'm not showing the completed puzzle at the top of the post, but rather the pieces. I'll get to the reason why soon enough. Eric has created this 4 piece version of Zauberflote from acrylic and yellowheart, and describes it as a pocket puzzle, given that its full length is just 2.25". Gregory gave the four piece version the full name "Zauberflote - Königin der Nacht", and each of the puzzle in the series with a different number of pieces in the flute has a different sub-name. I really like the use of the acrylic here, as even when the puzzle is solved (as you'll see below) you can still see the internal burr of the wooden pieces, which is a nice touch. Eric made 45 copies of this puzzle, and they are all signed with Eric's usual squiggle.

I spent about 30 minutes working on this puzzle, and after a few false starts I found a way to get all the pieces in place and the flute shape (or possibly more of a set of pan pipes) is easy to see. When I was solving it, I started by putting the smallest piece in first, and I required a couple of rotations to get the pieces into their final location.

My solution requiring rotations

My solution requiring rotations

Feeling quite happy with myself I put the puzzle aside for a few days. When I came back to it, I opened the trusty Burr Tools and created a model of the puzzle there. Now I fully expected burr tools to be able to put the pieces in place, but I didn't expect it to be able to give me an assembly given that rotations were needed (when I solved it). To my surprise, Burr tools came back with 72 solutions and one assembly!

Solution found by Burr Tools

Solution found by Burr Tools

Burr tools notes a 14.4.2 assembly and shows that it is possible to solve the puzzle without using rotations as I had. If you look very closely at the two images, you'll see that the internal burrs are in different locations showing that clearly it's a different solution. Also Burr Tools puts the largest piece in first, although I believe it is possible to insert the pieces in any order.


So having used burr tools, I think there are more solutions than it shows, even without the rotations. I did talk with Gregory as to whether rotations were intended, and he admitted that he hadn't checked for rotations, but it wasn't cheating, since I still solved the puzzle without forcing the pieces, and had found a solution that he hadn't. The solution with rotations is much shorter at 7.1.1.2 (if my counting is correct).

Overall, this is a fun puzzle, which isn't too hard and is very nicely made by Eric.



1Jul/110

The Svetnashki Optical Puzzle

While browsing the Puzzle Master store, I came across this interesting puzzle by Russian inventor Vladimir Krasnoukhov. The Puzzle is a variation of the classic fifteen sliding tile puzzle however instead of trying to create an image or sequence of numbers, you play with light. Thanks to Puzzle Master for sending me this puzzle to review.

Svetnashki Optical Puzzle

Svetnashki Optical Puzzle in the bag it arrives in.

The idea behind the puzzle is quite simple. Using perspex which has been polarised either up/down or left/right, an invisible grid is formed. The back of the puzzle is a 2x2 grid where each alternate quarter is polarised differently, and then the fifteen 1x1 sliding tiles are polarised in alternate orientations. As the pieces slide across the back grid, their colour will change from transparent to opaque.

The challenge is made somewhat more difficult due to the top sheet of perspex which holds the pieces in place but also restricts your ability to touch any of the corner pieces and the four centre pieces. As a result you have to tilt and rotate the puzzle to move the pieces around instead of just pushing any individual piece where you want it to go. It's a nice idea, and the pieces move around freely enough that you don't feel frustrated.

One possible solved state

One possible solved state with all tiles clear

One possible solved state

One possible solved state with all tiles black


Given the nature of the puzzle, there is more than one 'solved' state possible. You can make the puzzle entirely clear or entirely opaque, there really is no right or wrong answer, and as such it gives it far more flexibility and replay value than a standard sliding tile puzzle with a fixed picture printed on the surface.

Creating patterns in the Puzzle

Creating patterns in the Puzzle

A Checkerboard pattern

A Checkerboard pattern


Add to that, the ability to create as many patterns using the light and dark as you care to imagine, and the possibilities, while not endless are certainly large. Creating the checker board pattern on the right is just one example, but there are many more just waiting to be discovered.

Puzzle Master rates the puzzle as a Level 7 - Challenging (out of 10), however I don't really see it being quite as difficult. Perhaps the amount of fun you can have with this puzzle makes it seem less difficult. I was able to move between each of the solved states in a few minutes, and was able to create a number of simple patterns quite quickly as well. To my mind this is a case where fun outweighs difficulty and is less important.

Puzzle Master sells a number of colours including both the larger and smaller versions of the 4x4 puzzle and the double layered version, you can order different sizes and custom colours from the manufacturer directly. Svetnashki Optical Puzzle On their website, they have 4x6 and 6x6 versions available if you're looking for an added challenge, or to be able to create more patterns.

Overall, this is an excellent little puzzle/toy and I highly recommend it for all ages and skill levels. I've had a lot of fun just randomly spinning it and seeing which patterns are created. While I'm not normally a fan of sliding tile puzzles, this one really has caught my attention, and I have to say I really enjoy playing with it.



4May/110

Perplexus

The Perplexus is the current generation of a puzzle created by Michael McGinnis, and originally released to the public as SuperPlexus. Perplexus is available from a number of locations such as Amazon, and Puzzle Master and many other toy shops for less than $20.

Top view of Perplexus

Top view of Perplexus

The purpose of the puzzle is to guide the ball bearing along the tracks moving from each 'checkpoint' from 1-100 in sequence by rotating the sphere. The original Superplexus had both sound and a timer mechanism to allow you to compete for the fastest time, however in the current version, the electronics which were rather loud an obnoxious, have been removed in favour of a simpler quieter version, where the only sound is the ball falling off the maze, and bouncing on the bottom of the perspex shell, which will happen frequently. There's even a small stand supplied with the puzzle to stop it rolling away when you eventually put it down.

Bottom view of Perplexus

Bottom view of Perplexus

When you start playing with the puzzle, it all seems fairly simple. The path is easy enough to follow, and moving from one 'checkpoint' to the next is fairly straightforward. Then you hit a certain transition, where it seems all to easy for the ball to fall off and force you to go back to the start. Despite that, it never seems frustrating, and you keep going back to try to make it all the way from 1-100. As a nice design feature, there are three start points in the puzzle, allowing you to restart from 1/3 and 2/3 of the way through so you can practice each section. The real challenge though is the full run in one shot. There are some very clever sections in the puzzle, such as the cup you drop the ball into then need to swing from one side to the other before tipping the ball back out onto the next track to continue. Overall it's well thought out, and I am sure went through many iterations before finally becoming the puzzle that it is today.

Michael McGinnis was a 3D design teacher and came up with the idea for perplexus as a toy in the late 1970's however it took him over 20 years to bring the idea to the market as it is today. He has also created super sized versions of the puzzle from wood and I highly recommend checking out his website for the pictures, and some of the story behind the creation of these huge puzzles. ( http://www.santarosa.edu/~mmcginni/superplexus/) While too big and heavy to hold in your hands, they run on rails allowing you to freely spin the sphere. I have no doubt that this added restriction adds an extra challenge to the puzzle.

Perplexus Epic

Perplexus Epic

With the launch of two new Perplexus puzzles set for May 6th 2011, the Rookie, which should be a simpler version of the original, designed for younger children, and the harder 'Epic' Perplexus coming in a very slick icy blue and white colour scheme and 125 checkpoints to navigate, there is a lot to look forward to in the series. I'd certainly recommend the original, and once I pick up the Epic, I'll be sure to pass on my thoughts.

The Perplexus puzzle in the box.

The Perplexus puzzle in the box.

The Perplexus is a fun dexterity puzzle, which seems to be marketed more toward a younger audience with its bright colours and the pictures of a children playing with the puzzle while the parents watch on from behind on the box, however I can assure you that this puzzle will keep the whole family amused as they try to navigate the ball through the maze. Leave this one sitting on the table, and you can be sure people will want to pick it and play, and before you know it they'll be off to buy one for themselves.