Wow, doesn't time fly. It's nearly the end of 2012, and I realise that I still haven't sat down and written up the Tetraxis puzzles that I received from Jane Kostick over a year ago. Worse that that, I created the video review back in October (last year)! Not only that but after being at IPP and playing with more of Jane Kostick's excellent puzzles, I've bought more from her and really need to review that too. So with all the procrastination out of the way, I hope you enjoy the review of this fine puzzle set.
Some time before IPP31 I came across Jane and John Kosticks website, and really liked the look of their puzzles. Digging around a little, I found that as well as the mass produced plastic versions of the puzzles, Jane also made some rather unique versions from wood as well. So chancing my arm, I got in touch and asked if she would make me a set.
Jane and I chatted back and forth for a while via email, and eventually agreed on some woods to use from Jane's fairly large stock, and she set about making the puzzle pieces for me. I have to admit that I really enjoyed talking with her about the puzzle itself, how the magnets were attached to the sticks, her experiences with different woods, and many other topics, including IPP. In the year that has passed since then I still talk to Jane via email occasionally and on returning from IPP 32 I threw her another email commenting both on the great puzzles that she had in the Design competition, and also a particular puzzle that John Rausch had given me to play with, but more on that later.
Unbeknown to me, fellow puzzler Allard was also having a set of Jane's sticks made and unlike me he wrote about them in a much more timely fashion.
My copy is a three layer puzzle with a rhombic triacontahedron in the centre, then Jane and John's Six-axis in the middle and a Ten-axis Tetraxis frame on the outside. The inner parts are made from Bubinga, Black Palm and Maple, and the outer Ten-axis is Cherry. They have trademarked the name Tetraxis, and use it to cover all of the puzzles they make including the Tetraxis Star, Tetraxis toy/puzzle, and Tetraxis magnetic sculptures in wood.
The whole structure shows the fantastic geometric relationships that are found in John's stars and really helps you to visualise the geometry in play. So many puzzles are based on the geometry here, and you'll probably recognise the shape of the six-axis Tetraxis as the same shape as Stewart Coffin's Jupiter puzzle (amongst others).
When I originally ordered the puzzle from Jane, things took a little longer than she would have liked due to some dull saw blades, so she ended up sending me one of her husbands Tetraxis stars (4 axis) as a little extra to say sorry for the delay. Now given that this was a custom order I really don't think it took long at all, and the craftsmanship is superb. To my mind there was no delay and really it wasn't an issue at all, so thanks for the little extra Jane, it's beautiful too.
As you can see from the closeup pictures, the fit and finish of the sticks is excellent, and Jane has even signed the pieces which on this scale is no easy task. The overall structure may be fairly large as you can see in the video, measuring 4" however each stick is just 0.25" thick on the outer Ten-axis assembly.
Putting the pieces together isn't overly challenging, and the magnets pull everything into place nicely so in terms of a challenge, this isn't the most difficult puzzle you'll play with, however it is remarkably relaxing to just start putting the pieces together and hear them snap into place. The resulting shape has a sculpture like quality which sits very proudly on my puzzle shelves, and gets a lot of attention from visitors.
It's a beautiful puzzle, and truly a work of art. This year at IPP, Jane and John had a number of new designs entered which I was fortunate enough to play with. Not only that but John Rausch had a one off puzzle Jane had made which he handed me to play with. Having talked to Jane about this puzzle after IPP, I now have a copy of that too, so come back tomorrow to read about her IPP entries and a new design that I fell in love with.
At IPP 31 in Berlin George Bell exchanged his Three Piece What 'sit made by Bernhard Schweitzer in the New Pelikan workshop. The goal, and the only hints you get are to "Assemble the 3 pieces to an allside symmetrical 3D shape"
This great looking puzzle is made from Maple and Robina and measures 2.75" x 2.75" x 2.75". The three pieces are a good size in your hands and give little away about how they should be combined. Playing around you'll quickly find several ways that two of the pieces can be joined, which leave no room for the third to fall into place.
I probably spent around 10 minutes before I found the correct orientation of the first two pieces to allow the third to drop into place correctly, leaving a very pleasing solution shape. Taking it apart and photographing it for the review, it then took me around another 10 minutes to get it back to its solved state again. Since then I've taken it apart and put it back together again several more times, and I can solve it fairly reliably now. I'm sure if I left the pieces separate for a while then came back to it, it would take a little time before I could solve it again, so the level of difficulty is reasonable on this one.
Interestingly, at the at same time as George designed this puzzle, Don Charnley also designed the same puzzle, and named it Donz Q'b. The interesting thing is that the puzzles pieces are mirror images of each other. So you may find this puzzle referred to by either name, but in the end it's the same puzzle.
I've deliberately, not included the picture of the solved shape as part of the gallery since that's part of the challenge, but since it's readily available in a number of places on the web, if you want to see it, click on the image above to see the full shape. Overall, a fun puzzle, and highly recommended if you can get a copy.
The Tubular Burr is a 3D printed puzzle, created by a good friend of mine Derek Bosch. The goal of the puzzle is simple. Remove the two black pieces from the cylinder and put them back. Derek kindly gave me this version when I gave him a copy of the Involute puzzle by Stewart Coffin I made recently.
Measuring 1.5" tall x 1.75" diameter it's a good sized puzzle, and as you can see from the photos, having the puzzle dyed with different coloured pieces from the cylinder really makes the puzzle pop. The White Strong and Flexible material really stands up well in the puzzle, and despite the model being hollow, there's no worry about anything breaking.
Inside the cylinder are a couple of notches, and both pieces are also notched. These notches all interact with one another inside the cylinder to make for a fairly tricky puzzle. Don't be put off by the fact that this is a 3 piece puzzle. I'll attest to it not being easy to solve. (See my later comments on that!) It total it takes 14 moves to re-assemble the puzzle so it's a good challenge.
Derek originally created this for IPP29 in San Francisco as his design puzzle entry, where it was created from sheets of laser cut acrylic which were glued together. He also used it as his Exchange party puzzle that year too. The puzzles for the IPP were created from a clear blue acrylic, however the first time I was able to play with this puzzle was with Derek's prototype "Darth Vader" version which is made from solid black acrylic. If I'm honest, I love this clear version, and can only imagine that it makes things even more infuriating as you can see everything that's going on inside the cylinder! Truly an excellent puzzle as nothing is hidden.
Derek first gave me this puzzle to play with one morning at work, and I took the pieces apart and placed all three pieces back on his desk. He told me that wasn't good enough, put it back to the way it was when he handed it to me. When I first played with the puzzle it took me around 5 minutes to take the pieces out of the cylinder, and less than a minute to put the pieces back in. When I handed it back to Derek less than a minute after he'd told me to put it back, he was astonished. I had put it back together far faster than anyone else had, and generally, he notes that it's much harder to put the pieces back in than it is to remove them.
I can confirm that having played around with the copy Derek gave me, I've not repeated this incredibly fast re-assembly, and in fact the second attempt took me a good 20 minutes to put the pieces back in! (going back to the Involute I gave him, he's still not taken it apart in over 2 months, so I think on average I'm still up - or rather Stewart Coffin is!)
Going back and resolving it several times now, it still takes me on average 5-10 minutes to put it back together, so perhaps my first attempt was beginners luck! I am getting quicker as I remember the solution but I get the feeling that leave this for a few months and come back to it and you'll still find it a challenge every time.
This is a great little puzzle, and is well worth picking up a copy if you weren't lucky enough to be part of the IPP exchange. Visit Derek's Shapeways Shop to pick one up, or one of his Maze Cubes. They're offered both dyed and undyed, and while frustrating me that I didn't solve it as quickly the second time, it proves that it's not a simple puzzle, and well worth owning.
Way by Dr. Volker Latussek is an interesting wooden puzzle which was entered in IPP 31 Design competition in Berlin. Not long after IPP, I was talking with Volker regarding my thoughts on the puzzle, and he offered to send me a copy to play with. Shortly after our discussion a fairly large package arrived in the mail, and there was the copy of Way that he promised me.
The goal of the puzzle is to create free standing circuits which form a single complete loop from start to finish, using the pieces noted on the challenge card. The circuit does not need to be flat on the table, and can be a three dimensional circuit. If fact, thinking upwards is needed to solve many of the challenges presented. One of the unique points of the puzzle is that there are no pegs or magnets which hold the pieces together, and each of the solutions is stable when the correct solution is found.
The first thing that struck me about this puzzle is the size. This is much larger than I was expecting from the photographs I'd seen. You'll get a feel for just how big the pieces are from the video (just excuse my gammy thumb). The pieces are all beautifully made, and perfectly smooth. Each of the oiled beech pieces has a good weight to it, and are all fairly large, even in my hands. The whole puzzle with all eighteen blocks measures 8" x 8" and each piece has a diameter of around 1.33". The puzzle comes in a heavy card box with the puzzle name on a sticker on the outside of the box. One of the challenges is even to fit all 18 pieces into the box in a continuous circuit (as opposed to just thrown in there as they normally are after playing with the puzzle).
The Sticker on the box has the subtext "a puzzle construction set", and it does live up to that claim. It certainly reminds me of the building blocks I used to play with as a child when I was at my grandfathers house, although these are significantly less beat up than those blocks were!
The puzzle comes with a challenge card with 8 different challenges on it, the first four of which are really showing you how to use the blocks, so contain a picture of the solution on the card. My biggest issue therefor is that there's only really 4 challenges provided with the puzzle to start off. For most people it's not going to take that long to work through the challenges. Visiting the website, there are now a total of 29 challenges which should keep you puzzling for quite some time, and it seems that more challenges are being added on a fairly regular basis. The most recent challenge was added on the 27th October (at the time of writing). The challenges are not all just 'build a circuit' challenges either. Some really need you to think about what you're doing by adding restrictions on the type of circuit. For example, the circuit must fit inside a 3x3 cube.
Note: New puzzle challenges are added every Thursday. Thanks to the designer for the update
As you can see from the image above, showing a few of the simpler challenges, it's possible to construct several of the solutions at the same time, and all of them are stable once complete. One of the issues I had was that the order in which you construct the solution is very important to the stability during creation. While it's true that all the solutions I have found so far are stable once complete, they're not always easy to build due to the nature of the pieces to roll. As you'll see in the video, removing one piece from the completed structure, and the whole assembly in many cases will fall down with a satisfying clunk as the pieces hit the table. While I love the fact that the solutions are all stable when built, I can't quite get past the feeling that having either the tiniest flat spot on the edges would help the puzzle greatly as the building would be less frustrating. That said, Dr. Volker is very proud of the design, and that the pieces are stable with no other aids, and I think he's right to be proud of it. Bottom line is that the way the puzzle is, there's an added dexterity element to the puzzle, which certainly adds to the challenge.
Some of the more challenging puzzles really start to look like they're defying gravity with pieces hanging outside the main mass of the puzzle creating some interesting overhangs!
Overall this is a really good puzzle, and if the challenges keep coming, then there's going to be a good reason to keep going back to it for some time to come. You can get one directly from Dr. Volker via the Way Website.