It's about time I got round to reviewing the 2012 Karakuri Christmas presents. I think I've left it long enough that people will have been able to play with them all and not have me spoil anything. One of the really interesting things about the membership is the Christmas present(s) and not knowing what you'll get, gut in general knowing that the boxes will be unique, and made to a very high standard.
Sunflower - Tatsuo Miyamoto
First up for this years reviews is strangely, the last box I acquired. This one popped up on one of the puzzle forums with someone selling it and despite knowing it was a very simple box, I liked the look of it and decided to grab it, especially since the person selling it was asking for the same price as he'd paid for it direct from Karakuri!
Sunflower, designed and made by Tatsuo Miyamoto initially appears to be a fairly plain box, with a stripe of red wood across one face. The puzzle measures 7" x 7" x 7.5", made from Walnut, Keyaki, and Karin. With some initial investigation you'll find that the panel on the front will depress slightly, and the base seems to also depress. It won't take much to realise that there's a lid on the box, and removing that you see the reason the box is named Sunflower.
I don't want to give away any details about how the box works, other than saying that this is a simple two step box, which despite it's simplicity did put a smile on my face when I opened it for this first time, given the way the mechanism works. My only small issue with the box is that the mechanism is really loose for me. This may have been to ensure that there was enough room for wood expansion, but in my climate it's so lose that it will move on it's own. A little bit of finishing wax added at the right place has easily resolved the issue, so not a big problem, and may be easy to fix up any issues you have on your copy.
Twin 2 - Hideaki Kawashima
The second box from this year's Christmas presents and one of those I ordered myself is the Twin 2 from Hideaki Kawashima.
I have been very impressed with the style of Kawashima's boxes over the last few years, and really like the simple style of his boxes. Measuring 3" x 3" x 3" and made from three contrasting woods it's a good looking puzzle, and very similar to some of the previous works he's made. The woods used are Cherry, Maple and Katsura, which gives the puzzle striking contrast between the faces.
I'm not going to show any pictures of the puzzle open, as I feel it gives too much away, however this is a really fun puzzle to play with. As you start to investigate the movement in the panels, you'll find a what seems like a spring loaded panel which surely must me useful, and will eventually lead to a discovery on the path to solving the puzzle.
With two hidden compartments both of a reasonable size, given the outer dimensions, it's a good box, that really makes the most of the space available. Again, like the Sunflower it's not a challenging box, requiring just 6 steps to open both compartments, however it is a beautifully made box, and great to hand to new puzzle box enthusiasts as it's not too hard and will stand up to some harsh handling.
As an overall summary which I think applies to all of this year's Christmas presents, none of the boxes are challenging from a puzzle perspective, and as such many people have commented that they are disappointing from that regard. I have to agree to some extent, as there have certainly been more challenging puzzles to come from the Karakuri group, however these are not the most expensive boxes made, and are as close to 'mass produced' as you really get where the quality of craftsmanship is still so high.
You may also be wondering why I'm including the boxes that each of the puzzles came in in my photographs. I'm not just trying to be artistic, but actually each designer has their own box style, so even before opening the puzzle box, you know who the puzzle came from. If you're a member and not familiar with the designers boxes, then maybe this will help serve as a guide for you.
My favourite type of puzzle is the Puzzle Box, or trick opening box, and being a member of the Karakuri group certainly helps me get my fix of puzzle boxes. Bits & Pieces however have been known to reproduce some of the Karakuri boxes at very reasonable prices. I've mentioned some of the problems I've had with their work in previous reviews, but I had heard that their puzzle boxes were pretty well done, so when I got the chance to add a copy of the Kamei Book Box to my collection I decided to take the chance. Puzzle Master carries this puzzle if you'd like to pick one up for yourself, although they seem to be out of stock at the time of writing this review.
As you can see, this is a nice looking box. The fit and finish is very good, and there's no obvious sign of the mechanism. The puzzle measures 4.5" x 7" x 1.5", so would easily pass for a hard backed book sitting on a shelf. The Walnut cover and spine, with maple pages looks like a book and the contrasting colour of the woods used could easily fool a casual passer by that this was a real book. The finish has a nice sheen to it, and while I'd not say it was Karakuri level of craftsmanship, it is well made. The hidden drawer does slide out nearly 1/4" while the puzzle is 'locked' so you know how it will open when you find the mechanism.
The puzzle itself is not difficult, with only one move required to unlock the drawer, however it is well hidden, and the mechanism is tight so it gives nothing away as you investigate each side to try to find the hidden movement. The panels are all solid, and give little away about how the drawer will open, however that is also a clue as to hoe it will open as there are only a few panels on the box.
Looking at the pages of the book, the wood used really gives a great impression that there are individual pages in there, and that you could open the book and read it. I have to applaud Bits and Pieces for taking the time here and making full use of the grain in the wood to make a great looking puzzle.
Despite previous reservations, I have to admit that I am fairly happy with this puzzle and wouldn't have a problem recommending that someone pick up a copy of it for themselves. It is a simple box, so don't expect to be puzzling over it for hours, however it's an elegant Kamei design which is made very affordable, and keeps an aesthetic level that you would expect from a Karakuri box.
Note: After posting the initial review one of my puzzle friends got in touch to say that I may have missed something about this box, and in fact there was an extra secret hidden in there. This box works as a sort of magic trick where you can place something into the drawer, and make it disappear. Initially I thought that there was just a little extra play in the B&P version but it turns out I was entirely wrong.
In my mind that makes this an even better version of the box as it fully retains all the original characteristics of Kamei's design, at a great price and I'm not ashamed to say I totally missed it! I don't like to look at puzzle solutions, preferring to enjoy solving the puzzle for myself, but having gone back to look at the solution card which came with the puzzle it does not even mention this little secret, so if you have this puzzle, go give it a second look, you may just be surprised!
Back in August last year at IPP, I had the pleasure of meeting Robert Sandfield and talking to him about his puzzles, as well as picking up a copy of his Banded Dovetails, and ReBanded Dovetails puzzles.
First up is his Banded Dovetail puzzlebox. Designed by Perry McDaniel, and crafted by the very talented Kathleen Malcolmson. Crafted from Mahogany, Alder and Prima Vera, I think you'll agree that this is a great looking puzzle box. As is the Sandfield brothers trademark, there's dovetails in there, with what looks like two bands which have been pinned to the outside of the box, creating an impossible joint. Of course, it wouldn't be much of a puzzle if it were impossible, but the impression is very convincing. The puzzle measures 3.2" x 2.25" x 1.5" so its small however I think the size really adds to the charm of the puzzle.
The goal is simply to open the box, but when is it ever simple when someone hands you something telling you it's simple? When you pick up the box you'll quickly find that shaking it will reveal something rattling around in there. Whether that's useful or not it's hard to tell, but any clue with a locked box is useful right?
This one took me a good hour or more to figure out. All the things I had thought of were entirely unhelpful and didn't get me any closer to solving the puzzle. Really the thanks for that go to Kathleen who's made this so well that there's no clues at all as to what's going on. I think it's made even more impressive when you realise how many moves are required to open the puzzle.
As well as being a great puzzle, there's also a bit of a story behind the puzzle too. If you have a look at Brian's review of the puzzle, you'll see he lists it as IPP 28 (Prague) from 2008. Allard's review lists it as IPP 29 (San Francisco) from 2009, and my bag has IPP 30 (Japan) 2010 listed and a different name for the puzzle! So what was really going on? Sadly I can't tell you, but it was an IPP 29 exchange puzzle. Both Allard's bag, and my info sheet which came with the puzzle list IPP 29, and have IPP 28 crossed out. Whatever happened, I'm glad that this one made it out as it was worth the wait.
This is a real gem, and if you can get your hands on one, don't hesitate!
During the Exchange, Robert's puzzle this year was the ReBanded Dovetails. When he exchanged this puzzle box, he mentioned that he'd had Kathleen remake the boxes as apparently some people had managed to open the Banded Dovetail, so this was to resolve that issue. A fun little story, and a nice way to present the new puzzle.
As you can see, the appearance is very similar to the Banded Dovetails puzzle. Made by Kathleen, and designed by both Robert Sandfield and Kathleen Malcolmson you know that there's going to be something clever going on. This one is made from Baltic Birch plywood, Walnut and Lacewood. Plywood isn't the sort of material that you'd expect to find in a puzzle box, but given the striking striped appearance and great finish, I really like the look of it. The wonderful snake skin like appearance of the lacewood really sets the box off nicely. Measuring 3.2" x 2.5" x 1.5" it's slightly larger than the Banded Dovetails, but only slightly. Of course the outer appearance is where any similarity ends.
Again when you pick it up, there's a rattling from inside, and if you've already solved the Banded Dovetails, you might think that this gives you a clue. Well, prepare to be disappointed! Requiring a few more moves than the previous puzzle this one is every but as well crafted. I managed to open this one far faster than the first, taking less than 5 minutes, but I enjoyed it every bit as much.
This is a clever and well made box, with a couple of nice tricks up its sleeve and the mechanism is very well hidden. Hat's off to Kathleen again there.
Both of these are great puzzles, and I'd say don't hesitate to add them to your collection if you get a chance.
Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays to all my readers. I have a very special post today from Stickman himself. I'm very proud to be able to bring you the Constellation Puzzlechest.
This beautiful chest is his latest creation, and is a one-off commissioned piece. The rest of the post comes directly from Stickman. There are various photos throughout and a video at the bottom of the page, all supplied by Stickman. I hope you enjoy this sneak peak.
The Stickman Constellation Puzzlechest is an intricate mechanical puzzle commissioned to Robert Yarger. Crafted from Leopardwood, Walnut and Amboyna, it measures a whopping 2 feet square and weighs over 65 lbs. (NOTE: If you are the person who commissioned this chest, you may not want to review the video at the bottom of the page. While it does not reveal any details of the solution, you might not want to see the position of mechanical parts.)
The chest houses a total of 16 small puzzleboxes, each of which may appear identical, but are unique in their solution. Inside each of these is a single mechanical part. It requires logical deduction to determine just where each of these must be placed in order to make the chest’s mechanism operate.
Once completed, this mechanism will operate by pushing drawers into the chest. Decorative inlays on their sides engage and rotate internal wooden gears, and pushing in one drawer will cause another one to come out of some other side (and not always the side you expect). The sequence in which puzzleboxes are pushed into different openings is key to manipulating the mechanism properly.
The patterns of celestial constellations are etched on both sides of the chest’s lid. Place gold magnetic spheres (representing stars) on the lid and magnets embedded in the mechanics below move and rotate them until they line up with these etched celestial patterns. This is not as easy as it seems though, as the operation of some components influenced output of others. Once this is accomplished, one of the two hidden drawers of this chest will open. Flipping over the lid to solve the puzzle for a second constellation will unlock another secret drawer.
I have been a fan of Jean Claude Constantin's work for a while. Many of his designs are laser cut pieces which press together making for some very characteristic 'Constantin' looking designs and almost all of his puzzles have some unique and interesting mechanic that makes them worth owning. Radbox is another design which is a classic laser cut puzzle box design with some striking features which makes it really stand out. I got my copy from Puzzle Master.
As you can see from the image above, the design is quite striking. The Maple panels, Paduak top with Maple leaf and banded Maple insets really looks good. If you have any misconceptions that laser cut puzzles are 'cheap' or somehow 'low quality' then this box is a good example to prove that as a false statement. There are a lot of really nice design choices such as the gentle curve on the top of the side panels and the curved handles on the sides which don't change the mechanism of the puzzle, but really help to finish the puzzle. At 4.5" x 2.75" x 2.5", the box is a good size, and has very little reduction in inner dimensions so you'll be able to store something around the size of two packs of playing cards inside.
Examining the box you'll quickly see that at one end there is a peg attached to the sliding lid, and at the other you can see something curved at the other end, which all together stops the lid moving more than a new millimeters. Shaking the box, there's a slight rattling, and spinning or blowing on it doesn't seem to do much to move the lid any further. Some careful examination will lead to some discoveries about how the locking mechanism works, before making you realise that you may not have fully understood what's going on as the box remains resolutely shut.
The mechanism is simple yet clever and once you understand how it works, you can open the box repeatedly and fairly quickly. Although it is similar to mechanisms I've seen in other boxes, it does take the idea one step further making it worth a look. Overall a fun box, and great value if you can get your hands on one.