Back at IPP 32 in DC, I had the pleasure of playing with a puzzle box from the incredibly talented Michail Toulouzas. I was fortunate, and opened the puzzle in a few minutes, so feeling quite smug, went to close the box to leave for the next puzzler only to find that the door wouldn't shut. I realised at that point that I wanted one of these.
Returning back from IPP, I wrote to Mike, and kindly asked that if he made any more if he's consider making one for me. I was pleasantly surprised when he wrote back telling me that in fact he was making some, and he'd added me to the list!
Around a year went by and in various conversations with Mike, he assured me (and a few other puzzlers) that he'd not forgotten about us, and was still working on the puzzles. IPP was coming round again, and he had puzzles to make for Japan, so he'd delayed 'The Vault' a little while he worked on those. Now just before I'm due to get married, I get an email from Mike saying the puzzle was finished and on its way to me! Arriving just a day or two before my big day, it was a great wedding present.
The puzzle itself is 8" x 5" x 4.3" and is made from Ebony, Mahogany and Chakte Viga. Mike's attention to detail is nothing short of breathtaking, and everything down to the rivets in the hinges is beautifully finished. It's instantly recognisable as an old fashioned safe, and it feels as sturdy and solid as you'd expect and old time safe to be. Details such as the turned feet, and combination lock handle have been lovingly crafted to really make you feel like you're cracking a safe as you open it.
There is one other piece to the puzzle and that takes the form of a torch. It's sized perfectly to fit into one of those keyhole slots in the side of the puzzle, leaving your hands free to play with the knobs on the front, and able to peer into the inner workings thanks to the light provided.
After an initial inspection there's only the two knobs on the front which will do anything, and you can see quickly from peering inside what they do. The handle on the right is attached to a brass rod which will hopefully open the door, and the tumbler on the right rotates something inside. Turning that knob will reveal something useful, but that alone isn't enough to open the door. Something more is needed and it takes a little bit of experimentation to figure out how to control what's happening on the inside from the knobs on the outside. That done, you'll get a satisfying clunk, and the door will swing open.
That reveals a key inside the puzzle, as well as exposing the inner workings and Mike's signature. Given that you didn't need a key to open the puzzle, what possible use could you have for one now that it is open? The key is held on the back wall of the vault and can be lifted out of its slot and inspected. Seems fairly straight forward, but no use is apparent. Putting it back, you can try to shut the door, but soon find out it's not going to be that easy. Resetting the puzzle is every bit as much of a puzzle as opening it was. And that's a good thing!
Without giving too much away, that key is very useful, but as you'll soon learn there's no way you're fast enough to close that door before whatever is keeping it from closing resets itself, and any other attempt would leave you with the key not back in its original spot, neatly stowed on the back wall. There's another simple but well executed trick needed, and it's going to take some thinking outside of the box to solve it.
As you saw from the first image of the puzzle, it comes with a hefty puzzle book, describing the puzzle, and of course the solution should you need it. The other item in that first picture is the small card which has been sealed with a wax crest. That's the Puzzle Certificate, and is a beautiful touch that really finishes the whole experience. Hand written in Mike's flowing cursive it's a great little touch.
Overall I loved this puzzle, and I'm pretty happy to have one in my collection. With only 16 made, 4 in 2012 and 12 in 2013, with the last being a unique selection of woods, and was auctioned in Puzzle Paradise. There's also one special edition which mike made, #10 which will have a special locking mechanism, and be sent to the James Dalgety Puzzle museum. So if you happen to be there, look this one up!
If you want to see more of this puzzle, have a look at my video review below.
I want to send a huge thank you to all my puzzling friends out there. As you know from my previous video, I got married last month and as a wedding gift, a number of my puzzle friends out there decided to get me a puzzle as a wedding gift. That puzzle was a copy of Eric Fuller's Topless Box along with a special something inside. So no pressure then as I had to open the box to get to the gift for Jen and I.
Have a look at the video review below to see a little more about the puzzle, and read on for my full review.
The Topless box is a 3" cube made from Striped Quartersawn Sapele, Quilted Maple and Paduak, not mahogany as I mentioned in the video. (Sorry Eric!) It's a stunning box to look at, and the shimmer from the Sapele as you move the box is really gorgeous. Given that it's designed to go inside the Apothecary Puzzle chest, the size was fixed based on the internal dimensions of the chest. That said, it's a great size in your hands and feels really solid.
As I mention in the video, there's a lot of magnets in this puzzle, and they're all pretty strong. You certainly have you be careful not to trap a finger in the sides, as this puzzle bites. The mechanism is very elegant, and although it has magnets in it, this isn't a puzzle which uses a pin and magnet requiring you to bang and tap the puzzle to free the lock. This is far more elegant, the only thing that banging or tapping this puzzle will get you is a sore hand.
Here's what Eric had to say about the puzzle: "The "Topless Box" is my contribution to the project. I originally was only going to make enough for the submission, but got pretty excited about the design once it was finished, and decided to make it a larger run. I've seen a fair number of boxes and this one has what I believe are some unique characteristics. Unfortunately I can't show much detail of the inside of the box without giving away the workings. I can say that the box has two lids, and neither a top nor a bottom. Figuring out how to deal with that conundrum will hopefully get you on your way..."
Like Eric, I can't show you anything of the inside of the puzzle, as it really would give away what's going on, and as you know I don't like giving away solutions to puzzles. The Top and Bottom are held onto the box using some pretty strong magnets, and you'll quickly realise that they just lift off, leaving you with no sign of a way into the box. Playing around you see that this doesn't open like a traditional box, and you're really going to have to think outside the box to open it.
It's not an easy box to open, and you could easily spend hours going round in circles, and getting nowhere with this one. Once you do open it, you realise just how sneaky Eric has been, and this is quite an evil little box. There's only one way it will open, and there's no way to fluke opening it!
Great box, and highly recommended if you can find one.
It's been a while since I managed to sit down and write anything new. Not that I don't have lots to write about, just seems that with a wedding coming up, and things being rather busy with the day job, I've not had much time. Anyway, that said, here's a nice Karakuri box to give you something to read about.
The Triskele is a puzzle box designed by Hideaki Kawashima. It's a beautiful looking puzzle, as you'd expect from the Karakuri group, and it hides it's secrets well. I spent quite a bit of time fiddling with this one, and seeming to make absolutely no progress on it.
Only 25 of these were made for an exhibition that Kawashima was taking part in, so I believe from the Karakuri site, that these are reasonably rare. Kawashima notes that the mechanism is not his design, and he's not made this style of puzzle until now. So what is this you may ask?
Well it's a cube, measuring 2.8" x 2.8" x 2.8" made from Birch, Magnolia, Wenge and Oak. As you can see from the image above the panels have been selected carefully to give a stunning external appearance, and the fit is so precise that it gives no hint as to how it will open.
Sadly for me, on finding out how the box opens, it's a simple Expanding box, using the same design as Stewart Coffin's Expanding Box puzzle. It's a beautifully made copy, don't get me wrong, but from a puzzling aspect, it's certainly not a new idea. The particular copy I have been playing with is incredibly stiff, and the humidity changes, have caused it to become very challenging to open, which if you didn't know how it opened would make it near impossible to solve.
It's a good looking box, but sadly it's not new, and unless you want a very good looking but costly copy of an expanding box puzzle, I'd say leave this one alone. Go have a look at some of Vinco's versions if you're just interested in the puzzle itself.
I've written in the past about the Karakuri Cube boxes, and the small box series. This latest addition to the Cube boxes comes from Hideaki Kawashima who's one of my favorite designers currently. He describes the box as a deluxe edition of the Cube series, and having enlarged the dimensions, adding a completely new mechanism, it's a box I was looking forward to playing with.
As with the rest of the Cube series, the outer design should look very familiar, however each box has it's own opening mechanism, and for me is one of the charms. It's interesting to see just how many different ways to design a mechanism with the same outer structure.
The box itself is made from Cherry, Purpleheart, and Cucumber Tree. Yes, apparently you can get enough wood from a cucumber to make into a puzzle. Ok, so it's not the plant we get the green salad vegetable from, and if you want to know more, read on.
Measuring in at 2.75" x 2.75" x 2.75", it is a reasonable amount larger than the other Cube boxes, but is still a good size without being too big. Interestingly, I'd have expected the Cherry to be the outer wood along with the Purpleheart, however Cherry is used for the inside mechanism, and is only visible once the box is open. The wonderful light white wood on the outside is the Cucumber Tree. I think I'll have to keep a look out for some of this wood myself, since it's a USA native.
As a puzzle, you'll not be surprised to know that this isn't overly challenging. There's only a small number of moves to get to each of the two compartments, and while the sequence isn't massively different for each compartment, the difference is small enough that once you've opened one, you'll have no issue with the other.
Kawashima's mark is found on the inside of the box once opened, and it's nice to see that the designer thought about how to arrange the two internal spaces. I've seen a number of boxes with this style of solution, where the second internal space is 'upside down' when opened, meaning anything inside would fall out, or the contents of the first space need to me removed, less you tip the contents on the floor trying to get to the second space.
Overall this is a great little box, and a good simple introduction to puzzle boxes with a sensible price tag.
The final puzzle I received from this year's Karakuri Christmas presents is the one I was most looking forward to. Shiro Tajima's present. Some of you may know that Tajima's boxes for the last few years have been themed around the Chinese Zodiac, with last year seeing a Dragon themed puzzle, and a rabbit the year before. The thinking was that it would be likely we'd see a snake of some form for this year following his previous entries.
As you can see we weren't disappointed. "Uroboros is an ancient symbol of a serpent or dragon who eats his own tail, symbolizing self reflexivity. Although he must feel pain by doing so, he is in a constant state of recreating himself, thus the circular shape", we are told on the Karakuri information page. The puzzle box is perhaps the box with the most plain wood choice of all those I've reviewed so far, being made from Katsura. It is also the largest of the boxes measuring a whopping 5.5" x 4" x 2.45"
The snake wrapping around the box and eating his own tail is central to the puzzle mechanism and is well executed. There are two compartments to be found in the puzzle, and finding the first is relatively easy. There's a lot of space in there once you get the hidden compartment open, and the size of the puzzle is directly proportional to the space inside.
The second is far more challenging to find and took me a lot longer to be able to open. I do like the box despite a fairly simple exterior appearance, it has a solid mechanism, and keeps with the theme we have come to expect. Overall a really good puzzle, and I'm very glad to have it in my collection. I've already made sure that Tajima is on my craftsman list for 2013.
Next up from my collection of 2012 Karakuri Christmas Presents is the Half-Finished Box from Hiroshi Iwahara. Fortunately, he did finish the box, and it's just that name which isn't complete.
I love the look of this box, and the wood is particularly nice. It has an almost greenish tint, which I'd normally be happy in saying is Lignum Vitae, however the wood is listed as being Shiuri Cherry. With deep strong grain and a wonderful colour I really like it. 3.25" x 3.25" x 3.25" in size, the outer box is a good size, and each of the panels moves smoothly as you'd expect.
Sadly this isn't a totally new work, and is something of a reproduction of his 2008 Christmas present "Confetto Box". There are two compartments to find, and finding the first marked 'A' is certainly easier to find. The mechanism has been slightly modified from the original to ensure that all 6 plates move to get to the hidden area.
The Second compartment has been stamped in the centre of the recess. Sadly neither of the two hidden compartments are very large, as the mechanism takes up so much space around the central core. It's a nice box, and good mechanism. If you don't have a copy of the Confetto Box then this is a good one to pick up if you can. If you already have the box from 2008, then you may be disappointed by this one.
Ninomiya's 7 Step Secret Box
My fourth Christmas Present was the lottery from this year which I was lucky enough to win, so added Ninomiya's Box to my collection. With over 60 years experience making puzzle boxes, Ninomiya's work is highly sought after, and for good reason. Known for his incredible Yosegi patterns, this box is a perfect example of the skill and mastery of the art.
The photographs, really don't do this work justice. Not only is the Yosegi beautiful, and perfectly crafted, the fit and finish of the box is incredible. It is near impossible to see the seams between the panels, and what looks as though it could be a seam isn't! All four sides of the box are decorated with the Yosegi, as is the inside of the box. I have no idea how much time went into making this, but of all the boxes it is the most detailed and in some regards most impressive of the puzzles.
Measuring 3" x 4.25" x 2.25", and made mainly from Katsura, this is a seven move box (I know you'd guessed that already right!) where both sides of the box move in the process of solving the puzzle. There is a lot more work in making a box where both sides move, and the normal is that only one will move. I was even more impressed when handing the puzzle to a friend and watching him getting stuck trying to solve it. Something I hadn't realised previously is that the sequence is keyed, and there are false paths in the 7 steps, so it game me even more respect for the work done on this box.
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.
I was fortunate enough to win the lottery and was able to purchase Ninomiya's box, and I'm really glad I did. It's one of the stand out boxes from those I received this year. I have only one more box to review, so stay tuned for that soon.
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.