Seems like I've managed to get a little time free recently to play with the odd puzzle or two, and one I've been playing with on and off for quite some time is the latest puzzle box from Eric Fuller, in the form of the Havanas #3. Not only have I had time to play with a few of the puzzles in my backlog, but I even seem to have time to write about them!
When Eric first offered these back in November of 2013, I had the choice of all three woods he'd made the puzzle in. From the choice of Birdseye Maple, Pink Ebony and Flame Maple, I opted for the Flame Maple.
No matter how hard I've tried, none of the photographs in this review do the puzzle justice. The Woods are simply stunning, and need to be handled to be appreciated. Sadly it seems there was a small error when Eric was making these, and he only had enough boxes to meet the pre-order quota of 50 boxes.
Measuring 1.7" x 1.9" x 6.4", this is the largest of the three Cigar boxes Eric has made so far, and given the trend, I'm not sure how large the next one is going to be. Strangely, despite this trend, the cigars inside the box haven't increased in size.
The box is made from quartersawn Sapele, which is remarkably stable, and allows Eric to make the box from fairly thin stock without worrying about the wood warping. Each box then has the fancy woods applied as thin veneer to each face. The Quilted Sapele on the sides has a fantastic appearance, and to my mind is complimented well with the Flame Maple on the top and bottom.
I'm a little slower in writing about it, not because I've not been lazy, but because it's taken me this long to open it! Eric stated in the original information about the puzzle that "I've given the prototype to several friends to play with and it seems to take most of them roughly an hour to solve." Well I can say it took me several months to solve it. The first few moves are fairly simple, and won't challenge anyone who's played with a traditional Japanese puzzle box. After that, things come to a complete halt, and no further progress can be made.
Without giving too much away, there's something of a red herring in there, that threw me off for far too long. A non-puzzler would probably have opened the puzzle far faster. The final couple of moves are very well hidden, and the box gives absolutely nothing away as to how it will open.
In all honesty, this isn't my favorite of the puzzles in the Havanas series, and the first is still the best puzzle in my view. I'm looking forward to the fourth box in the series now, and just hope that I manage to open it a little easier than I did with #3.
At IPP32 in Washington DC, Derek Bosch unveiled his latest puzzle design, the Rhombic Maze Burr or RMB for short, and took names of people who were interested in ordering a copy. I've been fortunate enough to have both of his prototypes to play with for the last few months, and it's about time I let you see them.
If you're familiar with Kagen Schaefer's Maze Burr then this might look a little familiar to you. Indeed it's a very similar design, but Derek has taken it one level further by transforming the frame from a cube into a much more complicated Rhombic frame. That means that the number of moves to open the puzzle can range anywhere up to 350+ moves.
The goal of the puzzle is to slide the plates and work toward removing the plate which has a slot cut to allow it to be removed from the frame. The plates are dual layered, where the top layer moves in one axis, and is connected by a pin to a lower plate which moves in the orthogonal axis. The lower plate has a pin screwed into it which runs in the maze tracks cut into the top plate. As you move the bottom plate, it sticks out through the frame, preventing the adjacent plate from being moved in that direction. To be able to solve it, you often need to think several moves ahead to make sure you don't block your progress. It's much simpler than it sounds and the video should show things much more clearly than I can describe them.
With the same set of plates, much like the Maze Burr, the way the plates are arranged changes the number of moves required to solve the puzzle. Initially Derek had two sizes of the puzzle available, the small and large as seen above. Derek was also offering two different materials, having both a fully 3D printed version, and one with Acrylic plates. Add to that a possible option to change the colours to whatever combination you wanted, and it's an attractive offer. The large puzzle measures around 4" at it's widest, and the small is around 3". Both are a good size however I'd say given that I have reasonably large hands I prefer the larger size.
Having been able to play for a while I can say that both versions work exactly the same, so the size doesn't change anything. With the larger fully 3D printed version, the friction between the plates initially was making it a challenge to slide them, however as the plates rub past each other they quickly become much smoother and I didn't find it to be a problem. Given that I was the first person to really play with this copy, I had some breaking in to do. In some regards it may have been helpful since Derek had configured the larger maze in one of it's harder configurations so when I found a stiffer plate it tended to mean I was moving in the right direction. With over 300 moves (assuming I didn't backtrack) it was quite a challenge, but after 4 months of playing I did finally solve it. It's an epic challenge, but certainly possible. With logical thought and analysis of what needs to be moved, you can continue working in the right direction.
The smaller version was configured in a much more manageable setting with around 50 moves required, and I was able to solve it in around an hour. Learning from the simpler configuration I was able to apply that to the more complicated setup as the same principles apply. Of course if you get entirely stuck, you can unscrew the pins and always reset the puzzle so you're not going to be stuck.
Since Derek gave me these versions to play with, he has been hard at work and is now able to make the mazes scalable, and has also etched letters into the frame and maze plates to make it much simpler to describe how to configure a particular maze. These modifications will be available when the puzzle goes into production later this year. The puzzle will come with a booklet containing around 50 configurations for the puzzle, and I know Derek has done analysis with 5 additional exit plates although there are no plans at this point to include the additional exit plates. The puzzle has been computer analysed producing 20 Terabytes of data so I can assure you there is no shortage of configurations to keep you busy!
One thing to note is that as you can see, with the Shapeways 3D printed frames the white discolours reasonably quickly and can end up looking quite dingy. One option is to dye the frame a darker colour which should help. Derek has also hinted to me that he may offer a DIY version of the puzzle which would be cheaper, but there's no details about what that would be at this point.
From the photograph above showing how to reconfigure the plates, you can see that the puzzle is hollow, so there is empty space inside, however the opening to that inner space is rather small.
If you're interested in a copy of Derek's RMB, then let me know and I can pass on Derek's details to you.
Laby Box was Hendrik Haak’s IPP31 Exchange puzzle which I was fortunate enough to buy a copy of from Wil Strijbos some time back after I saw it listed in one of his regular puzzle emails. Since it looked a little different to the rest of the puzzles in my collection at the time, and also being a pretty handsome box, I decided to get one. Wil seems to have that effect, as various other puzzlers will attest!
Made from Quilted Maple, and what I believe is Paduak for the keys, with perspex to hold the pins and let you see what you're doing, this laser cut puzzle, really looks great. It's a step above the quality of many other laser cut wooden puzzles out there in terms of finish and looks, and with 3.5" x 2.5" x 2" as the internal space, and an overall size of 5" x 4" x 2.5", it's not a small puzzle. The large internal space, would allow you to store some things in there, and given all the open space in the lid, you'd be tantalised with glimpses of what's inside. The design is superb as everything is on show, there's no hidden components, so the only thing between you and an open box is your ability to navigate a simple maze (if only it were that easy!)
Allard has also written about this puzzle. Now I don't normally mention other reviews quite as soon, but here I have a point in doing so. Allard mentions in his review that there's a hint as to how to start from Hendrik by the holes in the ends of the maze keys, and notes that you're sent in the wrong direction to start with. Well the first time I solved this one, I found exactly the same as Allard did, I was off in the wrong direction to start. But after resetting, and solving it many more times, I've never done the same again. I can easily open and close the lid without starting off in the wrong direction.
It probably took me around 5 minutes to solve this the first time, but I can now solve it in less than a minute as I know the path that's needed. One disappointing thing I have found is that the left most pin in my photo, and the corresponding top maze box really doesn't add much to the puzzle. From the starting position you can quickly move the pin to the top, and slide the bottom key off that pin, and from there on, it never needs to move again as the top and bottom maze grooves give full motion left/right, so it's use is limited.
I had initially thought that once you solved the puzzle with the maze plates in one orientation, you could then flip the plates to create a new challenge, however the maze plates are cut to only allow them to engage with the pins in one orientation, so it's a single challenge.
Once you've removed the bottom maze plate by sliding it all the way off the pins, the top perspex sheet can be lifted off, and the corresponding perspex sheet can be lifted up and slid out of the end, allowing you access to the internal space. It's a fun puzzle, that may not keep you guessing for too long, but does make you think and observe the interactions between each of the maze sections. It's a nice puzzle to hand to friends as it's not too tough, but from my experience tends to make people smile when they get it open, so all round a good puzzling experience.
You can get a copy of Laby Box from Hendrik Haak's shop, for the very reasonable sum of €35.