Neil's Puzzle Building Blog
3Feb/140

Havanas #3 – Mike

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!

Havanas #3 - 'Mike'

Havanas #3 - "Mike"

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.

All three so far

All three so far

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.

A few other puzzlers have already written about this puzzle, so have a look at the thoughts from Allard and Jerry.

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.

Havanas #3 opened to release the cigar

Havanas #3 opened to release the cigar

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.



11Jan/138

Rhombic Maze Burr

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.

The large and small RMB's side by side.

The large and small RMB's side by side.

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 small version showing how the pieces move.

The small version showing how the pieces move.

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.

The large RMB with two plates removed to be reconfigured.

The large RMB with two plates removed to be reconfigured.

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.



3Apr/122

Laby Box

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!

Laby Box in the starting position

Laby Box in the starting position

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.

The Key Removed

The Key Removed

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.

Open, and the pieces separated

Open, and the pieces separated

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.



25Jul/110

Internal Combustion

Internal combustion is a nice framed burr puzzle available in a number of formats. This version, available from Puzzle Master is made from a block of aluminuim. Other versions are available, and I have seen copies of the puzzle made in wood. The object is to remove the four 'pistons' from the frame. Thanks Puzzle Master for sending me this puzzle to review.

Internal Combustion

Internal Combustion

At 2 1/3" square by 1 1/3" high, this is a pretty solid little puzzle. Given that the version I have is made from aluminium, it's a heavy little puzzle, and really feels good when you're solving it. I was pleasantly surprised when I started playing with this puzzle that the fit of the pieces was fairly good. I had expected it to be a lot less precise as a mass manufactured puzzle, however that wasn't the case at all. The movement of each of the internal pieces is smooth and makes the puzzle easy to work with and fun to solve.

Internal Combustion

Internal Combustion

As the name suggests, the movement of the pieces when you're solving the puzzle is much like that of an engine. Each of the pieces is required to move back and forth much like the pistons of an engine to free each other piece, and eventually remove the first piece, then each of the other pieces in turn. I really like the movement when solving, it has a rhythm to it that you can't help but enjoy.

It took around 20 minutes to solve the puzzle, then return it to its starting state. Puzzle Master rates it as Level 8/10 - Demanding, which is a fair rating. It's certainly tougher to put back together than to take apart, especially if you leave the pieces jumbled for a while before going back to re-assemble it.

Overall, this is a good puzzle, and I'd recommend picking up a copy for your collection. See what Oli had to say about it here, and Jerry's thoughts here



6May/112

Revomaze Black Extreme

This entry is part 5 of 10 in the series Revomaze

Continuing the Revomaze series, available from Revomaze and also in limited numbers from PuzzleMaster.

The Black Revomaze

The Black Revomaze Puzzle

I've already covered the basic puzzle in my earlier reviews of the Series I puzzles, so for general information on the Revomaze puzzles, I'd suggest reading that post here.

The Black Revomaze, available in both Plastic and originally Metal (although only 20 metal puzzles were produced and are very rarely available for sale from their current owners) was the first Revomaze which was not part of the main series of puzzles, incorporating Blue, Green, Bronze, Silver and Gold. When the engineering company was working with Chris Pitt on the puzzles, they produced the Black as a way to show Chris what they were capable of, and, so the story goes as a challenge to Chris to open a puzzle that he didn't know the route through maze. Chris like the design they created so much that he added it to the line of puzzles to be produced and sold. The reason why, I'll explain later.

Similar to the Blue and Green puzzles, the Black is a static maze, however it is much closer to Bronze in execution as the orthogonal lines from the Blue and Green seem to be non-existent leaving only curves and sharp corners. This makes for a very interesting challenge, as some of the sharp turns create very thin ledges to be navigated, increasing the chances of clicking into the ever-present trap lines. The curves also add a challenge to mapping as anyone who has tried to map the Bronze will know already.

The real beauty of the Black is the reveal you get either when mapping the puzzle (if your map is accurate enough) or in the metal puzzle when removing the core, and seeing the maze for the first time. I was fortunate enough to be able to borrow one of the few metal versions from a good friend, however due to the way I create my maps, I didn't see the hidden secret in my map until I opened the core (although I had my suspicions!). Once open not only are is the stunning engineering to create the curves revealed, but the maze also contains a the company name! Now it's obvious why Chris liked the black so much, and decided to produce it and allow the public the joy of solving the puzzle as well.

As a note on mapping the mazes, the map you create depends on how you view the puzzle. Either the pin can move through the maze, as though it were a person walking inside a huge static maze, or as though the pin were hanging from the ceiling, and the maze were navigated around it. In the puzzle, the pin is fixed in the sleeve, and the maze moves around it, not the other way around. This has two effects, your directions are inverted and also your start and end points are reversed. If you think about the maze itself, the start is actually in the middle of the core, and you work toward the end of the core (the leftmost point is the end). When most people think about a maze, the start at the outside and either work to the other end or the centre depending on the maze, so starting in the middle may not be natural for most.

Personally I map from the viewpoint of walking around inside the maze, and as a result all my maps are mirror images of the real maze. At one point when creating a map for the Silver, I took a wooden dowel, and carved the maze onto the dowel, using my excel map as the source. Of course this meant that my map is back to front compared with the real maze, however it did let me think around the problems I was trying to solve!

Black is a great puzzle, and really fun to solve. If you're lucky enough to own, or be able to borrow a metal version, the core is really the highlight, but if not, don't pass up the chance of trying a very fun puzzle with the plastic version.



3May/111

Revomaze Silver Extreme

This entry is part 4 of 10 in the series Revomaze

As promised previously, here's the fourth review in the Revomaze series, available from Revomaze and also in limited numbers from PuzzleMaster. The last few of these puzzles are currently being made, and it's unknown whether more will be made of the Silver puzzle, so if you want one, get it now!

The Silver Revomaze

The Silver Revomaze Puzzle

I've already covered the basic puzzle in my first review of the blue, so for general information on the Revomaze puzzles, I'd suggest reading that post here.

The fourth puzzle from Revomaze is the Silver. This puzzle, like the Bronze isn't available as a plastic puzzle, as it's not possible to create some of the internals in plastic.

The Silver is rated by Revomaze as having a difficulty of 90/100 (extreme) and an estimated opening time of 160 hours. (Yes, 160 is correct, it's not a typo!) It is described as a dynamic maze and is the hardest puzzle to be released to date from Revomaze. This is a big jump up from the Blue and Green puzzles, and is a big learning curve from even the Bronze.

While the Bronze puzzle had a trap that you couldn't get out of very early in the puzzle, Silver seems even worse. When you start, there is a tiny 'L' shape you can explore, one trap and nothing else. It seems that Chris has this puzzle locked up tight. The new elements added to Silver are numerous, and understanding each of them takes time. New in the Silver is the added difficulty that how you orient the puzzle while solving it affects things in the maze.

The biggest kick in Silver though is what is lovingly referred to in the forums as the "not-a-canyon". You'll know it when you get to it as the shaft will freely spin 360 degrees, with no seeming obstructions at around the half way mark on the shaft. Short of growing wings, there seems to be no way of crossing this gap. The puzzle gives you no feedback as to what's going on, and at this point the only way over is to put the puzzle down and Think (c) Allard.*

There is a web clue on the Revomaze website which if you can figure it out might help you across. There's nothing about the clue that is simple, so deciphering it may take as long as crossing the gap itself. (yes, that was a hint for the Silver clue but it's all I'm giving you!)

Worse than this is that the SWAMP awaits you once you cross the not-a-canyon, and it's even stranger. The spinning canyon is the easy bit! Once in the SWAMP, you'll find walls appearing and disappearing and no obvious way out. It's time to put the thinking caps on, and figure out what could be going on to cause the strangeness you're experiencing. Only when you truly understand it will you be rewarded with progress. There be crocs in there!

Having eventually found your way out of the SWAMP, you'll see that glorious dot on the shaft. You've made it. Your hands are shaking at this point, and you're excited. Wait, no, what the? The dot stops a centimetre from lining up with the dot on the sleeve. What could Chris have possibly done to leave you so close yet so far from the end? The final twist to the Silver really shows you just how cleverly built these puzzles are, and just how evil Chris is.

It took me around 150 hours to open the Silver. It's an amazingly tough puzzle, but when you finally open it, and see the beauty of that maze inside, it's all worth it. Not to mention that you can stop swearing at Chris and his ingenious mechanisms.

I'm asked fairly frequently whether you need to have solved one of the other puzzles in the series before opening Silver. The only answer I can give is that no-one so far has opened Silver without having previously opened another puzzle. With only approximately 36 Silver puzzles opened since their launch in October 2009 it's not an easy puzzle, and truly deserves its name as one of the most difficult puzzles in the world.

You may remember me mentioning back in the first post in the series of reviews that the puzzle was pretty tough and hard to break. Well Silver when initially released had a small problem. Something inside didn't quite work the way it was supposed to, and as a result a number of the original Silvers were un-openable. When Chris realised the issue, he sent all the people who had a V1 a free replacement for their puzzles. So V2 was issued which had a couple of small tweaks inside to fix the issues, and ensure they worked the way they were intended. Now that's what you call good Customer Service. All Silver's sold now are V2, and although they no longer have the double dot on the sleeve to confirm they are V2, it's safe to say that when you buy one it will be the V2. The V1's are with their original owners in most cases, or still with Chris in a few.

The one word of warning I'll give is that if you do decide to buy one, and I highly recommend you do, this one will take its toll on your fingers and your sanity. You have been warned. This is a brilliant puzzle, but it's by no means easy.

* If you want to know who Allard is and why he Thinks a lot, then join the Revomaze forum!

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