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.
Dragon Wing - Karakuri Christmas present from Shiro Tajima
This years Christmas present from Shiro Tajima is exactly what many of us were hoping for. For the last few years, Tajima has been making boxes with a theme of the Zodiac animal for the following year. Last year, we were treated to the Magic Hat, which was a rabbit stuck in a hat, and before that we had "The Tiger of Carboholic", so many of us were hopeful for a dragon design this year, and we weren't disappointed!
When I opened the box from the Karakuri Group, it wasn't clear exactly what I was looking at. My first impression was that the puzzle this year was some sort of irregular burr puzzle, and it wasn't until I took the puzzle out of the box, and the bag it was wrapped in that I could see we did in fact have a dragon on our hands.
Initially, the wings of the dragon are wrapped around the sides and base of the box, giving him a very streamlined appearance, and hiding his true appearance. It didn't take too long to find out that there was a little movement in the box, and I soon had the wings opened, and was able to see the box in all its glory.
Even with the wings open, this box isn't giving up its secrets easily. Playing around with the wings open I soon found that there was more that could move than just the base and the wings. Having said that, there was still no clues as to how this box would open. The base of the box is sprung, so I started investigating there to see what could possibly open. Initially I was thinking along the lines of the Karakuri small box series which I reviewed a while back.
Without giving away any of the puzzles secrets, I'd almost consider this as a new puzzle in the Small Box series. It's a nice little puzzle and the mechanism is both simple and different enough from the other small boxes, that it is a stand alone box. I really love the look of the dragon. It's simple, yet you can easily tell what it's supposed to be.
My one small issue with the box is that having opened it, the base doesn't quite go back in as far as it did before I opened it, so the wings when closed are a little tight. I don't think it's a huge issue, but it is worth noting.
As the only box I received this year, I'm really pleased to have selected Tajima as my designer. It's a great puzzle, and I'm happy to have added it to my collection.
Flemin' is an interesting puzzle from Shiro Tajima from the Karakuri Creation group. This fairly plain looking Cherry box with an inlay detail apparently conceals a hidden compartment in its centre, however it's not easy to find!
As I mentioned the goal of the puzzle is to open the shell and find the secret compartment. Opening the shell isn't too hard. The outer panels are attached to the inner cube using short dowels which run in grooves in the outside of the inner cube. The way the panels of the inner cube are glued together prevent the outer panels from being removed, and keep the solver going round in circles. Confused? The picture below should help.
Made from Cherry, Rengas and Mizuki, this take apart puzzle while fairly plain (compared to some boxes we've seen from Shiro Tajima) still has a striking appearance to its outer casing. Created back in June 2010, this box has been around for a while now, but the internal mechanism was slightly redesigned and entered in the IPP 31 design competition in Berlin.
I've spent quite a lot of time on this box, which was kindly loaned to me by Derek Bosch, and (like Derek) have singularly failed to find the internal compartment. I spoke with a couple of fellow puzzlers about this puzzle, and eventually, talking with Jim Strayer, he pointed me towards the correct technique to open the inner box. It was Jim who mentioned while I was talking to him that the mechanism had been redesigned, and that he can easily open his copy, but was only able to open the IPP copy once.
Our thoughts seem to come down to the mechanism on this copy being locked solid as a result of expansion of the wood. Sadly, it is a potential problem with wooden puzzles, and it seems that the mechanism on this box is rather sensitive to wood movement. Given that I have the puzzle on loan, I certainly didn't want to force anything and possibly break a puzzle (and my thumb being slightly out of action doesn't help). Jim did mention that to open the internal compartment the mechanism needs to move very precisely, and I was concerned about damaging what sounds like a delicate internal movement.
So for now, this one remains unsolved. I can say that having spent possibly an hour and a half working on this one (most of that before my accident), that nothing I had tried would have led me to opening it, so it is a challenging box even when you understand its mechanism.
Given the comments of other puzzlers who've struggled to open this one, and the possible problems with wood expansion, I'm not sure whether to recommend this box or not. I really like the concept behind the mechanism, and I'm sure if it works, it is both simple, unexpected and very clever. It is a challenging puzzle, so if you're looking for a puzzle box that is a little unusual, and will not work the way you expect then it's a great buy. On the other hand, if you get one where the mechanism is stuck, this will frustrate you no end.
Free Dial by Shiro Tajima was his Karakuri Group Christmas Present in 2005, and is another of the puzzle boxes Derek Bosch recently leant me.
The description of this simple looking box is anything but plain. I love reading the descriptions the designers give their puzzles. So often it reveals either something about the puzzle, or the designer.
Actually in this tiny box is loaded the enchanted power! Try! Let's turn the red dial in the front of the box. What happened? Probably it will be fantastic things. You might have a romance, might receive a message from somebody that lives far off in the Universe, or...?
Made from Japanese Raisin tree, Chanchin and Walnut, this box measures approximately 2 3/4" x 2 1/2" x 2 1/2". The big red button on the front is fairly appealing, but no matter how hard you push it's not going to depress. When Derek gave me this box I assumed that the slightly wider plate was the top, however the Shiro Tajima's page on the Karakuri website shows it as the bottom. Personally, I think I prefer it as the top.
I'm giving nothing away by telling you that the button will spin fairly freely, and that the plate just slides off. There's no mechanism, no lock, nothing clever here. It just slides right off.
Unfortunately that really doesn't help much. You're left looking at a plain top to the box, and you can see the very top of the red dial. After playing on and off with this box, I wasn't having a huge deal of success. That said, I had a fairly good day of solving puzzles, having finally cracked the Box with a tree so I had picked this back up that night, and in an 'Aha' moment, saw how to solve this one. All in all I spent around 30 minutes puzzling over this box.
It's a beautifully simple puzzle, and as with most puzzles, you have everything you need in your hands to open it, if only you can think enough outside the box to see it. In this case, thinking on top of the box may help as well. The thing I like about this puzzle is that everything is on display. There is nothing hidden, so no clever tricks or hidden mechanisms that you have to feel your way around.
The opening of the box is quite special and rather unexpected. It could easily elude you unless you pay close attention to what you see, and for that reason I really like it. This is a great little puzzle and I highly recommend playing with one if you get the chance. Given that this was a Karakuri Christmas present, there aren't that many around, but it may appear at auction occasionally, so keep your eyes open.