Several months back, I received a copy of "You and Mona Lisa", a Mirrorkal puzzle, designed by Ivan Moskovich and produced by Recent Toys. So why has it taken me so long to write about it? Well truth be told it's taken me this long to solve it!
The puzzle is an interesting variation on the 15 puzzle, with this version having 9 tiles, plus the space needed to move the tiles which is conveniently placed off to the side of the puzzle. What makes the puzzle unique and quite so challenging is that the image you see when looking at the puzzle is being reflected by an angled mirror from an adjacent piece. The goal, as with any other 15 puzzle is to scramble the tiles, and then restore the original order so you can see the picture of the Mona Lisa.
The earlier version of the Mirrorkal Puzzle was a removable block version where the nine puzzle pieces were stored in a frame. In that version you are able to remove the cubes and inspect each side, allowing you to match the correct side with the corresponding mirror to make up the solution. With the sliding tile version, things are much more challenging. Since the cubes can't be removed, you will have to either position the side of the cube you want to see with the empty space adjacent to it, or place it in the centre and surround it with mirrors pointing at the cube, to allow all sides to be seen. Having done this you'll need to remember what picture is where, and then position each tile in the correct location to make the final image. Oh and if that's not enough of a challenge, remember that since you're dealing with mirrors, the images are upside down on the sides of the cubes!
As you can see, once the puzzle pieces are scrambled, in most cases they no longer show parts of the Mona Lisa image, making the challenge even more difficult. Something else which you need to take into account is that there may be more that one cube with the same a part of the final image on it, so not only do you need to find the parts of the image, and place them in the correct spot to be reflected by the adjacent mirror, but the piece you've identified may not even be the correct one. This happened to me where I was trying to place the last two cubes, and they were swapped from where they needed to be. It turned out that I needed the other piece with the same angled mirror, which I'd already placed in the opposite corner.
As an interesting note, the 15 style version of the puzzle originally used an image of Einstein, but was later changed to the Mona Lisa. The workings of the puzzle is still the same, just the images which were swapped. In fact if you look at the frame of the puzzle, it still reads "You and Einstein". Puzzle Master still has copies of the puzzle with the original Einstein image if you'd like that version.
Whether you're looking for the slightly harder challenge of the sliding tile version or a simpler puzzle with the framed cubes, both versions of the puzzle are well worth picking up and I can highly recommend them. These would make great stocking fillers, although you may need fairly big stockings!
For some more thoughts on the Mirrorkal - "You and Mona Lisa" puzzle, Gabriel's Review has some more thoughts.
Note: Sorry about the poor images in the review. Given the mirrors in the puzzle, it's not easy to photograph.
The series of Moeraki games are produced by Kasimir Landowski, and are a series of sliding tile puzzles, where the object is to scramble the pieces then return them to their unscrambled state. The Moeraki 3 and 4 puzzles can be purchased from Casland Games along with versions 1-5 in electronic format.
In an interesting story, Ivan Moscovich created the same puzzles and patented their design in the US in 1985 (US patent No.4,509,756) and were licensed to Meffert Novelties in 1983. The digital versions were licensed to Sony-Online. Shortly after posting my review I was contaced by Ivan requesting that I consider removing my review as a result of the dispute over the puzzle. Since the original review I did for Moeraki 4, and re-posting this today, Ivan and Kasimir have reached an agreement around the puzzles sale and distribution, and I'm pleased to be able to once again restore the review with full consent of both Mr Moscovich and Mr Landowski!
So why Moeraki? The designer happened to stumble across a website on the Moeraki Boulders: round rocks found in New Zealand, near the village of Moeraki on the east coast of the country's South Island. The rocks are not formed from erosion but were naturally created like pearls and Kasimir thought it suited his puzzle and hence the name.
I ordered both Moeraki 3 and 4, as I like my physical puzzles, however they both come with a PC version of the game included on a CD, so you get both when buying the physical puzzle. Personally I think there's a lot to be said for being able to physically push the pieces yourself, however it's a nice bonus, and certainly helps in learning how the pieces interact before messing up such a nice looking arrangement.
Unfortunately, the electronic version is Windows PC only, so if like me you're a Mac owner you're out of luck. Fortunately, there is iOS versions available for iPhone/iPad/iPod, including standalone versions of 3 and 4 for $.99 each, and a pack including all 5 for $2.99 which I think is a great deal.
The puzzle itself measures 5.5" x 5.5" x 0.75" and is certainly a well made and solid puzzle. It comes in a clear plastic box wrapped in a cardboard sleeve (entirely in German) which holds both the puzzle, and the CD with the PC version. Sadly mine suffered some rough handling on its way to me and most of the plastic pegs inside the box which hold the puzzle in place had snapped leaving the puzzle free to bounce around inside the box. Fortunately that didn't damage the puzzle at all, so isn't a big issue.
The plastic coloured beads have a glass like quality to them and really reflect the light, giving a lot of depth to the rings. The movement of the pieces is incredibly smooth, and each ring is easily turned by pushing lightly on any one bead. The board itself has coloured inner segments which are a guide for returning the puzzle to its solved state once scrambled. Interestingly, there's no real reason why you should have to do this, as any colour could be placed at any outer section of the rings, and it certainly adds an additional challenge trying to swap the colours to a different starting position.
The playing board consists of three interlinked circles of coloured beads, which intersect at six points, meaning that moving the beads in one circle affects those in one of the other circles. Given the six points of intersection in the three rings, the interaction between rings in this version is higher which adds to the difficulty level. This is even more true when you look at the version I have where the beads in the centre are not all the same colour!
If you have a look on the website, then you'll see that the version of Moeraki 4 which is available has only four colours instead of the seven seen in my version. That's thanks to Kasimir sending me a unique hard version rather than the regular version! It is available as an option on the electronic version as a possible combination to play, but clearly Kasimir has read my blog, and knows I like a challenge! Having played around with the puzzle for a while, solving it by ignoring the colours in the centre isn't too hard, and I can normally solve it from a well shuffled board in around 8 minutes. Solving for all seven colours however is much harder and takes me around double that time. So I'd rate this as a challenging puzzle, but it's one that you will be able to solve (unlike me and the Rubiks cube).
From playing the electronic version, there are a number of different possible patterns which can be made from the same basic board, including a version where there are only two colours, and each adjacent bead is an alternating colour, and the version on the website where all centre beads are clear, rather than the three extra colours in my version. The board in the puzzle has a plug which has been glued in place during assembly to prevent the beads being removed, however it would be easy enough to make additional beads available when ordering to make these configurations possible, and be able to configure the game board for some of these options. Maybe that option could be available in future versions.
Overall, I think Moeraki 4 is an excellent puzzle, very well made, and a lot of fun to play with. Now I just need to work on improving my time to solve it. I highly recommend picking up a copy from Casland Games or if you're more of a mobile puzzler, consider the iPad/iPhone/iPad version which is great value, and every bit as challenging. For €20, which includes the PC version, that's a great price.
I'll be reviewing the Moeraki 3 soon, but feel free to look at Gabriel's review until I do.
In the most recent round of puzzles from Eric Fuller, he offered a few copies of Tom's Square Dance. Sadly I was too slow this time and didn't manage to get a copy myself. Fortunately my good friend Derek did get a copy, and he happily lent me the puzzle to play with! As the name hints, this is another great puzzle design from Tom Jolly.
The Puzzle measures 3.3" x 3.3" x 0.75" with the 'cubes' being 0.75". The goal of the puzzle is to remove the pieces from the frame and then return them back to their original positions. One of the corner blocks is held in place with a small magnet, and once removed the rest of the blocks can be slid around inside the frame. While it may sound like there's not much to this puzzle, you soon realise that there's more to it than it first looks.
The blocks are not simple pieces, and have various bits sticking out of them so that they both slide against each other, and interact with each other allowing and preventing various pieces from moving. To make things more interesting, hidden around the frame are various blocks which also prevent the inner blocks from moving around!
Eric really went all out in making this puzzle. Offered in two different frame options, Bubinga and Paduak, with Holly pieces, the contrast looks great. Over time, the Paduak frame will change from the bright red/orange it is now to a very dark brown. The beauty of this will be that the inner frame which is hidden from the light will remain bright orange, so on solving; it will make for a very pretty reveal.
The thing that really makes this special is that the puzzle pieces are all milled from solid pieces of holly, and not layered pieces glued together. As such the pieces are very strong, and the time to create these pieces is much more labor intensive than gluing the blocks together. Eric has created the pieces such that the tabs are several thousands of an inch thinner than the grooves they run in. The precision of the pieces is really stunning, and shows the quality of Eric's work. What it leaves you with is some really beautiful pieces, where the grain flows through the entire piece, something that could only be achieved with the time Eric put into the making of the puzzle.
To solve the puzzle, after removing the first block, it takes 8 more moves to remove the second piece, and as Allard and Oli have already commented in their reviews, the first piece comes out in a rather unexpected manner. It's not too difficult to remove the first piece, and the second follows not too long after that. I think the reason is that the obstructions as well as hindering also mean that there's a fairly linear path to follow to removing the pieces.
Putting the pieces back into the frame once you've taken them out and jumbled them up is a far greater challenge. It took me around 5 minutes to take the pieces out, but a couple of hours to get them all back in. It's not impossible, but certainly a good challenge.
It total, the solution is listed as a 220.127.116.11.4(.18.104.22.168). The part in brackets really doesn't count as there's so much space at that point, that things just fall out! To my mind there is really only one solution however, if you plug the pieces into burr tools once you've solved it, you'll find that it reports a second solution, with a different move count 22.214.171.124.2(.126.96.36.199). Now this alternate solution is actually identical to the original, the only change is that the two identical pieces in the puzzle are placed in the puzzle in a different order. Talking to Andreas about this, he notes that the tool will try to find a short path from the current point to removing the next piece. Depending on the state of the puzzle, this may be different, really only the count to remove the first piece is accurate.
I have to admit, I really enjoyed this puzzle. I think it's around the right level between frustration, difficulty and solvability. Eric's copy is superbly made, and while I'm a little sad I didn't manage to get a copy of my own, I'm very happy to have been able to play with it thanks to the kindness of my puzzling friends.