Seems that it's been too long since I sat down and wrote about a puzzle, but somehow life seems to have got int he way of puzzling. I've been getting ready for my wedding later this year, and making a batch of puzzles to have there, but I'll write about them later. For now here's another Vinco Puzzle that's available from has mass produced line, which Puzzle Master and others carry.
It will be no surprise to any regular reader of my blog that the quality of puzzles from Vinco is high. It's surprise, and really I'm not sure why I even need to mention it but this puzzle is no exception. The fit and finish is excellent, and Vinco's choice of contrasting woods makes for a great looking puzzle. This is a fairly small puzzle measuring 2.5" x 2.5" and is made from Plum and Maple. I now have a few puzzles in my collection made from plum, and really like the rich colour from it. Despite not being the most detailed grain, it is still a beautiful wood in its own right.
As you can see from the different views, the placement of the woods makes for some interesting patterning in the solved state. It does also help when you have the pieces separate and are trying to solve the puzzle.
With only four pieces, this isn't the most challenging puzzle, and given that it's not a coordinate motion puzzle, there's no tricky balancing of pieces needed when you're trying to get it back together. Finding the correct placement for your fingers to start taking this one apart though is a real challenge but makes for a fun if short challenge.
Given that this is a small and simple puzzle, it's a great one to have in a bag to give to friends to play with, and it shouldn't keep them stuck for too long making it a great distraction. I know I've said it in the past, but you really can't go wrong with a Vinco design.
Get Charged is a trapped object puzzle made by Bits & Pieces where the object is to remove the spark plug from its wooden cage. Two steel rods prevent the plug from being removed through either side, and the plug itself is just too long to be slid out, despite the hole in the top which might make you believe otherwise. I received my copy from Puzzle Master.
Spurred on by my recent success with the quality of Akio Kamei’s Book Box which is also from Bits and Pieces, I was in high spirits that I'd have another well made puzzle. At first glance, as you can see from the picture above, it does look like a well made puzzle. Measuring 3.75" x 2.25" x 1" and sporting a shiny new spark plug, it looks like a nice puzzle.
It arrived in the usual plain white cardboard box, but when I opened that the puzzle was tightly bubble wrapped, and I was thinking that things were looking good. Sadly when I removed the bubble wrap, I was a little disappointed.
This is what I found when I opened the packaging. Sadly the puzzle was already in the solved state, and before I could play with it by returning it to the starting position, I had to solve it to reset it. I'm actually being a little generous with the photo here, as when I took the puzzle out of the bubble wrap, the second metal bar was stuck inside the bubble wrap and I didn't find it until I re-checked all the packing, having tried to figure out why the spark plug lifted straight out of the frame, and there were two holes which did nothing in either side of the frame. Given that this is a simple puzzle, and I pretty much knew how it was going to work before it arrive it's not that much of a problem, but it was rather a shame.
Unfortunately, that's not my only problem with this puzzle. Unlike the picture on Puzzle Master's page, the joinery here is pretty poor. Rather than the nice half mortice, we have a butt joint, which works but has no strength. Also the puzzle has been badly slathered in a red paint, and not sanded prior to painting, meaning there are lots of burrs on the inside of the frame, and some sloppy excess paint in there too. Ok, it's not an expensive puzzle I hear you cry, but it really doesn't take much more effort or cost to finish the puzzle slightly better.
Also the metal bar which prevents removal of the spark plug has been drilled into the frame badly, meaning that it's squint. It doesn't affect the operation of the puzzle any, however my OCD for things being straight and parallel really screams at this minor thing. You'll also see that the frame has been damaged at some point after being painted. That's just carelessness when the puzzle was being put together.
The puzzle does come with a solution sheet, however I don't think it's a particularly well written solution. I doubt you'll need it though.
So gripes aside, this is a simple puzzle, with a fairly well known mechanism that won't keep an average puzzler stumped for long. If you're trying to introduce someone to the world of puzzles, this is a cheap way to show them this style of mechanism, and the puzzle will take some abuse, without you being too upset if it gets a little scratched up. There are better versions of this puzzle available, but depending on who you're getting it for, this may be an option for you.
The Cerebral Rings puzzle is an interesting plastic puzzle produced by Magnif. My copy came to me from Puzzle Master in the last shipment of puzzles I had arrive from them. This was a puzzle I was interested to play with as it seemed rather different than many I'd played with recently, and I hoped would be a nice change of pace.
The goal of the puzzle is to move the red plungers inside the circular shafts to positions where it will allow the black rings to slide apart in a coordinate motion, separating the three parts which make up the rings. Measuring 4" wide x 1.75" high the puzzle is a good size and the plastics used have been well finished to give a really glossy appearance as you can see in the photographs. All the edges are nicely chamfered and the curves used in the plungers mean that they are comfortable to press when you're playing with the puzzle. The fit of the pieces is good, making it difficult to see the seams where the three frame sections join.
One downside which I have to mention about this puzzle is that the inside of the tubes have been coated fairly heavily with a lubricant. Clearly the idea was to make the pieces move easily inside the tubes. Unfortunately, at least on my copy the amount of grease used was excessive, and then you push the red plungers inside the tubes, your fingers end up covered in grease, making for a fairly unpleasant experience when playing with the puzzle. The first thing I did when I opened the puzzle was to take a rag and clean out all that grease. Sadly even with all the grease in there to start with I found there were times when the plungers would get stuck in the tubes and require significant force to move them past the obstacle which they were stuck on, allowing full travel through the tube.
From the Manif website, the puzzle comes with the following description: "Fabled to have been found among the effects of the renowned astronomer Johannes Kepler, was an early version of the Cerebral Rings. This challenging puzzle baffles astronomers, astrologers and mathematicians alike. It was said that Kepler’s students had to master the expanding layers of the Cerebral Rings and the red plungers within, solving the puzzle in order to progress to apprenticeship. There are hundreds of possible combinations and only 8 solutions."
Personally I think Kepler would be turning in his grave at the idea that the puzzle was used as part of an apprenticeship, as the puzzle really isn't that challenging, however it makes for a good story! It is true that depending on how you count a move, there may be hundreds of combinations, and only eight solutions, but sadly once you've found one, there's really no need to find any others, as there's not enough of a difference to make it worthwhile. That said there are some nice elegant symmetrical solutions if you care to look for them.
Note: The image above does not show a solution. Ed
As you can see once you've found the correct combination, the rings slide apart passing each other in a coordinate motion which means that they do indeed expand as they come apart. The fit of the pieces is very good here, so starting the motion can be quite a challenge. Finding the correct spot to push on the pieces so that they glide past each other is not obvious, and as with many puzzles, placing your fingers so that you're not blocking the motion can be tricky.
Puzzle Master rates the puzzle as level 8/10 (Demanding) and Manif rates it 2/4. I have to say I think it's closer to the lower end of the scale but could certainly provide a good challenge if you're not paying attention. I enjoyed playing with the puzzle even if it did take a very short time for me top solve it the first time, somewhere under 5 minutes. It was a good change of pace to the other puzzles I've been playing with recently and would make a good Christmas present for the younger puzzler.
Once you've solved the puzzle everything comes apart, leaving you with the six plungers, and three black ring sections. The rings are all identical so re-assembly is fairly simple. Overall a fun distraction even though it's not an overly challenging puzzle. It is well made, and the contrasting colours will make it stand out on the puzzle shelf. Definitely one that people will pick up and have a fiddle with.