Hi everyone, and sorry for my long absence. Hopefully I'm back and will be getting many more reviews up in the coming days, weeks and months. As you know I've moved from California to Michigan, and I'm in the process of setting up my shop and my new home. Part of that is unboxing the puzzle collection, and I've taken it upon myself to review all the puzzles in my collection as I unbox them. On video. And here. I must be insane! Even doing one a day it would take a few years to get through my collection! Wish me luck!
With that out of the way, here's the first video where I talk about the mammoth task ahead of me and review the four puzzles I picked up while at the Rochester Puzzle Picnic a few weekends ago. I hope you enjoy, and as ever, feel free to throw me a comment below.
If you watched the video then you may not even want to bother reading my ramblings, however if you want a little more info about each of the puzzles then read on.
Chain Store was designed by Goh Pit Khiam and my copy was made by Tom Lensch. Tom had several copies with him at RPP, and given that it's such a fun puzzle, I had to pick one up. Made from Purple-heart and Mahogany it looks great and given that this was a Jury Honourable Mention at IPP36 it was worth seeing what all the fuss was about.
The puzzle measures in at 2 1/4" x 1 7/8" x 2 3/8" and bears the TL stamp on the bottom of the box that is Tom's signature. Interesting fact about the TL, it's not burned into the wood and nor is it stamped. It's actually a stencil Tom had made that uses carbon dust to leave the signature.
I'm a little disappointed in the construction of the chain links. The rectangles forming each link are butt jointed, which in my mind is not a strong joint. I'd much rather have seen a half lap or similar joint, especially given the way the pieces need to be manipulated, and the slight tightness of the pieces.
Tom had a few issues making this puzzle, as the original version he had guessed at the size of the box, and guessed 3/32" too big. Now that's a chasm when it comes to a packing puzzle, and by shrinking that box, there's now only one solution and it's a little tougher to find. If you've made a copy, the solution requires that all the pieces be rectilinear, and I'll say that the solution is anti slide once in there.
My copy is a little tight when manipulating the pieces, but nothing that prevents the solution. I may now have to deal with the humidity problems on my puzzles thanks to Michigan weather.
Impossible Cube Triangles
Next up is a great set of two puzzles from designer Andrey Ustjuzhanin. The Impossible 3 Cube Triangle and Impossible 6 Cube Triangle are two fun interlocking solids that should keep you puzzling for a little while (unless you're Brian Pletcher. Ed). Both made by Tom after he recently got permission they are really good puzzles and after Tom threw down the challenge to solve it as quickly as possible at RPP, I had to pick up a copy. (Sneaky that Tom, giving us a puzzle to play with ... no correlation to then buying said puzzle at all here!)
I didn't manage to solve the 6 Cube version at RPP, and even knowing the solution shape, it still took me a good hour or more to finally solve it. The 3 Cube version is much simpler, with only 3 pieces and certainly makes for a fun puzzle in itself. Each cube is 1" and both versions stack nicely together as you can see above.
The six Cube version has 4 pieces and is a much tougher challenge. There's not as many clues as you have with the 3 piece and it really needs you to think out of the box to solve it, or perhaps I should say out of the triangle? The solution to both is nice and leaves you with a nicely interlocked solid shape that won't fall apart to display it. If Tom has any of these left, I'd move quick as they're well worth having.
The final puzzle I picked up at RPP was Little Bruce which Ken was kind enough to hand me in four pieces at one point. I was fortunate enough to be given a copy of "Little Kenny" last year, and this is a suitable follow up to that puzzle.
Little Bruce is made from Maple, and measures in a t 2 1/2" x 2 1/2" x 1 3/4". It's really nicely made and finished, and Ken has signed one of the pieces.
I may have sworn at Ken for his use of "Half Cubes" in his puzzles. For some reason those half cubes seem to give me all sorts of problems. Where you'd normally be able to make a move that cube just gets in the way. Ken just laughed at me and said "It's a clue". He's not wrong, but it is equally an obstacle to solving the puzzle. As with all of Ken's puzzles I've played with the solution is delightful, with more than enough clues that mere mortals can solve it, and even enjoy solving it. There's a couple of Aha moments along the way, and the twist to the puzzle is great.
Thanks again Ken for allowing me to add another Ken original to my collection. I'm honoured.
Well that's all for this review, I hope you enjoyed it, and I look forward to writing a lot more in the near future.
It's been a while since I've updated the blog, as I've been pretty busy with work, and with progress on a certain puzzle I'm making, but I thought this one was worth the wait. Before I say much more, I'll give you two pictures. As ever, click them to see a larger version...
Yes, that table, measuring probably 16' long is a lifetime of work from puzzle designer, builder and inspiration to many; Stewart Coffin. In a rare occurrence, Nick who graciously invited us to a puzzle party at his house, had the entire collection out and on display for cataloging. Not only that, but he was happy to let us play with the puzzles, and for others demonstrate some really unique movements to some plain looking puzzles. To see the collection through the pictures I took really doesn't do it justice.
The video shows a scan of both sides of the table, and hopefully gives a better idea of what's there. Obviously, the larger images below show the collection in more detail, but sometimes a video is more useful. Something incredibly interesting that a few of the people who were there commented on, including Scott Peterson, who is well known for some stunning Coffin reproductions was that the size of the puzzles gets smaller as the numbers get higher. Now this may fit with how many people thing about your skills as a wood worker progress over the years. Start big, get smaller as you go, but we came to a different conclusion. When Stewart started making puzzles, he was able to get his hands on lumber in much greater thicknesses than is readily available today. So as the years go on, and the lumber gets thinner, the size of the puzzle pieces you can make gets smaller. Maybe other people out there have thoughts, but that was ours!
The series of photos which follow, show the collection. Enjoy.
All I can really say personally is WOW. Thank you to Stewart Coffin for creating so many unique and beautiful puzzles for us to play with, and thanks to Nick for letting us see them!
Now that you've stopped drooling, the collection of Coffin's was only one small part of the day.
There were many familiar faces present, including Bram Cohen, Alan Boardman, Abel Garcia, Scott Peterson, Derek Bosch, Marc Pawlinger, Stan Isaacs and a few faces I didn't recognise. Nick's wife was also there, and had laid on quite a spread of food including some excellent chilli to keep the puzzlers well fed throughout the afternoon.
As this was the first time I'd been to Nick's house I had a good wander around to see what puzzling delights were on show. In the puzzle room there's quite a few familiar puzzles on display. I recognised a couple of Kagen Schaefer's boxes, as well as Berrocal's and many of Eric Fuller's puzzles, plus a pretty nice collection of Marcel Gillen's work. I didn't have time to play with many of the puzzles on the shelves, but I'll come back to the Marcel Gillen puzzles...
While I was browsing the room, Nick announced that he was going to be doing a guided solve of the Host gift from IPP 17, made by Gary Foshee. Well I didn't want to miss that, having seen the Trolly Car sitting on Nick's dining room table when I walked in. It is a sequential discovery puzzle where each part of the puzzle opened reveals new tools, or parts of tools which must be combined in some clever ways to be able to get to the next part of the puzzle. The object is to remove the four passengers, whose names are inscribed in plaques at their feet. I'll do a full review of that puzzle in part two of the writeup for the Puzzle party as I took pictures throughout the disassembly, but here's a couple of quick pictures to let you see just how much is hidden in the puzzle.
After Nick had spent 20 minutes or so taking the puzzle apart, with suggestions from the collected audience, a few of us remained around the table for the assembly process to restore the puzzle to its start point, including myself, Abel and obviously Nick. As we talked the topic of the Revomaze puzzles came up and I mentioned that I'd solved all so far except the Gold, and we discussed my thoughts on the series and also Gold Specifically. Abel asked when I'd received mine as he didn't have his and we talked a bit more as Nick struggled to remember exactly where each piece came from! After he was finished, he asked me to join him in the puzzle room, which of course I did.
There he picks up the small Marcel Gillen rolling pin puzzle and hands it to me asking "See what you make of that". So I start playing and quickly find that there's a maze in there, and the handle of the rolling pin is what is navigating the maze. Sound familiar? Anyway, after a couple of minutes, I find that there's a sprung pin in there which rides on top of a maze, and gives a distinctive click when you fall off, forcing you to back track to the start and retry. The weight of this puzzle is significant, certainly more than that of a Revomaze Extreme. I quickly find that I can navigate the maze, and moving slowly I can feel the edges of the maze much like you can with practice on the Revomaze. Nick mentions that the larger, entirely aluminium rolling pin is even heavier when I point this out. So I must have a go of that too! The larger one took it's toll on me. I ended up with my hands silver from all the aluminium dust having spent around half an hour working on it! I believe I made it around half way though the maze as I has able to get from the start to the other end of the pin consistently before falling off. Nick who's opened the smaller puzzle from IPP13 but only made it half way in the larger says he thinks that's around half way! For those who have solved a Revomaze, these puzzles significantly predate the revomaze, but lack the 'quick reset to start' found in the earlier Revo puzzles.
I did have a play with the much smaller, and lighter Eis Puzzle which I did solve. But I'll be going back to complete these rolling pins as I'm pretty sure with a little more time I can crack both of them!
Also on that Gillen table was a fair collection of the Chess pieces, so I took the much better picture above since I had remembered my camera that day, unlike the last time at Stan's
I also spent a while talking to Nick about the current Black Letter labs puzzle series as Nick and I are working together with a team of Renegades solving those. At this time, our team is #2 in the overall rankings with a combined solve time for the first 4 puzzles of 3 days, and it's been a lot of fun (When we finished both artifacts 3 and 4 we were briefly in first place overall). I'll write more about that in another post though.
I had a great day and it was good to see a lot of familiar faces. Come back in a few days when I'll hopefully be able to post the rest of the writeup, including some items from Alan Boardman and his miniature puzzles, and the Trolly Car guided solution.
As a member of the Karakuri Group, when I renewed my membership at the start of the year I decided to pick up a few of the DIY kits that they offer. After my experience with Bruce Vinney's designs I was interested to see what Karakuri Group had created, and also to better understand the mechanisms used, which is one of the goals Karakuri set when making the kits.
When I mentioned that I had the kits on one of the puzzle forums, there were requests to show how to build them, so much like I did with the previous kits I built, I decided to show the build process in full. Watch the video below to see the build, and watch the kit come to life. In the video I'll cover all the tools I use and this isn't time lapse so you can see everything in real time. I'll be doing videos for all the kits shown in the video, so check back for more soon.
As promised in the video, you'll find the instructions below, with my guide to building the box. Be aware that this is in no way a translation of the instructions!
General Kit Comments
The Karakuri group offer a reasonable number of DIY puzzle boxes which they refer to as "Work Kits". Each of the kits consist of a number of pre-cut plywood pieces, some decorative pieces (like the beautifully made acorn on the Acorn Box), and any hardware needed for the mechanism, if it's not just a straight forward sliding panel or suchlike. The kits are all perfectly cut, and of the kits I own there have been no issues with the fit or finish on any of the pieces.
Something which is worth noting about the kits is the price. They all come in at around the $25 USD mark, so in terms of affordability, these are really affordable boxes. The quality of the cuts on the pieces is excellent and the fit is as good as you will find with anything from the Karakuri group, so I'd say from that side of things, they're great value.
One thing to note is that the build instructions for the kits are in Japanese language only. Don't be put off by that however as with a little thought, and some careful study of the diagrams, you'll build the kits just fine. Failing that, have a look at my Build Instructions section below, where I have detailed the steps (in English) to build the kit.
Kakukaku Kit Review
The first of the kits I built was (as you already know from the title of this post) the Kakukaku Box. I picked this one for no other reason than liking the look of the box. Interestingly it was the last of the four that I picked, and really the only reason was that I had set a budget and this fit within that budget after having picked the three others I wanted.
As you can see from the picture above, the box itself is fairly simple. The ply is visible on the top of the box, but personally I don't think that's an issue. If you don't like having the ply exposed, you could glue some veneer onto the top panel just to make it neater. The laser cut tree certainly adds to the look of the box, and is also a clue as to the solution.
Building the kit was fairly simple. The diagrams on the build instructions are very clear, and there's nothing complicated to this kit, so I didn't have any issues building it. The video is real time, so it took about 15 minutes to put together, and would probably be quicker if you're not recording a video and talking through everything you're doing!
As far as the puzzle box itself is concerned, I'll be honest that I was a little disappointed with the box. I have two reasons for this, and at first they seem contradictory, but bear with me.
The locking mechanism is both too difficult to open, and too easy to open at the same time. If you attempt to open the box using the 'solution' provided, it can be very difficult to move the two parts of the box in the right way to get them to open. The fit is pretty good, and as such the movements need to be made very precisely to get the box open. Sadly, there is a much simpler way to open the box. If you hold the top of the box, and shake it, the bottom falls out on its own, making it far too easy!
As a kit I certainly enjoyed building it, and you will understand the mechanism once you've built the box, so it certainly meets the expectations that the Karakuri group set out to achieve. If you're thinking of buying one (or more) of these kits, I'd say that there are better boxes in terms of the end puzzle that you could get, but if you just want to add them all, then go get it!
In this section I will try to give my guide to building this kit. Please note that this is in no way a translation of the Karakuri Group's instructions, but my own instructions based on having built the kit. If you have issues following my instructions, feel free to get in touch and I'll help you if I can, and update things below to clear up any confusion.
The instructions below match to the numbers on the diagram above.
Before starting, you'll need a couple of tools.
- Wood Glue / Elmers hobby Glue
- Ruler (or some measuring device)
- Tape - I recommend blue painters tape
- Glue Brush (optional)
- Engineers Square (optional)
Step 1 - The Locking mechanism
First up, sort the parts from the kit into the same order as shown in the top diagram. If you feel like you need to then you can mark the piece numbers in pencil on the inside of each piece. The way the pieces are laid out in the diagram shows the inside, with the exception of piece 'B', which will be inside the box and unlikely to be seen so even if you don't remove the pencil mark, probably not an issue. In my opinion, the pieces are pretty clear so you should need to label them.
Take Piece 'A' and lay it as shown in the diagram. The sides with the notches cut out should be at the top and right of the piece as you look at it.
Take Piece 'B' and glue it into the centre of piece 'A'. The piece fits snugly between the wooden blocks that surround the piece, so no adjustment or fine placement is required. Make sure that the lip on piece 'B' is on the left and top as you look at the piece. This can be confirmed by the angled corners as seen in the diagram.
Leave the top for around 10 minutes for the glue to dry (note if the glue you are using takes longer to dry, then follow the manufacturers recommendations).
Step 2 - Top Decoration
Once the top of the box is dry from step 1, flip the piece over so that the cut away sections are now on the top and left of the piece as you look at it.
Using a ruler, mark the centre of the piece, making note of the cutout which will not be seen once the box is complete.
With the centre identified, glue the tree piece to the centre as seen in the diagram.
Step 3 - Inner Box
Take the parts labelled 'E' in the diagram. The flat square is the base of the inner box. There are two sides with notches cut in each end, and two with no notches cut.
Place the base in the centre and then around that the two pieces with notches in the ends above and below it, then the two without notches at either side as seen in the diagram on the right.
You will notice that there is a grove running through the with of all of these pieces. The base will go into one of these slots, and the other is part of the locking mechanism.
Put glue into the notches on either end of the top and bottom pieces and using a brush, spread the glue evenly into these notches. Bring all four sides together around the base as seen in the lower left diagram.
Once all four pieces have been brought snugly together, tape the corners and check that the corners are square using an engineers square. Note: This check is not really needed as the pieces are designed to give a good square corner.
Note: You can put tape on the corners before adding the glue. This can make the job of taping the corners easier rather than trying to get tape around the corners after they are in place.
Leave the inner box to dry.
Step 4 - Outer Box
Take the top which was completed in step 2, and place it as seen in the diagram, where the cut-out sections are at the top and right of the piece as you look at it.
Taking pieces Labelled C-1, C-2, D-1, D-2, place these around the top as seen in the diagram.
Pieces D-2 and C-2 have a piece of wood inside the groove which ensures the pieces are correctly located in relation to the locking mechanism, and the centre of the box.
Pieces C-1 and D-1 have no insert in the groove, and will slide freely along the length of the top.
Apply glue into the notches on either end of pieces D-1 and D-2 and using a brush, spread the glue evenly into these notches.
Bring all four pieces together around the top as seen in the diagram on the right, starting with pieces D-2 and C-2 which will ensure that the pieces are correctly centred.
Once all four pieces are in place, tape the corners together and allow the top to dry. You can check the top for squareness before it is dry however as with the inner box, the pieces are designed to give a good square corner even without this check.
Note: As before putting tape on the piece before gluing can make this easier
Step 5 - Opening and Closing the box
To Close the Box, place the outer box onto the Inner box and move the top Right and Up as per the green arrow in the diagram. The box is now locked.
Top Open the box, move the outer box Down and Left as per the blue arrow in the diagram, then lift the top of the bottom. The box is now open.
Way by Dr. Volker Latussek is an interesting wooden puzzle which was entered in IPP 31 Design competition in Berlin. Not long after IPP, I was talking with Volker regarding my thoughts on the puzzle, and he offered to send me a copy to play with. Shortly after our discussion a fairly large package arrived in the mail, and there was the copy of Way that he promised me.
The goal of the puzzle is to create free standing circuits which form a single complete loop from start to finish, using the pieces noted on the challenge card. The circuit does not need to be flat on the table, and can be a three dimensional circuit. If fact, thinking upwards is needed to solve many of the challenges presented. One of the unique points of the puzzle is that there are no pegs or magnets which hold the pieces together, and each of the solutions is stable when the correct solution is found.
The first thing that struck me about this puzzle is the size. This is much larger than I was expecting from the photographs I'd seen. You'll get a feel for just how big the pieces are from the video (just excuse my gammy thumb). The pieces are all beautifully made, and perfectly smooth. Each of the oiled beech pieces has a good weight to it, and are all fairly large, even in my hands. The whole puzzle with all eighteen blocks measures 8" x 8" and each piece has a diameter of around 1.33". The puzzle comes in a heavy card box with the puzzle name on a sticker on the outside of the box. One of the challenges is even to fit all 18 pieces into the box in a continuous circuit (as opposed to just thrown in there as they normally are after playing with the puzzle).
The Sticker on the box has the subtext "a puzzle construction set", and it does live up to that claim. It certainly reminds me of the building blocks I used to play with as a child when I was at my grandfathers house, although these are significantly less beat up than those blocks were!
The puzzle comes with a challenge card with 8 different challenges on it, the first four of which are really showing you how to use the blocks, so contain a picture of the solution on the card. My biggest issue therefor is that there's only really 4 challenges provided with the puzzle to start off. For most people it's not going to take that long to work through the challenges. Visiting the website, there are now a total of 29 challenges which should keep you puzzling for quite some time, and it seems that more challenges are being added on a fairly regular basis. The most recent challenge was added on the 27th October (at the time of writing). The challenges are not all just 'build a circuit' challenges either. Some really need you to think about what you're doing by adding restrictions on the type of circuit. For example, the circuit must fit inside a 3x3 cube.
Note: New puzzle challenges are added every Thursday. Thanks to the designer for the update
As you can see from the image above, showing a few of the simpler challenges, it's possible to construct several of the solutions at the same time, and all of them are stable once complete. One of the issues I had was that the order in which you construct the solution is very important to the stability during creation. While it's true that all the solutions I have found so far are stable once complete, they're not always easy to build due to the nature of the pieces to roll. As you'll see in the video, removing one piece from the completed structure, and the whole assembly in many cases will fall down with a satisfying clunk as the pieces hit the table. While I love the fact that the solutions are all stable when built, I can't quite get past the feeling that having either the tiniest flat spot on the edges would help the puzzle greatly as the building would be less frustrating. That said, Dr. Volker is very proud of the design, and that the pieces are stable with no other aids, and I think he's right to be proud of it. Bottom line is that the way the puzzle is, there's an added dexterity element to the puzzle, which certainly adds to the challenge.
Some of the more challenging puzzles really start to look like they're defying gravity with pieces hanging outside the main mass of the puzzle creating some interesting overhangs!
Overall this is a really good puzzle, and if the challenges keep coming, then there's going to be a good reason to keep going back to it for some time to come. You can get one directly from Dr. Volker via the Way Website.
"When we tie up a belt or paper tape well, a knot that is called "Chiyo-Musubi" is completed. In Japan, it is said to be a lucky knot."
This fine looking box from Hiroshi Iwahara of the Karakuri Creation group is a sliding puzzle box with two hidden compartments requiring 19 moves to open both. The interesting point about this puzzle box is that the slides which conceal both hidden spaces cross one another, so the resulting mechanism is much harder to produce than a standard box. Iwahara notes that the shape of this particular knot is a Pentagon, but it is also possible to produce a Heptagon. He's not planning to make a Heptagon version as a puzzle box though.
Created back in April this year, and measuring 9.5" x 5" x 2.75" approximately, this is a big puzzle box, and it feels really solid when you're solving it. I don't exactly have small hands, and this box feels big to me when I'm working on it. I didn't do too well on my wood identification in the video, as the only thing I got right was the Walnut! So to correct that, the box is made from Walnut, Oak and Angsana, giving it the striking appearance. To look at it, you really can get the feeling that someone has taken a plank of wood and knotted it like a belt.
I borrowed this puzzle box from Derek Bosch (yes he has a good collection and has been very kind to lend me chunks of it at a time), so I'm not sure if it's just his copy or not, but the panels are fairly loose, to the point that when solving it, some of the panels would slide back to where I'd moved them from as I turned the box over in my hands. While it doesn't take away from the box, it can make it a challenge to open, as you have to be careful that panels don't slide around on their own as you move the box. Not realising that a panel slid back after you moved it preventing further progress can be a pain.
This is a really nice puzzle, and I have to admire the design, especially the ability to have pieces passing over and under each other to make a very slick puzzle. If I'm honest, it's not my favorite puzzle from Iwahara, but it's by no means a bad puzzle! It took around 10 minutes to open the box and find both hidden compartments the first time. Having gone back to it later, I can see that this could take much longer as the order you open the compartments does seem to come into play, so I may have been lucky the first time and opened them in the correct order.
Overall, a very nice puzzle and one which would certainly stand out next to other puzzle boxes, both for its size and striking contrast of woods.