A while back, I got in touch with Vaclav Obsivac and placed an order for several of his puzzles. Amongst those, I asked for a copy of the Twisted Half Cubes, and Diagra puzzles.
To look at, both of these puzzles look very similar. Indeed, they have the same basic idea at their root. Both puzzles have eight pieces which combine together to create solid cubes. The goal of the puzzles is to create various solid shapes with no 'legs' sticking out of the final assembly. This sounds pretty simple, but I can assure you that it's really not. In all honesty, putting the pieces back into the box provides a packing puzzle of its own, as the box is too small for all the pieces to be placed in without some level of interconnection!
All of the puzzles in this series are made from varying woods, and have been lightly waxed. No stains are used, so the natural wood is left on show, which is one of the factors that I really admire from Vinco's puzzles. As with all of the Vinco puzzles, these are made to the same high quality and tolerances that you'd expect from this master craftsman; and none are expensive at around €14 each. At that price, these are really hard to pass up.
The beauty of the set of these puzzles, which includes (naming just a few) the Diagonal Halfcubes, Vidly Halfcubes, Prism Halfcubes, Two U, Cubicula, Hooked Halfcubes and Handed Halfcubes, reviewed by Kevin (where he also reviews Diagra), is that you can own all of them and they all provide a new and unique challenge. Despite the basic idea being the same, each puzzle is a new challenge, and requires a new way of thinking to solve it. The partial list is shown in the chart here, along with not only the suggested solution shapes for each puzzle, but also how many different ways each shape can be created. There's a lot of puzzling possible and that's if you only try for the suggested solutions. Click on the image to the right to see a list of many of the puzzles in the series in a more readable size.
With the Twisted Halfcubes, the legs of the puzzles are all hook shaped, and hook around the small internal cube on another piece, linking the two puzzle pieces together in such a way that they will support each other. The differing angles at which the legs are attached make the problems more complex, as you need to find the right pieces to take the puzzle in the direction you need. In most cases, it's not possible to create a closed solution by simply adding the next piece to the previous in a sequential manner. Most closed loops need you to approach the puzzle by thinking about two halves which will rotate together into the final shape. I really like this feature as it adds an extra challenge to the puzzle space, and also limits the use of programs like Burr Tools for solving the shapes.
Vinco sets a number of possible solution shapes of which just a couple are shown above. The solution on the right shows how the pieces support themselves when placed together, so shapes where some pieces do not need to be resting against the desk are possible. I promise that there's nothing out of view of the camera holding the pieces up.
Similar in design to the Twisted Halfcubes, here the hooks have been replaced by square blocks, meaning that all pieces slide into each other. The difference here to the Twisted puzzle is that coordinate motion solutions are now possible, as the pieces are no longer hooked to one another but slide together. Again, the interesting location of the 'legs' makes for some challenging goal shapes and the approach to joining the pieces together is different from the previous puzzle.
I would say that the basic shapes are easier in Diagra, and perhaps this is a more enjoyable set to play with since it's faster to put the pieces together and take them apart than it is with Twisted Halfcubes. The challenge level does step up a notch when you start looking for the coordinate motion solutions though, so don't underestimate the challenge from this one.
As noted in the comments for the solution above on the right, a coordinate motion is required to make this shape. The image on the left shows how the three sub-units join together to make the final shape, and all slide together at the same time, with a satisfyingly smooth movement. Have a look at the very short video below to see this in action.
The beauty of these puzzles are that you're limited only by your imagination as to the shapes you can create. These make a great set of building blocks, and just playing with connecting them in different orientations is as much fun as trying to create the specific patterns on the short instruction sheet provided. I've spent a lot of time doing just this, and as such find it a great stress toy when it's a rough day at work!
Some time ago I wrote about the Stickman puzzle box I'd won on a Puzzle Paradise auction. Since then the puzzle has been on a bit of a journey, and as a result I felt it was time to revisit this puzzle.
When I won the puzzle, I spent some time talking with its creator Robert Yarger, and he mentioned that it was a really solid puzzle, and he'd have no issues handing it round for people to try. Well with that in mind, I took it with me to the California Puzzle party. Unfortunately, when it was there, something went a bit wrong, and the puzzle jammed. I was able to shut the puzzle, but there was something very strange going on. Sadly, I had to put the puzzle back in my bag, and that meant no-one else was able to play with it that day.
I wrote to Robert and described what was happening. He instantly offered to take the puzzle back and see if he could figure out what had happened, even mentioning that if he couldn't fix it, he'd find a way to make things right by me. (As a fellow puzzler has mentioned, nice bloke that Stick guy!) Interestingly, this was only the third Stickman puzzle that Robert has ever had to repair, and one of those was due to an accidental high dive from a shelf. Given the number of puzzles he's made, and some of the incredibly intricate work he does, that's a pretty good recommendation of his work.
So I packed the box up, and sent it off. A few days later Robert got in touch to tell me that he had found the problem and would be able to fix it. Before I knew what was happening, Robert had the box all back together and it was back in the mail to me.
While Robert had the box, he did a little restoration on the top. As you may remember, there was a scratch on the top of the box from the original creation. Robert mentioned that it was common on his early work. Seems like he wasn't too happy about that scratch being there as he sanded the box down to remove it, then refinished the box, so now it's even better than new.
It turns out that what had happened is that on one side of the puzzle, the internal stops had broken and was now free floating inside the puzzle. For a 10 year old puzzle, it wasn't anything anyone using the puzzle had done, but just a case of old age. To fix things, the part which came free has now been replaced and a much deeper groove cut into the side to embed things firmly. No chance of that coming free again.
Here's just a few pictures from Robert's surgery. These don't give anything away. I've kept the pictures of the internals for myself. Thanks have to go out to Robert though for sending me the pictures. He certainly didn't need to show what goes on inside his puzzle!