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Saturday, 31 December 2011

Washer Cylinder (Wil Strijbos)

If you've been with my blog from the beginning you might remember that I reviewed a puzzle by the name of Aluminium Cylinder by one of my absolute favourite puzzle designers Wil Strijbos. That puzzle was probably the first 'high quality' puzzle that I bought, and I liked it so much that it pretty much kicked my puzzle madness up a gear.

Now imagine my excitement when Wil handed me a prototype of a new aluminium cylinder puzzle called the Washer Cylinder at the last Camden puzzle gathering for me to try out!

Washer Cylinder
Now Wil kindly let me hold onto this puzzle for the next three days after the Camden meet, and during that time I failed to solve it. Not only could I not open it, I literally couldn't make any progress with it whatsoever! Needless to say that this piqued my interest significantly, and I put in an order for one immediately!

There are obviously some glaring similarities between the Washer Cylinder and the original Aluminium Cylinder, but there are more differences than meet the eye. The Washer Cylinder is slightly larger overall, and the lid is wider than the original.

Aluminium Cylinder (Left) / Washer Cylinder (Right)
The bottom side of the Washer Cylinder is far more complex than the simple hole that was in the bottom of the original Aluminium Cylinder. There is a much larger hole, and inside that there is a trapped washer (hence the name) spinning freely around an aluminium rod attached to the main body of the puzzle.

The lid on this cylinder will spin freely. Very freely! The smooth movement makes it very obvious that there are once again ball bearings involved.

Washer Cylinder - Underside
Even though this puzzle took me longer to solve than the Aluminium Cylinder, I'd still class the mechanism as being easier to work out. But don't get me wrong, this is a difficult puzzle! Definitely not for the faint of heart.
I must've spent hours of on-and-off puzzling trying to solve this one. And as soon as I worked it out I was pretty happy to say the least! I spent ages staring at the mechanism afterwards to properly work it out. There are some very clever things going on inside this unassuming little cylinder.

It is a brilliant puzzle, and also a pretty impressive piece of mechanical engineering as well. Once again Wil has designed a winner. But honestly, I didn't expect anything less.

The Washer Cylinder is currently available either directly from Wil Strijbos or also from Sloyd in Finland. Drop me an email if you'd like his contact details.

Also, check out Allard's review of the Washer Cylinder!

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Knitted Puzzle Cube

I hope each and every one of you had a great Christmas! And now that the new year is quickly approaching I thought I'd squeeze in a quick post (or two) before 2012.

This isn't so much one of my standard reviews, but there was no way that I could get away without mentioning this particular puzzling gift that I received for Christmas from my Other Half's Mum (AKA: Sally).

That's right! It's a knitted puzzle! A Soma Cube to be exact, which is possibly the most famous cube puzzle after the Rubik's Cube. I'd wager that most of you will either own or have come across a Soma Cube at some point during your travels. Like the Diagonal Star it really does turn up everywhere as it seems to have been favoured by the mass production market. But when have you ever seen a knitted one?!

Some of you may even remember that a little while ago I actually made my own Soma Cubes out of dice as a little DIY project.

The Soma Cube was designed by Piet Hein in 1933, and is made up of seven different pieces that can be assembled into a standard 3x3x3 cube with 240 unique assemblies. That sounds like quite a lot until you have to find one. Sally actually said that after she had finished the pieces it took ages to actually find a solution to get it into the box!

Most puzzlers have probably memorised one particular solution to this puzzle, and that is the one that they will choose whenever the need to reassemble a Soma Cube comes up. It is not a hugely difficult puzzle, most people will turn up a solution within 10 minutes or so if they keep randomly playing with the pieces. But this really is one of the true classics, and every puzzler should have one in their collection.

I was really touched by the thought and effort that went into making this puzzle for me, and it has to be one of the real gems in my collection that I'm going to enjoy showing others from now on. Thank you Sally!

I mean really, how often do you see knitted puzzles?

EDIT: After some keen observation from George and Chris (see comments below), it turns out that due to a minor piece irregularity this is not actually a true Soma Cube, but in fact a different puzzle entirely! In a Soma Cube all pieces are different, however in the knitted cube there are two 'right screw tetracubes' whereas in a Soma Cube one of those would be a 'left screw tetracube'.

So in essence, Sally invented a new 3x3x3 puzzle cube with 323 unique assemblies! Pretty funny really. Maybe it should be called 'Sally's Cube' instead?

Saturday, 24 December 2011

A Very Merry Puzzling Christmas!

I just wanted to write a quick message to all of the people, casual puzzlers, Metagrobologists and all of their families to wish them a very merry Christmas!

I hope you all have a great time, eat/drink too much and that you have a wonderful new year to come!

Like most of you I imagine, I have a feeling that there are a few puzzles waiting to be unwrapped under my tree, so I'll come back and share those with you very soon. Till then, enjoy the holidays!

EDIT: Here's a picture of my puzzling presents for 2011:

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Rocky Chiaro Brass Bolt Puzzles

Okay, so somehow I neglected to write a post before disappearing abroad, so I apologise for that. However to make it up to you I thought I'd do a review for a really great series of puzzles that I have looked at for a while, but was only given the opportunity to solve just recently. A huge thanks to Ali for loaning his set to me to share them with everyone here.

Rocky Chiaro Bolt Collection
This is a collection of puzzle bolts hand-machined from solid brass by American puzzle designer and manufacturer Rocky Chiaro. They are widely classed as being the benchmark when it comes to puzzle bolts, and for good reason too!

You can tell that these are machined by hand simply by the feel of them. Every surface is polished to a perfect finish, and the tolerances are incredibly high in many of the connecting pieces. Each puzzle is finished with an engraving of Rocky's signature, and I really do love that little touch of personality in a puzzle. These pictures make the bolts look a little bit grubby, but they weren't re-polished after I played with them, but they do come from Rocky mirror polished and wrapped.

I could just write a bit about how they look and feel as a whole, but instead I thought I'd write a little bit about each of them individually.

This first one is called the Pin-N-Nut, and the object is to remove the lower nut from the bolt. There's quite a bit of movement between several parts of this puzzle, but that's not necessary helpful when solving it. I would class this as the easiest of the bolt puzzles if you are giving it to a puzzler. Just by studying it I was able to guess how the mechanism looked, and after that it was only a matter or working out the correct implementation. This is a beautiful puzzle, but it is also my least favourite due to the simplicity of the solution, the rattle whilst in the resting state, and also how much more 'bulky' it is in comparison to the others due to the protruding 'pins' on all sides.

This is One-L-Nut, and all you have to do again is remove the nut from the bolt. This is a little trickier, and has more to it than meets the eye, but that will become obvious once you handle it. The bolt is quite clearly sprung in an interesting way, but you have to work out how this can help or hinder your progress when solving this puzzle. Although it is not very difficult it does have a really satisfying solution. This would be a great one to hand around for a bunch of people to try out as an introduction to puzzle bolts as it is not very intimidating to look at, and most will be happy to pick it up and give it a go.

Dub-L-Nut looks like an extension of the last bolt, but the mechanism is totally different. The objective once again is to remove the lower nut from the bolt. I found it to be a very clever idea, but unfortunately it is very likely that you will solve it completely by accident the first time. I did. I think it's mostly because there is quite a bit of play between several pieces. After looking at the insides you will know how the bolt works though, so you can solve it properly every time from then onwards. Either way it's a nice and unique mechanism that is great to look at, but not one that is as fun to repeat as the others.

Ring-N-Nut has a really nice touch to it, the object is to remove the ring trapped between the two bolts. It's nice that it has been machined into a ring shape rather than it just being left as a simple washer. The solution to this bolt is really clever, and very original! You are unlikely to solve this one by accident. The great thing about this bolt is that it appears to be in two halves that are completely free-wheeling against each other. This is my second favourite out of these six bolts, and I would thoroughly recommend that you make getting it a priority if you are wanting to get any of this series.

One-Wa-Sure is by far my absolute favourite in this series. I found it to be the hardest to solve, and the 'ah-ha' moment that came from solving it was fantastic! The object here is to remove the washer trapped between the two bolts, but with the bar going through the end of the bolt it does look completely impossible. The upper end of the bolt is sprung a bit like One-L-Nut, but in the opposite direction. I came up with all kinds of elaborate solutions in my head, but the actual solution was far more elegant and unexpected. As this bolt series is quite expensive as a whole then I would say that this is the one to go for if you wanted to try out one before taking the dive for the full whack.

Dub-L-Wa-Sure has two washers as the name suggests, and they can both be removed once the puzzle is solved. When fully closed one washer is tightly trapped between two nuts and the other is left loosely rattling at the upper end of the bolt. Curiously there is also a hole that looks to go straight into the bolt from the bottom end. There's a bit of a knack to solving this puzzle, and you actually need to pay attention when putting it back together again as well. If you look very closely at this puzzle long enough then you will likely notice something that will hint at what the solution is, but you really will have to pay very close attention or you will miss it.

Well that was my very brief look at what I would call the premier puzzle bolt series available at the moment. Each bolt costs between $80 and $85, which sounds like quite a lot but I promise you that each and every one of them is worth it. Considering that they are hand made solely by Rocky in his small workshop, and that the quality of them really is phenomenal, that price is hardly anything at all really.

As I said, if you only wanted to buy one to see what you think before considering getting the whole series then I would very highly recommend One-Wa-Sure. But I doubt that you would be disappointed with any of them.

All of these bolts are currently available only from Rocky Chiaro directly. You'll have to contact him using his email address on his site and he will get back to you pretty quickly to sort out payment etc.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

A Busy Week Ahead

I'm heading off on holiday very shortly, and will be away for all of next week! Which is about time considering how little time I've had to spend with my (very understanding) other half recently.

But before I head off into the sunset (or sunrise, as I won't actually be flying at night time) I have a couple of great puzzling things going on.

Tonight I'll be heading to the 103rd monthly puzzle gathering at Camden Lock in London for some casual puzzling with some brilliant people. Wil Strijbos has managed to make it to the UK for this visit, so I'm very much looking forward to meeting the man who has been receiving most of my wages for quite a while now. I may write a little bit about this event, but only if something dramatically different happens compared with the last couple that I have talked about here and here.

If you're interested in attending either tonight or any future events (held on the first Wednesday of every month) then here is the address:

The Lockside Louge
The West Yard
Camden Lock
London NW1 8AF

The nearest tube station is Camden Town, and the events tend to start at around 19:00ish.

On Saturday I shall be heading back to the Puzzle Museum with a handful of fellow MPP regulars to visit James and Lindsey again, which I am once again very much looking forward to. Although odds are I won't write about this visit as fellow blogger and Metagrobologist Allard will also be there, and I'm looking forward to reading his take on seeing James' collection for the first time.

Between these events I shall also be working. You know...that thing they pay me to do so that I can fund my puzzle habit. It hardly seems fair really. I did ask if my work would be willing to continue paying me to stay at home puzzling and blogging, but for some reason they weren't too keen on that idea.

Anyway, so there is my busy week ahead. I hope to get in another post or two before skipping the country, so check out my puzzle image gallery for an idea of some of the reviews that you can expect soon. And if there's anything in particular that you see on there that you would like to hear about then let me know.

Till then, happy puzzling!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Don't Panic!!!

Some of the more astute amongst you will have noticed a slight change in the scenery of my blog. Do not panic, I promise you that this is entirely normal. If you didn't notice, then shame on you!

Over the time that my blog has been running several people mentioned that they find it difficult to read my writing against the purple background that was originally being used. So now that I finally mustered up the effort, I have changed it! I still prefer light-on-dark text though, so that's staying.

I'm looking for opinions on how it looks now, and any thoughts or ideas on how to improve further to make this blog just that little bit more awesome. And I'm looking to the people who it really matters to the most (you guys).

Either leave a comment on this post or hit the 'Contact' tab on the bar at the top of the page to drop me an email. I'd really appreciate it.

Thank you!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Tricky Gift Box (Sloyd)

When browsing around looking for new and interesting puzzles I think that there is a real risk of thinking that great puzzles have to be accompanied by an epic price tag to match, but with this post I'm going to mention one of the many puzzles that I think goes against that idea.

This is the Tricky Gift Box, made and sold by the lovely people over at Oy Sloyd Ab in Finland. It is (almost) entirely made from simple birch wood, which may look a bit plain but it is actually a pretty tough wood which has a nice warm feel to it. Great for puzzles!

Looking over this box it is quite hard to see any place where it could open up. After closer inspection you should be able to work out where the lid is, but after that there seems to be no movement in the box whatsoever. If the box is empty then it will not make any noise at all when moved. Mine came with an old Finnish coin inside courtesy of Sabine at Sloyd as she thought I'd enjoy the puzzle more if I knew there was something inside that I had to get out. How right she was!

As puzzlers I think we can all admit to having a tendency to over-think puzzles on occasion, and this box really does play on that theory. Having given this box to a large variety of people it seems that non-puzzlers actually find this easier than puzzle veterans. Which is hilarious if you have both of those people at the same gathering working on it.

Another great thing about this box is that it is the perfect size to fit most modern mobile phones into, which makes it great fun at gatherings. Just ask someone to hand you their phone, shut it into the box (without them seeing) and then hand it back. Even better, put it down somewhere near them and give it a ring and watch them frantically try and work out how to get it out to pick up the call. I know this makes me sound a little bit cruel, but trust me, it is hilarious.

I think it actually took me something like 6-7 minutes to open this box, and once I had it open and saw the mechanism I was a little embarrassed with myself. Especially as I have now seen first time puzzlers open it straight after having it given to them.

For the price of 10EUR this puzzle is an absolute bargain! It's definitely not the nicest looking box out there, nor the most difficult, but it easily makes up for that with its simple charm. Head over to the Oy Sloyd Ab site if you fancy adding one to your collection.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Alles Roger - Solved!

Finally, after many months and quite a bit of encouragement from fellow puzzlers I have managed to solve Alles Roger! Thank you to all of you who convinced me not to give up on it. And even a thank you to those of your who mocked me constantly for not being able to work it out. Although I remember who you are and I'll get you back eventually!

Alles Roger has a very devious solution, and despite it's obvious aesthetic resemblance to R2D2 (also by Roger) I can definitely confirm that it is nowhere near similar as a puzzle.

What a great design! It looks so simple and yet somehow it took me forever to solve. I know that it took some other puzzlers far less time to solve, so it could just be some kind of mental block that I had. But I really was starting to lose faith in this puzzle even being possible.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Super Cubi (Hiroshi Iwahara)

This next puzzle box is perhaps one of the best known designs that is being manufactured by the Karakuri Creation Group in Japan.

Super Cubi was originally designed by Hiroshi Iwahara in December of 2000, and since then has been reproduced another five times, not including any special editions. If nothing else that shows just how popular this box has proven to be amongst puzzlers, especially considering the above average price.

This box is significantly larger than the average puzzle box made by the KCG, measuring in at 13.1cm cubed! And it has a pretty hefty weight to match.
Due to the extremely complex nature of the internal mechanism, several parts are machined from stainless steel. Although some may feel that this takes away from the traditional feel of the box I think that as it allows the box to become more complex, affordable and durable that it is a good addition.

Due to the large number of reproductions there are a lot of very different Super Cubis floating around out there. The version that I'm showing here is of the RF-4-3 design pattern, produced in August of 2007. All of the reproductions of these boxes have got nice but simple wooden inlay patterns on them, but they still make every side of the box look identical.

I can't speak for all of the design varieties as I have only ever held this particular one, but the box does feel incredibly sturdy. The outer panels themselves are around 5mm thick, and well connected to the internal mechanism by glued wooden joints and metal pins.

 It will take you a total of 324 moves to open the Super Cubi, and then another 324 to close it again. Iwahara achieved this huge number by employing a trinary (or ternary) system into the mechanism. Hence why this box also goes by the name of the 'Trinary Box'. For a simplified example of this puzzle check out my review of Constantin's Fat Lock (Void Lock) puzzle.

Because I had a good idea of how the box worked I opened it pretty quickly. I say quickly, but really it did still take me quite a while (around 10 minutes) due to the very high number of moves. It could take significantly longer if you don't really pay attention to what you're doing. Lose concentration and you could end up closing it again rather than opening it.
The later versions of the Super Cubi were designed to allow puzzlers to 'speed open' the box due a more loosely constructed internal mechanism. Personally I prefer a more snug fit on my puzzle boxes.

I absolutely love this box, and it has easily become one of my favourite box designs. 324 moves is just enough to be considered very high but not so much as to put you off ever wanting to open it more than once. Although, last year Iwahara also designed the King Cubi (a.k.a: Quaternary Box) that takes 1536 moves! I look forward to seeing one of those!

Due to the large number of reproductions the Super Cubi can be found pretty much everywhere, and will normally set the puzzler back by around $800 to $1000. Definitely a lot of money, but if you like your boxes then you won't be disappointed!

If you are after one of these then check the usual places: Puzzle Master, Karakuri, PuzzleBoxWorld

Monday, 31 October 2011

Gathering For Gardner - Celebration Of Mind II (G4G CoM II)

Since 1993 gatherings have been held in order to honour the achievements of Martin Gardner. Martin is probably best known for his decades of work in the field of recreational mathematics, but his interests spanned many subjects including philosophy, magic and (unsurprisingly) puzzles. Check out these links if you would like to read more about Martin's fascinating life and the Gathering For Gardner Foundation.

Sadly Martin passed away last year, but he expressed a wish for the Gatherings For Gardner to continue and as such the 'Gathering For Gardner - Celebration Of Mind' carried on. This year was the second of these events to take place, and many gatherings were hosted all over the world on or around October the 21st, Martin's Birthday.

When I attended the 100th Camden Puzzle Gathering a couple of months ago I heard from fellow puzzler Laurie that this year James Dalgety and his wife Lindsey would be hosting a G4G CoM at their home, also known as the Puzzle Museum. Needless to say I was slightly more than enthusiastic to be a part of it.

It was a three hour drive to get to the Puzzle Museum, and actually finding the place was possibly the hardest puzzle that I had to solve over that weekend! If James hadn't put G4G signs out leading to his house I'd probably still be lost somewhere in the country.

Upon arriving I was greeted by several of the other enthusiastic attendees, some of which I had met before, but most were new faces. Then I was directed into the main 'Puzzle Room'. Words can't adequately describe my first thoughts upon entering this room, but hopefully this picture that was taken the next day will give you some idea:

My mind couldn't quite take in all of it at once. I was asked if there was anything in particular that I was interested in seeing, but when confronted this sheer magnitude of puzzles I couldn't think of anything!
I probably spent the first 20 minutes or so just looking around the room in all of the cabinets.

The majority of us spent most of our time around the table in this room, solving and chatting. Only occasionally did we wander out for some food and drink that was very kindly organised for us by Lindsey.

James did a couple of museum tours for people who hadn't visited before, so this was a good opportunity for me to see many interesting things that I perhaps would've missed if James wasn't pointing them out along the way. The room you see in the picture above is only one of several puzzle rooms, so it was easy to miss many things whilst looking around. Here are some of the things that I saw whilst being shown around the Puzzle Museum:

Puzzle Library
On the ceiling
Categorised puzzle drawers
Impossible objects
Ivory puzzles
Puzzle jugs

I can't possibly go into detail for everything that I saw and solved, but I will go through a few of the things which really stood out for me.

I was very happy to see the collection of beautiful anodised aluminium puzzles by Robert Rose (R.D. Rose). I have seen cheap copies of some of these puzzles, and the originals really do make the copies look quite terrible. The fit and finish on these puzzles is perfect, and the movements are very smooth considering that they are made from metal. It's really is such a shame that these puzzle are in such short supply as the demand for metal puzzles of this quality is extremely high.

Here is a cabinet that is stacked full of original geometric puzzles by prolific puzzle designer Stewart Coffin. I had only ever seen a couple of his original puzzles before, so it was quite an experience to see this many of them in one go. I didn't take any of them apart because I would've had to put them back together again, and knowing how difficult Stewart's puzzles tended to be I decided that it would be best to adopt the 'look but don't touch' attitude.

Edward Hordern was the agent to Frank Chambers, so he had all of his puzzle designs. Now as his entire collection was passed on to James they can be found at the Puzzle Museum. Frank made most of his puzzles from corian, which is mainly known as being used for kitchen worktops. I did get a chance to solve quite a few of them, and they are all really nicely manufactured with very clever mechanisms. Corian is a strange but very nice material, it would be great if other puzzle makers considered using it to realise their own designs.

After I had told James that my main interest was in puzzle boxes he took out a few of Akio Kamei's works from the cupboard for me to take a look at. Here you can see the Toaster, Radio and Parabox. The toaster I managed to solve after 10 minutes or so, but Parabox I just couldn't do in a reasonable time. This turned out to be a big issue, because although I hate leaving great puzzles unsolved, there were just so many to see and so little time to see them in, so on occasion I reluctantly had to move on. The Radio gave me quite a bit of a laugh as the solution was not entirely what I expected. And the solved state is a little...chaotic. It took a particularly 'elegant' touch from Laurie Brokenshire to get this one open, as I wasn't being quite 'elegant' enough. It turns out that this puzzle is much easier if you grew up in the era of valve radios, as Kamei's works designs tend to link up the aesthetics of the puzzle with the solution.

After being overwhelmed by all of the puzzle boxes in the cabinets, imagine how I felt when James mentioned that he had all of Kamei's boxes! As well as the shelves there were around six drawers full of them! I won't add all of the pictures here, but as always take a look at my G4G Photo Album where you will find over 100 photos from my very puzzling weekend.

Looking around the room it was hard to miss the huge bronze puzzle sculptures that although I instantly recognised as works by Miguel Berrocal I had never actually seen one in the 'real world'. These are probably some of the most beautiful works within the puzzle world, and they combine both puzzle and art in equal measure. Considering the rather hefty price tag on them I was very surprised to hear James encouraging me to take one apart. So I did! This one that you can see on the left was only comprised of about eight pieces, but it weighed an absolute tonne! It wasn't particularly difficult (even thought James helpfully scrambled up my neatly arranged pieces) but it was great fun to solve. After this James suggested that I try another, and of course I couldn't resist. So the next one that James took off the shelf was called 'Romeo & Juliet', and it was clear from the start that this one would be somewhat more difficult.

There were more pieces.....a lot more pieces! And several of the pieces were hinged. I took this sculpture apart with not much difficulty, and then spent well over an hour trying to get it back together again. Laurie spent most of this hour supporting me by mocking my lack of progress. Jeremy Goode joined me for a while to try and fathom this puzzle, but still it remained unsolved. Because of the hinged pieces it had to be solved in a specific sequence, and I had to keep disassembling it in order to put new pieces in. Again (and this is the defence that I'm sticking with) this fell into the realm of 'puzzles I'm sure I would've solved if I had more time'. James eventually came over and mercifully gave me the solution book, and with that I managed to have it back together again after another 15 minutes. But it was still hard going! Laurie has photographic evidence of me reading a solution manual....I really do need to destroy that evidence at some point.

Later in the evening everyone settled down in the front room, and this was used as a time for everyone to give little presentations to the rest of the group. These could be on anything related to Martin, puzzles, magic, maths or a number of other subjects. There were some great talks on maze design, puzzle realisation and manufacturing, chess problems, text adventures etc. Including a couple of displays of magic! It was great to be able to meet and hear from people who have held these interests a lot longer than I have. The picture on the left shows Jeremy Goode giving everyone a talk on how he came up with the idea for his Xmatrix puzzles, and how they eventually became a reality.

After the presentations everyone went back to chatting and puzzling. And as it was getting dark people were starting to head off home. I originally planned to leave at about 9pm to get home for midnight, but I lost track of time a bit and found myself still there well past 10. I didn't have anywhere else to be the next morning, so after a call to my ever understanding other half I took up the kind offer from James to stay the night. By this point only six puzzlers remained (including James), and we were up puzzling well into the early hours. This would normally mean a lie in, but as there were still one or two (or try 50,000) puzzles left unsolved, we went back to puzzling again. I spent a decent portion of the evening solving many of the Karakuri Christmas presents, which I have to say being a puzzle box lover I really enjoyed! I'll write up more about some of these individually in months and years to come, but pictures of them can as always be found in my puzzle photo album.

The next morning after breakfast we all spent some more time puzzling....for a change. James showed myself and Jeremy his incredible Scannavini Puzzle Cabinet, which is a real masterpiece of fine detail and workmanship, especially considering that it was crafted in 1870! Every aspect of it wasn't quite what it seemed. There were hidden switches, hinges and drawers everywhere. Follow the link above for a bit more information on the cabinet, including some really nice close-up shots of the intricate carvings. 

Well, I know that I have missed out a whole load of interesting things from this event, but as this blog post was starting to look a wee bit long I've had to scale it back a bit. I honestly could go on and on about my visit, there is just so much worth mentioning and talking about.
I have to say a huge thank you to both James and Lindsey for inviting me to this event at their home, it was a wonderful experience that I will remember and most likely be talking about for a long time to come! And of course thank you to all of the other attendees who really made the weekend as interesting and entertaining as it turned out to be.

Like I've mentioned I haven't covered everything here, but do check out my G4G CoM II Photo Gallery for loads more puzzling pictures. And please do leave any comments/questions etc. using the comment thingy below this post.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Magic Billet Box

This is a very solid puzzle box that I obtained quite a while ago now directly from the designer & manufacturer living in Oregon (US); Eric Krusen.

It is called the Magic Billet Box, and it is definitely not one of those puzzle boxes that you would be worried about someone breaking by accident. Here is a little about the box written by Eric:
"Our goal is to create a unique one-of-a-kind keepsake item CNC machine made from the highest of quality material where the end results will be a remarkable piece of art displaying the logo of your choice. We pride ourselves on the ability to personalize and detail these Magic Billet Boxes with such defined precision. These Magic Billet Boxes are extremely high quality pieces and will last a life time."
And considering that all of these boxes are CNC machined from solid aluminium I'm pretty certain that he is right in saying that they will last a lifetime.

The generic version of this box is plain non-anodised aluminium, but as you can see from my picture I decided to go for the black version. I thought it looked cooler, and it was also about $10 cheaper than the plain one. At first I was a little bit worried that the anodised colour would start to scratch and wear off over time, but I've had it for quite a while now and even though it has been puzzled over many times it isn't showing any signs of wear at all.

Looking at the puzzle to begin with it can be quite hard to find where the lid actually is due to the precision machined lid and dovetail sliders. One of the perks of getting the black version is that it makes the joins of the lid more difficult for the eye to see. Once you have worked out where the lid is it is pretty trivial to remove it completely. While doing so it isn't hard to notice that there are some very strong magnets at work in this little box. And once the lid is open you will still find yourself staring at a closed box. Very odd indeed. This is the main puzzle aspect at work here, and I have seen it confuse both amateur and avid puzzlers in equal measure.

The solution is simple and yet very satisfying. Even though it may be tempting to resort to lots of force it is completely unnecessary. Sadly I accidentally saw a video showing the solution to this puzzle, so I can't give an account of how difficult I found it, but judging by other puzzlers that I have seen pick it up it is not too difficult, normally not taking more than five minutes.

When ordering a Magic Billet Box you can specify from two different types of opening mechanism, and one of these requires an extra step compared with the other. If you were looking to own one of these and really wanted to enjoy solving it I would recommend you do not visit the site yourself and that you get someone else to order it for you making sure that they ask for the more difficult mechanism. Sadly the site shows pictures and video of the solution, which I'm not a fan of, and that is why I'm not including a link until the end of this post in order to give you guys the fair warning that I didn't have.

This puzzle is available from between $55 and $150. There are some really cool anodised and engraved versions available as well as the ability for you to request custom designs. All of these can be found on the dedicated site here: Magic Billet Box (CAUTION: THERE BE SPOILERS)

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Dice (Akio Kamei)

It's been quite a while since I last posted about a puzzle box, and considering they really are my favourite puzzle genre I think it's about time I got around to it again. And as luck would have it a fellow puzzler has kindly just loaned me this particularly clever box!

This is the 'Dice' puzzle box from Akio Kamei, member of the very well known Japanese puzzle box company the Karakuri Creation Group. The original design was originally thought up by Kamei in 1997, but was then slightly modified and improved into the 2008 version seen here in the picture. This version
It is very simple in appearance (which is something that I tend to quite like when it comes to puzzle boxes), however it is not quite so simple as a puzzle. The outer panels are made from walnut, which gives the box a great feel and a nice weight, and it is medium sized at 8cm cubed. The outer panels of the box have the indented numbers 1 to 6 that you would expect to see on any dice, and these show through the lighter wood internals of the puzzle box giving a nice contrast again the walnut.

When first picking up this box you will most likely find that none of the usual stuff seems to happen. None of the outer panels will move, no matter how you seem to push, pull or slide them. After solving it for myself I reckon that it is very unlikely that anyone would be able to solve this puzzle simply by chance. You will need to use your observation skills and apply a bit of logic before this box will open up to you.

It's quite hard for myself to pin a difficulty rating on the Dice box as although I managed to solve if fairly quickly I know of several puzzlers that spent a significant amount of time on it. I guess it really depends on how the mind of each individual puzzler works coupled with their past experience of other puzzles.
The solution itself is extremely clever and quite complex, and I could understand how some people could take a while to work it out. If however you stop and think logically about what you are looking at then there is a good chance you will be able to solve it in a very reasonable time.

This is one of the more popular (and cheaper) puzzle boxes in the Karakuri series, and as such it tends to be often available from the usual suspects: Puzzle MasterKarakuri & PuzzleBoxWorld to name a few.

Also check out Brian's thoughts on the 1997 version of this puzzle box with the same mechanism.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Bi-CycLe (Vinco)

I came across this curious put-together puzzle for the first time last month at the 100th Camden Puzzle Gathering. It was both designed and manufactured by Vinco (Václav Obšivač) in the Czech Republic.

It is called Bi-CycLe, and it was Laurie Brokenshire's exchange puzzle at this years International Puzzle Party in Berlin (IPP31). I met Laurie for the first time at the Camden Gathering, and it was he who handed me a copy to try out. While I was at the gathering I had this puzzle in my hands for a decent portion of the evening, and I had completely failed to solve it! So that was definitely a good indication that this was likely to be a great puzzle. A friend of mine bought a copy of this puzzle from Laurie on the evening, and very kindly loaned it to me, so although I completely failed to solve it there and then I was given a chance to redeem myself later on.

Here's a bit of what Laurie has to say about the puzzle:
"By a strange coincidence it is possible to make at least one solid structure with these Bi-pieces; the target shape has 5 planes of symmetry and holds together extremely well. Since we're talking about Bi-CycLe here, though, the finished solution also has 4 axes of rotational symmetry of order 2, to represent Laurie & Ethel's 4 wheel axles (and 1 axes of order 4 as well, to represent the pedals!?)."

The puzzle itself is made from cherry, and is comprised of twelve balls and ten rods, but these are glued together to form two very interesting identical pieces. The main thing that makes these pieces interesting is that the pieces have a sort of 'free-wheeling' element to them. It's hard to describe, but check out the pictures. Three balls are connected in a circle to each other with the rods acting as spacers, and these completely encircle another set of three balls and two rods which are connected in an 'L' shape. I've not come across anything quite like this before in an assembly puzzle.

Because of the nature of the pieces I really didn't know where to begin other than sort of squashing the two pieces together to see what would happen. Unsurprisingly every time I tried this I ended up with the same two pieces, so there was clearly more to it than that. I managed to come very close to solving it quite a few times, but one of the balls would always end up being at the wrong end of the puzzle.

Eventually I did manage to solve Bi-CycLe, but it took me far longer than I had expected. I must've spent a good hour on it before working it out. There is a really nice twist to the solution, and as Laurie mentioned above the final assembly is incredibly sturdy. It's very unlikely that it would fall apart by itself.

For some more of Vinco's puzzles check out Vinco's own website and Puzzle Master's Vinco page.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

One Piece Packing Puzzle / Clive Box / Pack It In (Simon Nightingale)

Here is a really unassuming little packing problem standing at only 1.75" tall, designed by English puzzle designer and manufacturer Simon Nightingale. And this particular copy was manufactured in a limited run of 42 copies by Eric Fuller.

It was released by Eric Fuller under the name of the 'One Piece Packing Puzzle', but it has also been called by the names 'Pack It In' and the 'Clive Box'. It was called the 'Clive Box' when it was used by Simon Nightingale as his exchange puzzle for the International Puzzle Party held in London in 1999 (IPP19).

What a brilliant looking puzzle! It looks to be made entirely from exotic wood, but looks (as always) can be extremely deceiving. The object here is glaringly obvious; pack the cube (and yes, it is a perfect cube) into the box that is just the right size to hold it.
When I picked it up for the first time I knew there would be more to it than that, so I wasn't too surprised to find that no matter how I put the cube into it's box it insisted on jumping back out again. From the feel of the resistance I could tell that there were definitely some form of magnetic repulsion going on there, but even after flipping the cube the other way it still refused to be packed into the box!

After about ten minutes or so I managed to get the tricky little blighter to sit still in it's box, but I had to do this a few more times to truly understand why this puzzle was acting in such an unusual way. Now that I have it properly figured out I am really impressed with it! This puzzle implements a very interesting property of magnets that many people are not aware of, as I wasn't until very recently.

It's not a very difficult puzzle, and it does work on a sort of 'trial and error' solving method rather than an entirely logical approach, but it is truly brilliant! I love the fact that you can hand it to someone without saying a word and they will know exactly what has to be achieved. Also the quality of Eric's workmanship on this particular run is once again outstanding. I also recently got to see a copy of Simon's exchange version, and they are very similar in both size and build style to Eric's, so I assume that Eric worked his designs directly off from an original.

Sadly this puzzle is currently not available as Eric made these back in 2008, and like most items that go up on Cubic Dissection they sold out very shortly after release. I was lucky enough to be loaned this particular copy from a generous fellow puzzler that I met during my recent visits to the Camden Puzzle Gatherings. But if a copy ever does come up in the future I definitely won't hesitate to add one to my collection.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Houdini's Torture Cell (Brian Young)

Here's another puzzle that arrived from the Netherlands along with the Cast Donuts courtesy of Wil Strijbos.

It is called 'Houdini's Torture Cell' and it was designed and manufactured by Brian Young of Mr. Puzzle in Australia. This puzzle was also used as Brian Young's exchange puzzle at this year's IPP in Berlin (IPP31) where it proved to be a big hit, so much so that Brian is now selling them on his site.

It's a nice looking puzzle made of wood, steel and acrylic, and as you can see from the picture on the right it is actually quite small, standing at only 9.5cm tall. For some reason I expected it to be somewhat larger than it really is.
What you see here is a metal ball bearing (Houdini) trapped within the confines of it's wood and acrylic torture cell. The ball rattles around inside the acrylic tube which is capped with wooden end pieces. The wooden end pieces are also screwed to the acrylic tube and all of this is then nicely mounted on top of the wooden block base.

You will immediately start finding interesting things going on with this puzzle as soon as you pick it up, and a key thing here is to remember that age old bit of puzzling advice; Not everything is necessarily quite what it may seem.

Your job here is to save the ball bearing from it's torturous fate by removing it from it's acrylic prison, and it is great fun to do! Brian also makes sure to mention that "no hitting or banging is necessary to solve it", which is always a plus in my book.

EDIT: I made a small mistake there. The wooden peg represents Houdini, hanging by his feet from the ceiling of the acrylic torture chamber. This being representative of Houdini's Chinese Water Torture Cell which originally came about in 1911.

The puzzle aspect was actually taken from a part of one of Brian's limited edition works called the Opening Bat, and it was a puzzle step that was widely enjoyed by many who tried it. But the Opening Bat is pretty expensive so it's great that this was introduced in such a way that more puzzlers would be able to experience it.

I did not find this puzzle to be hugely difficult, with the solving process taking around 5-6 minutes, but it really is a lot of fun! I keep picking it up to solve again and again just for kicks!
The first couple of steps come pretty naturally, but one step is particularly clever and very innovative! This step took me the longest amount of time to work out how to do reliably. It is possible to make the solving experience easier with a bit of shaking, but this would ruin the best part of the solution, and why would anyone want to deprive themselves of that?

This is such a good puzzle and I would urge anyone that happens to be after a great example of the 'sequential discovery' puzzle type for a very reasonable price to consider picking one of these up. It is currently available from Wil Strijbos personally or through the designer Mr. Puzzle in Australia.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Cast Donuts

This is the newest puzzle in the Cast Series from Japanese puzzle manufacturer Hanayama, and a very nice looking one too as far as I'm concerned. They have only been released in Japan so far, so I was happily surprised to get an email from Wil Strijbos offering them for sale!

It's called the 'Cast Donuts', and it's pretty obvious how that name came about. It was designed by Vesa Timonen, who also designed the great looking Cast Loop.
Like most of Hanayama's puzzles this one is also made from solid cast metal which has been given a very nice chrome-style finish. I do like the fact that this one has also used the contrasting 'bright' and 'dark' chrome style, it really shows the definition between the two 'halves' of the puzzle.

At first glance it looks like the puzzle is made up of two ring pieces, but obviously that cannot be the case. In fact this is a four piece puzzle with each of the rings assembled in pairs. There's nothing hidden here, what you see is pretty much what you get.

The Donuts actually hold their final assembled shape really well. There is a bit of rattling but not enough to make the puzzle feel sloppy.

The idea here (like the name choice) is also pretty obvious, you are looking to fully disassemble the puzzle into it's four pieces and then reassemble it. In some ways the Donuts resemble the Cast Marble, which still is my absolute favourite puzzle from the Cast Series thus far.

There is a real elegance to solving the puzzle, and just like the Marble it requires a little bit of precision as well. However after talking to a few other puzzlers it turns out that it also possible to 'force' a solution, and many amateur puzzlers are likely to find that solution first and think that it is correct. As a general rule; if you're trying to squeeze something through a gap then you're doing it wrong.

I didn't find this puzzle particularly difficult and ended up solving it within five minutes or so, but that could be because of my experience with the Cast Marble and the similarities between the two. Hanayama rate this as a level 4 out of 10, however I would say that it should be a level 3 at the most.

It may not be particularly difficult however this is a very nice looking puzzle with a very elegant solution (if you do it correctly). For the price I'd say that you can't go wrong with adding one of these to your collection.

Like I said my copy of this puzzle came from Wil Strijbos in the Netherlands, and as they haven't been officially released outside of Japan yet (at the time of writing) he is probably the only source of them for at the moment. Please let me know via my email at the bottom of this page if you are after a copy and I'll make sure to pass his details over to you.

EDIT: The Cast Donuts are now available from Puzzle Master and Sloyd!

Friday, 30 September 2011

Popplock T5

Someone recently pointed out to me that I have managed to review all of Rainer Popp's Popplock Series......apart from one. Somehow I managed to miss the T5 out, so best get to it!

This is the Popplock T5, which is (unsurprisingly) the 5th puzzle lock in the well known Popplock Series by German designer Rainer Popp. It is the the largest and heaviest in the series. It stands at 11cm tall and weighs in at a whopping 900 grams. If you were to drop this on your foot I promise that you would notice! The main reason for this mahoosive weight other than the large size is the fact that the whole main body of the lock is milled from solid brass block, and the shackle is stainless steel. This is one of those puzzles that you know is expensive as soon as you pick it up. Even the key is made to be heavy and solid, so even I would've had trouble breaking this one!

The shackle on the T5 is actually quite interesting and stands apart from the rest of the locks in the series. It was modelled on the old 'bullring' style of padlock in which the shackle is a circular loop with a gap in it, and it can spin around freely within the main body of the padlock once it has been unlocked.

The T5 requires four steps to open, and in my opinion the first three are pretty easy to find. I found that the real charm of this puzzle really comes from the final step, and I can't deny that it is a incredibly clever! In comparison with the rest of the series I would rate this as quite easy. I reckon that most puzzlers will be able to solve this one in half the time it takes to solve either the T2 or the T4.

The T5 is a brilliantly crafted puzzle lock, with a very clever final step to the solution, however I personally don't feel that the total puzzle aspect of it measures up to the hefty price tag of around £200 ($300).
The T5 is pretty hard to come by now, and currently I don't believe that there are any retailers that still hold stock of them, so the only way to come by them is through sales from private collections.

Right, that's the whole Popplock Series done (for now)! Have a read of my other Popplock reviews:

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