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Sunday, 9 December 2012

Topless Box (Eric Fuller)

I don't usually manage to blog about a puzzle immediately after its release (mostly because I'm just never that quick off the mark), but I enjoyed this one so much I thought I'd write about it while it was still fresh in my mind.

This is the Topless Box, and it is Eric Fuller's latest contribution to the puzzle box genre. Eric's puzzles always sell out pretty fast, so I always consider myself lucky when I get hold of his creations.

This puzzle was created by Eric as part of the huge 'Apothecary' project, which will see contributions from twelve great puzzle craftsmen combined into one puzzle chest of epic proportions. Definitely one for the books!

Just like many of Eric's previous puzzle boxes the Topless Box looks pretty unassuming at first glance. The main body of the box is made from a very nice striped, quarter-sawn sapele which looks incredible under the light, and the two 'lids' are made from quilted maple. The whole box feels really sturdy, and even Eric said that they were designed with longevity in mind. This was great news for me! Some of Eric's puzzles don't deal well with levels of high humidity, so I've always had to keep them locked away in a specially dehumidified box, but this puzzle looks like it'll work well whatever the weather.

The box starts to look much more interesting as soon as a lid is removed. Now you can see a really nice contrast with the lovely orange-red colour of the padauk.

But now you start to see a problem. The 'lid' has been removed and the box is clearly not open. How odd.

Maybe if we try the other 'lid' then that will be the way into the box.

Nope...that doesn't seem to be the way forward either. And now the name of the box starts to make sense.

As Eric says;

"The box has two lids and neither a top nor a bottom. Figuring out how to deal with that conundrum will hopefully get you on your way..."
When I first saw pictures of this box on Eric's site I built a picture in my head of how I expected it to work, and strangely (because it doesn't happen that often) I turned out to be right! Because of this I actually managed to solve it pretty quickly, certainly in under ten minutes, but I definitely wouldn't take this as an indication of how difficult it is. I expect that if I hadn't had conjured up the correct expectation before its arrival then it would've taken me significantly longer to solve.

I've now been lucky enough to have had the chance to solve a good few of Eric's puzzle boxes, and I still haven't found one that I didn't really enjoy. The Topless Box has many of the great qualities that I look for in a good puzzle box: It looks great (inside and out), it has an excellent build quality (which is to be expected from Eric), and above all else it has a fun and reliable solution. Because of all of these this is actually one of my favourites from Eric thus far.

If you ever get the chance to buy one of Eric's puzzle boxes then honestly don't hesitate, I very much doubt you'll be disappointed.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Half Truncated Cube Build

I've really been wanting to do a proper shape modification on a twisty puzzle for a while now, and I finally managed to get around to doing it!

Now, I have no experience in these things whatsoever, so I picked up all the info I needed from useful sources like the Forum and Tony Fisher's YouTube Videos. And I was surprised to find that many of the more simple modifications are not actually that difficult to make.

I was given a spare, unloved, standard Rubik's Cube a while ago, and I knew that I would end up using it for my first shape mod. Then I had a look around to see what would be a nice puzzle to make as my first stepping stone into puzzle modding, and I decided to go with a Half Truncated Cube, which is essentially a cube which has had half of its corners removed.

Poor thing had no idea what was coming...
So, I started with a bog standard Rubik's 3x3x3, then I immediately proceeded by hacking off four of the corners!

In order to do this I had to cover the cube in masking tape so that it wouldn't move during cutting. I then drew on the lines I wanted to cut along using a pencil and ruler and checked to make sure everything was in the right place before making any cuts.

A not-quite Rubik's Cube

The cutting was done using my Dremel 300, which was surprisingly easy. The cube spits of some pretty hot plastic shrapnel during cutting, so if you're going to do this make sure you're wearing long sleeves and some kind of eye protection.

Here is the result of the cutting. The cuts don't need to be perfectly clean or accurate, and that would be hard to achieve anyway, instead I didn't cut quite up to where I had drawn the lines.

Once the corners had been removed I could use a flat power sander to sand the corners right up to the lines. This also made sure that the resultant faces were perfectly flat.

Now we have our Half Truncated Cube shape, but there is still the small matter of the fact there are holes in the puzzle, because all those cut pieces were hollow.

Pieces filled with Milliput
This problem is rectified with some wonderful stuff called Milliput. Milliput is a type of epoxy putty. It has the texture of the sticky tac you put posters up on the wall with, and it comes in several different colours. Since my cube was black it seemed best to go with the black variety. You thoroughly mix the epoxy from two parts, then you can use it immediately. I used some water to help with the moulding as it gave the Milliput a kind of clay-like texture which enabled me to get a much smoother finish along the edges of the pieces, and it stopped it from sticking to my fingers.

Each piece of the cube (apart from the centres  needed filling, and this would take a lot of Milliput to achieve. It seemed like such a waste to use so much of the Milliput, so instead I mostly filled the pieces with white sticky tac, then filled the last part up with Milliput. This dramatically reduced the amount of Milliput used.
As you can see I took the cube apart for this bit as it was easier, and this way there was no chance of me accidentally sticking different parts together using the epoxy. I left the parts overnight, and by morning the epoxy was rock hard and ready for sanding again. It actually sets in four hours, but I wanted to be sure.
At this point I could remove the white sticky tac from inside the pieces using the hole at the back of each piece. This way it makes the puzzle much lighter again, and I can reuse the tac for my next project.

Sanded again and sprayed black
As you can probably tell from the picture, I had slightly overfilled each piece with the epoxy to leave a margin of error, so I once again needed to sand the pieces flat. I reassembled the pieces back into their original shape and used the flat power sander to sand off the excess black epoxy.

Sanding black Milliput kind of gives the pieces a grey finish, so to bring back the colour uniformity I gave the whole puzzle a coat of black modelling spray paint. This made the grey pieces black again, and also gave the whole puzzle a nice matte finish.

From a previous project I worked out that it was better to give the puzzle this light coat of spray paint while it was still assembled. A light coat of paint done from a distance will not stick the pieces together at all. It will give the whole puzzle a nice even finish and also the paint won't land on any of the internal edges, so the cube will turn just as well after painting as it did before.

All that was left to do now was to add some new stickers! Luckily, because this is such a popular design for many first-time modders, there were already stickers available. This is lucky because otherwise I would've had to painstakingly measure and cut each sticker by hand, and that would've added many hours onto the build time.
I ordered my stickers from Olivér Nagy who runs a website called Oliver's Stickers. It is a brilliant website! He supplies a massive range of puzzle stickers, and will even make stickers to order if you come up with a new design. So for just over 2 Euros I saved myself having to do a lot of extra work!

The stickers arrived a few days later, and after ten minutes or so of stickering this was the result:

I'm very happy with how my first puzzle mod turned out, plus I had a load of fun making it! The total cost of materials for this build probably came to less than £10, and for that I get a new puzzle for my collection that I can proudly say I made myself.

This certainly won't be my last build, and if you haven't given it a go yourself yet then I highly recommend that you do. You'll have great fun, and there's nothing more satisfying that seeing a puzzle come to life that you've made yourself.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Dutch Cube Day (DCD) 2012 / MPP8

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be able to make it to this years Dutch Cube Day (DCD) event! I was extremely happy to be going as it was to be the first international puzzle event that I have ever attended. A couple of the other Midlands rabble managed to make it last year, and they came back with such good stories and pictures from the event that I just knew I had to make the trip out to the Netherlands this year.

It started with a 4am drive on the Saturday to pick up Ali (a fellow MPPer) and then we were straight off to Luton to catch the plane. I made the slight error of going to the cinema the night before, so to say I was a wee bit tired would be the understatement of the year. But still I was very excited for the day to come, and I think that easily carried me through the whole weekend!

Once myself and Ali had landed in Amsterdam we met up with Allard, Chris, Nigel and Louis (even more fellow MPPers) at the airport. Allard Chris and Nigel had flown in from Birmingham just before us, and Louis caught the train from Eindhoven to meet us there. Louis has made the trip out to the Midlands many times now for our (very) regular MPPs, and it was nice to finally be able to make it out to the Netherlands to meet him there for a change. So many of us Midland lot made the trip out that we decided to combine DCD with the 8th MPP!

The Hotel Lobby
We travelled from the airport to the hotel via train, which was only a short distance away. And as the hotel was right next to the train station, that made the travelling aspect of the trip very laid back. Although I dare to think where I would've ended up if Louis hadn't been there to direct us.

I took a photo of the hotel entrance. It's a terrible photo that doesn't really show anything, and I can only really blame tiredness for that. I kept forgetting to take photos as there was always so much going on, then I'd suddenly remember and start taking loads.....then forget again, and so on.

Off To The DCD Venue
We stopped at the hotel for a while for everyone to settle in, then we met up in the restaurant for a bit of brunch. Right around this time Wil Strijbos and Christiaan Eggermont turned up and joined us for some food before we all headed off to the actual DCD venue to help Wil unpack his wares for the next day. This years event was going to be held at Sint-Maartenscollege in Voorburg, which as luck (or good planning) would have it was only a ten minute walk away from our hotel.

Only a couple of puzzlers had turned up today to set up their stalls for Sunday, including Wil and Bernhard Schweitzer, and as well as helping to unpack we looked through the puzzles that would be available the next day and chatted with everyone there.

A Good Few IPP Exchange Puzzles
After a few hours we all jumped into cars and cabs and made our way over to the home of Rob Hegge, who had kindly offered to entertain a group of unruly puzzlers for the afternoon. Frans de Vreugd and Simon Nightingale were already puzzling away on our arrival, and Rob made us feel very welcome with food and drink, although I think our attention was mostly taken up by his awesome puzzle collection!

An Incredible Puzzle Room
Rob kept us thoroughly perplexed for most of the afternoon. Whenever one puzzle was solved (usually a puzzle box in my case) another one appeared shortly afterwards. He was very trusting and let us try any puzzle that was out on display in the cabinets, although I did try my best to make sure that puzzles went back into the cabinets in the same state that they came out.

I think all of us there managed to find a fair few puzzles that we've never solved or even seen before. I got completely stuck trying to solve the Monkey's Palaquin puzzle box by Shiro Tajima, but happily managed to make my way through a good few other puzzles to make up for it. I have to admit that I spent most of my time working on the puzzle boxes because they are my favourite puzzle type, but there were so many other puzzles there that it was difficult to stick with one puzzle too long as there was always something else I wanted to look at next.

Out For Dinner
After a few hours (probably...I completely lost track of time so have no idea how long we were there), we managed to pry ourselves away from Rob's place and travel en masse (there were eleven of us) to find somewhere nice to have dinner. We dropped our stuff back at the hotel and then proceed to wander the streets with Bernhard at the helm trying to find an Italian restaurant that he remembered. After a few backtracking manoeuvres we arrived at the restaurant and sat ourselves down for some good food, drinks and generally puzzling conversation. Wil would regularly pull a puzzle or perplexing object out of his bag and proceed to hand it around, which always managed to conjure up a fair few laughs. At one point Louis even tried to solve the restaurant wall! He did have a few drinks by this point, although none of them were alcoholic so I'm not sure what his excuse was.

After dinner we all toddled back to the hotel for a very overdue rest to get ourselves ready for the main event in the morning. Most of us hung around in the bar for a few more drinks before heading off to bed.

A Teeny Tiny Bit Puzzling
A few of the guys headed off early the next morning to get to the DCD venue, but I went across an hour or so later with a few others who didn't fancy quite such an early start. 
Upon arrival we signed in and picked up our name badges and the tiniest souvenir puzzle you could ever imagine. I love miniature puzzles, so this little 3D-printed creation by Rich Gain was right up my street, and everyone else there seemed to really like them as well. 

The pretty large main hall was full of puzzlers and their puzzles. Tables and tables of puzzles! I knew to expect quite a few people and puzzles to be there, but I was still surprised by the sheer amount and variety of them!
In The Main Hall

We all split up and started wandering around the room. I kept seeing puzzles that I've been searching for all over the place! And occasionally they were even being sold by the designers themselves! It was great to finally be able to put faces to so many of the puzzlers I talk to regularly online and via emails. It really was a room of some of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet. A couple of them were even obliging enough to sign some of their own puzzle designs that I had bought that day.

Oskar And His Creations
It was a real highlight to be able to meet Oskar van Deventer for the first time, and have a play with some of his latest 3D-printed designs. He even brought along a copy of his infamous 17x17x17 cube, although I have a feeling that not too many people attempted a solve while they were there.

Another thing I was very much looking forward to was to picking up a long awaited puzzle from the incredible craftsman Jack Krijnen. I'll write a bit more about that properly later on though as it is well deserving of its own review.
17 x 17 x 17
Marcel Gillen has his own table there selling puzzles  of all types, including some of his own hard to come by designs. Tom van der Zanden was there showing some of his 3D-printed twisty puzzle designs, including his incredible Multidodecahedron, which I was thrilled to finally see 'in the flesh'. Goetz Schwandtner was there, and he brought along several 'N-ary' puzzles (that I really enjoy), including a design called Fidgety Rabbits by Namick Salakhov which was also an entrant in this years IPP Design Competition. I really loved this puzzle, and I made a mental note to track one down for myself eventually.

So many more puzzlers were met, and many many more puzzles were solved. I can't quite get pictures of them all into this post, but if you're interested in seeing the full set of pictures then visit the DCD folder in my puzzle image gallery and you'll find them there.

Speedcubing Finals
At the end of the event we stayed to watch the finals of the Dutch Open speedcubing competition, where we got to see the European record being beaten for a 3x3x3 cube with an average time of just 7.66 seconds! After the event had finished we were all exhausted (and somewhat lighter in terms of our wallets), so we retired back to the hotel to pick up our bags ready to make our way back to the airport and then onto home.

It was a truly incredible weekend, and I can't express enough thanks to everyone there who made it as fun as it was. I met many new puzzlers, and saw many many new puzzles, and somehow a few of them managed to creep back home with me. It was really great fun, and I'm definitely looking forward to making the trip out again next year.

The Puzzles That Somehow Followed Me Home

Friday, 19 October 2012

Glass Nails (Village Games)

Glass Nails - Entangled
Glass Nails - Disentangled
Of all the puzzles in my collection, these are probably the most delicate.
I picked them up a while back on one of my regular trips to Village Games in Camden (London). There were quite a few of these there as I think a batch was made specially for the shop.

As a puzzle this is only really a standard two piece disentanglement, so I won't go into the solving aspect of it. You normally see this type of puzzle pretty much everywhere either made out from simple metal rods or bent nails. Even quite a few Christmas crackers have them in. This version however is made from glass!

I don't know why, but for some reason I find it amusing to have a puzzle that is so well known for being essentially unbreakable made from something as fragile as glass.

I have actually managed to solve it a couple of times as well, but I was pretty nervous in doing so. Really it was added to my collection as more of a curiosity for people to look at and ponder over rather than play with too often.

Still, it's definitely an interesting concept, but I don't think I'd be wanting any more in the collection. I'm nervous enough trying to look after just the one!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Sly Burr (Frank Potts)

Let's face it, there are loads of traditionally shaped 6-piece burrs out there, so for one to stand out from the mahoosive crowd it has to have something in its design to make it really special, and here's one that I think does just that.

Just another 6-piece burr.....or is it?
This is Sly Burr, a design from the mind of Frank Potts which has been brought to life by Brian Young (Mr Puzzle) in Vitex wood (or Papua New Guinean Teak if you prefer). Frank also used this as his exchange puzzle at IPP28 in Prague in 2008. Also, at 6cm across it is a nice size for a burr.

It looks just like a 6-piece burr right? But it really isn't. I could show you a picture of the pieces to prove it...but I won't.

The real joy in this puzzle is working out for yourself just what makes it so special. Since I've had it I have enjoyed giving it over for puzzlers to solve without any directions and watching them get confused almost immediately. They mostly get there shortly afterwards, but it always seems to catch puzzlers out and it gives them a little smile of amusement once it gets moving.

The burr itself is level 9,3 (9 moves to remove the first piece, 3 to remove the second), but the level isn't really the issue. Finding the moves to make in the first place is the real challenge.

As a 'clue' to the solution this is mentioned:

"The hint is in the name...think movies....although working out exactly what the hint tells you about the puzzle may prove just as difficult as doing the burr itself."

After solving the puzzle I just had to ask what the clue is trying to reference to hint at the solution. Frank described the reference as being pretty convoluted, and offered me a nudge in the right direction. After a think (and a bit of Googling) I managed to work out what it was referring to, and I concur in that solving the burr is far easier than trying to work out the clue! If you have this puzzle and fancy an additional challenge then do give it a go for yourself and let me know what you come up with.

I have to admit that normally I'm not really into burr puzzles in general, but this really is a great all-round puzzle. It has few enough pieces to not make it ridiculously difficult, and it has a trick to it that is likely to provide a great 'Ah Ha!' moment to amuse anyone solving it. It is easily one of my absolute favourite burr puzzles, and I'd seriously recommend getting hold of one before they sell out.

You can buy this puzzle directly from the manufacturer, Mr. Puzzle in Australia

Friday, 12 October 2012

Boxed Burr (Tom Lensch)

The Boxed Burr was designed and made by Tom Lensch, and it was also used as his exchange puzzle at IPP17 back in 1997 in San Francisco, and true to his style it is made from wood and well crafted to a perfect fit and finish.

Boxed Burr - Solved
Boxed Burr is made entirely from mahogany, which gives it a lovely colour and a very solid finish

At first glance Boxed Burr looks more like a puzzle box than a burr, and it takes a bit of a strange rotation move to actually remove the first piece (you can see the locking piece one the second picture).
Once the first move is discovered and a piece is removed it becomes much more obvious what kind of puzzle this really is.

It turns out that inside is a standard six-piece burr, but one end of each burr piece is attached to a panel, each of which make up the box shape once they have been correctly assembled. I think it actually looks at it's best with just the first piece removed. The first (locking) piece rotates slightly against its panel, and that allows you to twist it in order to lock it in against the other pieces. I really like puzzles that have the ability to solidly hold themselves in their solved position.

The burr puzzle itself isn't particularly difficult, but having the panels on the pieces makes it a little bit more of a challenge, although not significantly. It shouldn't take an accomplished puzzler too long to find the solution, and I'd even wager that most new puzzlers would be able to solve it with a bit of effort as well.

Although Boxed Burr isn't very difficult to solve it is well worth having just for how fun it is. Plus I think the design is incredibly innovative and aesthetically pleasing as well.

This puzzle came directly from Tom, and that would probably be the best place to start if you were wanting to add one of these to your own collection. Failing that, puzzle auctions are your friends.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Spot The Difference... (Twisties)

Today I wanted to take a quick photo of only the 'twisty' puzzles in my collection. It took longer than expected, but the result is always worth the effort.

After taking the photo I thought it would be fun to take another photo of the same puzzles, but move a few things around.

So here are the two pictures; can you spot the 12 differences, and also name those puzzles?

Click on the pictures to enlarge them.


...and after!

Friday, 5 October 2012

Popplock T7 (Rainer Popp)

It's been a while since I reviewed one of Rainer Popp's very well known series of puzzle locks known as Popplocks, but recently he released his latest creation and I was lucky enough to be able to borrow one for the sake of this review.
Popplock T7 - Rainer Popp
This monster of a puzzle lock is the Popplock T7. After the release of the Popplock T6 which was pretty conservatively made, the T7 goes back to its roots and in conventional Popplock style it is machined from solid brass and stainless steel. It weighs in at almost 1100 grams! Which as a comparison is around the same as three cans of Coke!

Now due to this lock being so large and made from these materials it unfortunately has a price tag to match its epic weight. When first released you could pick up one of these for 280 Euros (~$365/~£225), and no matter which way you look at it is an awful lot of money. But due to the extremely high reputation of Rainer's previous Popplocks, all of them sold out within a very short amount of time, even though Rainer described it as being "pretty much different from all the other locks".

When I was first handed the lock the first thing that immediately shocked me was the weight. I turned it over to look at all sides of it before trying to solve it (when it comes to Popplocks I've made the mistake of overlooking small but important details before, so now I make sure to ignore nothing).

The shackle is huge and solid, and obviously won't budge. Under the shackle is an area of raised brass with a stainless steel centre, which looks a bit like a button but also won't move. There is a large flat circle on one side which can be seen in the picture above, this also looks to be a button of some kind and this one does move slightly upon pressing, but not enough to achieve anything.
In fact the only part that does move on this lock to begin with is the circular knob at the bottom that has been stamped with the Popplock logo. This piece rotates, but not to a full 360 degree turn, it is restricted by something.

It became immediately obvious after a few movements that this puzzle has an internal maze which needs to be navigated in order for it to be solved. I'm only happy to mention this because it is so obvious, but I'll leave you to work out how to navigate this maze for yourselves, and also how to release the shackle. Sadly the solution to this puzzle is in all aspects very simple, it only took me a minute or so to open it the first time.

The real ingenuity in this locks design comes from the internals. The maze that you have to navigate in order to open it can be reconfigured to a design of your own creation. With the tools provided you simply remove the walls of the maze and replace them in the way that you would like. Understandably this doesn't however make the puzzle aspect any more interesting for the owner because they would only be navigating their own maze design, but you could ask someone to replace the maze for you. There is also a 'safety release' on one side of the puzzle in case you accidentally create an unsolvable maze, so you can feel free to get as creative as you like without having to worry too much about locking yourself out of your own puzzle. You will need another of the provided tools to open this release, so it can't just be mistaken as part of the solution.
The mechanics of how you can reconfigure the internal maze on this lock really are a thing of beauty, perfectly made and very well implemented.

Several puzzlers were quite displeased with this lock because it really doesn't live up to its Popplock legacy in terms of difficulty, and this is something I can't disagree with. Regardless of how the internal maze was configured I am confident that I still would've had this lock open in the same very short amount of time. No matter how you judge it this is a very simple puzzle as far as its solution is concerned, not just compared with the other Popplocks, but also considering puzzles in general.

Personally, if I had purchased this lock for the price it sold for I would have been a bit disappointed by its level of difficulty, but I would be happy to overlook it because of the complexity and sheer ingenuity of the internal design.
This is not a puzzle I would ever get out just to solve for fun, but I would be eager to show people how it works and just what makes it such an interesting puzzle.

If you're after a challenge or a puzzle that will give you one of those brilliant 'AH HA!' moments then I'd recommend you save your cash for something else. However, if you would be happy owning one of the best machined puzzle locks out there with what I would consider to be a seriously ingenious internal design, but can overlook the inherent simplicity of the puzzle itself (and have a load of cash lying around)  then you could consider trying to hunt one of these down for yourself.

Puzzle Master currently still have some of these available here: Popplock T7 - Puzzle Master

If you liked this then please have a read of my other Popplock reviews:

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Mad In China (Jean Claude Constantin)

Packing puzzles tend to come in all shapes and sizes, but this particular one caught my eye because of the complexity of the pieces that need to be packed.
Mad In China - Jean Claude Constantin
This puzzle is called 'Mad In China', a name which I imagine came about due to the slight resemblance between the shape of the pieces and written Chinese characters, and it came as part of an order from Puzzle Master. As some regular puzzlers may have guessed by the laser cut wood this is another creation from the mind of Jean Claude Constantin, and an excellent one at that.

As with all packing puzzles the objective is pretty obvious; get all four of the very irregular pieces to lay flat within the tray. At first glance it really doesn't seem that like much of a challenge. Even though the pieces have very irregular shapes the tray is actually very empty, apart from the four protuberances around the edge.

Immediately it became clear that all four pieces were far too large to go into the tray without being interlaced within each other, so then I began the process of finding the most space-saving assembly of the four pieces outside of the tray. This turned out to be a pretty ineffective method because I had to check each time if my assemblies would also fit into the tray, so I moved on to trying different assemblies within the tray instead.

After a good half hour or so I decided to give this puzzle a rest for a while, but I took it to the Midland's Puzzle Party (MPP) not long after. At the party fellow puzzler Nigel sat down next to me and solved it in what I guess to be less than 10 minutes! Now Nigel is a seasoned puzzler, so I didn't feel disheartened, but it did spur me on to try again later that evening once I got home. After another 10 minutes I managed the solution as well.

Now even though there are only four pieces I would still class this as a moderately difficult packing puzzle, mostly due to the highly irregular shape of the pieces. So if you fancy a challenging packing puzzle that doesn't have too many pieces then this is one for you.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Hungarian Rings - Olympic Edition

Just as an interesting addition following on from my last post regarding the Hungarian Rings and Rubik's Rings puzzles, I thought I'd share a picture of an adaptation of the Hungarian Rings.

It is a much rarer edition of the Hungarian Rings puzzle done in the style of the symbol for the Olympic Games.

Where the original Hungarian Rings only has two interlocking rings made up of 38 balls in 4 colours, this version has five rings made up of 72 balls in 5 colours.

This version is a much harder puzzle than the original. I haven't managed to solve it as yet but thought I'd share it here anyway as an interesting and quick addition to my last post.

It's a shame that these are so hard to come by because I think that they look brilliant as part of a collection, plus they're definitely not trivial to solve! But as with all rarer puzzles, keep an eye out on those auction sites as they do tend to pop up every now and then.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Hungarian Rings / Rubik's Rings

In the past I never really had any luck solving '2D Sequential Movement' type puzzles, so I tended to stay away from them. Recently however I saw this as a bit of a shame, so decided to give them another chance. This time I had much more success!

I thought I'd write about these two puzzles specifically as they are some of the most well known puzzles from the genre. And the reason I'm writing about them together is because they are different takes on what is essentially the same puzzle.

This first one is called the Hungarian Rings, and according to Jaap's page the design has been around since 1893, so it's definitely one of the classics.

The puzzle consists of two intersecting rings which are made up of 38 balls in four different colours. The picture on the left shows it in the solved state.

The balls can be scrambled by rotating the balls in their ring shaped tracks, balls can then be moved from one position to another at either of the two intersecting points where the two rings come together.

I was actually quite impressed with myself when I managed to get all of the balls in the right place apart from four which needed to swap places. However I was stuck at this step for another couple of days! The real challenge of this puzzle comes from moving the last balls into their correct positions.

After a couple of days I worked out a system to solve the last pieces, and was thrilled! Especially considering how miserably I failed the first time I tried this type of puzzle.

This other puzzle is a variation on the theme of the Hungarian Rings, and these were made by Rubik's under the name of Rubik's Rings, made in 1999 by a company called OddzOn. I don't think anywhere actually sells this puzzle any more, so I found my copy on eBay.

As you can see it is essentially the same as the Hungarian Rings, except with a couple of glaring differences;
Firstly the puzzle isn't flat, it's skewed at the intersections. This doesn't affect how the puzzle works, it just makes it look a bit funkier.
Secondly there are only three colours of balls
rather than four. And lastly, there are only 34 balls as opposed to 38.

Because of the lower number of balls and less colours I found this one to be easier to get to an 'almost solved' state than the Hungarian Rings. Then the final moves can be done in the same way as the first puzzle.

The only problem I found with this puzzle is that OddzOn built in a ratcheting type mechanism to hold the balls more precisely, presumably to stop the balls from misaligning at the junctions and jamming, although I kind of found that this seems to do the exact opposite. I really had to line each ring up exactly in order to spin them round. Not great if you fancy going for a quick solve time.

So I'm glad I decided to give this genre of puzzle another try. I think I just didn't try hard enough to solve them the first time round, but honestly, with a bit of thought and determination I reckon anyone could solve these two puzzles in a reasonable amount of time.

The Hungarian Rings are available from Puzzle Master, however like I said the Rubik's Rings aren't (as far as I'm aware) commercially available any more, so keep an eye out on eBay as I think they come up pretty regularly.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Pentacle Puzzle (David Pitcher)

For quite a while now I've been looking backwards and forwards through Shapeways for a puzzle to buy. For those of you who don't know Shapeways is a 3D printing company based in the US who give people the opportunity to see their 3D designs brought to life in a relatively short space of time. They don't specialise in puzzles, but many puzzle designers are sing them as a platform from which to sell their designs to the world. They come up with the designs, Shapeways prints them, puzzlers buy them, everyone's a winner!

The catch with 3D printing at the moment is that it is still quite expensive compared with mass produced moulded puzzles, for obvious reasons. This is why I browsed the site for so long trying to choose a puzzle to buy. I wanted a puzzle that was no only good fun, but it also had to look good, be easy to assemble and -most importantly- be affordable.

After much pondering I decided on a twisty puzzle called the Pentacle Puzzle designed by David Pitcher. It ticked all of the boxes, and looked simple enough for me to assemble myself. A little while after placing my order (a week or two) a packet showed up at the door.

Yep, that's a load of puzzle parts in some bags. Shapeways are a printing company, they don't assemble the parts for you. The M3 screws you see in the picture were also ordered separately from eBay.

Here are the different parts laid out. Normally with a puzzle of this type it would be necessary to add coloured stickers in order to make this into a puzzle. After all, without the colours there wouldn't be anything to solve.

With this puzzle however the colour parts you can see on the right have been printed in a material called 'full-colour sandstone'. They aren't printed out and then dyed afterwards to look like this, they actually come out of a printer looking like that! I find that absolutely incredible!

The main body of the puzzle is made from the standard 'black strong and flexible' plastic material, then the coloured sandstone chips can be pressed into the hollows in the black pieces. This gives the puzzle a  really nice original look rather than the usual stickers, plus it gives a nice bit of extra weight to the puzzle for a quality feel.

I did have to sand down some of the colour chips with my Dremel in order to get them to fit into their black pieces, but this wasn't too much bother. I told David about it afterwards and he said he'd tweak the measurements to make assembly a bit easier on the hands.

So the first part of the assembly was to put together the twelve black pieces that make up the main body. This wasn't any fuss at all.
Once all of the pieces were together I closed it up using the 12mm M3 screw I ordered ready for the arrival of this puzzle. I tightened the screw till the fit and movement of the pieces felt just right, and spent the next 10 minutes or so just turning all of the moving parts to wear them in a little bit.

Anything printed in the 'strong and flexible' material will have a rough sort of finish to it. This feels nice on the outer parts of the puzzle but also causes unnecessary friction on the inner pieces. Just by turning the pieces round a bit you will grind some of this material away, making the movements much smoother in the process. If you really wanted to you could sand it perfectly smooth, but that's down to personal taste.

Now with the main body assembled and worn in I went ahead and started to add the coloured pieces into their respective slots. As I said, I did have to sand some of them down to fit perfectly, but no glue was needed to keep them in. Needless to say I'm confident that those pieces are never coming out again.

Each side of the puzzle is a mirror image of the other, so I just had to pay special attention to get them all in the right places, which wasn't too difficult. And after a few minutes I ended up with a brilliant looking and fully functional puzzle!

As a puzzle it is a Pentagonal Floppy Cube, as it can rotate about all of the five points. Not too difficult, but also because of the colour pattern it isn't simple either.

So as my first ever order from Shapeways I am very happy! I will most definitely be ordering more in the foreseeable future. Hopefully the price will eventually come down a bit, and that will make these kinds of puzzles more available to everyone.

Check out Pitcher Puzzles for more of David's excellent designs. And also have a browse through some of the other things Shapeways has to offer. There are so many very cool designs on there, and not just for puzzles either!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Karakuri Small Boxes

The Karakuri Creation Group make some seriously incredible puzzle boxes, a few of which I have written about before. Many of them also come with a pretty hefty price tag to match their beautiful craftsmanship, however they do make a series of smaller than usual puzzle boxes that due to their size are also much cheaper.

They are all part of the Karakuri Small Box series which is made up of eight separate boxes, all of which have very different opening mechanisms despite their similar appearances. They all have unimaginative names, but at least it makes it easy to distinguish that they are part of a series.

I'm going to try and go through now and write a little bit about each of them, it won't be too much as they are all relatively simple (only a few steps each) and I don't want to give away their solutions.

Karakuri Small Box No.1

Solve Time = ~5 Minutes
Move Count = 3

The first box in the series has a walnut exterior with a lovely multi-wood inlay of the Karakuri logo. You'll notice that this logo inlay features on all but one of the Small Boxes. No.1 requires only three moves to open and the mechanism is very simple. The craftsmanship on these boxes really is incredible, you can barely see the joins where each wooden panel meets another, and this is one of the things that add difficulty to them. Personally I enjoy simple mechanisms, so this was great. The mechanism was a little stiff on my copy which is likely due to the humidity in my house at the moment, which shows how tight the tolerances are in these boxes.

Karakuri Small Box No.2

Solve Time = ~4 Minutes
Move Count = 2

At first glance No.2 obviously differs from the first in both size, shape and colour. This one is longer, and the outer panels are made from a lighter cherry. The solution technically requires two moves, but as one of those moves is pretty unconventional I wouldn't class it as very easy at all. The only reason I managed this one so quickly was because I had come across this mechanism before, but it had me stumped for a decent while before I finally got it. A very fun puzzle! I just gave it to my fiancée who also managed to open it in only a few minutes.

Karakuri Small Box No.3

Solve Time = ~3 Minutes
Move Count = 4

No.3 looks very similar to No.2, except the box is slightly wider and made from a nice recognisable oak. It has one of the higher move counts in the series at four moves. The first two moves come very easily, but the third is a bit different and may just trip you up if you're not paying attention. The moves on this one have to be done fully at each step otherwise the next move won't be possible and you might miss the solution. I'd recommend this one just for the unusual third step.

Karakuri Small Box No.4

Solve Time = ~4 Minutes
Move Count = 1

No.4 is the first significantly different puzzle box in the series so far, this is because of the fact that it has an obvious base as opposed to the others which have all equal sides. The outer panels of this box are made from a lovely red coloured wood called rengas, and it is my favourite wood colour in this series. Although it's one of my favourite looking boxes in the series, it is also my least favourite box in terms of its solution. It's only one move and I found it rather underwhelming. I've seen this trick used before in another box by a member of the KCG, and I have to say that I didn't like it then either. It's just not elegant enough for my liking.

Karakuri Small Box No.5

Solve Time = ~15 Minutes
Move Count = 3

No.5 is exactly the same size and shape as No.4, but it is made from the lightest wood in the series, maple. It also has an obvious bottom side like No.4. Personally I found this one to be the hardest box in the entire series taking me a good 15 minutes to solve it. I probably opened it the first time in less than 10 minutes, but it did take me the extra time to work out how to solve it reliably every time. It turns out that it is possible to solve this box with unintended solutions quite easily, but I'll say now that you do not need to tap or hit this puzzle at all to solve it. If you stay away from excessive force you're likely to find the proper solution first.

Karakuri Small Box No.6

Solve Time = ~3 Minutes
Move Count = 2

No.6 is once again the exact size and shape as both No.4 and No.5, with the obvious square base and this time the outer panels are made from a nice dark walnut. I do love walnut, but I found it a bit of a shame that they made the wood type the same as No.1. Although in fairness various wood versions of these puzzles have been made, so I could just get a different version of No.1 if I preferred. The solution to this puzzle should be easy to most amateur puzzlers, it may just take a little while to get the solution just right to be able to open the box. While the solution is very familiar the actual implementation is different from the norm. It's worth solving this with the lid off just to see if you notice why it's a little bit special.

Karakuri Small Box No.7

Solve Time = ~2 Minutes
Move Count = 3

The wood choice for No.7 is teak, and you'll notice that it is visibly different from all of the other boxes in that its logo is not made from inlaid wood, but rather it has been branded on instead. Many people don't like this look, but personally I like the simplicity of it and don't think it detracts from the puzzle at all. It reminds me of how Mr. Makishi signs his puzzle boxes. This isn't very difficult as the mechanism is much closer to the traditional Japanese style, but it is my favourite because of how simple and elegant it is. Pretty much anyone should be able to open this box, which makes it my first choice when starting a person off with their first 'trick' puzzle box.

Karakuri Small Box No.8

Solve Time = ~5 Minutes
Move Count = 2

I think it's safe to say that No.8 is the odd one out in this little series of puzzle boxes. It is completely different from the others in several ways. Although it is symmetrical, it does not have even sides, you can see two wood colours on the outside (keyaki and walnut) rather than just the one and also it has no visible logo. I'm not a fan of this box being in the Small Box series purely because of how different it does look. I quite like puzzles in a series to visibly relate to each other, and while the other boxes differ in subtle ways it is still obvious they are part of a set. This however is very far removed from the others. 

No.8 was actually designed by Akio Kamei and used as an exchange puzzle at IPP16 under its original name 3D Box. As a puzzle it again isn't very difficult, but I do like the solution. It has a very satisfactory feeling when opening, although it could take some practice to get the method just right. This box is no longer produced by the Karakuri Creation Group due to the difficulty of manufacturing and subsequent failure rate. Luckily Wil Strijbos had a copy of this box available, otherwise it could've been very difficult for me to complete this collection.

Well, there we have it, the full collection of the Karakuri Small Box series! I managed to get hold of my collection from Wil Strijbos, who has been known to have copies of many of the Karakuri Creation Group's puzzle boxes available relatively regularly. If you are after something specific I definitely recommend you drop him a message. Failing that they are also available from retailers such as Puzzle Master and Sloyd.
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