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Monday, 23 April 2012

Kuku (SonicGames)

The Kuku is a puzzle from the manufacturer SonicGames (formerly SonicWarp). And despite a few minor quality issues I've been told of they do tend to make some very good looking puzzles, this being one of them.

The Kuku
The three pieces of the main body are machined from aluminium which have then been anodised so that you can clearly distinguish between them. One piece also has the Kuku name printed onto it.

The Kuku reassembled but with the coin removed.
There is a plastic coin hidden inside of the puzzle, this coin has a serial number on it that can be used for some kind of prize-challenge-type-thing on the SonicGames website, however as I am mostly interested in the mechanical aspect of puzzles I don't really have any interest in that kind of thing, so I won't go into the details of it here. I'm sure however that you could read more about it on the Kuku page of the SonicGames site should you desire to do so.

As this is a Take Apart puzzle the object of it is to take apart the Kuku in order to remove the coin from inside. This isn't a particularly difficult challenge, although I have been told that two different versions of this puzzle exist, and one has an additional aspect to the locking mechanism that makes it somewhat more difficult to open. Either way I would imagine that most puzzlers could open the Kuku in under half an hour, depending of course on luck, past solving experience, the weather, stock market values etc. 
It has a nice little coordinate motion aspect to the solution which I found worked very nicely. It reminds me of a spherical version of the Pandora's Box puzzle that Pentangle made a while back.

While I would not recommend this puzzle based on how good it is as a puzzle, I would actually be happy to recommend it based on the feel and aesthetics alone. It is a lovely looking puzzle that also feels nice and weighty despite it's rather small size. The main downside here is the price, which can be anywhere between $60 and $80.

If you're looking for a Kuku, you can find one on Puzzle Master, along with several other puzzles in the SonicGames series.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Gear Cube (Oskar)

Recently I've been getting more into the world of 'twisty' type puzzles, and a variety of them that really caught my attention were the ones that implemented a mechanism based on gears. Not only do I think that this type of mechanism looks incredible, but they are also extremely tactile and fun to play around with.

The most recent addition to my collection from this series of puzzles is the Gear Cube in black.

The design came from the mind of the prolific puzzle designer Oskar van Deventer from inspiration given by Bram Cohen. Oskar originally gave it the name 'Caution Cube' due to the caution a solver would have to take so as not to get their fingers trapped in between the very sharp gears on his 3D-printed design. The original 3D-printed version can still be bought from Oskar's Shapeways Shop for a pretty hefty price, or if you're on a budget like me (and don't want to hurt your fingers) then Mefferts have mass-produced the Gear Cube to a very decent standard at a price we can all enjoy.
One 90 Degree Rotation

The main thing that I like about the Gear Cube is that it is not massively difficult for a twisty puzzle. I managed to solve it within half an hour or so the first time, and now that I understand the movement it would only take a matter of a few minutes. Understanding the movement also isn't very difficult, because although it looks incredibly complex with the gears showing the movements are actually pretty simple.

What's Inside A Gear Cube?
Each time the the top and bottom layers of the cube are rotated 180 degrees, the centres of the middle layer will rotate only 90 degrees. But what really makes this puzzle interesting is that the edges rotate as the layers are turned. Because of this you would have to perform twelve 90 degree turns to complete one full rotation! after re-reading that last paragraph it actually does sound pretty complicated, but I promise you that it is nowhere near as difficult as a standard Rubik's Cube, and anyone should be able to understand the movement with a little practice.
Hell, if I can understand it then anyone can. Remember how terrible I normally am at twisty puzzles?

Fisher Sticker Modification
 A while back a puzzle designer by the name of Tony Fisher came up with a minor sticker modification to the Gear Cube to not only make it look much nicer but also to make it more difficult.

Fisher Sticker Modification Scrambled
If you really look hard at the first pictures you can see the four little inner edge pieces on each side of the Gear Cube. They really are tiny, and they are needed there to allow the edge gears to turn even when they are not touching the corner pieces.
Neither Mefferts nor Oskar ever stickered these pieces, and Tony saw this for the shame that it was and added them himself.
All But Inner Edges Solved

Since the standard Gear Cube was easy for me to solve now, I loved the idea of this. So I ordered a new set of these stickers from Cubesmith to give it a go. I stripped off the basic Mefferts stickers and carefully applied the new Fisher style ones. It was a delicate process and probably took me about an hour or so with a hobby knife and a steady hand.

With Tony's sticker modification added it is possible to have the cube solved as before, but still have the inner edges in the wrong place! Working out how to solve this requires more thinking and practice, but again is easy enough to work out by yourself without having to spend years on it.

This is a puzzle that I really do recommend. It is just so much fun to play around with, and although it looks intimidating it really isn't as hard to solve as it looks. And if you want to up the challenge then head over to Cubesmith for some new stickers. They are well worth the extra couple of dollars!
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