Friday, 23 June 2017

Hanayama Cast Shift

One of Hanayama's latest Cast Series puzzles, the Shift was released in February 2017 with their updated and contemporary packaging bearing the name "HUZZLE", a combo of the words Hanayama and Puzzle. I was very fortunate and had the great pleasure of receiving the Shift (and Box Dice puzzle) over a nice Japanese dinner from the management folks of Hanayama, namely Kunihiro Kobayashi and Takeshi Onishi, the President and Sales Manager respectively, when both gentlemen were in Singapore for a business trip early this week. 

Measuring 4cm all round, the Shift at first glance looks somewhat like a 4-piece interlocking board burr made of metal; and there are a couple of other such similar looking wooden designs such as the Lattice and Four Frames designed by Andrey Ustjuzhanin. The Shift is made from zinc alloy (I think) and chrome plated to a glossy shiny surface. The 4 pieces consist of two congruent pairs with slots and corner triangles cut into them. If it's any help, let me say the triangles are cosmetic only and doesn't affect the solve. For better grip perhaps. 

The Shift was designed by Russian designer Kirill Grebnev who, together with Dmitry Pevnitskiy, was also behind the Cast Harmony puzzle. Apart from physical appearance, there is no other similarity between the Shift and the type of wooden board burrs named above. Certainly not the solving! Quality wise it's up to the usual Hanayama standards which is very good. Takeshi-san, the Sales Manager was telling me that Hanayama has a stringent quality control programme particularly for their puzzles that are manufactured outside of Japan. I don't own many Cast Puzzles but for those that I do, rarely have I encountered any real quality issues. The tolerances for the Shift is just nice and the pieces slide and move smoothly. 

Kunihiro Kobayashi (right), President of Hanayama Toys, Japan with Sales Manager Takeshi Onishi (left)

The Shift is rated 3 stars for difficulty, meaning it is of average difficulty. Give the Shift to an experienced puzzler and the difficulty quotient would probably be, well, average. But to a pure novice, it could mean "damn difficult" or impossible. IMHO, I think the rating here is about right. It's not too difficult, but certainly provides a fair measure of challenge. It took me a good 10-15 minutes before I figured out how the pieces interacted to unravel them. Oh, Burr Tools won't work here for sure, cos you can't solve it the normal burr way.

Once the prices came apart, to put them back together again was just the reverse procedure. Just make sure the right pieces are slotted against each other or you'll find yourself getting a bit stuck. With practice, the puzzle can be easily repeatedly solved. Like most of the Cast Series puzzles rated 3-star for their difficulty, the Shift is good for both the casual and experienced puzzler alike. For me personally, I like the Shift because I can see all the pieces and nothing is hidden from view, and the solution is pretty elegant. A fun solve no less.

And for the very reasonable price of the Cast Series puzzles, typically around US$11.50 to US$12 each, you would be hard pressed to get better value elsewhere, both in terms of overall quality and puzzle experience.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Chequered Cube

I have known Neil Hutchison for the last several years and also met him on a couple of occasions during past IPPs. Chequered Cube was Neil's IPP34 Exchange Puzzle in London in 2014 and the first puzzle design from him in my collection. Neil, also know as "The Juggler" in the puzzle community, is an excellent woodworker and also has his own blog site, where he posts puzzle stuff now and again, but unfortunately not often enough!

Chequered Cube came in a smallish nice fitting cardboard box and when I first opened the lid, I thought it was some kind of burr or interlocking puzzle made out of at most half a dozen or so pieces squeezed into a 5cm-sized package.

Little did I know that as I spilled out the contents, the burr was not actually a burr but a diminutive 3D cube packing puzzle comprising a staggering 13 separate parts made of various dark (walnut) and light (maple) pieces glued together.

The pieces are all precisely cut with sharp edges, and fit together incredibly well and the quality of the workmanship is astounding. I am truly impressed how Neil was able to produce the minimum 100 copies needed for the Exchange.

The object of the puzzle is take apart the cube and re-assemble it into a 2x2 checkerboard cube. According to the instructions, there are four ways to put together the cube but only one solution for the checkerboard pattern on the sides.

While this was a beautifully made puzzle and all those 13 pieces were lovely to touch, the difficulty quotient was totally out of my league. Even just trying to put the pieces back together to form a cube (without checkerboard pattern) proved to be too difficult for me. I simply could not handle that many pieces, the shape they are in, with all their notches and grooves made me want to faint with confusion. But lets get real here...any puzzle with over a dozen pieces (and designed by an experienced puzzler) would unlikely ever be a walk in the park, would it?

Solved State
After much effort and time, I decided to find the solution via Burr Tools. For those of you puzzlers out there who have problems with this sort of puzzles or interlocking/burrs etc, trust me, its still fun, thrilling (and challenging) just to configure the puzzle in Burr Tools to find a solution. Yes....a bit of a lame consolation! Using Burr Tools with the relevant colour constraints, the programme came up with the solution on how to form the Chequered Cube with a checkerboard pattern on all six sides and I was able to put the cube back together in no time.

Chequered Cube is a fine work of art for a puzzle with great attention to detail. For those of you who are die-hard fans of 3D packing puzzles, well, this is one you should try to get from Neil. Not sure if he has any left but he can certainly be contacted via his blog site. I just wished that he had also made a matching wooden box to house the this would have been so cool!

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Coke Bottle #4 - With Padlock And Chain

The last time I played with a Wil Strijbos designed bottle puzzle was his very "burlesque" looking Limited Edition Dita Von Teese Perrier Bottle. And that was nearly two years ago. Dita Von Teese was a very fun solve in more ways than one! and certainly much easier than this Coke Bottle #4 (the latter according to fellow puzzle blogger Allard Walker's naming classification).

I have had the Coke Bottle #4 for quite a while now, I would say more than several years and just this evening decided to take it out to have a play (I still have about 4 more unsolved bottles including a opaque Coke Bottle, another of Wil's designs).

Coke Bottle #4 consist of a regular Coke bottle with a plastic cap, attached to it is a thick chain with a small padlock secured on the end. The padlock is inside the bottle and is restrained inside the bottle by a single chain link over the shackle (see photo). The chain link prevents the padlock from coming out of the mouth and the object is to unlock the padlock and take everything out.

Like most of Wil's bottle designs (and others), they look like impossible objects but we all know that its physically solvable of course; just that it may take a lot of effort and usually for impossible bottle puzzles, a fair (or even great) amount of dexterity. As you can see from the photo, you need the keys to unlock the padlock. I might add at this point that no external tools are allowed as well and you must work with only what you have been given with the puzzle. 

I did my usual bit of analysis to try to figure out the best way to unlock and remove the padlock. For a while I was getting no where and I was wondering if I am allowed to remove the set of keys from the chain. I had figured out what to do but couldn't solve the damn thing for a while with the keys still attached. I was rather impatient to get on with the puzzle so I emailed Wil Strijbos, Kevin Sadler and Allard (there's a time difference of about 7 hours between Europe and Singapore). I wasn't sure if either Allard or Kevin had solved the Coke Bottle #4 but figured at least one of them would be able to respond. Surprisingly I got a reply from all three gents within minutes of each other and all confirmed that the keys can be removed from the chain for the solve. Once I did this, I was able to unlock and remove the padlock within minutes; not too difficult I might add. Quite satisfied with my achievement I decided to leave the reassembly until the next evening. 

The difficult part came the next evening when I tried to reassemble everything back into the bottle. Like what I gathered from Allard and Kevin, the locking of the padlock back into the bottle was a real pain and caused many puzzlers untold amounts of frustration. 

Remember you can't use any "external" implements or tools, just what is provided with the puzzle. I had a fair idea how to re-lock the padlock and went about testing my theory. The re-assembly I must admit is very finicky and requires a great amount of dexterity, but its not something that is excruciatingly difficult to do. Not the kind of difficulty like when you can't solve a high level burr but the type where you know exactly what needs to be done, but you just can't seem to do it physically, given that you can only use what you have that comes with the puzzle. Nonetheless all ended well and I managed to lock the padlock again inside the bottle. Whew! 

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Tel Arad

The 'Tel Arad' is perhaps one of the more unusual puzzles I have come across. Certainly its a category of puzzles you don't see everyday, although it does remind me of the snake cube/snake man type puzzle. 

This is the brainchild and creation of Yael Meron (Ms) from Israel, with whom I had to pleasure of exchanging puzzles with at IPP34 in London in 2014. 

The name of the puzzle (according to Yael) "is inspired by the ancient Israelite city of Arad, located west of the Dead Sea. The site is a Tel, which is a type of archaeological mound created by layers of human settlements over centuries"  For more info on Tel Arad, click here.

The puzzle which is produced by Yael herself consist of 9 acrylic squares (3 of each size) which is bound together by bands. The object is to stack the squares, one inside another in three layers. The puzzle in the solved state measures 5cm x 5cm x 2cm. Now these are not rubber bands that stretch, otherwise the puzzle won't be much of challenge but rather the bands are 'non-stretchable" and they hold the squares together (quite tightly) as shown in the photo.

The starting position is as shown per the accompanying instructions (and in the photo of the puzzle) and the puzzler must stack the squares as per the solved position. Stacking the squares would obviously require the folding of one square over another, the smaller squares going into the bigger ones and so on. Simple to say, but the puzzle is actually much more difficult than it looks. Initially I was pretty gentle with the folding and twisting as I was not sure how much stress the bands can withstand without breaking. After a bit of fiddling, I realised that if you don't apply brute force, the bands are actually quite strong.

Random trying here and there may help but some logical thinking will help you solve the puzzle faster and reduce the chances of wear and possible tear of the bands. 

Definitely a rather unusual puzzle indeed and one which results in an elegant solution that surprises, and also no undue force whatsoever is needed (although wriggling is permitted to turn the squares held by the bands). The difficulty level is just right for an exchange puzzle.

As far as I can tell, this puzzle being a private exchange puzzle, is not available anywhere except perhaps from the designer. PM me if anyone is interested to acquire one and I will link you up with Yael Meron.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Checking In

Steward Coffin's designs are typically not known to be easy and my puzzle of choice this weekend was no different.In fact it is probably one of the harder ones I have played with, considering the amount of time it took me to solve. This puzzle was Jerry Slocum's IPP34 Exchange Puzzle called "Checking In" and its Coffin's design #223.

Checking In was made by Brian Young of Mr Puzzle and comprises of Western Australian Jarrah for the tray and a combo of Jarrah and Queensland Silver Ash for the eight pieces. The puzzle measures about 10cm x 10cm x 1.5cm. According to Brian, this design has never been made before so its the first time design #223 has been produced. As usual, quality and construction is very good and the pieces with its two-tone colours looks fabulous.

The puzzle comes "semi-solved" and the goal is to fit one of the pieces packaged at the bottom of the frame flat into the tray together with the rest of the other seven pieces. Not only that but to also form a checkerboard pattern as well. Each of the eight pieces consist of dark and light squares and half squares (triangles) glued together. One look and it is obvious right from beginning that this one wasn't going to be easy. The pieces don't look like they can all fit into the tray. And the fact that its eight pieces already ups the the difficulty quotient by a few notches. 

I spent around two hours or so over several sessions trying to figure this one out. At first, random sort of packing, but usually this won't work when there are a large number of pieces. Then I tried logical deduction/reasoning, which I would say helps to some extent for this puzzle. Many a times, it was always the last one or two pieces that couldn't fit. But eventually the a-ha moment came when I adjusted the last few pieces and the tray accepted the last piece nicely...and in a checker board pattern too! A rather "interesting" solution I might add!

Not at all easy but not unduly frustrating either...although I would imagine that those who don't often play with packing puzzles could spend hours on Checking In and get no where. Mr Puzzle rates it a 6/10 for difficulty but I think it deserves a 6.5 or 7. If you are into packing puzzles (and given this is a Coffin design which is not easily available), Checking In should be on your must-have list. Available only from Mr Puzzle at a price of A$50/- 

For anyone who might want to take a look at the solution, please PM me via my blog email here.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Keys To The Kingdom

I am really hopeless at disentanglement wire puzzles, that's why I rarely, if ever buy any for my collection. However, now and again, I do get a couple during the IPP Puzzle Exchange. Occasionally I would look at the wire puzzles I have and decide if I should give one a go.

Well, Dick Hess' IPP34 exchange puzzle, Keys To The Kingdom caught my eye. And moreover, it didn't look that complicated and entangled, unlike some of the other string/wire puzzles I have come across. 

The Keys has not one but two (really four smaller separate) challenges. The first two consist of removing the two "key" from the upper squarish loop and the second is to join both keys into the lower circular loop.

Like many wire puzzles, the Keys at the beginning look like a bit of a jumbled mess impossible to take apart. But you know physically it is doable. But to my (pleasant) surprise, I actually managed to solve the first challenge of removing the two keys frustration free! Of course being lousy and inexperienced at such puzzles, I am am sure I took much longer than a seasoned wire puzzle expert. I was beginning to like wire puzzles already.

However, what took me about 20 minutes to solve the first challenge, I failed to replicate to the second task. Sadly I spend a good part of a whole afternoon without success. Finally I threw in the towel and referred to Dick's accompanying solution. However, despite the text and diagrams presented, which admittedly I did not fully quite comprehend, I still couldn't figure out how to link both keys to the bottom loop. I will have to drop Dick a note to ask for a better explanation.

No doubt I didn't solve the Keys completely, I still think it is a good wire puzzle to have because it not only provides two challenges but also allows a puzzler to have a couple of A-ha moments for the (easier) first challenge.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Dutch Souvenir Pack

This cute and quirky glass jar containing colourful clogs comes courtesy of Rob Hegge, who designed and produced the Dutch Souvenir Pack (DSP) as his PP36 exchange puzzle. 

The Dutch wooden clogs or Klompen are from the Netherlands and many are sold as tourist souvenirs. The jar is an ordinary looking glass jar with an airtight lid that locks; the type where you can fill it with jellybeans for kids. As far as the clogs are concerned, they appear to be those that can be easily bought off the street.

The DSP is a "3D" packing puzzle, if I can use such a definition and comes with 4 challenges, ranging from relatively easy to impossible:-

1. after removing the clogs and ball, place all 3 pairs of clogs into the bottle;
2. Same as above but close the lid
3. Same as 2 above but all the clogs must be below the lowest metal ring of the locking mechanism.
4. Same as 2 but include the rubber ball inside.

I solved challenges 1 to 3 but had absolutely no luck with 4. #3 was a tad more difficult since the the clogs had to occupy the correct position inside the jar below the lowest ring; hence some serious packing was needed, bu still manageable.

#4 was quite impossible for me! In fact it does look quite like an impossible object. I shall wait for the solution to appear in the IPP36 souvenir booklet to find out how to pack the ball in with the clogs.

As far as packing puzzles go, this one wins the prize for originality and aesthetics... and very appropriate as a (Dutch) souvenir, which doubles as a nice puzzle too!

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