Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Dinosaur Egg

The name of this puzzle, originally in Japanese, "Kyoryu No Tamago" translated means "Is It A Dinosaur Egg?". Its from Japanese designer Minoru Abe, renowned for his colourful, cute, whimsical and many very challenging sliding block puzzles. This one is no different and was designed 28 years ago, one of his earliest. The Dinosaur Egg today is rather hard to find (no pun intended) and I was very lucky to get my copy courtesy of my puzzling friend, Frederic Boucher who lives in Japan.

The object is to slide the pieces within the irregular shaped tray, (rectilinear moves only) from the given START position to the FINISH, which resembles a (dinosaur) egg. There are four pieces each piece forming a quarter of the egg. Three of the pieces have notches which are able to interact with the protrusions within the tray.

The instructions are in Japanese but the accompanying diagrams are pretty clear on what must be done. Frederic did a bit of the translation for me - the solution requires 22 moves. 

I played with Dinosaur Egg for a good hour and after getting stuck and resetting the puzzle at least a half dozen times, I managed to reach the end stage. I am not sure if the 22-moves solution is "unique" though? Meaning that you need to get the sequence correct right from beginning to the end or you will invariably get stuck in the middle and have to back-track to the last correct position. Or could more moves be taken and still reach the end?

Only four pieces, but a unique and interesting idea for a sliding block design, and challenging too!

There appears to be very little information about Minoru Abe, the man himself. But check out Holt Davey's FaceBook page here about Abe.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

The World's Most Expensive Exchange Puzzle?

Is this the world's most expensive Exchange Puzzle? Probably...but we'll talk about the price later...

Sequential discovery puzzles don't come onto the market often. In fact the last one I played with was Wil Strijbos Angel Box over a year ago..

But when a new one comes along, it's usually a winner. The Big Ben is such a puzzle!

The Big Ben (a miniature replica modeled after the clock tower at the north end of the Palace of Westminster), was John Moores' Exchange Puzzle at IPP34 in London this year. Without a doubt, it made ninety-nine Exchange participants (including me) very happy people, especially so when we later found out how much it was retailing for. It was jointly designed by John Moores, Junichi Yananose and Brian Young.

Made by Brian Young of Mr Puzzle, Australia, the Big Ben comprises of Papua New Guinean Rosewood, Western Australia Jarrah and Queensland Silver Ash, all native woods of Australia. The attention to detail is amazing and you really need to see the actual copy to appreciate the intricate design that has gone into the puzzle, not only externally from an aesthetic point of view but also the trick and mechanism of the internals. Quality, fit and finish is excellent.

The Big Ben retails on Mr Puzzle for a whopping A$385! Likely the most expensive exchange puzzle at retail price. However probably not, if you also consider aftermarket online auctions where exchange puzzles have attracted bids in excess of US$500 (thanks to Nick Baxter for this info). Even if it had cost John Moores A$100 to have each of these puzzles made (and I am just guessing here the price) it would have set him back a cool A$10,000 to use them for the exchange, since he would have needed a minimum of ninety-nine copies. But then again, John is from Monaco....  

As mentioned this is a sequential discovery (or progressive move) puzzle where you solve little sub-puzzles along the way (using tools that are part of the puzzle; but no other external tools permitted) leading to the eventual solving of the main puzzle.

The object is to find the "Big Ben" (in this case a tiny plastic bell, a miniature like the real one) hidden somewhere in the recesses of the clock tower. Along the way, another item, a representation of Queen's Elizabeth's crown can also be picked up.

Like any good sequential discovery puzzle, there are many things to do to solve the puzzle. In the case of the Big Ben, there are broadly four main challenges, each with multiple steps. I don't want to give away too much here since this is an expensive puzzle and one should have the maximum pleasure from the solve. 

The first challenge is the perhaps the easiest...for confidence building and getting one into the groove of things. Here you will discover some tools which are to be used later and are necessary. Didn't take me long to figure things out here. 

The second challenge is harder and IMHO, a lot harder than the first challenge. The main portions of the Big Ben has to be taken apart. I took a good half an hour or so to get through this stage. Once this was over, a sigh of relief, an a-ha moment to savour for a while.

The Big Ben and Queen Elizabeth's Crown found

The third challenge....which is the hardest and stumped me for a long time. Not that I couldn't solve the puzzle (ie getting the bell out of the clock tower); in fact I did solve it...only that I did it the unintended way!. Two other puzzlers solved it the wrong way too before finding out the correct method; one of them Kevin Sadler whom I approached for help for the right solution method after showing him how I had solved my copy, which proved to be incorrect. I tried the correct method and I must say that it is really quite an elegant solution and works well, but very subtle and tricky. As Allard Walker aptly puts it in his blog post, the solution requires "the detective skills of Poirot and the imagination of Heath Robinson". 

The fourth and last challenge is to put everything back together again AND including setting all the four clock faces back to the original 9 o'clock. I managed to reassemble everything back in place but was quite happy to leave the clocks in whatever facings they happened to end up. Didn't see the need to give myself any more extra work. The Big Ben looks just fine as it is!

Expensive yes, but loads of puzzling value for the money. Overall a really fine puzzle from the puzzling perspective. Difficult yes, especially the last part, but gradual and manageable most of the way with a-ha moments thrown in. A puzzle that you probably won't want to put down once you start.

Oh...and John, if you are reading this, we puzzlers would love for you to continue to participate in future IPP Exchanges with puzzles just like your Big Ben!!!

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Skunk Attack

This very nice puzzle came to me from one of the recent Baxterweb puzzle auctions. It was designed and made by Yoh Kakuda from the Karakuri Creation Group of Hakone, Japan. Who are these people, what sort of puzzles do they make, how to "join the club" and and get their "Christmas Presents" (soon to happen this month)?...well, you can check out Allard Walker's blog post which gives a good concise summary. 

Yoh Kakuda, who is one of just several puzzle craftswomen, among the many men in the Group has so far centered her creations mainly around animals. The Skunk Attack was made by her in early 2011.

It is made from a combination of woods including Wenge, Cucumber and Shiuri Cherry. Karakuri puzzles are of really exceptional build quality and craftsmanship, which accounts for their high retail price. And the Skunk is no different. The refinement and attention to detail of the puzzle is incredible. Even the packaging is high class. My Skunk Attack came in a rectangular blue box and if you didn't know it contains a puzzle, you would probably have thought it was something from Tiffany's. (For those less well informed, Tiffany's is a luxury goods and jewelry retailer whose trademark colour is egg blue, quite similar to the colour here).

From a puzzling perspective, the difficulty levels of Karakuri puzzles vary greatly. They can range from being extremely difficult right down to downright simple (ie; one or two moves to solve). If I had to grade my Skunk Attack, I would say its probably 1 or 1.5/10. For experienced puzzlers, no sweat at all. 

The object here is to open a secret drawer. What I like about the Skunk Attack (even tho it is very easy) is the cute way its solved...really gels in with the theme of "stink". In fact I have played with another of Yoh Kaduda's, the "Anteater" and that one is also very easy. Some may feel that the puzzling experience of some Karakuri puzzles do not justify the cost...well to each his own. I tend to look upon a Karakuri puzzle as a sculpture or work of art that also happens to be a puzzle.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Cross & Crown 2013

The Cross & Crown (C&C) puzzle you see here is not a modern puzzle design by any means, no, not at all. In fact, the C&C has its roots in a puzzle designed by Louis S. Burbank in 1913, which was patented by the US Patent Office.

The C&C was Dr Goetz Schwandtner's IPP34 Exchange Puzzle. It all started when Goetz had a chance to see and play with a very rare metal version of the original design belonging to puzzle collector Rob Stegman at IPP32. Goetz collaborated with another collector, Michel van Ipenburg and together, worked with IPP31 award winning designer Robrecht Louage to reproduce the version that we have today, making it available to puzzle enthusiasts.

The modern C&C is made of trespa, a strong and durable material widely associated with table surfaces. Metal would have been too expensive and impractical for production in large quantities. The puzzle is precision cut to tight tolerances but everything slides smoothly as intended. Quality of construction and finish is very good like in all of Robrecht's work.

The C&C is a N-ary puzzle. I still have little idea what this means but you can see examples of these and read more about it on Goetz's site. Like the original design, the C&C consists of a "cross" pivoting on a circular disc containing cut-outs. Both the cross and disc are "linked" by four rivets that can slide along each arm of the cross as well as along the channels of the cut-outs. The object is to move all the rivets through these zig-zag channels and reach a point at the end where the cross can be disengaged from the circular disc.

Like an N-ary puzzle, there is a kind of repeating pattern of moves (this aspect I know!); sort of a back-and-forth motion. I have played with several other n-ary puzzles such as the Lock 250, Alles Schiebung and Numlock and have solved them without help. Yet, for this C&C, despite spending a lot of time on it, I just could not get beyond a certain point and found myself keep getting stuck halfway. Perhaps I am way off-tangent on this one, but I am finding the C&C very difficult!

N-ary puzzles exist in all styles, shapes and sizes. The Chinese Rings is perhaps the early originator of such puzzles but it is binary rather than N-nary. The C&C is yet another example of a growing number of N-ary puzzles that have come to the market since Jean-Claude Constantin's 1250-move Kugellager a while back. For those keen to acquire a copy of C&C, you can contact Goetz via his puzzle site.

Puzzle Master of Canada and Mr Puzzle of Australia also retail different N-ary puzzles, as do Wil Strijbos.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

A Coffin Puzzle

Nope...this is not a puzzle from a super famous designer of the same name we all know so well. 

But this puzzle (a.k.a Escape The Plague, ETP) is actually the design of and IPP34 Exchange Puzzle from Kate Jones, who runs Gamepuzzles, a US online retailer of games and puzzles, the latter which are also all designed in-house.

If there was a prize at IPP34 for packaging, ETP would surely have won hands down for originality. ETP is a "maze connection" puzzle where the first challenge is to form a single "escape route", by placing the 16 square tiles within a square formed by the 4 side strips and navigating from the start point (red dot) to the exit gate (round dot). The second challenge is the arrange the tiles to form separate loops. 

ETP was designed around the theme of The Great Plague Of London, a major epidemic which killed hundreds of thousands of people in England during 1665-1666.

In "deathly" fashion and true to its theme, the laser cut tiles and strips are packaged in a miniature wooden coffin; which is probably just large enough to contain a small (dead) rat. The puzzle even comes with a sheet containing instructions and the history of The Great Plague.

The puzzle has more than one solution and the total number of solutions are not known. Kate is offering a nice prize to the first puzzler that can offer proof of the number of solutions. Well, I wasn't gunning for Kate's prize but merely content to find at least one solution. And I did! While not very difficult, it's no walk in the park either. There are 16 possible positions for the tiles and each tile has 4 different orientations. The side strips forming the square have 6 possible arrangements. To top it off, the route has to run through each of the 16 tiles as well as along all the 4 strips in a single continuous direction with no doubling back or crossing paths. It took me a while to figure out the entire route and I encountered several dead ends along the way before finally reaching the exit. 

ETP is limited to 125 copies, so there may still be some left. If anyone is interested, you may contact Kate via Gamepuzzles.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

The Kray Twins

The Kray Twins, designed by Steve Nicholls was also his Exchange Puzzle during IPP34 in London this past August. For those of you non-English folks who may not know who the Kray Twins were, they were notorious gangsters that were responsible for much of the organised crime in London during the 1950s and 1960s.

The puzzle is 3D printed in ABS resin and has six pieces comprising three congruent pairs in three colours. The puzzle holds itself together pretty well with tolerance between the pieces just right. This allows the pieces to slide pretty smoothly and no force whatsoever was needed for my copy. 

This one is a "diagonal" burr with sixty degree angles; thereby making it much more confusing and harder to solve than a traditional rectilinear burr, the latter, depending on the number of moves, is already by no means easy.

6 pieces all with diagonal cuts and 3D printed in red, white
and blue, representing the colours of the Union Jack :-)

This notoriously difficult puzzle has a level solution (total 40 moves), meaning it takes 6 moves to remove the first piece, followed by 10 for the second and so on. Once you get past the first six moves, you will understand why its called the Kray Twins. This one really stumped me for a long time. I just could not get past move six for some reason.

I contacted Steve for the solution and after studying the Burr Tools file; I realized where I had gone wrong. It was unlikely I could have solved this one on my own without help. Even with Burr Tools, focus and concentration was needed to get the moves right. I found the re-assembly even harder than the taking apart. The angles just seem to make it so much harder! 

Overall IMHO, a very difficult puzzle, but I am lousy at burrs anyhow. Experienced burrists may probably find it a less of a challenge perhaps.

Steve runs a 3D printing website (www.threedyprinters.com) so if you would like a copy of the Kray Twins, I am sure he would be most happy to make you a one...and possibly with the colours of your choice too! 

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Rightangular Jam & Japanese Puzzle Box

These two puzzles were gifts from a puzzling friend of mine who lives in Japan. A big thank to Frederic Boucher (hope you are reading this)

The first is Rightangular Jam, designed by Hirokazu Iwasawa who entered it for the IPP24 Puzzle Design Competition. Iwasawa, as you may already know, gave the puzzling community such award winning puzzles as the ODD Puzzle and Square In The Bag.

Start Position

Constructed from MDF for the tray and three of the triangles (the blue triangle is wood), this version is made for the broader market. The Rightangular Jam is part of a series of three puzzles of the same genre (albeit different solutions and varying levels of difficulty). The other two are Rectangular Jam and Triangular Jam

The object is to get the blue triangle out of the tray through a narrow slit on one of the sides from the starting position as shown above. Its like a sliding block puzzle except here you are allowed to slide the pieces in any manner, diagonal etc, not just rectilinear, so long as none of the pieces are lifted off the tray

I found this one pretty challenging and took a good hour or so to figure out the moves. Its certainly harder than the Rectangular Jam. But a really nice and "elegant" solution; no force required. 

The second puzzle is a Japanese puzzle box or "14 Step Mame Yosegi Traditional Japanese Puzzle Box". For the history and more information about Japanese puzzle boxes, click here.  My puzzle box is "mame" (ie miniature; it measures only 4.3cm x 3.2cm x 2.7cm) with a Yosegi design.

In terms of difficulty, not difficult even though it has 14 steps. Once you discover the pattern of moves of the box, you are well on your way. Mine even came with a little "reward" in the form of a cute wooden cube (love the tiny criss-cross design!)

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