Friday, 17 April 2015


No way! - my first thought after reading Kevin Sadler's review of Optiborn. He had mentioned:- "don't be put off by such a high level - this is definitely solvable by almost any puzzler".

I was not put off by the level of this puzzle...not at all. I was just stumped and stuck like after 10-12 moves...well, more on the solve later.

Optiborn is from the most recent range of puzzles offered by the Pelikan Workshop. I had gotten it together with Castle, reviewed previously. Made of Paduak and Walnut, the puzzle is very well constructed with superb quality and finishing. Nice touches include the fine beveling of the edges and the name of the puzzle engraved on the cage! 

The Pelikan Workshop have always produced quality value for money puzzles in the past. But with their newly revamped website, the level of quality has also correspondingly gone up a few notches as well.

Optiborn was designed by Stephane Chomine, who has done a staggering 497 designs in the last five years, since March 2010. That's an incredible average of 2 designs every week! 

Not a large puzzle by any means, the Optiborn measures about 6cm x 4cm x 4cm. Externally, it doesn't look intimidating, sporting a minimalist look with four regular burr pieces and a ordinary looking cage. But this is a tiger in sheep's clothing! Its really least I found it so. So don't believe Kevin what he says. After all, he's quite an accomplished burrist, but not so much of a packist (the latter by his own admission; "packist"- one who plays with packing puzzles).

I wrestled with Optiborn for quite a number of evenings; in between playing with other puzzles but got nowhere. Usually hitting a dead end after a number of moves. Finally I threw in the towel and configured the design in burr tools. The first 27 moves look so convoluted and confusing that I knew I wouldn't have been able to solve it on my own. 

Its one thing to design high level burrs using all sorts of notches, grooves, cuts with numerous pieces and odd shapes. But in my opinion, a really good design is one like the Optiborn - innocuous and simple looking, with regular shapes and few pieces...yet in terms of difficulty, punches well above its weight!

Little doubt that those who are into burr puzzles would enjoy this one! And great value for money too! 

Monday, 13 April 2015

Orchid Pennyhedron

A while back, I played with Stephen Chin's Rose Pennyhedron. In my blog post, one reader had also offered an explanation of how the "pennyhedron" puzzles got their name. And there is some other general information on "Rhombic Dodecahedrons"  Over the weekend, I played with another similar puzzle, this time it's the Orchid Pennyhedron, George Bell's IPP34 exchange puzzle. 

The Orchid was designed by George and made by Stephen (or "Chinomotto" as he likes to be known). Quality of construction, fit and finish is very good with contrasting woods used.

Externally both puzzles look rather similar (both have six triangular "facets" to each surface) and both the Rose and Orchid are comprised of three pieces. However while the Rose has three identical (or congruent) pieces, the Orchid only has two. The third piece appears to be a mirror image of the other two.

Like the Rose, the object is to find a way to split the three pieces apart. This is a co-ordinate motion puzzle. The effort required here for the Orchid was no less than that of the Rose. In fact it took me a while longer to both take apart the pieces, and bring them back together again. The fit was so good I took some time to figure out where the pieces were suppose to come apart. Its likely to pose some difficulty to the uninitiated! 

But having played with the Rose previously, I knew what I needed to do. Some pressing at strategic spots and the pieces began to split gradually. I took two tries to reassemble properly as the first attempt did not get a perfect alignment of the three pieces, which resulted in a rather uncomfortable feeling rough edge between two of the pieces.

From what I understand, George and Stephen each have a whole collection of these pennyhedron puzzles, each looking very similar externally but all with various designs and interlocking. If you are keen to find out more or want to get one of these, these two gents would be the people to approach.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Push Box Puzzle

This is one of those puzzles I managed to solve but have no clue how I did it nor can I explain how the puzzle works!

The Push Box Puzzle came courtesy of Simon Nightingale during the IPP34 puzzle exchange. If you didn't already know, Simon was the winner of the Grand Jury Prize for the 2014 IPP34 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design competition for his "Six Locks 2 Keys" puzzle.

The Push Box is made from Corian (the stuff that you would normally find on kitchen and sink counter tops). The puzzle is pretty heavy and well made in a nice light blue colour. The joint lines are well hidden and not obvious at all. It looks like Simon had dug out the insides to create the box. I am not sure how strong Corian is but I would think the box would likely crack if dropped onto a hard floor from anything more than 3 feet. The object is the push and "open the box" like a drawer.

The drawer is spring loaded and allows for some movement (several mm) inwards but there is hidden mechanism which keeps the drawer from coming out of the box. Inside there are a couple of ball bearings spinning around, which may or may not have anything to do with the locking mechanism (yes, there are some puzzles where ball bearings are red herrings; serve no function but to merely to confuse).

I fiddled with the puzzle for a while, trying to guess how the drawer is locked inside the box and how the ball bearings come into play. I pushed and released the drawer over and over again, turned the box at all sorts of angles and in all orientations, and all of a sudden, pop out comes the drawer. The drawer cannot be fully withdrawn and part of it remains inside the box. Again I am not sure if the drawer is intended to fully come out, but I don't think so. And the box also cannot be taken apart.

I managed to solve it a couple more times, more through trial and error, but not fully understanding how the hidden mechanism/trick works, at least not until I see the inside. And mind you, I have a fair amount of experience with trick/puzzle boxes. I have emailed Simon for the solution. Hope he replies soon. I am really super curious as to how it operates. I will update this post, once I have seen the solution.

Monday, 6 April 2015

When Is A Burr Not A Burr?

Answer: When it's Primitivo Familiar Ramo's "Murtbiter's Pseudo-Burr". 

This is my second puzzle from Primitivo, the first being his Twin Box Pentominoes, made by Brian Menold of Wood WondersThe Pseudo-Burr was also Primitivo's IPP34 Exchange Puzzle!

Consisting of four congruent pieces and a cube, the puzzle gets its name from the fact that when put together, it looks like any other ordinary six piece burr. But its not! The pieces are actually cubes cut and glued together and quality is reasonably good. Primitivo's batch of exchange puzzles were made by Vaclav Obsivac of Vinco Puzzles.

The puzzle came unsolved, so the object is to assemble it to look like a burr. Its not a very difficult puzzle and I managed to solve it in under ten minutes. Certainly some logical thinking of how the pieces should fit with each other would help. The accompanying instructions and diagram shows the final shape of the burr. But this is one of those puzzles that with some persistence, you would eventually discover the solution. Nonetheless, still a bit tricky trying to figure out the four identical pieces. Kudos to Primitivo for coming up with such an interesting design!

From this to the "burr" above
Again, a puzzle "with just the right level of difficulty appropriate for an exchange puzzle". Quite easy to solve repeatedly after you have gotten it the first time round. And oh, if anyone knows the meaning of "Murbiter", please feel free to drop me a comment, thanks.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Cross Bones

This little black puzzle is Englishman Frank Potts' Exchange Puzzle at IPP34 in London last year. 

Can you spot the skull?
And unless I am way off tangent here or doing something wrong, the Cross Bones is one of the very few burr puzzles that I actually found easy to solve!

Physically Cross Bones looks similar to Frank's Level 24 Burr Bones sold a while back by Eric Fuller. Unlike its wooden cousin which comprises three pieces, the Exchange version is only two, interlocked together. And a lot easier! Frank has done a number of designs in the past, favouring in particular, three-piece burrs.

Cross Bones is 3D printed in ABS resin by Scott Elliot and the puzzle is rather diminutive, measuring about 4.5 cm across. Fit and quality is good. The two pieces are able to "lock" nicely without any free play. There is even a motif of a skull printed on one of the ends for added effect!

This puzzle is a level 6.1 puzzle and because its only two pieces, its a pretty easy solve. The moves are sequential with only one solution. The blackness of the puzzle also makes it a bit tricky to see the openings where the pieces can untangle themselves.

Easily pocket-able, the Cross Bones is a nice little puzzle good for passing to non-puzzling friends, who perhaps may require more than a little effort to solve it. Oh, and I forgot to mention, no burr tools needed here!

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Double Heart Arrow

If there is a prize for the cutest looking Exchange Puzzle at IPP34, Yoshiyuki Kotani's Double Heart Arrow would surely be a top contender.

Not only is it cute, it's also colourful and whimsical looking. The puzzle comes unsolved in four loose pieces and the object is to "pierce" the heart with the arrow. All the pieces are laser cut from acrylic and quality very good. The heart consists of two identical pieces, one in red and the other pink. The arrow is split into two halves, in transparent orange and yellow.

Effectively, the Double Heart Arrow puzzle is like a four-piece board burr and solving it requires you to navigate the heart pieces through the notches and channels along the arrow. The end point is marked by etched markings so you will know when the puzzle is completely solved.

Although it looks simple at first glance, it is in fact not that easy. I found myself close to the finish several times yet the final position of the pieces eluded me; one of the pieces would always be just one step out of place and I had to start all over again. This is a sequential movement puzzle with only one solution, it would seem. Get the sequence wrong, and you would have to back-track your steps.

Overall a nice interesting concept and a departure from the traditional wooden burr style interlocking puzzle, even though the design and solving process are similar. Not easy by any means but not difficult either. And Its fun looking and colourful appearance serves only to make you want to persist until you solve it.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Heart In Puzzle

Here's another Minoru Abe sliding puzzle I played with the last two evenings. It's the Heart In Puzzle with three challenges. The object of each of them is to move the "Heart" block to within the confines of the four identical L-shaped blocks.

Like all current Minoru Abe sliding puzzles available on the market today, the Heart In Puzzle puzzle is well made and packaging is in the form of a nice dark blue box. The instructions are in Japanese but the diagrams are self-explanatory. 

The tray is (likely) made of  pine, while the pieces are a different species of wood. Despite its high quality, Minoru Abe sliding puzzles are not expensive and prices range from about 2,100Y (US$17) to 3,700Y (US$31). They are available from online seller Torito (which unfortunately does not ship outside of Japan), CU-Japan and Amazon. The Heart In Puzzle cost about US$17/-, one of the cheapest.

Start Position No 1

Start Position No 2

Start Position No 3

Each of the three challenges is represented by three starting positions and the first requires a minimum of 28 moves. Not a lot moves compared to Minoru's other sliding puzzles (some of them in the hundreds) but I found this one rather difficult. It took me a rather good portion of an evening to solve the first challenge and the same for the second challenge. I didn't attempt the third. All the moves are linear. Initially I was wondering if the Japanese instructions (which I can't read) allowed for rotations, because if it did, it took me well less than 28 moves to solve. A quick check with sliding puzzle supremo Nick Baxter confirmed no rotations allowed so I had to take the more difficult route.

Solved Position For All 3 Challenges

For those into sliding block puzzles, the Heart In Puzzle is a must have and great value for money. Oh, and incidentally, the Heart In Puzzle does bear some similarities to Serhiy Grabarchuk's 22-move Sliding Stones.
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