Thursday, 23 February 2017


Now here's an interesting series of packing puzzles that I received during the course of three puzzle exchanges since 2014.

These are none other than Henry Strout's creations. The only other puzzle I have from Henry is his nice Flower String Puzzle. From what I understand, Henry started doing this series of train packing puzzles for exchange since 2013 and will finish off his series in 2018. Apparently, he's got another car/tender and an engine to complete (if anyone has more accurate information or otherwise, please PM me). 

These are fine works with wheels that spin, a simple coupler cum loop system to link train cars at both ends of each car and lids that are laser etched with the puzzle and IPP exchange details etc. The size of the train cars vary a bit but is pretty large and hefty with an average size of around 18cm x 10cm x 7cm. And all use just one type of wood (although I am not sure what it is).

All the puzzles bear the same style/theme...namely to pack anywhere between 8-10 irregular shaped block pieces into a train "car". Levels of difficulty also vary since each of the train cars or box contain different number of pieces and within each car, there are some protrusions or fixed restraining piece, which makes the puzzle that much harder. 

Each of the train packing puzzles have been/will be either designed by Henry himself, or someone else. As I joined the Puzzle Exchange only in 2014, I missed out on the earlier first train puzzle. What I have are the train puzzles for the last three years:-

Sphinks Cargo Car
Designed by Brian Young (a.k.a Mr Puzzle Australia), 
Pack 6 pieces into the box

Cutler Freight Car
Designed by Bill Cutler
Pack 10 pieces into the box

Henry's Cargo Car
Designed by Henry Strout
Pack 8 pieces into the box

In terms of difficulty, lets just say these are not so easy as they seem. In fact they are pretty challenging. The hardest I think would be the Cutler Freight Car with its 10 pieces and easiest is the Sphinks Cargo Car with only 6 pieces (I know because I was able to solve the latter) and in between Henry's Cargo Car.

A nice idea to create a series of related puzzles for exchange. And for anyone who enjoys trains and/or packing puzzles, this will be an interesting addition to your collection, that is if you can get the complete set.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

ZooLogical Garden #1

Here's a 2D packing puzzle that has occupied me for the last couple of evenings. The ZG#1 looks like your typical packing puzzle but comes with a twist...literally! Designed by Mineyuki Uyematsu (MINE) in 2013, it has a 3-unit piece anchored to the tray. This is a restraining piece that adds to the difficulty of the puzzle, even tho' it is able to rotate 360 degrees.

The four loose pieces look pretty "simple" enough and are precision laser cut to resemble the shape of "animals", hence the name of the puzzle. Don't know about you, but I can (see) a chicken, snake, skunk and coyote! The tray is a regular 7x7 grid square.

There are two challenges here:-

#1 - Place all the three white pieces into the tray
#2 - Place any two pieces AND the red piece into the tray. (Problem-it doesn't say which two to use)

Simple looking but the puzzling is anything but simple. In fact it is damn challenging especially #2.

I didn't have too much problem with challenge #1 for this puzzle, partly because I design some 2D puzzles myself and have played with a number of them, and some with rather odd solutions (hint). However challenge #2 eluded me all the while. It is very difficult because you need to first find the two correct white pieces and then combine them with the red piece. (my interpretation of challenge #2). Despite my many attempts at trying the (three) possible combinations to figure out which of the two white pieces to use, nothing worked. I could have been using the right white pieces  all the while (and didn't know it) but still couldn't manage to solve the puzzle.

With the aid of Burr Tools (thank goodness it works for this puzzle), I was able to narrow down the two required pieces and from there arrived at the solution; something which I have no hesitation to admit that I wouldn't have been able to do on my own. 

For packing puzzle lovers, definitely a must-get (unfortunately from what I can tell, its not available on MINE's site at the moment). When I bought it from MINE during the IPP in 2013, I remembered it was not expensive at all. So I would say its good value for money with plenty of puzzling; two challenges - the first easier (but probably will be hard for many, except seasoned packing puzzlers) and the second a real toughie!

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Twelve Bow Ties 3

If there is a Twelve Bow Ties #3, then there must also be a #2 in between #1 and #3. I had posted a write up about Twelve Bow Ties #1 last year and for the life of me, I don't recall having exchanged a #2....okay, maybe I did and its somewhere is my puzzle closet and I need to go find it.

TBT#3 is (apparently) the last of the TBT series. Designed and made by Wayne Daniel, this was Marti Reis' IPP36 Exchange Puzzle in Kyoto, Japan last year. The puzzle is about 7cm x 5cm x 5cm and shaped like two pyramids joined at their bases. Its actually an Octahedron, with eight faces, each an equilateral triangle shape. 

My copy is made from what appears to be walnut and maple. Very well made with fine attention to the details and the very precise cuts of the notches and small pieces. Great work! Aesthetically a very pleasing puzzle to look at with the white colour accents on the faces.

The object is to take apart and re-assemble the puzzle, which actually splits up into 7 smaller pieces (the last two are either glued together or stuck somehow and I can't seem to take them apart). Each of the seven/eight pieces look identical but not quite. They are interlocked against one another and there is a certain sequence of sliding piece by piece out of the whole, one after another, in various directions. You can see from the photo how they come apart. 

Unlike TBT#1, this version is much more difficult and if you are not careful with how you take them apart or you deliberately (and masochistically) scramble them after dis-assembly, putting the pieces back will almost guarantee a nightmare, as I discovered. Now, let me go and find #2....and complete the lot!

Monday, 30 January 2017

3 Pentagons

This past weekend, I played with Japanese puzzler/designer Koshi Arai's 3 Pentagons. The object of the puzzle is to lay the pentagon shaped (5 sided) pieces on a flat surface and form a symmetric shape. 

For this puzzle, there were not one but three solutions and Koshi had in fact (generously) shown one of the symmetric shape solutions on the instructions that came with the puzzle. The task is figuring out the remaining two. 

This is the 1st symmetrical shape solution provided by Koahi Arai
3 Pentagons was not only Koshi's IPP34 Exchange Puzzle but he also entered it for the Puzzle Design competition. His exchange version is finely made of an exotic (dark) wood (cocobolo?) and all the pieces precisely cut. 

Unless you know the meaning of "symmetrical shape", you won't even know where to begin. There are typically two types of symmetrical shapes possible, one is mirror or line symmetry and the other is rotational symmetry. In most (if not all) of these symmetrical shape type puzzles, usually the object is to find a mirror/line symmetrical shape, which is the case here.

It took me several sessions over two days to find the two solutions. What makes the puzzle so difficult is that the three pieces are pretty similar in shape (and size) to each other and this sets up a huge number of possible combinations for joining the pieces side to side; yet only three symmetrical shapes exist. What an incredible design! I am very sure there is some complicated mathematics to all this but sorry folks, I am not capable of explaining any of it here...all I know is that I tried all sorts of ways to put the pieces together and eventually got the results I wanted.

Overall a very challenging puzzle indeed and a good thing that Koshi revealed one solution at least! If anyone wants to know the other two solution shapes, please contact me via my blog email.

Friday, 27 January 2017

9 Blocks Box & 9 Blocks Cube

I thought I would start my 401st post here with a brief mention of the above two puzzles, which lucky me, has been made into four different versions with four different sizes. First off, the 9 Blocks Box; this is a design I did in late 2015 which was produced several months later by Eric Fuller in a limited edition run of 50 copies for sale. 

From Left: 9 Blocks Box (made by Eric Fuller), 9 Blocks Box (made by Frederic Boucher),
9 Blocks Cube (made by Eric Fuller) and 9 Blocks Cube (made by Tom Lensch)

 The 9 Blocks Box comprised of a rectangular box and the object was to fit 9 irregular shaped pieces into it. It has a unique solution. I spent a fair amount of time trying to design all the blocks to be different from each other but in the end, I could only managed to do so with 7 of them while two of the pieces had to remain identical.

Eric's version of the 9 Blocks Box was small and constructed to fit a pocket. I think small is a bit of an understatement; it was Lilliputian. Each puzzle measured a diminutive 3.4 cm all round! Made of Holly, Zebrawood and Macassar Eboy, it was rather cute and certainly didn't go unnoticed, which saw all 50 copies sold out within a day after it was listed on his site. He also fashioned the box to have a cover that "locked" magnetically to keep the pieces in place (even in an unsolved state; quite clever I must say) and dimensionally the shape also became more of a cube as opposed to the original rectangular design.

A couple of months later, my puzzler friend Frederic Boucher made a limited run of just 5 copies (of which I received #1). He also upped the ante by machining the 9 pieces in gorgeous aluminium. Frederic's version was a real beauty and came with a wooden box with slanted corners and packaged in a plastic container to boot. He too, as I understand sold out all his copies after pictures of it were posted on Facebook. 

9 Blocks Cube made by Eric Fuller 

Sometime later, Primitivo Familar Ramos from Spain took my design and scaled up the original rectangular box to result in a cube. As a consequence, he was also able to resize the 9 blocks such that now, no two pieces were identical. We jointly entered this version, the 9 Blocks Cube for the IPP36 Nob Yoshigaha Design Competition in Japan last year. 

The first working copies of the 9 blocks Cube produced for the competition were crafted by Tom Lensch. Our competition puzzle was huge! Each cube measured 12.6cm x 12.6cm x 11.4cm. Heavy and rather difficult to lug around. The box was made of Maple while the pieces Mahogany. We didn't win any prizes at IPP36 but this modified design again attracted Mr Fuller, who subsequently went on to produce 150 copies which formed the first release of his "Limited Edition" series via his upgraded website. Eric's interpretation of the 9 Blocks Cube was made of Maple, Walnut and Purple Heart with a much more manageable size of 7.3cm cube. As of the date of this post, there are still copies available at a very affordable US$37.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Haleslock 2

This is my 400th post! How time has flown by. And what better puzzle to write about than one coming from a really talented puzzle designer, Shane Hales from the UK. 

Shane started designing puzzles several years ago and I have had the good fortune to receive as gifts two of his very limited edition puzzles, first The Circle and later Turn The Plug. His puzzles are limited edition either because he produces only several of a particular design or he gifts them to friends. Until recently, Shane did not sell any but only gifted his puzzles to the lucky few. I am one of them lucky ones who got a Haleslock 2 as a Christmas present!

Recently Shane has progressed to producing puzzle locks. His works are not designed from ground up, example, in the style of Rainer Popp, meaning to say, he designs and produces a puzzle that looks like a lock, Instead, he goes the Dan Feldman way, where he uses existing commercial padlocks on the market and modifies them into a puzzle/trick lock. Shane's locks, the Haleslock 1 and Haleslock 2 were made available for a charity auction and sale respectively on his puzzle site but unfortunately for puzzlers, his Haleslock 2 are all sold out.

So coming back to the Haleslock 2...what is it like as a puzzle? Well, as I have alluded to, it is a typical looking padlock from a brand called Squire. The lock comes with two keys (one without any teeth as can be seen from the photo) and attached by a rather long chain to the shackle. The object of course is to un-shackle the lock.

I had read Allard Walker's blog post on how he had solved the Haleslock 2 and commented that it was "not extremely complex or complicated". For me personally, this couldn't have been further from the truth! I had solved Shane's previous puzzles, The Circle and Turn The Plug without too much frustration and without help, but for some (strange) reason, I could not solve the Haleslock 2 even after multiple sessions of playing over a number of days. Something was eluding me to the point I decided to ask Shane for not one, but two clues before I managed to figure out the first move...and the Hales Lock has four moves to free the shackle.

After the first move was done, everything else became easy and I released the shackle without a cinch. For me, the solution for the Haleslock 2 was totally unexpected. The "trick" (no pun intended) of the Haleslock 2 is IMHO a really a good one not easy to discover. With hindsight, I realized that I had missed something right at the beginning that I shouldn't have. Overall a great trick lock with an original and different idea/concept. Good work Shane!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Cast Infinity

A very Happy New Year to everyone! This is my first post for 2017.

This weekend's puzzle was Vesa Timonen's Cast Infinity produced by Hanayama. In case you do not know Messr. Timonen, he has designed many puzzles and a number for Hanayama such as the Cast Loop, Square, Cylinder and Donuts.  A number of them award winning, including his non-Cast Symmetrick.

The Infinity comes with a shiny surface and is very well made (of zinc alloy). Tough and heavy. Generally I would prefer a matt to gloss surface for metal puzzles but in this instance, the shininess actually works pretty well and accentuates the curves of the Infinity. IMHO, it's one of the more beautiful and aesthetically pleasing puzzles around.

Size wise, its measures roughly about 5.3cm x 3.2cm x 1.7cm and large enough to be handled quite comfortably.

The object here is to remove the two inner circular pieces from the "8" shaped cage (the Greek symbol for Infinity).

From the puzzling aspect, this is not an easy puzzle. Hanayama rates it at a level 6 stars; ie most difficult in the Hanayama range. But with only two moving pieces, its not excruciatingly difficult and I would rate it rather at about 5 stars. Both pieces rotate within their respective housings inside the cage, but they are interlocked against each other via a series of notches on the pieces as well as the inside of the cage itself.  At any one time, only one of the two pieces will move in one particular direction. To solve the puzzle, the pieces need to be rotated in both clockwise and counter clockwise manner (as well as upwards and downwards) and there is a sort of sequence to this, otherwise one or the other piece would simply find a dead end.

In some ways, I kinda have the feeling that the Cast Infinity is almost a bit like a "N-ary puzzle" where there is a series of repeated moves, but technically I don't think this is the case [Edit 8 Jan 2017: Puzzler Michel van Ipenburg has confirmed to me that the Infinity is indeed a N-ary puzzle]. Other puzzles with a similar "style" that came to my mind when I was playing with the Infinity are the circular type burrs designed by Derek Bosch such as the Helical Burr, Pole Dancers and Vapors , where you manipulate two main opposing interlocking pieces in a particular sequence to disassemble. For lack of anything else, I guess you can call it a flat(ish) burr.

Overall the Infinity is great puzzle and I was rather surprise that I took less than 20 mins to disassemble the pieces and just a tad longer to put everything together again, the latter in the reverse order, but more difficult. Once you have gotten used to the moves, its fairly repeatable also. And coming from Hanayama, you can be assured of decent quality and value for money pricing.
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