Sunday, 18 December 2011

One In A Trillion

This tray packing puzzle, designed by Joseph Becker came from Steve Strickland's puzzle shop and is limited to 30 copies. Measuring 130mm square and about 18mm thick (including the blocks), it is made from 8 different woods including Walnut, Rosewood, Granadillo, Bocote, Canarywood, Purpleheart, Cherry and Teak. I am not that huge a fan of wooden puzzles and one look at the puzzle and I knew it was not going to be easy. But the combination of 8 exotic woods of different colour tones was just too hard to resist. Another plus was the very reasonable price.

The tray contains 9 separate pieces, each of which is made of individual cube blocks glued together to form irregular shaped units. Several blocks come permanently affixed to the tray. Quality of the puzzle is reasonably good; with each of the cube block edges even bevelled. The only minus here is that the bottom of the tray feels like it has not been sanded smooth sufficiently or at all.


The puzzle is called One-In-A-Trillion I think, for very good reason! It really is very difficult, at least for moi! There are two objectives to this puzzle. One, which is the easier (not easy) of the two is to fit all the 9 pieces back into the tray, and here there are two ways of doing it, according to Steve. I was "fortunate" to receive the puzzled sealed in plastic in the solved state...this gave me a chance to have a really good look at the puzzle pieces. Two caught my attention; one was the Purpleheart (so purple you just can't miss it!) and the other was a very light coloured wood. Luckily I was able to roughly recall where their positions were in the tray. Hence, it was now a lot easier as I had only 6 pieces left to deal with, since one of the pieces, a straight 4-block unit already has a pre-determined slot in the tray.

Through trial and error, I managed to put the rest of the pieces into position, but then, it still took me a very long while to complete. Let's face it, if all the pieces had been made of the same coloured wood, I seriously doubt I could have solved it. Perhaps that was why the puzzle has been made the way it is...otherwise it would have been too difficult??


The second objective is to use the 9 pieces to form a 4x4x4 cube. This one really got me super-stumped! I spent several days trying all sorts of configurations but got no where. Not wanting to frustrate myself any further, I checked out the solution. Even this was no walk in the park and I knew I would never have been able to solve it without the solution. I also found out that only 8 pieces out of the 9 were required! I think BurrTools might probably do the trick here, but I haven't learnt how to use the software yet!


For those that enjoy packing or 3D assembly puzzles with loads of challenge, I think the One-In-A-Trillion is really excellent for being able to combine two puzzles in one, not to mention that it is very good value for money too, effectively two for the price of one! An added bonus is the different exotic woods used which makes the puzzle aesthetically pleasing and exude quality, especially with the 4x4x4 cube. Definitely worth acquiring.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Kuku

The Kuku has been sold by Sonic Games in the UK for quite a while already, since 2009. Measuring a rather small 40mm in diameter, it comprises three symmetrical pieces which interlock together to form a sphere. The three pieces are coloured polished aluminium, anodised blue and gold. There have been some criticism in cyberspace levied on the Kuku as to the quality of manufacture. (see Neil's review on his puzzle blog). I suppose this is not entirely surprising since Sonic Games' earlier puzzle the Isis, at one time touted as the "hardest puzzle in the world" also received a plethora of negative comments over quality issues.

Although I hesitated at first, I was interested to see for myself the Kuku's puzzle mechanism. So I finally bought one after Sonic Games offered a special website price discount. Thankfully my copy did not appear to have quality issues and overall fit and finish is of a very high standard.



The object of the puzzle is to unlock the three pieces and remove a small plastic token with an imprinted number. Kuku owners, once they solve the puzzle, can register this number on the related Kuku website, play a game and stand to win a prize. According to both Neil and Jonas Bengtsson in his blog, there are apparently two versions, medium and hard; but I do not know which my copy is, the medium or the hard.


When I first examined the puzzle, I had a pretty good idea how the three interlocking pieces were held together. A number of other metal puzzles in the same genre, several of which have been reviewed on this blog, apply a similar principle to that of the Kuku. Gravity plays an important part. The difficulty of the Kuku perhaps stems from the fact that all three interlocking pieces forming the sphere are symmetrical, so trying to determine the orientation of the puzzle vis-a-vis how gravity applies makes it very challenging indeed. Like the Purple Isis I wrote about earlier in this blog, I had no intention of spending a lot of time on the Kuku. Checking out the internet and help videos on YouTube, I was able to take apart the Kuku quite quickly. I will not go into any "spoiler" details here since there may be readers here who are determined to solve the Kuku on their own. But looking at the internal mechanism, this one is not easy to solve repeatedly.

For the design and engineering that goes into the manufacture of a Kuku and from both the puzzle aspect and price point (and just so long as there are no quality issues), I would say the Kuku is certainly worth acquiring.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Zauberflote

I was fortunate to get my hands on the Zauberflote a while back from Eric Fuller/Cubicdissections. It was their last piece available for sale. This little puzzle designed by Gregory Benedetti, is diminutive in size (measuring 55mm x 40mm x 22mm) but don't let its small size fool you! This one is tough! The puzzle consists of two flat panels of acrylic with different shaped cut-outs and  four different size/shaped blocks of Yellowheart wood. Although it does not look like one, the Zauberflote is classified as a burr puzzle. The object is to fit the four wooden blocks from the largest to smallest (left to right) into the cut-outs of the two acrylic panels to form an assembled unit. This requires manipulation and movement of both the Yellowheart blocks and the two acrylic slabs, similar to how one would go about solving a traditional burr.


Quality is very high for this puzzle; both the Yellowheart blocks and acrylic pieces are very precisely cut and fit and finish is excellent. Even though the blocks may be small and even look a bit fragile, there is no fear of breaking them since Yellowheart is a really tough and durable hardwood with a Janka hardness rating even higher than Mahogany and Maple. My only gripe (no fault of Eric's) is that in Singapore where humidity is very high, the Yellowheart blocks tend to expand, making their fit very much tighter than it should be. But an overnight stay in my camera dry-box at a No. 45 setting took care of the problem quite easily.

Prior to attempting the puzzle, I had already read reviews of the Zauberflote by 4 other very experienced puzzlers, Neil, Allard, Kevin and Brian and from what I gathered, I knew I would not have an easy time with this puzzle. There were comments about using BurrTools, rotation of the pieces and more than one way of solving the Zauberflote. But the general consensus was that this little bugger is very challenging. True enough after getting the first 3 blocks into the acrylic slabs, I was stuck with the 4th block...and stuck for a really long time. No amount of sliding or rotating helped.

Generally for most of my puzzles, I would go for the solution (or help) if I find I am getting nowhere after some time, usually not very long...ha ha (PS - there are other equally or more important things in my life apart from puzzling!). But in the case of the Zauberflote, for some reason, I actually stuck with it for quite a number of days. In fact I think it was ego that drove me on - I did not want to admit defeat to such a tiny puzzle. But alas, after almost a week of frustration, I finally threw in the towel. Since the puzzle did not come with a solution, I decided to seek the help of fellow puzzler Kevin Sadler of PuzzleMad.

Kevin was kind enough to email me some clues but also offered to send the solution on a BurrTools PDF should the clues be insufficient. I looked at his clues and realised that I had one crucial one step wrong, hence my inability to assemble the blocks correctly. After I corrected my misstep, I pretty quickly managed to solve the Zauberflote using the rotation method. And after a couple of practice runs, I was able to solve and unsolve the puzzle quite easily.

Tiny and cute though it might be, the Zauberflote packs a real wallop! It is very challenging, compounded by the fact that its small size and small pieces make it even harder and at times quite fiddly to handle. Not really suitable for those with very large hands and fingers. But for the very reasonable price of $20 and given its quality and level of challenge, it is excellent value for money. If you come across one available, don't hesitate to buy it!
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