This very colourful tray packing puzzle comes courtesy of Chris Enright, who entered it as an entrant for the IPP32 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition held in Washington just this August. This is Chris' second competition entry, his first being the Polarity Puzzle in 2009 at IPP29.
If you did not already know (especially readers who are of the Gen X and Gen Y age group), "Pack-Man" is a play on the word Pac-Man, a computer game that came out in 1980 and one of the most famous (and iconic) arcade games of all time.
True to its namesake, the Pack-Man puzzle consist of four similar looking odd-shaped pieces (the "enemies") and the fifth piece, Pac-Man which looks like a circle with a quarter portion cut away. Chris has even kept to the original colours of the arcade game; the four similar looking pieces are red, pink, blue and orange and Pac-Man yellow. For a history lesson on the Pac-Man game which started the video gaming revolution, click here.
This tray packing puzzle measures about 11cm x 9cm. All five pieces are made of laser cut acrylic and the tray ABS plastic. Quality and finish of the puzzle is very good and the tray is even slightly textured for better grip.
The object of course is to fit all five pieces flat and flush within the tray. While all the pieces may look cute and colourful and the puzzle seemingly simple looking, don't let this fool you for one moment. It is actually harder than one might think....very hard in fact...at least for me, especially since I don't have much experience with tray packing puzzles.
I spent two evenings trying all sorts of configurations to fit the pieces into the tray but with little success. Always the fifth piece would jut out of the tray so slightly! The way the pieces are shaped and the curved corners of the tray kept throwing me off tangent over and over again...I was just not seeing it right. Finally, I gave in and emailed Chris for some clues. I felt some consolation when Chris replied that a very experienced puzzler had also emailed him for help. I wonder who might this person be?
Even with the help of his clues, I only managed to finally solve it after another hour or so. A lot of effort was put in to design and shape the pieces the way they are so that there is only one solution. Compared to packing pieces that are straight-edged, irregular shaped pieces I think are much harder to figure out.
A nice, well-made and very challenging puzzle indeed. The Pack-Man is available from Chris directly via his email.