Friday, 30 November 2012

Boston Subway

The Boston Subway was super-prolific puzzle designer Oskar Van Deventer's IPP26 Exchange Puzzle. My guess is that the design and name of the puzzle was in keeping with the theme of the host city of IPP26, Boston, USA in 2006. The Subway was designed by Oskar but made by George Miller. I won this puzzle recently in an auction held on

The Subway is a very cute pocket-sized maze puzzle, which was what attracted my attention in the first place. Measuring a very handy 9cm x 7.5cm x 1.5cm, it is made up of five layers of clear acrylic joined together. Atop the puzzle is a little red "rod" or magnetic wand which is used (from the outside) to navigate a very tiny magnetic disc inside the maze from the start point to the end point, from HOME to WORK and back HOME.

This is a 3-dimensional maze consisting of an array of both vertical and horizontal paths as well as side-way channels, no curves, but just like a real city subway system with all its levels, walkways and lifts. Although my copy came to me second-hand, the quality of construction and finish is very good.

This puzzle is very challenging since the clear layers of acrylic make it very hard to see the various paths, channels and openings clearly (no pun intended) and the disc being so small. For me, it was quite a bit of strain on the eyes. I fiddled with the puzzle for a pretty long time, dragging the disc all over the maze with the wand, trying to reach my destination but got nowhere.

The fact that the disc sometimes just froze at some of intersections of the the channels and openings didn't help either. Was it electrical static that caused the disc to get stuck now and again? I am not sure. In the end, I solved it by referring to the solution. I later discovered that playing with the maze in front of a computer screen in a dimly lit room showed up the maze's paths very much more clearly!

I asked Oskar why a magnetic disc was chosen (given the kind of difficulty I faced) instead of perhaps using a small ball bearing, which to me seems a better choice. Oskar replied that his original version was to use a ball bearing but implementing the disc was George's idea. Anyhow it was felt that the disc involved less dexterity and more control with the wand. Well, who am I to argue with Oskar anyway?

Not easy to solve given the maze design and materials used and also the requirement of the wand to move the disc around. I wish I could pry open the acrylic layers and replace the disc with a ball bearing but that would mean an irreversibly damaged puzzle.  Nevertheless a uniquely themed maze and certainly a rare and collectible puzzle.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Confounded Container

This nice little metal box puzzle came to me from Ebay. From its appearance, it has a vintage look and feel to it. Made by Bits & Pieces, the box is made of brass. Measuring 7cm x 5cm x 1.7cm, it resembles a pill/medicine box.

The top of the box is adorned with some sort of Celtic design to make it look unique. The box and accompanying literature bear no clue as to when it was produced but my guess is it was probably manufactured in the 1980s (I could be wrong though). Quality and construction is decent although the external surface has tarnished with age. In the hand, the box feels pretty solid and weighty.

The object is to remove the lid, which held down and "locked" in place. Not a difficult puzzle and I figured out the solution within a couple of minutes. (Clue:- it has the same solution as the YOT puzzles). There is enough space within the inside to hold small items.

This box seems pretty rare as I could not find any information or photo on it from the Internet. Nonetheless, a nice collectable (and functional) item!

Monday, 19 November 2012

RevoLUTION Ball Puzzle

This is my 100th post!!!

How time flies since my first post over a year and a half ago. For this post, I have decided (instead of the usual puzzle review) to showcase a puzzle of my own creation; something that I designed myself.

This puzzle of mine is inspired by the genre of the hidden maze puzzle, the latter which usually consist of a blind maze, the object of which is to navigate a marble or ball bearing from a start point to an end point.  Examples of such puzzles are the Lost Marble Puzzle and Magic Dice. The most famous of all the hidden maze puzzles in recent years is of course none other than the Revomaze.

Externally my puzzle appears to resemble a Revomaze Silver Extreme. It is approximately 10.5cm long and slightly over 3.5cm in diameter. It is made of aluminium and steel. But here’s where any similarity ends. Unlike the Revomaze series which all have extremely difficult to solve and intricate hidden maze designs, my little project is rather simple and very amateurish. 

I managed to source aluminium cheaply from a local supplier and by good fortune, a metal fabricator willing to produce a single unit of my puzzle at a very reasonable price.

The puzzle consists of 6 circular discs, each approximately 1.2cm thick and stacked together to form a cylinder shape. The discs are held together with an extended steel screw rod running through the discs and secured at the other end by two nuts. 

The object of the puzzle is to navigate a 6mm ball bearing from a side hole in the topmost disc, through each of the stacked discs and out through a similar side hole at the bottom disc. The discs are able to rotate freely and to navigate the ball bearing, you turn each disc to allow the ball bearing to pass through, from one to the next. Each of the discs has a hole drilled through and the trick is to align the holes to form a “passage” for the ball bearing to pass. 

Dexterity is required here since you will need to rotate the discs to feel (and hear) the ball bearing drop from one disc to the next. To make the puzzle much harder, I drilled some “blind” holes on each of the disc, so that if the ball bearing falls into a blind hole, you will need to turn the puzzle upside down to let the ball bearing fall out to re-start again. This has actually made the puzzle a lot more difficult than necessary as I can testify to.

This is my first puzzle design project and I am quite happy I managed at least to get a prototype unit produced that actually works.

I have just finished a second puzzle design and its now in the hands of my fabricator friend. This puzzle involves a ball bearing inside a cylinder that needs to be removed (and no, it’s nothing like Wil Strijbos’ Aluminium Cylinder Box or Washer Cylinder; I am not even remotely close to such genius).

Many thanks to Erhan Cubukcuoglu of Puzzlehan for his comments and advice on puzzle making and hidden mazes.

Update (19 January 2013) - My second puzzle design, which I call the Ball In Cylinder Puzzle, has been produced. Details can be found HERE.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Coke Bottle #1

I was never really into impossible objects, usually just treating them as more of items for viewing amusement. But after solving Wil Strijbos' IPP32 Exchange Puzzle, I found that I actually enjoyed playing with the puzzle very much. Hence I decided to put in an order for three of Wil's Coke Bottle puzzles. The first one reviewed here is the Coke Bottle #1. There are, it appears a total of ten Coke bottle puzzles in the whole series according to Allard.

Like most of Wil's bottle puzzles, this one consist of a standard 250ml empty Coke bottle, within which sits a red plastic rod. The end at the bottom of the bottle has a screw and bolt through it; this prevents the rod from being removed through the narrow mouth of the bottle. Inside the bottle is also a large steel ball bearing. The object here of course is to extract the ball bearing, which is blocked from coming out of the bottle by the rod.

The whole bottle set-up looks rather simple, but I had read the prior reviews of Oli and Kevin and it appeared that this bottle puzzle was going to be anything but easy. It took me the better part of a whole evening before I managed to figure out the four steps needed to get the ball bearing out. The solution (while on hindsight seems simple) is nonetheless tricky and quite unexpected.

As with such puzzles, a fair amount of dexterity is also required, apart from just analysing how the puzzle could be solved.  I found re-assembly of the puzzle to be just as hard if not harder than the solving but managed to return the bottle to its original state after some time. As I understand, this is one of Wil's easier bottle puzzles, so I expect to have a much harder time with my other two Coke bottles. So stay tuned!
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