Saturday, 29 March 2014

Hoffmann's Barrel & Ball Puzzle

Name
Hoffmann's Barrel & Ball Puzzle

Designer
Unknown. This puzzle appeared in a puzzle book published in 1893 entitled "Puzzles Old And New" by Professor Louis Hoffman.



Manufacturer
Grand Illusions, UK. Available for GBP35/- (approx. US$58) including 20% VAT. Buyers from outside the UK will pay 20% less for the puzzle. Excellent packing for shipment; the puzzle was bubble wrapped in its own box and this box was placed in a larger box filled with foam and externally wrapped with brown wrapping paper (like a wrapped present). One of the best packing I have come across from any online retailer.

Type & Classification
Take apart. 


Barrel & Ball Puzzle Solved!

Dimensions
3.7 cm  (Diameter) x 4.7 cm (Height). 

Materials & Construction
Anodised aluminium for both the barrel and rod and steel for the ball bearing. Excellent quality and very well constructed. Very tiny chip on both sides of the rod. Not sure how this happened. Tho' not that large, the barrel has very thick walls and this adds to the heft and bulletproof-ness of the puzzle. 

Overview
I discovered this puzzle from the occasional email newsletter that Grand Illusions sends to its customers.

The puzzle consists of only a barrel, a ball and a rod. Object is to remove the ball which is inside the barrel. Sounds simple? Except that the ball is actually larger than the opening of the barrel...now how did the ball get inside in the first place? Then there is the rod, which can be inserted into the barrel. 

Could The Barrel & Ball puzzle be the pre-cursor to the "sequential discovery" puzzles of today? Well, the rod is there, there is no need to "discover" it...but obviously the rod must be used for something!

I have learnt during my early puzzling days that no matter how tricky or difficult a puzzle may be, it cannot defy the laws of physics. If something is physically impossible...it usually is! That's why sometimes when I pass a puzzle to friends who come over my place, I get very amused when they try to shake, bang, twist a puzzle until they are red in the face, when its obvious what they are trying to do would simply not work.

I played with the puzzle and examined it for clues. Didn't take me long to figure out how to get the ball out, which was confirmed by the accompanying solution. 

Difficulty Level
Not difficult for experienced puzzlers, but the novice will struggle somewhat, just as a couple of my non-puzzling friends did. It is a tricky puzzle no less. Quite a clever trick too.

Summary
If you like metal puzzles like I do, this is a must buy. Very solid feel and with the blue and green anodising, displays nicely on your shelf

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Cast Twist

Name
Cast Twist

Designer
Oskar van Deventer. More than any other puzzle designer, Oskar has designed over 12 Cast series puzzles for Hanayama to-date



Manufacturer
Hanayama. Released in October 2013, the Cast Twist is available from the usual online puzzle retailers. My copy came from Sloyd of Finland. 

What is pleasantly surprising is that Hanayama has improved their packaging contents to include an instruction sheet (which previously did not exist) which explains what to do with the puzzle. In 7 languages including Russian. Thumbs Up!

Type & Classification

Take-part; interlocking

Dimensions
4.0cm round.

Materials & Construction
Made of zinc alloy (I think), the puzzle is made up of two parts, one is covered in shiny chrome, while the other has a brassy finish. Quality of construction, finish and fit is very good. 

Overview
It's named the Cast Twist because to solve it, you literally have to twist the two parts (each resembling a bloated horse-shoe) around each other.



The Twist comes "pre-twisted" together, ie interlocked. The object of course is to separate the two parts. To do this, you slide the protrusion on one of the parts within the grooves which spiral around the other and vice-versa, simultaneously, sort of like meshing the two pieces together. Hard to explain but I think the pictures tell it better.

Upon inspection, their appear to be 3 possible ways to separate the two pieces, but in reality two are dead ends (as I discovered) which leaves only one solution. This one took me about 20 minutes of fiddling to find my way through.

Difficulty Level
Hanayama rates the Twist at 4-stars (out of 6). I am more inclined to give it a 4.5 instead. Fairly challenging. The re-assembly is as hard if not harder than the taking apart. But one of those puzzles that with some persistence you will solve it in the end.

Summary
The instruction sheet claims that the "asymmetrical design will mesmerize you and bewilder your memory"...well the Twist certainly mesmerized me of sorts with its curves, but not sure if I was bewildered tho'. Nonetheless a nice puzzle to add to your Cast collection.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Lock 250 / Schloss 250

Name
Lock 250 / Schloss 250

Designer
Jean-Claude Constantin, one of the most prolific puzzle designers around. Too see his work, click here.



Manufacturer
Jean Claude Constantin. Available from Mr Puzzle of Australia, Sloyd of Finland and PuzzleMaster of Canada. My copy (together with some other puzzles) came from Sloyd, great service and very reasonable shipping rates.

Type & Classification
Puzzle lock. But also a puzzle within the category of "n-ary" puzzles. For more on "n-ary" puzzles, you can read puzzle collector Goetz Schwandtner's article here. For a super humongous lock that requires over 340 million moves, you can read Allard's post about the Generation Lock

Dimensions
9.9cm (Width) x 14.7cm (Height) and 3.2cm (Depth). A relatively large puzzle.

Materials & Construction
Plywood layers laser cut and glued together, with external veneer. Steel screws and sliders. Construction fit and finish is very good overall. However, the sliders don't slide as smoothly as they should when the internal wooden plates have moved into certain positions. Some moves ok, some not. Slight jamming occasionally, but nothing serious.

Overview
Not the usual trick lock in the traditional sense but rather a "n-ary" puzzle shaped like a giant pad-lock.

Object is to open the shackle and to do this, all the 4 sliders must be moved left and right to end up all on the left side. It takes 250 moves to open and hence a further 250 to close. Does take a while to just open the lock. The bottom slider is the main one that facilitates the moving of the other 3 sliders above it.



If you get the moves correct, its more an exercise in repetitive moves which eventually leads to the release of the shackle. But wrong moves can set you back a bit and you have to repeat any number of steps from 2 to 20.

I made some wrong moves and took longer than really necessary to solve this one.

Difficulty Level
Not difficult once you get going and discover the pattern of how the sliders operate, although the repetition may cause some very tired fingers. But the anticipation of solving does build up gradually as you see the topmost slider moving slowly towards the left, which signals the end is (finally) near.

Summary
The Lock 250 is a nice and different take on both the trick/puzzle lock as well as the n-ary puzzle. Great concept except my own copy has been let down a bit by the execution; ie the less than efficient sliding mechanism which make for some rather tiring (and frustrating) puzzling.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Snakes In A Plane, Swiss Cube & Puzzle Jam

I acquired these three puzzles during last year's IPP33 Puzzle Party in Tokyo, Japan. The Puzzle Party typically takes place on the last day of the IPP and here is where puzzlers, collectors, retailers and craftsmen sell (or fob off) their collection (or unwanted puzzles) to the IPP attendees. Its like a flea market, but more up-scale and takes place in a hotel ball room.

Generally considered one of the key highlights of IPP, here is where one can possibly get some puzzle gems, be it brand new, pre-loved or rare hard to find ones, tho' the last are usually snapped up in  jiffy. A number of Exchange Puzzles (past, present and spare ones) are also usually available for sale and this is great for attendees who do not participate in the Exchange.

Snakes In A Plane
This one reminds me of a thriller action movie of similar name that appeared in cinemas a number of years back. Unlike the movie, no one dies from snakes here (not playing with this puzzle anyway). Snakes In A Plane was Bob Hearn's exchange puzzle during IPP28 in Prague in 2008. This acrylic and plastic puzzle was designed and made by Oskar van Deventer.




The object is to "twist" the "red" spiral snake out of the frame by removing the other snakes in its path. In reality its a twist (no pun intended) on the traditional sliding style block puzzle. Not too difficult and provides great fun. Very flat and portable too. At 10.2cm x 8.4cm, its easily pocket-able for a (plane) trip. I think here is a good example of employing a traditional idea to devise a unique looking and cool puzzle. Click here for a video showing the puzzle in action.

Swiss Cube
Designed by Jung von Kanel in 2005, this is an interlocking puzzle. But instead of the usual wood typically used, it is made entirely from acrylic/plexi-glass. Red and white combination with cross(s) to resemble the Swiss flag. Very well made and tho' acrylic, the puzzle feels very solid. Not large, measuring about 5cm cube. I can't remember who I bought this puzzle from but it was the only piece on the table.





The cube is hollow inside and the object is to remove and fit back the 3 white removable notched burrs (two horizontal and one vertical). There are both an easy and hard challenges designed for this puzzle.

A sequence for removal and reassembly has to be followed and you need to get the orientation of the cube correct to avoid confusion. I used  the etched wordings on the front of the cube for reference.

Not too difficult by any means, even for the hard challenge. With some manipulation of the pieces trial and error or otherwise, quite a manageable puzzle. 

Puzzle Jam
Designed and handmade by Yoshiaki Hirano, this puzzle (jam) jar is an "Impossible Object" and was Yoshiaki-san's Exchange Puzzle at IPP33. 

The jar contains two Hanayama Cast puzzles (Cast Spiral and Cast Loop) and a burgundy coloured origami rose. Its easy to remove the paper rose but it would take (a lot) of figuring out how to disassemble and remove both the Spiral and Loop, since it is impossible for them to pass through the mouth of the jar. I didn't attempt to solve this one; its difficult as it is already to solve the cast puzzles on their own outside of any jar!





The puzzle comes in a very cute hand decorated/written cardboard box with a caricature of Yoshiaki-san pasted on the front...yes, he actually does look a lot like his cartoon picture! 

Along with the Puzzle Jam, I also bought from Yoshiaki-san another impossible jar with a golf ball inside! To see some impossible objects made from Hanayama Cast puzzles, click here and scroll down.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Circle

Name
The Circle

Designer
Shane Hales, United Kingdom

Manufacturer
Shane Hales. Shane made only 4 copies. Mine is #003. #001 and #002 went to puzzle bloggers Kevin Sadler and Allard Walker respectively while the last one was kept by Shane himself. 

Type & Classification
Sequential movement; take-apart

Dimensions
9.2cm (diameter) x 6.5cm (Height).

Materials & Construction
The puzzle is made from Oak while the the square "knob" at the top is Ebony.

The Circle has a handmade (as in hand-tooled) Etsy-ish kind of look as opposed to the precision machine-cut Eric Fuller or Pelikan manufactured puzzles. This does not mean lower quality, in fact quite the contrary; as Shane had deliberately made the two dovetails with a looser fit so that the puzzle can be (slightly) more easily solved. As to why this was done, well, you can read more from Allard's and Kevin's write-ups about the Circle. 

Overview
I got to know Shane just over a year ago in February 2013. He is a reader of my blog and also a friend of Kevin's. The two gents had been talking about my BIC#1 which I had released in late 2012 (and Kevin had been amongst the first to try out my humble first production puzzle design). 

Anyhow, Shane got in touch with me about buying a copy of my BIC#1 and in the course of email exchanges, that's where I learnt that he was also in the midst of designing his first puzzle "The Block", which he later produced only a few copies. Over the course of the year we continued to keep in touch via email and last year, he acquired my special edition copper BIC#2, one of only 4 copies which I had produced.

Limited Edition #003/4
Several weeks ago, Shane asked me if I would like to receive from him as a gift the #003 copy of the Circle. Of course I would! I was elated. Not only was I getting one of only 4 copies made, but as a gift as well. A true gift giver, he even refused to accept my offer to pay for shipping from the UK to Singapore. Thank you very much Shane!

About 10 days later, a large box duly arrived at my home. When I first took the puzzle out and examined it, I could hear quite a bit of rattling inside the puzzle. If I had not read Allard's review, I would have assumed the puzzle had been damaged during shipment. It did sound like there were broken bits inside (as if a whole bunch of parts and screws had come apart).

The object of course was to separate the Circle into two halves. My experience with take apart dovetails were limited to Wil Strijbos's aluminium dovetails and the Wunder Puzzle. While challenging in their own way, these did not take very long for me to solve. All within minutes rather than hours. Kevin had commented he took a really long time and Allard took about half an hour. Considering both of them are hardcore puzzlers, I knew the Circle would probably take me no less than the time required by Allard, at the very best.

What was puzzling were the rattling noises! I couldn't figure out how the dovetails were kept together when there was all this ruckus going on inside (well I mean, loose parts can't possibly keep two halves interlocked tightly together, right?)

Anyway for the next two nights, I spent a couple of hours each playing with the Circle, pushing and tugging at the two halves here and there, and even shaking the puzzle (gently) tho' the instructions did say no force was required! No luck at all.

Thereafter I had to stop for about 5 days as I went on a family vacation. I brought the Circle with me but didn't spend any time it. I wasn't too keen to take it out of my suitcase just in case my 3.5 year old son wanted to have a bash at it :-)...he may just end up bashing it (and here there is no possibility of a replacement from Shane). When I got back from my holiday, I decided to dedicate some time to the Circle. With full focus and concentration, I embarked on the Circle again.

I continued with my investigative trial/error and random approach towards the puzzle. The 2 dovetail halves are locked together by 3 mechanisms, 1 primary and 2 secondary. The secondary mechanisms were easily discovered early on during play and these are the more common (and usual) methods deployed to keep two parts of a puzzle together. I knew they could not be the ones keeping the Circle together.

Anyway, I continue with what I was doing and after a fair amount of time, all of a sudden the two dovetails came apart a bit. Not the least solved yet... but here I had a partial view of the insides and immediately knew what was causing the rattling. More importantly, I now had an idea of how the puzzle worked and what I needed to do. I had stumbled upon and solved the first stage. But the puzzle was only about a fifth open. As I continued my (correct) approach, eventually my theory proved right and the two dovetails slid apart nicely.

First off, the internal mechanism keeping the dovetails together is not technically that complicated. In fact the mechanism/trick is rather simple, tho' unusual. The way Shane has employed the use of if is (in my opinion) very clever, and of course totally unexpected. The solution is not difficult to execute once you know it, just that it does take time to complete the steps, quite a number I might add. A gentle hand is required throughout. 

Reassembly involves the steps in reverse order, a bit of gentle twisting and everything is back to its original state.

The Circle even came with its own plastic display stand
Difficulty Level
As one cannot see (but only hear) what is going on inside the Circle, it is very difficult at the beginning, but with some persistence (and without the use of force), the first stage can eventually be reached. Once here, if you can understand the principle of how the puzzle works (yes, there are some physics involved), the next few stages which open the puzzle is very manageable.

Summary
The Circle is by far the most challenging (and hardest) dovetail interlocking puzzle I have come across so far. Marvellous use of an unusual and interesting mechanism/trick, which requires a bit of patience and effort to solve. A really great puzzle and both Allard and Kevin have asked a very reluctant Shane to enter the Circle for the IPP34 Puzzle Design Competition; I fully agree and concur!

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

From Russia With Love

A couple of readers had emailed me to ask if I could feature interesting puzzles from other genres instead of the usual wooden interlocking ones (which were the content for my last 6 posts). Ok, point noted.....guess there are many puzzlers out there that are not die-hard fans of wooden burrs and the like...

Starting from this post and at frequent intervals, I shall endeavour to do just that. The 3 puzzles featured below came to me courtesy of Russian puzzle designer Vladimir Krasnoukhov whom I had the pleasure of meeting at IPP33 in Japan last year. In fact during the judging process, I was struggling  with his design entry; the Tri-Symmetrics interlocking puzzle and he (sitting next to me and me not knowing him) had kindly showed me the correct moves. Little did I know then that he was in fact the puzzle's designer!

Vladimir, together with his compatriot Irina Novichkova run a puzzle website: http://www.planetagolovolomok.ru/. The site is in Russian but Google Translate will do the job to convert it to reasonably readable English.

Childish Cubes
I am not sure what is the Russian name for this packing puzzle but translated, it does have a rather strange name "Childish Cubes"


This is a traditional 9 piece 3D packing puzzle and the object is the pack all the pieces flush with the box. The 9 pieces comprise 4 different shapes mainly rectangles with 3 congruent pairs. 


The pieces together with the box are made of a variety of different woods which lend some contrasting colours to the puzzle. One of the woods I think is Purple Heart. Overall the puzzle is very well made and pieces are nicely cut. 

The box even has some nice detailing like stepped and bevelled edges at the top. Not a large puzzle by any means measuring just 7.5cm x 6cm x 4cm but large enough to handle comfortably.

Suffice to say, there is nothing "childish" with this puzzle. With its block shapes, it may not look that tough from the outside but this puzzle still packs (no pun intended) quite a punch. Fun to solve but won't frustrate you to wits end.  At 224 Roubles, its a little more than US$6/-, representing excellent value for money (NB: the website version looks different from my own copy).

Black Square
The Black Square (on the website is "Black Square 2") is an acrylic 2D packing puzzle and the object is to fit the black piece from the top right corner into the square frame together with the other 4 yellow pieces. Size is about 12.3cm x 9.3cm.


While only 4 rectangular trapezoid pieces inside the frame and the blank spaces seem to be in abundance, this one proved to be deceptively difficult. 

I struggled with it for a good part of the afternoon but still got nowhere. I emailed fellow puzzle blogger Roxanne Wong (who had solved the Black Square within minutes), for assistance. 

Within a jiffy she replied with a hint (what would we do without smartphones?). With her hint I took a little while more and eventually figured it out. Very difficult! Rated 7/7 by Vladimir.


Proton
This last one is a sliding puzzle comprising 8 pieces filling a 11.3cm x 9.3cm tray. 



There are 5 different challenges to this puzzle, each progressing in difficulty.  The easiest is 23 moves to shift the rocket pieces one step right. The hardest (116 moves) is where the rocket ends up on the extreme right side of the tray. In between there are 63, 76 and 107 move challenges. 


Challenge #1: 23 moves to shift the rocket to the right one step

I am lousy with sliding puzzles but got through challenge #1 fairly easily. I stopped here without trying the next step up. Great for sliding puzzle lovers but unfortunately this one doesn't appear to be listed on Vladimir's website.

Well that's all folks for this post....more to come the next time!

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Box Packing

Name
Box Packing

Designer
William Hu. To see his designs click here.



Manufacturer
Pelikan

Type & Classification
Interlocking, sequential movement

Dimensions
8.0cm (Length) x 8.0cm (Width) and 7.0cm (Height). 

Materials & Construction
A combination of 3 solid hardwoods. The box frame is Cherry while the pieces are Wenge. Nice contrast of colours here. Top-notch construction and finish as always.

The pieces are glued together to form their irregular shapes. Do be careful since they are thinner than usual (at just 1.0cm sq) and rather delicate, which makes them susceptible to cracking or breaking if there is undue use of force during play. I did experience a fair amount of flex while pushing and pulling the pieces.

Overview
This rather nice and different looking interlocking puzzle is my first from designer William Hu

The object is to remove the 4 pieces and reassemble them within the open top/bottom box frame. It looks unusual because the 4 pieces besides interlocking themselves inside the box also "claw" the external surfaces of the box.


As you start puzzling, you will find the pieces have to move in sequence in order to progress. Removing the first piece while seemingly complicated is actually manageable. For me it was a matter of experimenting with each of the pieces to see how they interacted with each other and the frame. I didn't take that long to extract the first piece but I remember it took quite a number of moves. Once you have the second piece out, the remaining two come out easily.   

Like a number of interlocking puzzles, reassembly poses the harder challenge. However, with such puzzles, I try to document each step with photos just in case I lose my way. True enough during reassembly I did. Got confused with the orientation of the pieces mid way through. For Box Packing, I could not have remembered the correct steps and moves if not for the photos, which guided me in the reverse order of "packing" back together everything.

Difficulty Level
This is a level 8.4.3.1 puzzle requiring 8 moves to remove the first piece and 4 to remove the second and so on. Relatively easier (not easy) to disassemble but challenging to put back. But once you memorise the steps and where each piece's position is, in relation to the others, may not be too difficult to repeat solve, and thankfully there are no more than 4 pieces to deal with.

Summary
Aside from being a challenging puzzle, the Box Packing stands out from the atypical cuboid shapes that adorn many interlocking puzzles. Very nice for display and excellent value for money too. I just wish the puzzle had been made dimensionally larger to be more sturdy. 
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