There are packing puzzles...and there are packing puzzles. I have to agree with Eric Fuller, the maker of Terry Smart's A-Pack when Eric remarked that the A-Pack is an interesting packing puzzle with a unique and brilliant concept.
Terry has designed a large number of interlocking puzzles, of which thirty two have been published on PWBP to date. I am pretty sure there are many more which never got featured. The A-Pack, according to Terry, is his first attempt at a packing puzzle; a damn good one I might add.
Why call it the A-Pack? Well, Terry tells me he wants to design more packing puzzles bearing the shapes of the entire alphabet. I had wanted to suggest to Terry that he call his puzzle "A Packing Puzzle"...with a play on the letter "A", but I guess it wouldn't be possible since he is going to use B, C, D and so on.
Construction, fit and finish of the A-Pack cannot be faulted. As usual, Eric has done a superb job of creating a puzzle that is beautiful and precise. My only remark (and I usually have nothing negative to say about Eric's work) is that I think the puzzle should have been made physically larger using half inch square units instead of quarter inch. Personally I find the pieces a bit small and rather fiddly to handle. Notwithstanding, the A-Pack is very cute to look at and pocket-able. In terms of materials, the frame and sliders are walnut and acrylic and the eight pieces are maple.
The object (as the name suggests) is to pack the eight pieces into the frame. Unlike a traditional packing puzzle where you overturn the pieces out and scramble them before solving, because the puzzle came assembled, the first challenge is to remove the pieces. The first couple of pieces can be easily removed but as you progress, the puzzle gets difficult, as some of the pieces are interlocked with the two sliders held in place by the acrylic plate, but which can move within limits in certain directions.
"Unpacking" involves manipulating both the sliders and the pieces. It is not an overly difficult puzzle at this stage but the A-Pack does provide sufficient challenge for the unpacking. It would have been very difficult indeed if the puzzle had been shipped assembled. Most puzzlers (myself definitely included) probably wouldn't even know which piece to start with. While the design intent is a packing puzzle, in many ways it is also an interlocking burr of sorts....a hybrid perhaps...and we can call it a "Parr"? (Pack + Burr).
Having got the pieces out, its a matter of reversing to re-assemble. The hardest (and most) moves involve the first few pieces going back into the frame so once you navigate this portion correctly, the rest is very much more manageable. The trick is to remember the sequence and the moves, as this will help, yes...help a lot. Another trick is lay out the pieces in the order (and correct orientation) which they come out. No rotations needed here. If you can rotate any piece out, you are solving it wrongly.
Overall, "A" really neat and fun little puzzle (no pun intended). Something different from the usual mix. Definitely a must-have for both Packists and Burrists alike. Eric retailed the A-Pack for $64 each, which is not cheap, but value for money given the effort needed to make them. Unfortunately as of the date of this post, all have been sold out.