Thursday, 28 May 2015

A Voyage To Terra Australis

Here's a 2D packing puzzle that I have been toiling over on and off the last several weeks...but got nowhere.

It's Brian Young's IPP34 Exchange Puzzle, designed by Junichi Yananose with an Australia theme. Its a "double-sided" packing puzzle because the twelve pentominoe pieces are printed on both sides with the Australian coastline. The description states...

The puzzle is to help Matthew Flinders fix his map of the Australian Coastline so that the entire coastline joins up and makes a correct map of Australia....Matthew Flinders and his crew had a few extra tots of rum as they were sailing past Bundaberg; in fact they must have used up the whole quota for the trip because they were way off course. They thought they had found the great inland sea but it was really Uluru sticking up out of the desert! You need to help them redraw the map of the Coastline so it joins up correctly and they can get on their way back to England to report to King George III.

The object is to rearrange the pieces to fit the tray and get the coastline of Australia correct but some of the pieces have to be flipped over to complete the puzzle correctly. 

According to Brian, "there are 2,339 different ways to pack the twelve pentominoe pieces into the 6 x 10 unit rectangular frame. And that number does not include the permutations of flipping pieces". However the way the puzzle has been designed, it has only one solution! The puzzle is made of laser cut hoop pinewood and lacquered.

If you are not sure what the outline of Australia looks like, or want to get more information about this beautiful country which I had the opportunity to visit twice in the past (Perth and Melbourne), click here.

The puzzle came with a scrambled (wrong) coastline and despite my many attempts at trying to get it right, each time I came up short. This is a very difficult puzzle (even tho' it appears to look easy) from what Sue (Brian's wife) tells me, after I threw in the towel and emailed her for the solution. Looking at the solution, well it looked rather do-able...and I got the "how come I didn't try putting that piece there?" questions running through my mind. I had missed some things that with more careful observation, I would have spotted. Sigh!

A Voyage To Terra Australis (and other exclusive past IPP exchange puzzles) is available at Brian's site Mr Puzzle for AU$27.50. 

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Pocket Pento - The Search For Symmetry

I was very pleasantly surprised when I received an email from Eric Fuller a couple of months back. He had asked if he could make copies of my Pocket Pento for sale on his website together with some other puzzles he was also planning on making. He had spotted my Pocket Pento design published on PWBP and thought it would make a nice addition to his offerings. Of course I said yes without hesitation (well, who wouldn't?) and even emailed him several variations of the design for him to pick from. The next thing I knew, he had made the first copy and posted it on his FaceBook page.

Wow, this was the first time I have seen a design of mine made into a working copy (well, not really the first time as such; other puzzlers have made copies of some of my other designs) but the first from a master puzzle craftsman producing it for commercial sale.

The Pocket Pento is actually one of my early designs, my fourth that was published on PWBP. At that time I was trying my hand at designing and packing puzzles were the easiest and logical choice to begin with. Thanks to Goh Pit Khiam who taught me the use of burr tools and gave me loads of useful advice, I managed to come up with five designs of various shapes and sizes with the common theme of using all twelve flat pentominoes. As the name implies, the Pocket Pento was intended as a small-ish and flat-ish puzzle that could easily be put into the pocket and taken around. The version made by Eric with half inch square units is on the larger size of things and probably would only fit into pants, jacket or trench-coat pockets and handbags.

Eric made the Pocket Pento box out of Maple and the pieces in twelve different exotic hardwoods. The box had acrylic transparent sides which displayed the pieces in the solved state. A really nice touch which shows off the contrasting coloured woods very well. Construction and finish of my copy is excellent with very fine beveling of the edges on the pieces. The fit is very good and everything slides smoothly with no "looseness" of any sort. Thirty-nine copies were put up for sale on Eric's site at US$84 each; and like most of Eric's puzzles, all were sold out within a day or two.

I am not sure if owners of the Pocket Pento have noticed this....the placement of holes on the two sides, the entry/exit point and opposite bottom all have a certain "similarity" of appearance. I was not content to just design a box to house the twelve pieces (which is not too difficult) but I wanted something more...a "symmetry" to the overall look and shape, to make the puzzle as unique as possible. I think close to 100% symmetry may have been possible if Eric had used an acrylic plate to seal the bottom holes instead of another layer of wood which added an extra half inch to the height of the puzzle. But then again this may have affected the overall construction and aesthetics somewhat...and well, Eric's the expert so he must have known what he was doing. 

The puzzle is not easy by any means and I too have had problems remembering the exact sequence of moves and once or twice resorted to burr tools for help.

Thanks very much to Eric for turning my design into reality and I am happy to know that there are thirty nine other puzzlers out there in the world with a Pocket Pento in their possession!

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Hanayama Cast Hexagon

The Cast Hexagon is the latest Cast puzzle to come from the Hanayama stable. The Hexagon was designed by Mineyuki Uyematsu who gave us wonderful packing puzzles such as the T4-II, T4-III and Caramel Box

The Hexagon also won the Jury Honourable Mention Award at the IPP34 Puzzle Design Competition. It was originally called "The Claws Of Satan" during IPP34 but it would have sounded very weird if Hanayama had used the name "Cast Claws Of Satan" or worse still, "Cast Satan"! Hexagon definitely sounds more appealing.

The Hexagon appears to be made of steel (I think) and in two colour tones. The choice of external finish for the Hexagon is IMHO really nice for this one, in matt silver and dark grey and not some gaudy chrome or shiny brass.  Construction and quality of my copy is very good and everything moves smoothly as intended.

The object of the puzzle is to separate the three "claws" from the base plate. When you first start to explore the puzzle, all the "claws" or pieces are able to move in various directions but all are locked within the confines of the plate. The pieces are able not only to move linearly but can also rotate at certain positions within the plate. As you puzzle on, hopefully you will be able to understand the trick of the puzzle and how to get the pieces "out". 

I do not want to give too much away here to spoil the fun of still many puzzlers who have yet to get a copy. But like an interlocking burr, once you get the first piece out from the plate, the rest of the pieces come off much easier. It took me about fifteen minutes to disassemble the Hexagon...but it took me a good hour to reassemble it! Because I had forgotten the positions of the pieces relative to the plate and their orientation during the taking apart. While I could get all three pieces back within the confines of the plate, I hit dead ends quite a couple of times and had to disassemble the whole thing and start over again. If you want to, take photos as you go along, so the reassembly will be less frustrating.

The Hexagon is a very nice addition to the Hanayama Cast range. Nice design and well made. For the price of a typical cast puzzle, a lot of puzzling for the money. Its rated four out of six stars for difficulty and this I feel is about right; challenging yes, but not frustratingly so. A great addition to any collection and a must-buy for cast puzzle lovers.

As far as I can tell, the Hexagon is only currently available from PuzzleMaster of Canada for CA$12.95. Eventually it will make its way to other online sellers, including Amazon. Those living in Asia may want to buy direct from Mineyuki via his website. Its in Japanese but click on the link at the lower left sidebar - "overseas mail order", while those in Europe can buy it from Eureka Puzzles.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Marble Cake

Now here's an interesting packing puzzle I played with over the weekend. It's called the Marble Cake and is the brainchild of my puzzle friend Frederic Boucher. Not only did he design the puzzle, he also made it....without using any wood cutting equipment!

I got to know Frederic two years ago after acquiring his IPP33 puzzle design competition entry, Manholes 55. Frederic is a French Canadian who presently lives in Tokyo, Japan. While back in Canada he had his own wood workshop at home, this is not possible for him in Japan since his dwelling cannot accommodate such a setup. Fortunately Frederic is able to order and get his wood cut into specific size blocks and then he sands, glues and finishes them into the shapes and pieces required. Looking at the quality of the Marble Cake, you wouldn't be able to tell that this was the way Frederic put together his puzzle.

The Marble Cake consists of a bottomless tray made of Japanese elm with seven different pieces made from exotic hardwoods including Japanese beech, magnolia, paduak, teak, wenge, ebony and cherry). Construction and finish is very good indeed and the fit is just nice with the right amount of tolerance between the pieces. 

Three of these tetraminoes....are not like the others....
All seven pieces consist of four units each (tetraminoes) in various shapes.Nothing too unusual about this; except that three of the seven pieces, tho' they are four units a piece, are nevertheless joined together to form rather "odd" shapes (as shown in the photo).

As a result, this makes the Marble Cake far far more tricky and difficult than if it had just been a packing puzzle with seven regular tetraminoes. It took me a good hour or so before I got all the pieces flush into the tray!

If its any help, the trick I suppose is not to think of the odd pieces as odd if possible, but to see how they could possibly fit into the tray if they were just regular tetraminoes (which of course is easier said than done, with the benefit of hindsight).

This is really a very nice packing puzzle with a good level of challenge. Its difficult but not frustratingly so. An original design and with only one solution. For packing puzzle fans, the Marble Cake is a must-have for collectors.

[Edit 12 May 2015: There have been a number of readers asking how they can purchase a copy of Marble Cake from Frederic. Please email me via my blog email and I will put you in touch with Frederic directly]

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Chicken Puzzle

There are many wooden animal puzzles around. Most notably from the Japanese Kumiki puzzles genre as well as the Karakuri Creation Group. All sorts of animals abound including lions, pigs, cats, elephants, owls and even the skunk.

Then there are some from European craftsmen like Alfons Eyckmans which are more conventional burrs but containing within the puzzle an animal-shaped piece, like his Gobi and Free The Monkey 2. Once in a while, someone comes along and designs a burr puzzle but deliberately fashions it in the shape of an animal. The Chicken is one such puzzle.

A really cute puzzle I might add. the Chicken was designed by Olexandre Kapkan and made by Eric Fuller. Excellent craftsmanship as always and the woods used here are Yellowheart and Cherry; no doubt to reflect the colours of a real chicken as far as possible.
The puzzle is about the right size for comfortable handling, measuring about 10.5cm x 6cm x 5cm. It's actually the size of a large chick. This puzzle was the first to sell out after Eric announced his site update. I was lucky to get the last copy.

According to Eric's Facebook post, there is suppose to be a surprise hidden inside the puzzle (eg Egg?) but I didn't find anything as I played with it. Although it is Level 10.2 with only four pieces and the body, its not an easy puzzle to solve at all. After like moving 5 or 6 steps, I got stuck. Took me the good half an hour to find the correct move and then finally got one drum (I mean leg) of the Chicken out. The rest of the other limbs came out easily after that. Putting it back together was about just as hard as I had to do everything in reverse. I couldn't quite remember all the steps and was forced to do some trial and error before I assembled the lot together. Burr Tools not needed here (at least not for me).

The Chicken is really a great puzzle, not only in terms of the design and look (displays very well and attracts comments) but it also offers a good level of challenge from the puzzling perspective. I only wish those beautiful and superb quality Karakuri animal puzzles can be designed with this level of difficulty, then they will really be outstanding puzzles.
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