Tuesday, 30 August 2016


The label on the packaging reads "Design from the twisted mind of Derek Bosch"...hmm, I wonder if there was an intentional pun here. Well, Vapors is a "twist" puzzle...of sorts.

Vapors is Steve Nicholls IPP36 Exchange Puzzle. Conceptually it is similar to his Pole Dancers where the goal here is to twist the two spirally interlocking pieces out of the cube. However, physically there is little similarity to Pole Dancers. Instead of the cylindrical "burr" style design like the latter or others in the "Helical" range, Steve has chosen to encase the red spiral pieces inside a square white cube. Which leads me to conclude that the exterior design and colours were deliberate, to match those of the Japanese flag (since IPP36 was held in Kyoto early this August). I say it looks rather eye-catching and unique. However, I am not sure why it's called Vapors?

The puzzle was 3D printed by Steve (mostly Steve fabricates all his puzzles using 3D printing) and measures 5.8cm all round. Its the same size as that of a standard Rubik's Cube. The cube itself is textured on four sides not only to make gripping easy but to give the puzzle some pattern. There is sufficient tolerance to allow the pieces to "twist" reasonably smoothly without jamming nor it being too loose.

Like burr pieces, the spiral pieces contain various protrusions and notches and they interact with other protrusions on the inside hollow of the cube. To extract the said pieces, you have to pull, push and twist one or the other of the pieces or sometimes even both at the same time in particular (sequential) manner. Similar to how you would solve a burr, but now, the pieces go up, down and round, instead of up, down, left and right. Vapors is not easy and I found it harder than Pole Dancers from last year. Removal was not too difficult and done within minutes. But it took me several sessions of play over the course of one and half days to re-assemble everything back to its original state. My poor memory of how I took it apart didn't help either. I might have taken less time, but during the putting together stage, I accidentally broke one of the pieces and had to use epoxy glue to join the broken halves and wait a good eight hours for the glue to set completely before resuming assembly.

For puzzlers who like cylindrical "burrs", this is a must have to add to any collection. A couple of puzzlers have lamented the fact that these puzzles are not made of wood....Don't we all wish they can be made of exotic woods. However, I am not sure if wood turning (or other methods of wood-working) can produce such designs into actual working copies. Granted 3D printed ones can't compare with the quality of their wooden counter-parts, but at least these designs have been realised into functioning copies for puzzlers to enjoy. And as far as I can tell, so far Derek has designed and Steve produced, everyone of this type of puzzle that have come onto the market.

Those interested to get a copy of Vapors can contact Steve Nicholls via his website here.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Phive Pack

My puzzle this weekend was the "Phive Pack", a play on words, which (I think) means "five" piece packing puzzle, fellow puzzle blogger Allard Walker's IPP36 Exchange Puzzle. 

A somewhat different style of packing puzzle from the norm, this 3D packer does have five pieces; consisting of four odd-shaped ones which form a polyhedron and the fifth being a marble. The object is to place the four pieces and a rather good looking pearl-like marble into the accompanying plastic tube so that the latter is completely hidden within.

Designed by Jane Kostick of KO Sticks, the artisan folks who create incredible looking geometric sculptures and puzzles in wood, the puzzle was 3D printed by Shapeways. It was available in a variety of colours during the Exchange but I chose a bright magenta, the copy you see here. 

The Phive Pack came un-assembled. At first glance, I didn't think the puzzle was that difficult, after all it's only four pieces, and all I needed to do was to pack the four into the plastic tube, but how wrong I was. Of the four pieces, two are identical, while the remaining two look very much alike but have slightly different angled surfaces.    

It took me a good half an hour or more of trying before I found the right orientation of the pieces relative to each other. The angle and facets of the pieces really confuse but once put together correctly, the final shape is a nice symmetrical polyhedron and fits just nicely inside the stubby plastic tube. I wonder if Allard/Jane had designed the puzzle just the right size (about 4cm all round) to fit the tube or the other way round. Any other way would result in some portion of the marble being exposed and the puzzle sticking out, preventing one of the two plastic caps from covering the tube properly. 

Depending on who's playing with it, some may find it really hard, some not. In the words of puzzler Eitan Cher, it's a very "disorientating" puzzle to solve. Agreed! IMHO, its not an overly difficult puzzle but not an easy one either...just somewhere in between with the right amount of challenge for an exchange puzzle. Contact Allard via his blog site if you are keen to get one. 

Thursday, 25 August 2016


POPP was Frans de Vreugd's IPP36 exchange puzzle and was designed by Christoph Lohe from Germany. This is my second puzzle from Lohe, the first being the beautifully crafted Closed Box

Nope, this puzzle has nothing to do with puzzle lock designer extraordinaire Rainer Popp, even though the burr pieces are "locked" inside the cage. It so happens that the external surfaces of the pieces form the shapes P.O.P.P along the outsides of the cage. But here's what Christoph had to say:-

"I always wanted to design an interlocking puzzle for beginners, with a minimum number of pieces. My choice was a 4x4x5 frame with only two sticks inside. With 15 moves to release the first stick, it is not a trivial puzzle but still managable for people who are not experienced in Burr puzzles. With a little bit of imagination, the puzzle reads "POPP" around the circumference, so I devoted it to Rainer Popp, the brilliant designer of outstanding metallic trick locks"

Pelikan Puzzles produced the exchange copies (made of bubinga and maple) and the quality of construction, fit and finish is excellent with all the pieces cut sharp and glued perfectly. The pieces fit snugly and slide smoothly, though I had it placed in my dry box for a day or two to "loosen" the puzzle a tad further to cope with Singapore's 80-90% humidity conditions.

This is an interlocking puzzle with a cage and two burr style pieces, the latter which are rather irregularly shaped (not your traditional looking ones). And designing just two burr sticks, Christoph was able to get it to a level 15 (meaning it takes 15 moves for one of the pieces to be come out of the cage), quite an achievement I would imagine. Dimensions wise its not large measuring about 6cm x 4.8cm x 4.8cm; quite petite, but comfortable enough for average size hands and fingers.

Although I am lousy with interlocking puzzles such as these, even relatively low level ones, I was able to take it apart without any help, surprising myself!  Perhaps it was because there were only two moving pieces which didn't confuse so much, but still it wasn't a walk in the park and I encountered some dead ends. After some pushing and pulling, I was able to pull one of the pieces out. 

Even though it has only 15 moves, it still takes a good memory to remember the reverse sequence to fit the two pieces back into their cage. Unfortunately I am terribly forgetful and got stuck several times while attempting to assemble the puzzle. So it was Burr Tools to the rescue; but I only relied on it for the first two moves, thereafter I figured out the next thirteen myself and pushed and pulled the pieces back into their respective positions within the cage.

A very nice little well-made puzzle that would appeal to interlocking and burr enthusiasts (or folks that like to collect high quality wooden puzzles) or both. I think Frans may have some more copies left available for sale. Pelikan is retailing it on their site for 29 Euros and for those living in the US or Canada, Puzzlemaster will also be making it available very soon.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Halve A Heart

This is the first of my IPP36 Exchange Puzzles I am reviewing. I thought I would start off with something not too complicated and which I am familiar with.

Halve A Heart was designed and produced by Scott Elliot for his exchange in Kyoto, Japan just several weeks ago. 3D printed, Halve A Heart follows a recent string of puzzles in the last couple of years that bears a similar theme; the object is to put two pieces together to form a particular shape. In 2014, Scott came up with Join The Club and in 2015, his Diamond Engagement.

First off, the puzzle measures about 4.5cm x 4.5cm x 1.4cm. Quality of print is good and the puzzle is solid printed (not hollow) which gives it a hefty feel and makes it pretty durable. The two halves join together to form a heart. In fact the red is so red it looks like blood, how appropriate for this puzzle!

While there are only two pieces each with identical shapes, putting together was (to my surprise) more difficult that I had expected. The halves need to twist and slide against each other to finally form the intended shape. It did take me more than several minutes before I found the right orientation of both pieces relative to each other and discovered the point where the two pieces would mesh together nicely in one smooth motion. Halve A Heart appears to be more difficult than the previous two puzzles. No force whatsoever is needed. In fact the assembled heart was a bit on the "loose" side for my copy and while the pieces will not fall apart, the heart would not hold its shape unless it was lying flat on a table.

Notwithstanding, a nice pocket-able little puzzle that will probably frustrate non-puzzlers and maybe even some puzzlers. Scott made a number of these for sale and he may still have some copies left over if anyone is interested.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Sliding Block Puzzle Locks

Some weeks ago puzzle collector Otis Cheng from China had mentioned on his Facebook post that he had acquired two sliding puzzle locks that had been designed by a group of students from a Beijing 12th grade middle school. The students had designed the locks with the help of their teacher who happened to be a puzzler! 

I thought they look pretty impressive and a rather unique approach to a puzzle lock design. But thanks to Otis I managed to get my hands on two such puzzle locks when I met him at IPP36 in Kyoto this August.

Both lock designs were adapted and eventually mass produced by Mi-Toys. The two locks are about the same size measuring 11cm x 7.5cm x 1.5cm (including the shackle) with one a tad smaller than the other. They are layered and formed together with laser cut wood. The moving blocks within are covered by a clear acrylic cover with cut-outs sufficient for the acompanying key to aid in moving the blocks around inside the lock. Fingers would be too big for this puzzle...so the key actually serves a useful purpose here!

The shackle of each lock is restrained by the blocks inside the lock. Both puzzles work on the principle of sliding blocks and once the blocks have been moved into their intended final positions, the shackle extends upwards and is freed.

Of the two puzzles one is relatively easy while the other (with more pieces) is quite a bit harder. While travelling back to Singapore from Kyoto, I took the opportunity to play with both locks and thankfully managed to solve both during the one hour domestic flight from Osaka to Tokyo. Hence you will notice the less than acceptable photos of the solved puzzles as they were both solved on my lap during flight.

An interesting take on the traditional sliding block puzzle or puzzle padlock, or both, whichever way you choose to see it. As of this post, I can't seem to find them on the Mi-Toys site but I think eventually they will make their way there.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Stumbling Blocks

Goh Pit Khiam has done it again, winning another Jury's Honourable Mention in this year's IPP36 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition for Chain Store. Last year at IPP35, Goh had 2 Honourable Mentions; for his Road Blocks and Number Blocks. Aside from Chain Store, Goh also attained a Top 10 Vote Getter for his Stumbling Blocks, the subject of this post.

At first look, Stumbling Blocks looks very much like Road Blocks; physically they are about the same dimensions at 4" square and consist of a box tray with wide edges and four pieces to be inserted into the centre square hole of the tray as the objective. As you can see from the photo, there are channels constructed inside the box so its not a simple matter of trying to fit the pieces in like the typical packing puzzle. The box is Maple and the pieces Jatoba. Made by Tom Lensch, my copy has excellent build quality, fit and finish. All the pieces fit snugly and nicely. And there is no need to use any force for this puzzle.

For those who have solved the Road Blocks, you may think you have some clue as to how to solve Stumbling Blocks; well possibly. However, the solutions for both puzzles are totally different and Stumbling Blocks has IMHO a tad more elegant solution. A solution I might add that is quite characteristic of Goh's design style. Those of you acquainted with Goh many puzzle designs, especially the packing ones will know what I mean. Perhaps because I have played with a number of Goh's puzzles and familiar with his style (and tricks) that I didn't find Stumbling Blocks too difficult. But this is not to say that Stumbling Blocks is easy as I saw quite a few IPP attendees pouring themselves over the puzzle at the judging table without much success.

If you are interested in a nice well made packing style puzzle with just 4 pieces, topped off with a more than moderately difficult challenge and a unique (unusual) solution, Stumbling Blocks may just be the puzzle for you. For serious collectors, a definite must-have!

Both Stumbling Blocks and Chain Store are available from Tom Lensch.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Cast Cake

It's been a while since I last played with a Hanayama Cast puzzle. The Cast Cake is one of their most recent releases from the Cast Puzzle series, having been launched to the market just this past July. 

Gone is the packaging in the form of a black box with clear window and gold text; instead the newer contemporary looking box has the word "HUZZLE", presumably a combination of the words Hanayama and puzzle and spots a nice photo of the puzzle contained within.

The Cast Cake is the brainchild of IPP award-winning designer Bram Cohen, who also designed the Cast Rattle and the Cast Galaxy, the latter one of my personal Cast favourites.

The Cake, well, it's round and looks like a cake with a slice of it eaten. And it measures 4cm in diameter. It looks to me to be made of stonewashed brass or copper as it has a pretty good heft to it. Construction fit and finish on my copy is very good and everything fits and moves nicely without any experiencing of jamming.

The Cake consists of a 3/4 hollowed out circular "cage" and inside resides 3 rotating 3/4 discs sandwiched against one another. The object is to remove the 3 discs from the cage.

It's rated 4 out of 6 stars meaning that its more than moderately difficult but I think it deserves 5 stars because it is way harder than it looks or what I had expected. At first I thought one of the discs could "spiral" its way sideways out like a circular burr, so I tried solving it that way, but apparently not. It took me a good half and hour of manipulating and rolling the 3 discs inside and trying to feel for an "opening" of sorts before suddenly I felt something give and I was able to pull the discs out. I am not sure what I had done but it worked. As I was re-assembling the puzzle, I took time to experiment and was able to discover a technique to it. Thereafter I was able to repeat solving the Cake a majority of the time. Very challenging at first but once you understand what needs to be done (and I am not going to say anymore here to spoil other people's fun), its a matter of practice to get it right.

If anyone needs help, please PM me (I will have to draw a diagram to show you as it is impossible to explain in words).

Currently only available in Japan but should hit retail stores in other countries and available from the usual online sellers in the weeks to come. 


Tuesday, 9 August 2016

IPP36 - Puzzle Party - 7th August 2016

This year's International Puzzle Party (IPP36) was held in Kyoto, Japan from 4th to 7th August 2016. The venue chosen for the festivities was the Kyoto Tokyu Hotel situated about 3.5 km from downtown Kyoto and about 94 km from Kyoto Kansai International Airport.

There were 137 invitees including spouses, partners and kids. Typically the number of attendees for IPPs held in Asia tend to be lesser as a many puzzlers from the US and Europe do not wish to make the long (and perhaps rather costly) journey to Japan.

The Puzzle Party itself was held on Sunday 7th August. To know more and what typically happens at the Puzzle Party, click here.

As the turnout for this year's IPP was lower, the number of "stalls" were fewer and consequently, a lesser number and variety of puzzles were also offered for sale. Nonetheless, the mood of the attendees was no less exuberant and the crowd rushed in when the event doors were opened at 9am sharp. I will let the pictures do the talking....scroll down further to see close-ups...

Eitan Cher

Robert Sandfield

Susumu Kimura & Meiko Kimura (Torito Japan)

Atsushi Katagiri

Shiro Tajima

Brian & Sue Young (Mr Puzzle Australia)

Takahisa Nakanishi

Frederic Boucher (with Anh Bui, Vietnam)

Osanori Yamamoto

Koshi & Yuko Arai

Andrew Rhoda & Kathy Hess

Guan Shi & Min Shih

Emrehan Halici & Ezgi Karasin

The Krasnoukhovs

Wil Strijbos

Tania Gillen

Left: Andreas Rover (Burr Tools) and Gary Foshee

Oscar & Jose van Deventer

Peter Hajek

Henry Strout

John Rausch

Steve Nicholls & Stephen Miller

Allan Stein (Puzzlemaster, Canada) & Amy Jepson

Carl & Patricia Hoff

Nick Baxter (standing) and Jerry Slocum

Sue Toorenburg

Naoaki Takashima

Mr & Mrs Edi Nagata

Hiroshi Uchinaka

Hiroshi Yamamoto

Jerry Slocum

Scott Elliot

Kathleen Malcolmson ("Please please buy my puzzle...")
& Ginda Fisher (kneeling)

Peter von Knorre

Hirokazu Iwasawa
Close up shots of the puzzles...

That's all folks! Look out for my future posts on Exchange Puzzles....
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