Friday, 14 July 2017


Two years ago, I received a copy of Tetro-Billes, courtesy of its designer and my good friend Frederic Boucher. Billes in French means "small balls"....

Tetro-Billes was entered in the IPP35 Puzzle Design Competition by Frederic and is classified as a 1.1 2-Dimensional assembly puzzle. In common puzzle terms, I would consider it as one from the pattern matching category of puzzles. 

Frederic, who lives in Japan, is a pretty prolific designer and does not just design a particular genre of puzzles but his scope is quite varied (and interesting), ranging from exotic wooden 3D packing puzzles like the Marble Cake and Artefacts to Impossible Objects like Smiley In A Bottle and stuff in between such as his dexterity puzzles like Pyramida and Manholes 55 and a couple of burrs here and there.

Now back to the puzzle. I had kept it away for about two years since 2015, forgot about it and only recently re-discovered it and decided to give it a go. The puzzle consists of five wooden pieces (made of Japanese Beech) each containing blue and yellow marbles held in holes drilled into the wood. Quality of construction is very good and the marbles all fit tightly without fear of falling loose (although Frederic indicates that they can be removed and changed about for other sorts of challenges...which I didn't try for fear of damage)

The object of the puzzle is assemble the pieces so that the marbles form five different tetromino shapes - three in blue and two in yellow, with two solutions. Sounds rather simple doesn't it? considering its just 5 pieces to move around on a flat surface. Well I couldn't be more wrong. I spent several sessions over a few days before I discovered what I thought was the solution and happily shot an email to Frederic (which I usually do when I solve his puzzles or when I need help). Or at least I thought I did. Frederic reverted to say that while I have 5 tetraminos, two of them are identical (the yellow marbles). The photo below shows a solution, but its not THE intended solution.

I then spent another good several sessions over two days trying to figure this one out...but thus far have been unsuccessful. The time I allotted myself for this puzzle had exceeded so I decided to throw in the towel and look at the accompanied solution. Sigh...I was close but not quite there.

For anyone wanting something different to challenge your wits or if you are interested in any of Frederic's puzzles mentioned above (and mind you he may even have new ones that I am unaware of), PM me and I will link you up him. Perhaps he might just have a copy or two lying around available for sale.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Hanayama Dice Box

This weekend I played with the plastic version of a very famous Akio Kamei designed puzzle, the Dice Box. The original wooden versions hail from the Karakuri Creation Group of Japan, of which Kamei is a member and are handcrafted from exotic hardwoods. The copy that I have is a reproduction made of plastic and comes from Hanayama.

There are already several reviews of the Dice Box by puzzle collectors/bloggers Oliver Sovary-Soos and Brian Pletcher, so you can read their experiences with the original wooden version. There's even a video uploaded by PuzzleboxWorld.

While not in wood nor crafted by Kamei himself, the plastic version by Hanayama is no less of a nice puzzle. While I have not played with the wooden version, I am confident that Hanayama, as a reputable Japanese manufacturer of puzzles would have faithfully followed the design of Kamei in coming up with an inexpensive version of what is a collector's (and very expensive) copy of the Dice Box. 

My copy measures a smaller size of 5.6cm cube all round, about a third of the size of its wooden cousins. As far as quality is concerned, no issues here. The plastic feels solid and the sliding panel that opens the box slides smoothly with little free play. The inside bottom of the box is even lined with a piece of red felt, such attention to detail. Obviously for a plastic version which is significantly cheaper than the original, the pips (or dots) here are printed on the six surfaces as opposed to the wooden version which has recessed holes and contrasting woods. 

What is strange is that unlike the wooden original, the Hanayama version comes already solved, ie with the lid open. I would think the wooden version is harder, since it comes closed and being a Kamei creation, finding the panel that slides would already be a challenge in itself. As John Rausch said

"The Die is one of Kamei's most famous secret opening boxes. Familiarity with the spots on a normal die will help you discover the first clue to opening it. The objective is find a way into the secret compartment that is shown in the 2nd photograph. The mechanism is outstanding. Perhaps the best of any Kamei box"

The object of my copy is to close the lid, give it a good shake, turn it around in all directions (to activate the locking mechanism) and then try to open the lid again. I did precisely these and found the lid shut tight. Sounds of moving parts can be heard inside the puzzle and the trick is to figure how to solve the mechanism which unlatches the sliding top. As you can't see what goes on inside (nor the mechanism) even when the lid is opened, there is little clue offered as to how to go about solving the Dice Box once shut. 

So the initial stages of play consisted of random tilting and and turning of the box and even some light tapping (from the Japanese instructions on the box, I could not tell if there was something to indicate "no tapping/banging"). I have some experience with hidden mechanism puzzle boxes and I tried a couple of methods to see if these did the trick. After several minutes of play, suddenly the lid slid open by itself! I am not exactly sure what I had done correctly, but I had a rough idea of the moves needed to repeat the result. The next several attempts resulted in easy solves. I knew what needed to be done, but only had a vague idea of how the mechanism inside worked. I was able to repeat solve most of time using the sequence of moves which I assume to be correct. 

The plastic Dice Box (in several colour variations) is available from Amazon and Ebay from between $14/- to $40/- while the Kamei-made wooden ones, in excess of $150/- are available from PuzzleboxWorld and Art Of Play
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