Sunday 30 December 2012


Update 23 October 2017 - Dear Reader, please check out my new puzzle blog and e-store at

The Lotus puzzle is the latest (and much awaited) new puzzle from Wil Strijbos. According to Wil, the Lotus is based on his earlier Yen Puzzle which he invented some twenty years ago. The Yen Puzzle was made of wood and the goal is to remove a Japanese yen coin with a nail running through it.

Forward twenty years to the present and the incarnation of the Yen Puzzle is the Lotus, made of precision machined aluminium and anodised blue. The object of the lotus has not changed; instead of removing a Yen coin, now its an aluminium circular disc instead, with a rod running through the centre.

Yen Puzzle; photo courtesy of Wil Strijbos
The Lotus measures 11cm x 5.4cm x 1.9cm. Very weighty and solid, there is no feeling of any hollow inside. The puzzle looks like it has been milled from a solid block of aluminium. The entire puzzle is made up of two main portions dovetail joined together.

Construction and quality is of the usual excellent Wil Strijbos standard. With the anodising in blue, the Lotus is the epitome of a fine and premium quality metal puzzle. Etched onto the the puzzle on one side you will notice the word "Lotus" and Wil's signature; the latter which now appears to be a hallmark on most of Wil's anodised metal puzzles, for example the First Box, New Aluminium Dovetail and  Cube Dovetails.

It took me about half an hour of fiddling and pondering before I figured out the solution to removing the disc. Very clever trick indeed! But one cannot help but wonder if there is anything more than this, given the physical appearance and rather elaborate construction of the puzzle.

Wil had mentioned in his newsletter that the Lotus holds other secrets not found in the original Yen Puzzle. However he also requested a "gag order" from us puzzle bloggers not to reveal the extra surprises so that "other solvers will be happy with the AHA moments when they find the secret(s) by themselves".

I shall not say any more lest I give anything away that will spoil someone else's fun with the Lotus. I am not even going to mention what sort of genre this puzzle belongs to ( don't bother looking at the blog tags). But let me just say this...this is one of the best, most interesting and fun puzzles I have come across. And believe me, even though it may be pretty expensive, it is worth every cent, not just because of its quality, but more importantly, for the puzzling experience.

My advice to all readers is this - until you can explain why the puzzle is named "Lotus", you have not FULLY SOLVED the puzzle. Have Fun!

But if you are seriously stuck as a number of puzzlers have been, you're most welcome to PM me via my blog email and I will be more than happy to take you through the steps to reach the end. Trust me, its pretty complicated.

And finally, here's wishing all readers A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Saturday 22 December 2012

Popplock T7

If you thought that Rainer Popp's puzzle locks could not get any bigger than the humongous T5, think again! Weighing in at a massive 1.1kg, Rainer's latest creation, the T7 is a behemoth. Measuring 12.6cm high, 6.4wide and 3cm thick, its taller and 200 grams heavier than the T5. The T7 has a rather unique octagonal cross-sectional shape with a steel button on one of the sides and a round knurled knob at the base of the lock.

The lock body is milled from a solid block of brass while the shackle is stainless steel. Like the rest of the Popplock family, build quality, fit and finish is first class. Once the lock is opened, you will also discover that the attention to detail in the construction of the inside is really incredible. From an aesthetic standpoint, both externally and internally, this is probably one of the most beautifully and intricately made puzzle locks I have come across.

From a puzzling perspective, I found the T7 much easier compared to its earlier cousins. I managed to release the shackle within minutes rather than hours. The solution to unlocking the lock has to do with manipulating the knurled knob at the bottom. Puzzlers who are familiar with the Revomaze would know exactly what I am talking about.

An additional feature, which I thought was rather clever and a real plus is that the T7 can be modified to make the solution varying degrees harder. The T7 comes equipped with all that is necessary for the owner to make it as easy or as hard to solve as he/she chooses. Oli has dealt with this much more extensively in his review of the T7 so I will not duplicate the details here. As always, Popplocks are not cheap, and the T7 is no exception.

The T7 is quite a radical departure from the earlier Popplocks. All the earlier models I have played with; the T2, T3, T4, T5 and T6 have one or more clever "tricks" involved. The T7 I felt, unfortunately lacked the typical Popplock surprises one has come to expect.

A number of puzzlers in the community also felt let down by the T7, especially given the very expensive price tag that it came with. However, I would like to mention that these puzzlers probably have been saturated and "spoilt" by the Revomaze and hence understandably consider the T7 not up to standard. My humble opinion is that if there were no Revomaze in existence today, I am pretty confident that the T7 would likely have been considered by many as one of Rainer's best creations. Despite the seemingly unavoidable T7-Revomaze comparison, I think most puzzlers would agree that the solution to the T7 (or any puzzle lock for that matter) is quite imaginative and unexpected.

Personally I have only one criticism of the T7, and that is perhaps Rainer could have made the lock a much harder solve to begin with; then at least there would have been a fair amount of challenge expected from a typical Popplock, never mind the lack of trick(s). Aside from this and notwithstanding the less than positive comments from some quarters, I still consider the T7 to rank up there with the rest of its brethren. Expensive? Yes. Worth the money? Yes. Collectible? Definitely.

Saturday 15 December 2012

Jugo Flower

A year and a half ago, I ordered one of Wil Strijbos creations, the Jugo Flower. While waiting for it to arrive, Allard Walker happened to write about this puzzle on his blog and I was given some idea as to how the puzzle was supposed to work. Quite a fair bit of mathematical theory I might add (which is way out of my league) but if you are interested, check out Allard's review on his blog.

For some reason after the puzzle arrived, I left it on the back burner and busied myself with other puzzles that I had acquired around the same time, only to have forgotten about it until very recently. I was spring cleaning my puzzle cupboard when I found the Jugo Flower inside the original round box it came in, with the petals having lost some of their shine.

The Jugo Flower (a.k.a Game Jugo) is about 13 cm across in diameter and shaped like a flower with 15 "petals". The petals are made of brass and connected to a rotatable aluminium hub. 12 of the petals each have one of the 12 Chinese Zodiac animal symbols etched on them, while the remaining 3 petals have the Chinese characters representing Fortune, Wealth and Longevity.

4 petals aligned with the 4 arrows turning over together at the same time
Quality and construction of the puzzle is very precise and first rate. But despite this, the puzzle feels rather fragile, especially at the connecting points between the petals and the hub. Atop the hub are four small arrows and when the arrows are aligned with the petals, the corresponding petals can all be flipped over simultaneously. The Jugo Flower came in the solved state. The object of the puzzle is to "scramble" the petals by flipping them over (by rotating the hub) and get all the petals flipped back to the solved position.

I randomly flipped most of the petals over and tried to get them back in the original order but I could see that this was no easy task. At any one time, all four petals would flip together. Very easy to scramble but difficult to unscramble. I got most of the petals right side up but always, four would invariably remain upside down. The way the Jugo Flower functions reminded me of my Puck Puzzle, which has a somewhat similar style mechanism. I must admit I lost patience after a while and eventually gave up. I guess twisty type puzzles just don't appeal much to me.

Overall a very nice (and very rare) collector's puzzle and I don't regret paying the (very expensive) price to own one...unfortunately, from a puzzling aspect, not really my cup of tea.

I think the Jugo Flower may still be available from Wil Strijbos although I can't be sure. So if anyone is interested, please email me via my profile me for his contact.

Friday 30 November 2012

Boston Subway

The Boston Subway was super-prolific puzzle designer Oskar Van Deventer's IPP26 Exchange Puzzle. My guess is that the design and name of the puzzle was in keeping with the theme of the host city of IPP26, Boston, USA in 2006. The Subway was designed by Oskar but made by George Miller. I won this puzzle recently in an auction held on

The Subway is a very cute pocket-sized maze puzzle, which was what attracted my attention in the first place. Measuring a very handy 9cm x 7.5cm x 1.5cm, it is made up of five layers of clear acrylic joined together. Atop the puzzle is a little red "rod" or magnetic wand which is used (from the outside) to navigate a very tiny magnetic disc inside the maze from the start point to the end point, from HOME to WORK and back HOME.

This is a 3-dimensional maze consisting of an array of both vertical and horizontal paths as well as side-way channels, no curves, but just like a real city subway system with all its levels, walkways and lifts. Although my copy came to me second-hand, the quality of construction and finish is very good.

This puzzle is very challenging since the clear layers of acrylic make it very hard to see the various paths, channels and openings clearly (no pun intended) and the disc being so small. For me, it was quite a bit of strain on the eyes. I fiddled with the puzzle for a pretty long time, dragging the disc all over the maze with the wand, trying to reach my destination but got nowhere.

The fact that the disc sometimes just froze at some of intersections of the the channels and openings didn't help either. Was it electrical static that caused the disc to get stuck now and again? I am not sure. In the end, I solved it by referring to the solution. I later discovered that playing with the maze in front of a computer screen in a dimly lit room showed up the maze's paths very much more clearly!

I asked Oskar why a magnetic disc was chosen (given the kind of difficulty I faced) instead of perhaps using a small ball bearing, which to me seems a better choice. Oskar replied that his original version was to use a ball bearing but implementing the disc was George's idea. Anyhow it was felt that the disc involved less dexterity and more control with the wand. Well, who am I to argue with Oskar anyway?

Not easy to solve given the maze design and materials used and also the requirement of the wand to move the disc around. I wish I could pry open the acrylic layers and replace the disc with a ball bearing but that would mean an irreversibly damaged puzzle.  Nevertheless a uniquely themed maze and certainly a rare and collectible puzzle.

Saturday 24 November 2012

Confounded Container

This nice little metal box puzzle came to me from Ebay. From its appearance, it has a vintage look and feel to it. Made by Bits & Pieces, the box is made of brass. Measuring 7cm x 5cm x 1.7cm, it resembles a pill/medicine box.

The top of the box is adorned with some sort of Celtic design to make it look unique. The box and accompanying literature bear no clue as to when it was produced but my guess is it was probably manufactured in the 1980s (I could be wrong though). Quality and construction is decent although the external surface has tarnished with age. In the hand, the box feels pretty solid and weighty.

The object is to remove the lid, which held down and "locked" in place. Not a difficult puzzle and I figured out the solution within a couple of minutes. (Clue:- it has the same solution as the YOT puzzles). There is enough space within the inside to hold small items.

This box seems pretty rare as I could not find any information or photo on it from the Internet. Nonetheless, a nice collectable (and functional) item!

Monday 19 November 2012

RevoLUTION Ball Puzzle

This is my 100th post!!!

How time flies since my first post over a year and a half ago. For this post, I have decided (instead of the usual puzzle review) to showcase a puzzle of my own creation; something that I designed myself.

This puzzle of mine is inspired by the genre of the hidden maze puzzle, the latter which usually consist of a blind maze, the object of which is to navigate a marble or ball bearing from a start point to an end point.  Examples of such puzzles are the Lost Marble Puzzle and Magic Dice. The most famous of all the hidden maze puzzles in recent years is of course none other than the Revomaze.

Externally my puzzle appears to resemble a Revomaze Silver Extreme. It is approximately 10.5cm long and slightly over 3.5cm in diameter. It is made of aluminium and steel. But here’s where any similarity ends. Unlike the Revomaze series which all have extremely difficult to solve and intricate hidden maze designs, my little project is rather simple and very amateurish. 

I managed to source aluminium cheaply from a local supplier and by good fortune, a metal fabricator willing to produce a single unit of my puzzle at a very reasonable price.

The puzzle consists of 6 circular discs, each approximately 1.2cm thick and stacked together to form a cylinder shape. The discs are held together with an extended steel screw rod running through the discs and secured at the other end by two nuts. 

The object of the puzzle is to navigate a 6mm ball bearing from a side hole in the topmost disc, through each of the stacked discs and out through a similar side hole at the bottom disc. The discs are able to rotate freely and to navigate the ball bearing, you turn each disc to allow the ball bearing to pass through, from one to the next. Each of the discs has a hole drilled through and the trick is to align the holes to form a “passage” for the ball bearing to pass. 

Dexterity is required here since you will need to rotate the discs to feel (and hear) the ball bearing drop from one disc to the next. To make the puzzle much harder, I drilled some “blind” holes on each of the disc, so that if the ball bearing falls into a blind hole, you will need to turn the puzzle upside down to let the ball bearing fall out to re-start again. This has actually made the puzzle a lot more difficult than necessary as I can testify to.

This is my first puzzle design project and I am quite happy I managed at least to get a prototype unit produced that actually works.

I have just finished a second puzzle design and its now in the hands of my fabricator friend. This puzzle involves a ball bearing inside a cylinder that needs to be removed (and no, it’s nothing like Wil Strijbos’ Aluminium Cylinder Box or Washer Cylinder; I am not even remotely close to such genius).

Many thanks to Erhan Cubukcuoglu of Puzzlehan for his comments and advice on puzzle making and hidden mazes.

Update (19 January 2013) - My second puzzle design, which I call the Ball In Cylinder Puzzle, has been produced. Details can be found HERE.

Friday 16 November 2012

Coke Bottle #1

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I was never really into impossible objects, usually just treating them as more of items for viewing amusement. But after solving Wil Strijbos' IPP32 Exchange Puzzle, I found that I actually enjoyed playing with the puzzle very much. Hence I decided to put in an order for three of Wil's Coke Bottle puzzles. The first one reviewed here is the Coke Bottle #1. There are, it appears a total of ten Coke bottle puzzles in the whole series according to Allard.

Like most of Wil's bottle puzzles, this one consist of a standard 250ml empty Coke bottle, within which sits a red plastic rod. The end at the bottom of the bottle has a screw and bolt through it; this prevents the rod from being removed through the narrow mouth of the bottle. Inside the bottle is also a large steel ball bearing. The object here of course is to extract the ball bearing, which is blocked from coming out of the bottle by the rod.

The whole bottle set-up looks rather simple, but I had read the prior reviews of Oli and Kevin and it appeared that this bottle puzzle was going to be anything but easy. It took me the better part of a whole evening before I managed to figure out the four steps needed to get the ball bearing out. The solution (while on hindsight seems simple) is nonetheless tricky and quite unexpected.

As with such puzzles, a fair amount of dexterity is also required, apart from just analysing how the puzzle could be solved.  I found re-assembly of the puzzle to be just as hard if not harder than the solving but managed to return the bottle to its original state after some time. As I understand, this is one of Wil's easier bottle puzzles, so I expect to have a much harder time with my other two Coke bottles. So stay tuned!

Saturday 20 October 2012

Danlock Model B

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Every puzzle review that I have come across on the Danlock has praised it. I have always wondered what was so special about it, after all, the lock looks like any another padlock. From an aesthetic point of view, it certainly does not have the Popplock-style embellishments nor the typical over-the-top dimensions.

It was only several weeks ago that I received the Model B from it's designer Dan Feldman. I waited for nearly 9 months as it was out of stock then. 

The lock itself looks pretty ordinary. Dan had chosen to use a stock lock made by the Nabob company in Israel for his puzzle. The lock measures about 8.5cm tall and 5 cm wide. It is larger than a Popplock T6, but smaller than all the other Popplocks in terms of size and weight. It has the usual brass body but instead of steel, the shackle is also brass. As a real functioning lock, the quality is very good and looks well capable of deterring break-ins.

The "trademark" of the Danlock which makes it recognizable is the broken key that comes with the lock. The object of the puzzle is not just to unlock the shackle but to relock it with everything back to their original place. Dan states in the puzzle instructions that everything that is needed to solve the lock is present; the ring that hold the two pieces of the broken key is not needed, neither is the draw-string pouch that accompanies the puzzle. In a way, t
he Danlock could be classified as a sequential discovery puzzle.

Unlocking the lock is easy part. When you look at the pieces you have, it is obvious that the broken key shard has to be used somehow. Using the broken key, I happily unlocked the lock in a jiffy. The real (and very difficult) challenge is to restore the lock back to its original state, with both the unbroken key and broken key attached back to the shackle. 

I was stumped for a number of days at this stage; trying different things but with no success. Finally I contacted fellow puzzle blogger Kevin Sadler for a clue. He gave me a hint and I re-examined carefully everything I had in front of me again; the lock body, shackle and the 2 keys. I decided to experiment with some moves I hadn't tried previously nor thought of. Lo and behold, my efforts were rewarded not too long after that. I managed to reinstate the Danlock to its original state. Certain aspects of the solution is very well disguised and the action steps required to completely solve the puzzle were quite surprising and totally unexpected. 

I feel it's by far the best and perhaps one of the most difficult trick locks I have come across. The only other lock that I would consider which can give the Danlock a run for the money is perhaps the Popplock T4. The real appeal of the Danlock lies in its ability to hide a really amazing mechanical puzzle design within the confines of an ordinary and non-script looking padlock. And unlike most other trick locks, here, both the opening and closing are part of the solving process.

Not cheap but the Danlock is good value-for-money given it's puzzling aspect. Definitely worth acquiring. The Model B is available directly from Dan Feldman.

Monday 15 October 2012

AlCyl / Blue Cylinder

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The AlCyl (alternatively called the Blue Cylinder) came to me from Wil Strijbos. It first made its appearance in 2009 but for the last couple of years, I searched for it everywhere but could never find one, not even in the puzzle auctions that take place now and again. Well, finally, just not too long ago, Wil made some available for sale and I quickly grab the chance to put in an order for one.

The AlCyl (I didn't know what "AlCyl" meant), but I was informed by 4 very experienced puzzlers (see below comments), 3 of whom are also well-known puzzle bloggers; Oli, Allard and Kevin, that it's a combination of Aluminium + Cylinder = AlCyl, thanks guys... gosh I am dense! It was designed by Hirokazu Iwasawa, who also gave us the triangular-shaped Tritalon, which was reviewed earlier in this blog.

The puzzle measures about 6cm tall and 4.8cm across in diameter. It is made of aluminium and anodised blue and looks very much like a Revomaze Blue Extreme with the ends lopped off. Construction, fit and finish of the AlCyl is very good and the puzzle feels solid.

AlCyl next to the Revomaze Extreme Blue
The object of the puzzle is to open the AlCyl and remove a 1-yen coin inside. This is not at all a difficult puzzle but perhaps could be considered a bit tricky, especially for non-puzzlers. The solution requires 3 steps. Not hard to figure out once you start playing with it for a while. I opened the AlCyl and extracted the coin in just a minute or two. There is enough space inside the AlCyl for more than a 1-yen fact you could put quite a lot of small(ish) items such as jewellery, rings, money etc.

However do be gentle if you are going to open and close the AlCyl often... assuming you are going to use it as a repository for things. Its tough looking exterior does belie its slightly more delicate interior construction.

From a puzzling perspective, the AlCyl may not really be value for money; but well worth the price if you are looking for a rare, hard to find and high quality collector's item.

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Heptagon 48

The Heptagon 48 is one of the most beautifully made puzzles I have come across. The marble (yes marble!) version of this tray packing puzzle was Japanese designer Koshi Arai's competition entry at the IPP 32 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition held in Washington, USA this August. It was also one of three entries that won a Jury Honourable Mention at the competition.

When I first saw the marble Heptagon 48, I immediately contact Koshi-san for price and availability but the quoted price was a bit too high for me so I decided to settle for his wooden (less expensive) version instead. And I have no regrets buying the latter.

And now to the scientific bits. A heptagon is a polygon with seven sides. Together four heptagons can be joined together at the edges to form a "tetrahept", which in turn become the individual packing pieces of this puzzle. 12 "tetrahepts" consisting of six different designs (making a total of 48 heptagons) make up the pieces required to fill the tray. If you are confused like I am about all this technical stuff, check out Koshi-san's website where he has loads more information about his puzzle and Heptagons.

This puzzle is made of two different woods. Both the individual pieces and tray are made of dark rosewood for the top surfaces and light coloured birdseye maple for the bottom. The tray measures about 17cm x 13cm x 2cm. Quality of construction is excellent with incredible finishing. All the individual pieces have been (laser?) cut to very tight tolerances and fit just nicely with each other into the tray. This puzzle even comes in a nice beige gift box.

The object of the puzzle of course is to fit the 12 tetrahepts into the tray with all the pieces dark side up. The puzzle comes to you partially solved with 2 tetrahepts wrong side up (ie light pieces facing up). The tetrahepts do not cover the entire tray, even when correctly packed in, but will leave "pentagonal" spaces in between, which is intended.

According to Koshi-san, there are an unknown possible number of solutions, of which he has discovered 57 to-date; all with a combination of dark and light pieces facing up but only two that have all pieces dark (correct) side up. So far all my attempts have yielded only one solution; ie one remaining piece that can only be inserted but wrong side up. I only managed to solve the puzzle properly when Koshi-san sent me his 57 solutions in PDF.

The Heptagon 48 is very challenging.  There are no straight edges; all the 4 sides of the parallelogram-shaped tray cavity are "jagged" to fit the tetrahepts. You have to grapple with pieces that not only look geometrically similar, but work with the same dark coloured woods for both the pieces and tray, which provide no contrasting reference points to aid in solving. And because the pieces fit so well and closely together, inserting and removing the pieces from the tray is not an easy task either, which makes it all the more difficult.

If you are into tray packing puzzles and want serious quality, well, the Heptagon 48 definitely should not be missed. It is available directly from Koshi Arai via email.

Sunday 7 October 2012

Lee Valley Burr Puzzle & Trick Bolts

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Who would imagine a hardware supplier like Lee Valley Tools would have a couple of steel puzzles as part of their inventory. From Jeff Chiou, I knew that they sold the behemoth Indian Puzzle Lock. But I did not know they also sell a steel burr as well as a pair of trick bolts until I chanced upon the latter on Rob's Puzzle Page. Given my penchant for metal puzzles, I decided to check out the Lee Valley offerings.

The burr and bolts are all made in Canada. Quality of construction, fit and finish are very good. The burr is about 6.5cm all round, solid steel and zinc plated while the trick bolts are between 3.5cm to 4cm and finished with a very nice matt gray. 

The burr consists of six interlocking rods, with five of the rods each with grooves cut out while the sixth is a solid piece which locks the other five together in the solved state. The fit of the pieces is very good. Unlike aluminium which is lighter, this one being made of steel weighs a hefty 480 grams. There are very few metal burrs I have come across so far, except for Wil Strijbos' 7 and 10 Move Burrs and Charles Perry's Ball Puzzle, all of which I already own, so this was another welcome addition.

I struggled with the burr for quite some time. Although only six pieces, the burr is pretty challenging, partly because its difficult to try to handle several heavy pieces all at the same time; but mainly because I am pretty lousy with burrs. I used my Charles Perry Ball as a guide but comparing both, the Lee Valley Burr has a different design to its pieces. This made the Lee Valley Burr much more difficult to assemble. Eventually I gave up and checked the solution offered on their website. Without the solution, I would have taken a good while longer to solve.

On the other hand, the pair of trick bolts were pretty easy to figure out. Solved both within seconds, and that's because I have played with other trick bolts with similar mechanisms. The bolts are well constructed, so no chance of any moving parts getting stuck, unlike some other poorer quality ones. 

All three puzzles came at a very reasonable price making them excellent value for money. If you do not own a trick bolt, and not sure whether to plonk down the dough for the Rolls Royce of trick bolts; ie one of Rocky Chiaro's, well, here is a chance to own a pair of high quality ones at a very affordable price.

Saturday 29 September 2012

The Perplexing Palace Puzzle

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The Perplexing Palace Puzzle ("PPP") was James Dalgety's competition entry for the IPP32 Puzzle Design Competition held during August in Washington, USA this year. Designed by James Dalgety, Martin & Brian Scoefield, it is what I would consider a semi-dexterity puzzle.

Measuring about 17cm x 9.8cm x 0.75cm, the puzzle is made out of acrylic. Construction fit and finish is very good. Physically, the puzzle is a flat tray containing within it 10 acrylic discs; 4 red, 3 purple, 2 black and the last one, which is smaller than the rest, a black disc representing the Queen. Covering the tray is a white cover with holes cut into it, large enough to see the discs inside (and put your finger in) but not enough to allow the discs to be removed or fall out should the puzzle be turned upside down

The object of the puzzle:-
"The Queen, surrounded by her nine attendants, starts in the centre of the palace. Take her out of the palace then return her and her attendants to their starting positions"

The discs inside the tray are packed loosely and you can slide the discs around by shaking the puzzle or you can use your fingers through the holes in the cover. The goal of course is to try to manoeuvre the Queen from her centre hole position to either the top left or bottom right holes where she can then be extracted.

Somewhat like the classic "15" puzzle, one starts by shifting the discs around to make way for the queen. This is exactly how I started but repeatedly, I found myself getting stuck at one side or the other, near the exit holes. Clearly it is not so simple; the coloured discs get in the way of the Queen and she is also hindered by other obstacles. Initially it appears there is there no way to get the Queen out. When you start playing with the PPP, you will know what I mean.

It took me a good part of the evening but eventually I managed to get the Queen to exit from the top left hole. To complete the puzzle, the Queen and her attendants (the rest of the discs) must be returned "to their starting positions". Here I also fumbled a bit before everything was finally back in place. Throughout, a fair amount of dexterity and nimble figures are required. The solution is pretty tricky but quite clever. Here's a tip; play with the PPP under bright white light or during the day if possible....warm or cozy lighting will wreck havoc with the colours of the discs.

Overall, an interesting and challenging puzzle that I think, falls outside the usual genres. True to its name, the PPP is rather "perplexing" indeed, at least for me. Nice and unusual design and worth acquiring. Contact James Dalgety directly via his site if you want to purchase one.

Friday 21 September 2012


This very colourful tray packing puzzle comes courtesy of Chris Enright, who entered it as an entrant for the IPP32 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition held in Washington just this August. This is Chris' second competition entry, his first being the Polarity Puzzle in 2009 at IPP29.

If you did not already know (especially readers who are of the Gen X and Gen Y age group), "Pack-Man" is a play on the word Pac-Man, a computer game that came out in 1980 and one of the most famous (and iconic) arcade games of all time.

True to its namesake, the Pack-Man puzzle consist of four similar looking odd-shaped pieces (the "enemies") and the fifth piece, Pac-Man which looks like a circle with a quarter portion cut away.  Chris has even kept to the original colours of the arcade game; the four similar looking pieces are red, pink, blue and orange and Pac-Man yellow. For a history lesson on the Pac-Man game which started the video gaming revolution, click here.

This tray packing puzzle measures about 11cm x 9cm. All five pieces are made of laser cut acrylic and the tray ABS plastic. Quality and finish of the puzzle is very good and the tray is even slightly textured for better grip.

The object of course is to fit all five pieces flat and flush within the tray. While all the pieces may look cute and colourful and the puzzle seemingly simple looking, don't let this fool you for one moment. It is actually harder than one might think....very hard in least for me, especially since I don't have much experience with tray packing puzzles.

I spent two evenings trying all sorts of configurations to fit the pieces into the tray but with little success. Always the fifth piece would jut out of the tray so slightly! The way the pieces are shaped and the curved corners of the tray kept throwing me off tangent over and over again...I was just not seeing it right. Finally, I gave in and emailed Chris for some clues. I felt some consolation when Chris replied that a very experienced puzzler had also emailed him for help. I wonder who might this person be?

Even with the help of his clues, I only managed to finally solve it after another hour or so. A lot of effort was put in to design and shape the pieces the way they are so that there is only one solution. Compared to packing pieces that are straight-edged, irregular shaped pieces I think are much harder to figure out.

A nice, well-made and very challenging puzzle indeed. The Pack-Man is available from Chris directly via his email.

Sunday 16 September 2012

IPP32 Exchange Puzzle From Wil Strijbos

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Wil Strijbos calls his Exchange Puzzle at IPP32 the "Exchange Washington DC". A bit of a mouthful here so I will just term it "The Exchange".

Wil's Exchange can be classified as an "Impossible Object". One look at the puzzle and you can see why. The Exchange is made up of a 60 ml urine sample container, within which there is a lock with key inserted, both suspended at the end of a red plastic rod that runs through the container's cap. Residing at the bottom of the container is a steel ball bearing. The bottom of the container has a cut-out hole, but not large enough for the ball bearing to pass through.

At the top end of the red rod is a screwed-in loop which hangs another key and a rectangular-shaped ring. A rubber bung helps to hold the rod in place and prevents any unnecessary sliding down. The cap has an unbroken seal so you probably wonder how Wil had managed to squeeze the lock and the other contents into the container.

The object of the Exchange is to remove the ball bearing and have the final puzzle looking exactly like the "Solution Picture" (see above photo). There is an additional challenge which is shown on the reverse of the photo below-to get the rectangular ring over the shackle of the lock inside the container.

Solving impossible objects requires logical thinking and a systematic approach. For this one, a fair amount of dexterity is also required. I discarded my usual trial and error method and actually spent some time analysing how to extract the ball bearing.

There are twelve steps to solving the puzzle as intended, at least according to my count. Without giving too much away, firstly there is no need to use force; the laws of physics cannot be defied. Secondly, do not attempt to break the seal and unscrew the cap (I don't think Wil intended it to be solved this way). Lastly, everything you need to solve the puzzle is there and no external tools are required. You just need to think creatively how to use what's been given (in a way, you can think of this like a sequential discovery type puzzle)....and if you happen to have nimble figures, this would certainly help as well.

This is my first impossible object from Wil (who has produced a number of Coke and other bottle creations in the past). I found the Exchange very enjoyable and while the removal of the ball bearing itself is not too difficult, it is the getting everything back into position that is more challenging. For a while I was caught off guard; the way forward for the last two steps was right in front of me...yet I just didn't see it.

What I like about the Exchange is that you can see everything that you are doing - no hidden this or that. Definitely worth getting  for both the fun factor and puzzling aspect. As of this post, I am still puzzling over the second challenge which seems to be a real tough cookie!

Friday 7 September 2012

Rebanded Dovetail

The Rebanded Dovetail was Robert Sandfield's and Kathleen Malcolmson's exchange puzzle at IPP32, held during August this year. I managed to get a copy from Wil Strijbos who had attended IPP32 and brought back with him extra copies of the Dovetail and some other puzzles.

This is my second Kathleen Malcolmson puzzle after Bowling Alley In A Briefcase which was reviewed some time back in this blog. The Dovetail is hand-crafted by Kathleen in her workshop. In fact she has recently started her own puzzle blog and her first post is about this Dovetail.

Constructed of light baltic birch plywood and contrasting with walnut and lacewood, the Dovetail spots four distinctive colour tones. In particular the lightly textured surface of the lacewood which forms the two bands surrounding the box gives the puzzle a rather classy and unusual appearance.

Dimensionally, the Dovetail measures 8cm x 6.2cm with an overall thickness of 3.7cm. The puzzle is very well made and fit and finish is excellent with all sharp edges smoothed out. All parts have been cut to very exact tolerances (see the dovetail joints) making everything feel solid and tight. Of course, all this quality came with a rather expensive price-tag.

The object of the Dovetail is to open the box and remove a one-dime coin within. The puzzle has been classified as a trick-opening/puzzle box. A number of steps are required to open the box and depending on how you count, there are six moves required to free the dime inside. While the Dovetail does not have as many moves needed as some of its more complicated Japanese style counterparts, the execution of the solution is quite unusual and rather clever.

The dime out of the box....smallest denomination around but don't underestimate this little guy! 
It didn't take me long to figure out the first step and the next two were pretty easy. The fourth step was also easy and thereafter, this was where I got stuck. Took me a good ten minutes or so, but eventually I discovered the fifth step and finally got the box to open. This step was rather tricky (probably the trickiest!) and quite unexpected. When I finally got to peek at the inside, I saw the amount of work that went into making the puzzle....hmm, maybe it isn't that expensive after all!

Overall, I found the Dovetail entertaining with a sufficiently nice amount of puzzle challenge. This is not to say that it is an easy, by no means at all. But definitely fun and most experienced puzzlers would be able to solve it without too much frustration.

Monday 20 August 2012

A Plugged Well

A Plugged Well was Matthew Dawson's Exchange Puzzle at IPP32 held in Washington last week. Matthew Dawson is one half of the Dawson/Makishi duo that brought us the Pagoda series of wooden puzzles. For readers who have followed my blog, you may remember that I had reviewed the Pagoda No 3 quite a while back and I couldn't manage to solve it then. Until today, I have yet to revisit my Pagoda No 3 to try to solve it again, given that new puzzles seem to come my way and consume much of my time. Well, if there is any consolation this time round, I succeeded in solving the Plugged Well. But perhaps not quite the way I would have liked it to end!

Designed and made by Brian Young of Mr Puzzle, A Plugged Well is made of walnut with metal parts fabricated from brass and steel. Mine is of a darker shade brown although different copies will vary from dark to light coloured wood. The puzzle measures about 10cm tall, 6.8cm deep and 5cm wide. Quality of construction, fit and finish is excellent. Externally, there is a brass tube sitting atop the well and lower down, there is what appears to be a screw inserted into a "door" in front.

The object of the puzzle is to "unplugged" the well. Indeed the "instructions" that came with the puzzle states:- "You've inherited this oil well from Uncle Bubba who plugged it in a tricky way back in the 1960's when oil was selling for under $3 a barrel.  With oil now over $100 a barrel the challenge is to unplug the well.  You'll know you've got the oil flowing again when you find the barrel of oil.  Can you pitch your wits against Uncle Bubba and work out how he plugged the well?"

This is a sequential discovery puzzle meaning that you have to follow a series of steps in a particular order to solve it. Everything needed to solve the puzzle, such as tools and implements are also all found within the puzzle itself.
The barrel of oil sitting atop the unplugged well
I don't wish to describe how the barrel of oil is "found", so as not to spoil anybody else's fun. But suffice to say, the first four steps are pretty obvious and I quickly figured them out. Thereafter, I was stumped for a long while trying to determine the next step. As usual, when everything fails, I resorted to the usual shaking, tapping, knocking and all sorts of other actions. I can hear something loose knocking about inside but couldn't really tell what it was.

After much effort trying this and that with the "tools" available, I made some progress, but each time when I thought I achieved the next step, I became stuck and had to backtrack and start over again. Going back and forth  I lost sight of the steps I about sequential...sigh!!! But with lots of trial and error in manipulation, pushing and pulling, I was able to "feel" my way through. Something finally gave in inside, and at last I managed to unplugged the well and extracted the barrel of oil. To be honest, although I was probably headed in the right direction,  I am not really sure what I did correct to get the barrel of oil out. The insides looked quite complicated and initially I couldn't quite figure out how the internal mechanism worked.

Overall a very difficult puzzle indeed and even though its been described as sequential discovery, there are many steps which I would not have discovered on my own via a logical or systematic process of reasoning or deduction. I checked the solution that came with it and believe it or not, there are well over twenty (rather very detailed) steps to solve the puzzle!!! The schematic drawing (showing the insides) was no walk in the park either.

Nonetheless, I was very impressed at the ingenuity of design and the puzzle's solution. The Plugged Well has far more "interactive" parts and sequential steps needed than either the Houdini's Torture Cell or Wil Strijbos' First Box, all squeezed into a smallish palm sized object....quite amazing!

Now here is the clincher! In the process of taking photos of the puzzle for this review, I had accidentally re-assembled the puzzle wrongly and now the thing is stuck it seems....beyond salvation? I hope not, because the puzzle didn't come cheap. Not sure what I can do now but to email Matthew Dawson for help!!

Update 21 August 2012

With the aid of an "external" tool, I managed to "unstuck" my puzzle....Whew! Thanks to Matthew Dawson and Neil Hutchinson for their helpful suggestions.

Also, for another take on the Plugged Well, check out Jeff Chou's blog post.

Saturday 11 August 2012

Cube Dovetail

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This "impossible object" creation comes from aluminium puzzle designer/maker extraordinaire Wil Strijbos. You may have already come across Wil's first series of dovetail puzzles, the Convex and Concave Dovetail, followed later by the New Aluminium Dovetail. Now the latest incarnation, which even comes in its own numbered set of three is the Cube Dovetail(s).

The Cube Dovetails are really quite different from the earlier dovetails, the latter which all came rectangular shaped in just two colours, raw aluminium and anodised green (light or dark green depending on which batch your puzzle came from). In the numbered set, the colour combos are dark green/blue, orange/blue and purple/blue, the same blue that is found on his First Box puzzle. While this departure from the traditional raw aluminium/green combination from the earlier models is a welcome change, I wish he had a yellow/blue cube or even a raw aluminium/blue or some other better contrasting colours than dark green/blue. I actually asked Wil if he had other colours but he said "sorry no".

The cubes are excellently constructed and fit and finish are to very tight tolerances. Each cube measures about 4.1cm per side. As I have said in previous posts on the dovetails, these are more "works of art" than real serious puzzles (but of course to the uninitiated or non-puzzler, I suppose these would be pretty tough nuts to crack). However, the term "works of art" here takes on a truer meaning since the cubes have relatively bright colours (except for the green/blue) and a set of three placed together does rather look quite striking and stand out handsomely.

Solving the cubes is pretty easy if you have had prior experience with the earlier dovetails but each of the cubes dis-assemble (separate) quite differently. Once apart, you can see the precision milling/cutting that has gone into making them look impossible to separate...really quite amazing. As an aside here, veteran puzzle collector Michael Tanoff had remarked to me that  the "puzzle" associated (with the dovetail puzzles) is not how to separate the parts, but rather to try figure-out how the two parts fit together, as all three appear to be impossible objects...".

If you already own the earlier Dovetails, well...this set is certainly a colourful and fun must-have; and would enhance your collection. If you don't wish to buy all three, Wil does sell the cubes individually. Allard has also written about the cubes in his puzzle blog so you may wish to check out his thoughts on them.

Thursday 26 July 2012

Zen Puzzle By Charles O Perry

I have been hankering after a Zen Puzzle for quite some time now. To me, its probably one of the most aesthetically pleasing puzzles around. With its nice round black Delrin case encircling 5 spiral shaped brass rods to resemble a flower, the Zen is more art than puzzle.

Charles Perry's signature on 3 o'clock piece not too
 visible due to poor  quality of photo
The Zen was designed by the late architect, artist and sculptor Charles O Perry who died in 2011. Amongst the several puzzles that he had designed is also the Ball Puzzle, reviewed previously in this blog. So when not one but two Zens unexpectedly surfaced on Ebay a couple of weeks back, I was determined not to miss out on getting one. Lady Luck was with me all the way and in the end, I won my Zen with a bid price which I would consider to be a very reasonable, compared to previous winning bids.

The Zen is just the right size for the palm, at 6.2cm across in diameter and 2.9cm thick. Heavy for its size due to the brass pieces. My Zen although used, was in excellent shape. Considering the puzzle was manufactured in 1987, it was in near mint condition when I received it. There was not a single mark or blemish on the black casing and no dents or dings on the 5 brass pieces either, other than a light patina. Even the accompanying pouch made of felt was in very good condition. All the pieces fit into the casing nicely with very tight tolerances. Quality of construction for the Zen is first rate.

The object of the puzzle is to remove the 5 interlocking (or should I say inter-twining) brass pieces and re-assemble them back together inside the case again. 3 of the 5 pieces are identical while one serves as a locking piece, holding all 5 pieces securely inside the case. The case itself has got curved grooves cut into the insides to receive the brass pieces. The locking piece also happens to have Charles Perry's signature engraved on one of the exposed surfaces. Not by machine but hand etched instead by Mr Perry himself, which gives it a rather nice personal touch. 

As a puzzle, the Zen is really not difficult at all, definitely much easier than the Ball Puzzle. To disassemble is pretty easy. To put the pieces back together perhaps takes a slight while longer; but with a bit of trial and error here and there, all the pieces will soon rotate and slip into their niches within the case nicely and smoothly.

Difficult to come by, the Zen is a rare collector's piece which pops up on Ebay occasionally. While certainly not cheap, its not outrageously expensive either; as yet I have not come across any ridiculous winning bid. So grab the chance to get hold of one if you can. When you are done with the puzzling, just leave it on the table and it becomes a sculptural display as perhaps Mr Perry had intended; if not a very nice (and functional) designer paperweight.

For another take on the Zen, check out Oli's review in his puzzle blog.

Tuesday 17 July 2012


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This puzzle came to me courtesy of Wil Strijbos. A rather unusual looking puzzle, it is designed by Hirokazu Iwasawa.

The Tritalon is a triangular-shaped puzzle made up of a further 3 smaller odd-ish shaped triangular units joined together by 3 rods. Together the 3 smaller triangles hold in place a Chinese one Yuan coin. The triangles are made of aluminium while the rods are steel. Dimensionally the Tritalon is 8cm long on each side. Construction, fit and finish is very good and all edges and corners are bevelled slightly and smooth to the touch.

The object of the puzzle is to remove the coin in the centre. This puzzle was delivered to my office and later the same evening while on the way home from work, I was stuck in a traffic jam and decided to pass the time puzzling with the Tritalon in my car. This is of course something I would not advise anyone to do while driving. (WARNING: Do not solve puzzles and drive and the same time, it is VERY DANGEROUS!....You may drop and lose parts in the car!!!). It took me a bit of fiddling to figure out how the mechanism works and I got the coin out after about 15 minutes...thankfully without dropping it into some nook or cranny.

While not a difficult puzzle, the Tritalon is no walk in the park either. I let a non-puzzling friend play with it but he gave up after one evening. All in, an unusual design and given it's rather nice all metal construction, it is a nice collectable as well.

Thursday 12 July 2012

Popplock T4

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The word is out that Rainer Popp's T7 puzzle lock will be available sometime very soon. Hence for the last week or so, I have been labouring over the T4, hoping to solve it and round off my reviews for the Popplock series before the T7 makes it first appearance. The T4 is really one serious tough cookie of a puzzle lock...but more onto that later.

Clockwise from left: T3, T2, T5, T4 and T6
The T4 is Rainer's 4th puzzle lock in his famous Popplock series. I obtained this lock last year courtesy of Wil Strijbos who happened to have one last piece left. As far as I can tell, the T4s are all in private hands and not commercially available anywhere. For reviews of the rest of the Popplock range (except the T1), you can check out my earlier posts for the T2, T3, T5, and T6, all pictured above.

T4 with Rainer Popp's Signature Cat Face Logo

Physically the T4 is a large and very heavy lock, maybe not as large as the T5, the latter which is humongous but certainly its body is much thicker than the T2, T3 and T6 at nearly 5cm in depth. Overall height and width is about 8.7cm by 6cm. The body is uniformly round and symmetrically shaped on both sides front and back. The lock is milled from a single solid block of brass and the shackle is stainless steel. As with all of Rainer's locks, the quality of construction, fit and finish is really excellent and all moving parts are manufactured to incredible tolerances. In front of the lock is Rainer's signature "cat face" logo. The T4 comes with a steel key but on first inspection there appears no key hole anywhere to be found for a key to be inserted....strange!

There are 5 steps to opening the T4 according to Rainer. Well, depending on how you count each step, Steps 1 and 2 are relatively easy and pretty obvious. I managed them in several seconds. However the next couple of steps stumped me...and I made no progress whatsoever for quite some time. No amount of shaking, tapping, tugging etc helped. My fingers were numb and hands tired. I had very much expected the T4 to be difficult and especially Step 3 to be the major obstacle after having read the experiences of puzzle bloggers OliBrian, Jeff and Jonas with the T4; but I did not imagine it would be that difficult!  It came to a point where I decided that I really needed a hint to move forward as I was getting nowhere after Steps 1 and 2.

Oli came to my rescue and after an exchange of emails over several days, I managed to overcome Step 3. Step 3 is so well disguised that I would not have been able to solve it on my own. A big thanks to Oli for giving me only one tiny hint at a time so as not to spoil my fun (or frustration) in solving the T4. Step 4 was easy, no sweat. But then it was Step 5 that got me stuck in my tracks again. Again, very tricky! Thankfully this time round, through some trial and error, I achieved Step 5 much more quickly and with that, I finally pulled the shackle out of the lock...whew!!

As I mentioned in my earlier posts on the Popplock series, the T4 is generally considered the hardest in the range from T2-T6. I am really glad I left it to the last, otherwise it would be been pretty discouraging for me if I had started with the T4 before the rest. I personally think that the T4 is so much harder than the next most difficult lock in line, the T6. On hindsight, the T5, which came out after the T4, seems comparatively easy. It was the T6 which brought the difficulty quotient back up a couple of notches. 

Now the wait for me and other puzzle lock lovers is the T7. From what I gather, the T7 will really be huge; I don't mean the physical I have not even seen it yet, but it would be huge in terms of challenge (and in all likelihood, the price as well!). Stay tuned!

Saturday 7 July 2012

Diz Puz

I do not know what "Diz Puz" means; so if anyone has an answer for these two words, please feel free to drop me a comment. I bought this puzzle from UK online puzzle retailer Puzzle-This. The Diz Puz is a 3-piece burr invented by Edward Disley and inspired by the Maltese Cross.

Made out of very hard plastic (or possibly ABS), the Diz Puz consists of 3 identical pieces each about 14cm long and 3.3cm square. When solved, it is actually a pretty large puzzle. It comes in a choice of three bright colours including blue and red. Overall quality and construction is very good and this is an item I have no hesitation to hand over to my 2 year old for him to mess around with. It is a very sturdy and durable puzzle and can withstand destructive forces.

The puzzle came to me unsolved. While it comprises only 3 pieces, it is fairly challenging and took me a good 20 minutes or so to figure out how to assemble it into the solved state. Once assembled, the pieces interlock and the puzzle would not come apart thereafter, even with violent shaking. Dexterity is required here and "connecting" the 3 pieces is not as easy as it would seem. Dis-assembly of the puzzle was more difficult than I had expected. However, in both instances, no force is whatsoever is required. Repeated solving is also not that easy.

For such a large, durable and well-made puzzle that is manufactured in the UK, the Diz Puz is truly value for money. In bright yellow, it looks pretty cool and snazzy as well.

Monday 2 July 2012

First Box

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Last Thursday two puzzles from Wil Strijbos arrived for me. One was the New Dovetail which I reviewed and posted on this blog the following day, while the other was the First Box. The New Dovetail, which I felt was more a piece of metal art (or you could call it an impossible object) than a serious puzzle was easily and quickly solved and thereafter I turned my attention to the First Box.

Now the First Box is a different beast. It took me the better part of a whole weekend before I finally cracked it. The First Box has some historical significance. In his own words, Wil says:-

"I designed this puzzle around 1984 and it was my first puzzle box. At that time I produced only 6 of them (for Jerry Slocum - Nob. Yoshigahara - Dick Hess - Edward Hordern - James Dalgety). Now I have reproduced this design in an improved, metal version (previously it had been made of Formica or a similar material). The challenge is: Try to get the Rod out....No Tapping required - No Magnets - No External Tools"
Out of the packaging, one will find that the First Box is a very heavy puzzle. Although I did not weigh it, I compared it with a Revomaze Extreme and found the First Box even heavier. The puzzle is a 7cm square box machined entirely out of aluminium. It has a lid that fits nicely on top with just the right amount of play; not too loose but not tight either. Attached to the top of the lid is a steel round head nut. Instead of the usual ball burnished or polished finish of most of Wil's aluminium puzzles, this one is anodized a deep blue which makes it quite distinctive. Construction, fit and finish is excellent and the puzzle is very well made. In the palm the puzzle feels very solid and weighty, adding to the feel of quality. This is a puzzle that will last a couple of generations. In front of the box is etched Wil's signature and the puzzle's serial number (mine is #06).

The rod as seen through the hole at the bottom of the box

The object of the puzzle is to remove a short rod that is inside the box. The rod is visible through a hole at the bottom of the box but it cannot fit through the hole. Wil had already stated in his email to interested buyers that "no tapping is required and there are no magnets". Hence discarding my usual approach, I studied the box carefully to try to figure out how to solve it. Shaking the box a bit, one can hear some parts moving about inside within what appears to be a very tight confined space...a lot of metal inside the box. But aside from this, there are no other clues. I tried the obvious,which was to open the lid and while it moved slightly upwards, something was holding it in its place.
Without giving too much away, this, in my view, is a sequential discovery puzzle where one needs to take steps or actions in a particular order to solve the puzzle. Everything you need for solving (ie get the rod out) is also right there within the First Box...hence there are "no external tools" needed. However, unlike some other sequential discovery puzzles where you can see exactly what you are doing to make progress, for example like Houdini's Torture Cell, the First Box is far more challenging in that you cannot see what goes on inside the box and this makes for a very much more difficult puzzle. I was stuck at certain points without a clue as to how to proceed further. I even mapped out on paper what I hypothesised to be the internal mechanism and its workings but this didn't help much.

Finally after a number of attempts of trying this and that, I was about to throw in the towel for the night when I realised something which I did not do, or rather, did not do enough well as overcoming one final rather clever and tricky step which eluded me for a while. In the end I got the rod out. When I saw the inside of the box, although the design didn't look that complicated it really is rather clever and unusual, with a bit of a "twist" towards the end as I found out. Also it was quite different from what I had drawn on paper. By my own counting (well... it really depends how you count), there are between 8-10 steps needed before the rod can be extracted from the box. I placed the rod back in and reassembled the box, noting each step carefully. This allowed me to subsequently solve the puzzle again fairly easily.

Overall, a very nice and challenging puzzle this one is without being overly or unduly difficult. While certainly not cheap by any means, the quality, weight and build of the box (especially the machining of the insides) makes up for the very high price. Definitely well worth buying for keeps!

Update 3 September 2012 - Solution Diagram Available!

Due to a number of readers asking me for a solution, I have put together diagrams (easier to show visually than to describe in words) of the internal mechanism which shows how to solve the First Box. The diagrams are in PDF format. Please email me for the solution if you require it.