Wednesday 23 May 2012

Havana Box No 2

This is the second in the series of Eric Fuller's Havana "cigar box" puzzles and is named "Heather". I had earlier reviewed Box #1, the "Chris" a while back. For the background how Eric came to be making these puzzle boxes, you can read it here.

There were two versions of the box offered for sale on Eric's website, one in bleached lacewood and the other quilted primavera. The one that I ordered was the latter. Unfortunately none of the boxes in this limited edition series are available from Eric, as they were sold out within days of launch. The #2 is smaller in dimensions to the #1 and measures about 17cm long, 3.3cm wide and 3.6cm tall. Nonetheless, it still fits a corona size cigar quite nicely. The top lid consist of a thin layer of the quilted primavea venner over sapele wood. This forms a nice contrasting two-tone effect between the lid and the rest of the box which is constructed entirely out of sapele wood. Overall quality of construction, fit and finish is excellent.  The moving parts of the box are manufactured to very tight tolerances with nice and precise edges and corners. As I have always said, quality comes at a certain price and the #2 is no exception.

The object of #2, like its predecessor is to remove the cigar inside the box. So far I think all puzzle bloggers including Allard, Brian, Neil and myself are in agreement that the first 3 steps to opening the box are quite easily discoverable...and I would even venture to add, obvious. But hereafter was where some of us were stumped for a while; but for me, really stumped for a long time. After you have managed the first three steps, the top lid slides open partially and you get to see about a quarter of the cigar...but not enough for you to remove the cigar out of the box (unless of course you use really excessive force which is not the intention). There is a locking mechanism which stops the lid from sliding open further. Inside the #2, Eric had also added two normal looking match sticks. When I first saw the two red headed match sticks, I thought they were a nice touch to accompany the cigar...after all, not many people these days use matches to light cigars (or cigarettes) especially with the availability of the modern cigar lighter that is almost like a miniature blowtorch.  Suffice to say, a lot of the time, what I think initially doesn't do much to help me solve my puzzles.

After the first three steps, I was at a loss....trying all sorts of things in all sorts of manner yielded no results. This went on for several weeks until I decided I didn't want to torture myself any longer and decided to ask Allard for some clues. Allard emailed me with some clues to help, but they were rather cryptic (he said he didn't want to spoil my fun!); so I had to figure out the clues a bit first to see how to use them! However with Allard's help and having read Brian's and Neil's reviews of the #2, I realised soon after that what I had to do to open the box was actually all there in front of me. As usual I had over-complicated things to the point that I missed some things that were obvious! Eric had done a very clever job of designing the box to actually open in a very simple way, if one was more observant and not overlook things in haste. Compared to #1, I think the internal mechanism of #2 is even simpler (Eric, if you are reading this, please correct me on this point if I am wrong!), yet the #2 is much harder. Of interest to note is that several of the panels of #2 can even be removed completely to view more of the insides.

Eric intends the next few boxes in the series to progress in difficulty. So if #2 is anything to go by, I will probably be struggling with #3 for a long time!

Wednesday 16 May 2012

Butter Churn

I acquired this metal puzzle from Oli Sovary-Soos a while back when he had a sale of some of the puzzles in his collection. The Butter Churn is one of the puzzles designed by Marcel Gillen who is famous for his chess piece puzzles such as the King, Queen, Rook, Pawn as well as the Fire Plug, all these which have been reviewed previously in this blog.

The Churn is a rather smallish puzzle, approximately about 6.2cm tall and 2.5cm in diameter at its widest. It is basically a "bottle-shaped" cylinder containing a shaft, one end of which is rounded. It is made entirely of aluminium and construction fit and finish is very good. It is quite rare to find one these days (and I had been looking for one for quite a while). I was fortunate enough to spot the Churn tucked in a corner in Oli's photo showing his spread of puzzles for sale. I promptly contacted him to buy it and a week later, it arrived at my doorstep.

The object of the puzzle is to remove the shaft inside the Churn. This is one of those puzzles where there is a hidden mechanism which locks the shaft. The shaft can be pulled about half an inch out but there it stops. One can also hear some ball bearings rolling around inside the Churn. Needless to say, I tried all sorts of ways which I knew to try to remove the shaft, tapping, knocking, gently nudging, twisting, rocking, shaking etc...and as usual nothing worked. Its a wonder that something this small and quite so innocuous can defy all attempts to be solved.

After several days of trying, I eventually gave up and emailed Oli for some help. Oli explained the mechanism and even he said he was only able to open it a couple of times and not repeatedly. I also contacted Jeff Chiou who had briefly written about the Churn in his blog. Jeff sent over the printed solution and a photo of the puzzle in the solved state. He too stated that it was a finicky puzzle. With the help I got, I finally managed (after quite a few more attempts) to extract the shaft from the Churn at last. After studying the internals, I placed everything back in place and tried to repeat the process...once again, it defied me for some time.

Well... overall a difficult (and finicky) puzzle indeed. I would not have been able to solve it without the solution. The mechanism does not look complicated, but I would say definitely quite unique. I think the Churn would have been a nice and interesting puzzle if there is a way to consistently solve it repeatedly. If anyone knows, please feel free to contact me. For now, I will not try to solve it again but just leave the shaft outside and consign the puzzle in a Ziplock bag to my puzzle cupboard!

Saturday 12 May 2012

Popplock T2

This is my fourth review of the Popplock series of puzzle locks by tricklock maestro Rainer Popp. Earlier in this blog, I had written about, in ascending order of difficulty the T3, T5  and T6. The next one up now is the T2, which is considered as the second hardest after the T4, not counting the very rare and elusive T1.

The T2 is a big lock (although not as massive as the T5) and measures about 10.7cm tall, 5.6cm wide and 2.2cm thick. The body is manufactured out of a solid block of brass and comes with a stainless steel shackle, making it a very heavy puzzle indeed. The lock comes with a key and a little solid rod with a sharp needle-like end. There is also a limited edition numbered version of the T2 made entirely of stainless steel named the T2VA. As with all Rainer Popp's locks, quality, fit and finish of the T2 is excellent. All moving parts are smooth as they should be. But of course such craftsmanship comes at a price and the T2 is very expensive. As of this review, the T2 appears to be only available from Finish online retailer Oy Sloyd Ab. In fact, it is probably the only Popplock left that is still available commercially as far as I can tell. I obtained mine from Wil Strijbos sometime last year; it was one of the few that he had left.

The T2 while resembling a big conventional padlock in almost every way does have some unusual external features consisting of 4 steel screws (which appears that can only be removed with a special Allen key) and six brass circular tabs each with a hole in the centre. Also, the key hole is on the front of the lock instead of the more usual bottom.

According to Rainer Popp, there are six steps required to open the lock and these are sequential. The T2 took me about fifity minutes to an hour to figure out and solve. For me it was my usual method of trying this and that with both the key and rod to see what works...there was really no systematic manner which I went about it since I had no clue as to what the internal mechanism of the lock was like. My previous experience with the T3, T5 and T6 did not help either. The first two steps are pretty easy and obvious. However steps three to six are far more difficult and if you get the sequence wrong, the lock well, remains locked. I was confounded with the steps for a while until I managed to get the hang of it in the right order. Once the T2 is unlocked, the shackle is freed by pulling it out. It does not spring out like a traditional lock. To relock, you have to push the shackle back in place and reverse the steps for unlocking.

While I did mention above that the T2 is second hardest, I actually found the T2 much easier than the T6, the latter which took me a lot longer to solve. Notwithstanding, I think the T2 has more than enough challenge and with its superb build quality, well worth the money and a real collector's puzzle. Four other puzzlers have blogged about the T2; you may wish to check out Oli's, Jeff's, Jonas' and Brian's puzzle blogs. Until Rainer Popp makes available the T7 which I hope will be sometime pretty soon, my next and last review of his lock series will be the T4; which by general consensus is the hardest of the lot...stay tuned!

Wednesday 9 May 2012


This is a nice little wooden puzzle I picked up from German online retailer at a very reasonable price. It consist of a red solid cylinder block with a pointed end that resides in a larger hollowed out black cylinder. Measuring 4.3cm tall and 4.2cm in diameter, the dual colours of red and black make for a nice contrast as well. Quality and construction is good and there are no complains here.

The object of the puzzle to remove the red pointed block from the black cylinder....sounds easy, doesn't it, since there are only two parts to the puzzle...but the clincher here is that you are not allowed to touch the black cylinder at all while trying to remove the red block. I tried the obvious first; using my fingers...but no luck of course. Since hands and fingers can't be used effectively, well, I had to resort to using other parts of my body. Took me some time, but I figured it out in the end. Without going into details, lets just say there are some scientific principles applicable here! I consider this puzzle's solution the second most unusual after that of Fuji 1707 reviewed several weeks ago in this blog. In fact the solution to the Raketti is the direct opposite of Fuji 1707. So if you know the solution to the Fuji 1707, you will know what I mean and can pretty well guess how to solve the Raketti. The solution and how the red cylinder is "extracted" is really quite amazing and unbelievable. I didn't think it could happen the way it did!

The puzzle looks really simple, just two pieces but simplicity is at times deceptive as in this case. Really a pretty fun puzzle to solve once you get it! For a variant of the Raketti, do check out Oli's write-up in his puzzle blog.

Monday 7 May 2012

Oriental Toothpick Safe

In my first participation of the recent Baxterweb Puzzle Auction, I managed to bid and win the Oriental Toothpick Safe. Needless to say, given that its a Baxter auction, my winning bid didn't come cheap! This puzzle box was both a competition entry as well as Dave Rossetti's IPP21 Exchange Puzzle in Tokyo, 2001.

Designed and made by Frank Chambers, the body of the Toothpick Safe is made of Corian (the type of material used on kitchen counter tops) while the sliding lid is made of Velstone, a polyester resin similar to plastic. Towards one end of the lid is affixed a non-movable black round button. In the hand, the box feels pretty weighty and the corian has the texture of a smooth pebble.

The Toothpick Safe is 9.9cm long, 3.6cm wide and 2.6cm tall. Despite being over 11 years old, my copy of the puzzle was in excellent condition with virtually no signs of visible wear, except for a bit of yellowing of the lid surface. All the eight corners of the puzzle remain pointedly sharp; usually corners will be the first to blunt especially after some rough handling or if previously dropped onto a hard surface. During the auction, there was a similar Match Box puzzle listed, made of the same materials, also by Frank Chambers but the high bid was just way too high for me.

The object of the puzzle of course is to slide the lid to open the box. The lid is able to slide very slightly to the left and occasionally to the right, sometimes a bit more to either side. It is obvious there is some kind of mechanism which prevents the lid from sliding further in either direction. I tried the usual methods generally associated with wooden puzzle/trick boxes of this nature. Tilting, rotating, spinning, shaking and tapping the box didn't yield any results. I resorted to the soft approach; gently nudging the lid, re-orientating the box in different directions, flipping the box over, upside-down, sideways etc but still no significant movement of the lid. All this went on for a good whole afternoon. I also checked out Brian's review of the Toothpick Safe on his blog but there were no clues to be had either.

After quite a while of manipulation and seeing how the lid moves and stops, I had some inkling of how the internal "locking" mechanism works but I still was not certain (well if I were, I would have managed to open the box already, wouldn't I?). Finally after more fiddling here and there, at last I got the lid to slide all the way to the right. Inside the box were five toothpicks and a piece of paper (which appeared to another puzzle of some sort utilising the toothpicks, but not the solution to the box). To be honest, I am not sure what I did...I think I only managed to solve the box purely by chance through trial and error. Even though the box is opened to the fullest, I could not see the internal mechanism which unlocks the lid.

Brian mentioned that removing the black button would allow the lid to be removed totally and this would reveal the mechanism. However my black button appeared to be firmly embedded and I didn't want to risk the use of too much force in case anything got damaged. Anyway, I am not sure if it was intended that the black button be removed.

I tried to repeat solving but with no success. I emailed Brian for help since he had see the internal mechanism and he very quickly responded. Following his advice I was able to open the box one more time but since then the box has chosen to remain closed.

Overall, the Toothpick Safe is a very high quality and well-made puzzle box and considering its rarity, definitely a collector's item. What bugs me is that I still cannot figure out how the internals work, nor can I repeatedly solve it. John Rausch on his site mentioned that the mechanism in the box "is simple but clever"; so I guess I will just have to be satisfied with knowing that the puzzle I had bid for and won was well worth the money!

Update: I have been able to open the box three to four more times but not in succession! However after spending another evening on the box, I think I have figured out the mechanism (even though I can't see it) and now I can solve repeatedly quite successfully. No knocking necessary...just gentle nudging will do!