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.