Tuesday 30 December 2014

Karakuri Christmas Present #3 - The Owl Shocked

Present #3 from the Karakrui Creation Group is "The Owl Shocked". No need to guess the name of the puzzle; its written on the packaging. And no need to guess the designer also; its a bird puzzle, an owl to be specific...and can only come from...yes, Yun Kakuda.

What I am not certain is the wood that was used to make the puzzle; guess I will have to wait until more owl information reaches me early next year. What about quality and construction? No guesses needed. It is very well made with fine finishing and attention to detail.

I was wondering if the object was to open the top or release a drawer... but nothing of either sort. After some fiddling with the puzzle, the goal as I discovered, is to get the owl's head (which appears half-recessed into its body) to extend fully.upwards. As though something had caught the owl's attention! I played with it some more but there appears nothing more to solve. [Please see edit below]

Like my earlier Kakuda puzzle, the Skunk Attack, this one takes just 2-3 moves to solve and very easy too! Notwithstanding, I still like the owl which is really high on the cute factor, with nice eyes and a beak.

[Edit 1st Jan 2015 - Two well known puzzlers in the community (Louis Coolen and Peter Hajek) contacted me to let me know there's one more step to go for the Owl to reveal a secret compartment. I went back to the Owl and lo and behold, I found it...well hidden. I should have looked at the Owl more carefully during play...silly of me to have missed it]

Friday 26 December 2014

Karakuri Christmas Present #2 - New Parcel Cube

Merry Christmas to all my readers! Hope everyone is having a great holiday and puzzling time!

This is my Karakuri Christmas present #2. My guess is that this puzzle box was designed and made by Hiroshi Iwahara. How come I don't know the designer/maker? Well you can read a bit about the annual Karakuri Christmas Presents here. Again, if anyone knows to the contrary, please PM me, thanks. [Edit 27 Dec 2014 :- it's been confirmed to me that this box is from Akio Kamei, not Iwahara. Tell tale signs are the external cardboard box packaging as well as the Chinese character inside the box which means "peace", both hallmarks of Kamei].

I have called this one the "checkered" box for now. [Edit: 10 Jan 2015 - its called the New Parcel Cube] Its got two solid stripes running across the six sides of the box. Not merely for decorative purposes, but they serve a function too.

Like all Karakrui puzzles, the "checkered box" is extremely well made and finished to very tight tolerances, yet everything moves and slides smoothly. It looks to me like Yellowheart and Walnut [Edit 10 Jan 2015 - its made of Walnut and Japanese Torreya] has been used for its construction, but I can't be sure. I will update this post once more information on the puzzle has been sent to me early next year in 2015. 

The fine craftsmanship and attention to detail is really incredible. And you need to handle this one with care too; any undue force and you may end up with a cracked or damaged puzzle. Not something you want happen during the Christmas holidays, or at any other time for that matter.

This one takes quite a few more steps more than my Christmas Present #1 to open. While its not difficult (but certainly more difficult than #1), the mechanism is tricky and again very well concealed by the fine construction. What you see in the photo is only a partially opened box. Fully solved, the box can be dismantled even further.


Monday 22 December 2014

Karakuri Christmas Present #1 - "Lock"

This is the first of my four Karakuri 2014 Christmas presents from the Karakuri Creation Group of Hakone, Japan.

Like all Karakuri Christmas presents for the year, the puzzle comes packaged in a box....and that is all there is to it. It does not mention the designer and many don't even state the puzzle's name. You won't know who designed which puzzle in the series, unless of course you only ordered one puzzle from a particular designer (or perhaps two) or you are very familiar with a certain designer's style. For most part, if you had ordered multiple items like me, you may have some difficulty identifying the puzzle's designer. It is only during the early part of the following year when the Karakuri Group sends to all recipients information and solutions for the Christmas present puzzles that all is revealed.

For now, I am calling this puzzle "Antique Lock" because it does resemble one of those antique Chinese locks. My guess is also that this puzzle has been designed and made by Tatsuo Miyamoto. If anyone knows to the contrary, please drop me a PM, thanks. (Edit 10 Jan 2015: Yes, it's been confirmed that it's Miyamoto and the official name is "Lock") 

This one appears to be made of walnut throughout and workmanship is superb with etched lines on the body and fine detailing. Its a fairly large lock at 12cm x 9cm x 3.4cm. It even has a key hole on the front side but this as I discovered, is carved and non-functional.

The goal is to "open" the lock. When I solved the puzzle, I literally opened a drawer which is released from the bottom. Although the puzzle is very easy to solve (2-3 steps), the mechanism is very well hidden owing to the fine craftsmanship. The drawer is large enough for small items like rings, jewelry and other keepsakes. Simple puzzle yes...but looks great and displays very well.

Friday 19 December 2014


I had some success with my Dinosaur Egg puzzle, so I thought I would try another "egg" puzzle again.

This time it was the "TrEGGony", the Exchange Puzzle of Juozas Granskas at IPP34. It's a 7-piece packing puzzle comprising six triangles of various shapes and sizes and....an egg, all laser cut from (cherry) wood I think. Fit of the pieces is perfect and quality is very good.

TrEGGony is a word play on Tregony, a village in Cornwall, England. The photo on the packaging shows a picture of the Tregony Gallery, which is an art gallery in Tregony. There must have been a reason why Juozas chose Tregony for the name of his puzzle, aside from the pun...but I am not sure what it is.

Object of course is to get all the seven pieces into the tray flush. Unlike the previous Dinosaur Egg, I had absolutely no luck with TrEGGony. But luckily the solution came with the puzzle. One look and I knew I was way off base.

I am not that good at packing puzzles, so I found it very difficult, especially with seven pieces.

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Dinosaur Egg

The name of this puzzle, originally in Japanese, "Kyoryu No Tamago" translated means "Is It A Dinosaur Egg?". Its from Japanese designer Minoru Abe, renowned for his colourful, cute, whimsical and many very challenging sliding block puzzles. This one is no different and was designed 28 years ago, one of his earliest. The Dinosaur Egg today is rather hard to find (no pun intended) and I was very lucky to get my copy courtesy of my puzzling friend, Frederic Boucher who lives in Japan.

The object is to slide the pieces within the irregular shaped tray, (rectilinear moves only) from the given START position to the FINISH, which resembles a (dinosaur) egg. There are four pieces each piece forming a quarter of the egg. Three of the pieces have notches which are able to interact with the protrusions within the tray.

The instructions are in Japanese but the accompanying diagrams are pretty clear on what must be done. Frederic did a bit of the translation for me - the solution requires 22 moves. 

I played with Dinosaur Egg for a good hour and after getting stuck and resetting the puzzle at least a half dozen times, I managed to reach the end stage. I am not sure if the 22-moves solution is "unique" though? Meaning that you need to get the sequence correct right from beginning to the end or you will invariably get stuck in the middle and have to back-track to the last correct position. Or could more moves be taken and still reach the end?

Only four pieces, but a unique and interesting idea for a sliding block design, and challenging too!

There appears to be very little information about Minoru Abe, the man himself. But check out Holt Davey's FaceBook page here about Abe.

Saturday 13 December 2014

The World's Most Expensive Exchange Puzzle?

Is this the world's most expensive Exchange Puzzle? Probably...but we'll talk about the price later...

Sequential discovery puzzles don't come onto the market often. In fact the last one I played with was Wil Strijbos Angel Box over a year ago..

But when a new one comes along, it's usually a winner. The Big Ben is such a puzzle!

The Big Ben (a miniature replica modeled after the clock tower at the north end of the Palace of Westminster), was John Moores' Exchange Puzzle at IPP34 in London this year. Without a doubt, it made ninety-nine Exchange participants (including me) very happy people, especially so when we later found out how much it was retailing for. It was jointly designed by John Moores, Junichi Yananose and Brian Young.

Made by Brian Young of Mr Puzzle, Australia, the Big Ben comprises of Papua New Guinean Rosewood, Western Australia Jarrah and Queensland Silver Ash, all native woods of Australia. The attention to detail is amazing and you really need to see the actual copy to appreciate the intricate design that has gone into the puzzle, not only externally from an aesthetic point of view but also the trick and mechanism of the internals. Quality, fit and finish is excellent.

The Big Ben retails on Mr Puzzle for a whopping A$385! Likely the most expensive exchange puzzle at retail price. However probably not, if you also consider aftermarket online auctions where exchange puzzles have attracted bids in excess of US$500 (thanks to Nick Baxter for this info). Even if it had cost John Moores A$100 to have each of these puzzles made (and I am just guessing here the price) it would have set him back a cool A$10,000 to use them for the exchange, since he would have needed a minimum of ninety-nine copies. But then again, John is from Monaco....  

As mentioned this is a sequential discovery (or progressive move) puzzle where you solve little sub-puzzles along the way (using tools that are part of the puzzle; but no other external tools permitted) leading to the eventual solving of the main puzzle.

The object is to find the "Big Ben" (in this case a tiny plastic bell, a miniature like the real one) hidden somewhere in the recesses of the clock tower. Along the way, another item, a representation of Queen's Elizabeth's crown can also be picked up.

Like any good sequential discovery puzzle, there are many things to do to solve the puzzle. In the case of the Big Ben, there are broadly four main challenges, each with multiple steps. I don't want to give away too much here since this is an expensive puzzle and one should have the maximum pleasure from the solve. 

The first challenge is the perhaps the easiest...for confidence building and getting one into the groove of things. Here you will discover some tools which are to be used later and are necessary. Didn't take me long to figure things out here. 

The second challenge is harder and IMHO, a lot harder than the first challenge. The main portions of the Big Ben has to be taken apart. I took a good half an hour or so to get through this stage. Once this was over, a sigh of relief, an a-ha moment to savour for a while.

The Big Ben and Queen Elizabeth's Crown found

The third challenge....which is the hardest and stumped me for a long time. Not that I couldn't solve the puzzle (ie getting the bell out of the clock tower); in fact I did solve it...only that I did it the unintended way!. Two other puzzlers solved it the wrong way too before finding out the correct method; one of them Kevin Sadler whom I approached for help for the right solution method after showing him how I had solved my copy, which proved to be incorrect. I tried the correct method and I must say that it is really quite an elegant solution and works well, but very subtle and tricky. As Allard Walker aptly puts it in his blog post, the solution requires "the detective skills of Poirot and the imagination of Heath Robinson". 

The fourth and last challenge is to put everything back together again AND including setting all the four clock faces back to the original 9 o'clock. I managed to reassemble everything back in place but was quite happy to leave the clocks in whatever facings they happened to end up. Didn't see the need to give myself any more extra work. The Big Ben looks just fine as it is!

Expensive yes, but loads of puzzling value for the money. Overall a really fine puzzle from the puzzling perspective. Difficult yes, especially the last part, but gradual and manageable most of the way with a-ha moments thrown in. A puzzle that you probably won't want to put down once you start.

Oh...and John, if you are reading this, we puzzlers would love for you to continue to participate in future IPP Exchanges with puzzles just like your Big Ben!!!

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Skunk Attack

This very nice puzzle came to me from one of the recent Baxterweb puzzle auctions. It was designed and made by Yoh Kakuda from the Karakuri Creation Group of Hakone, Japan. Who are these people, what sort of puzzles do they make, how to "join the club" and and get their "Christmas Presents" (soon to happen this month)?...well, you can check out Allard Walker's blog post which gives a good concise summary. 

Yoh Kakuda, who is one of just several puzzle craftswomen, among the many men in the Group has so far centered her creations mainly around animals. The Skunk Attack was made by her in early 2011.

It is made from a combination of woods including Wenge, Cucumber and Shiuri Cherry. Karakuri puzzles are of really exceptional build quality and craftsmanship, which accounts for their high retail price. And the Skunk is no different. The refinement and attention to detail of the puzzle is incredible. Even the packaging is high class. My Skunk Attack came in a rectangular blue box and if you didn't know it contains a puzzle, you would probably have thought it was something from Tiffany's. (For those less well informed, Tiffany's is a luxury goods and jewelry retailer whose trademark colour is egg blue, quite similar to the colour here).

From a puzzling perspective, the difficulty levels of Karakuri puzzles vary greatly. They can range from being extremely difficult right down to downright simple (ie; one or two moves to solve). If I had to grade my Skunk Attack, I would say its probably 1 or 1.5/10. For experienced puzzlers, no sweat at all. 

The object here is to open a secret drawer. What I like about the Skunk Attack (even tho it is very easy) is the cute way its solved...really gels in with the theme of "stink". In fact I have played with another of Yoh Kaduda's, the "Anteater" and that one is also very easy. Some may feel that the puzzling experience of some Karakuri puzzles do not justify the cost...well to each his own. I tend to look upon a Karakuri puzzle as a sculpture or work of art that also happens to be a puzzle.

Sunday 7 December 2014

Cross & Crown 2013

The Cross & Crown (C&C) puzzle you see here is not a modern puzzle design by any means, no, not at all. In fact, the C&C has its roots in a puzzle designed by Louis S. Burbank in 1913, which was patented by the US Patent Office.

The C&C was Dr Goetz Schwandtner's IPP34 Exchange Puzzle. It all started when Goetz had a chance to see and play with a very rare metal version of the original design belonging to puzzle collector Rob Stegman at IPP32. Goetz collaborated with another collector, Michel van Ipenburg and together, worked with IPP31 award winning designer Robrecht Louage to reproduce the version that we have today, making it available to puzzle enthusiasts.

The modern C&C is made of trespa, a strong and durable material widely associated with table surfaces. Metal would have been too expensive and impractical for production in large quantities. The puzzle is precision cut to tight tolerances but everything slides smoothly as intended. Quality of construction and finish is very good like in all of Robrecht's work.

The C&C is a N-ary puzzle. I still have little idea what this means but you can see examples of these and read more about it on Goetz's site. Like the original design, the C&C consists of a "cross" pivoting on a circular disc containing cut-outs. Both the cross and disc are "linked" by four rivets that can slide along each arm of the cross as well as along the channels of the cut-outs. The object is to move all the rivets through these zig-zag channels and reach a point at the end where the cross can be disengaged from the circular disc.

Like an N-ary puzzle, there is a kind of repeating pattern of moves (this aspect I know!); sort of a back-and-forth motion. I have played with several other n-ary puzzles such as the Lock 250, Alles Schiebung and Numlock and have solved them without help. Yet, for this C&C, despite spending a lot of time on it, I just could not get beyond a certain point and found myself keep getting stuck halfway. Perhaps I am way off-tangent on this one, but I am finding the C&C very difficult!

N-ary puzzles exist in all styles, shapes and sizes. The Chinese Rings is perhaps the early originator of such puzzles but it is binary rather than N-nary. The C&C is yet another example of a growing number of N-ary puzzles that have come to the market since Jean-Claude Constantin's 1250-move Kugellager a while back. For those keen to acquire a copy of C&C, you can contact Goetz via his puzzle site.

Puzzle Master of Canada and Mr Puzzle of Australia also retail different N-ary puzzles, as do Wil Strijbos.

Tuesday 2 December 2014

A Coffin Puzzle

Nope...this is not a puzzle from a super famous designer of the same name we all know so well. 

But this puzzle (a.k.a Escape The Plague, ETP) is actually the design of and IPP34 Exchange Puzzle from Kate Jones, who runs Gamepuzzles, a US online retailer of games and puzzles, the latter which are also all designed in-house.

If there was a prize at IPP34 for packaging, ETP would surely have won hands down for originality. ETP is a "maze connection" puzzle where the first challenge is to form a single "escape route", by placing the 16 square tiles within a square formed by the 4 side strips and navigating from the start point (red dot) to the exit gate (round dot). The second challenge is the arrange the tiles to form separate loops. 

ETP was designed around the theme of The Great Plague Of London, a major epidemic which killed hundreds of thousands of people in England during 1665-1666.

In "deathly" fashion and true to its theme, the laser cut tiles and strips are packaged in a miniature wooden coffin; which is probably just large enough to contain a small (dead) rat. The puzzle even comes with a sheet containing instructions and the history of The Great Plague.

The puzzle has more than one solution and the total number of solutions are not known. Kate is offering a nice prize to the first puzzler that can offer proof of the number of solutions. Well, I wasn't gunning for Kate's prize but merely content to find at least one solution. And I did! While not very difficult, it's no walk in the park either. There are 16 possible positions for the tiles and each tile has 4 different orientations. The side strips forming the square have 6 possible arrangements. To top it off, the route has to run through each of the 16 tiles as well as along all the 4 strips in a single continuous direction with no doubling back or crossing paths. It took me a while to figure out the entire route and I encountered several dead ends along the way before finally reaching the exit. 

ETP is limited to 125 copies, so there may still be some left. If anyone is interested, you may contact Kate via Gamepuzzles.

Sunday 30 November 2014

The Kray Twins

The Kray Twins, designed by Steve Nicholls was also his Exchange Puzzle during IPP34 in London this past August. For those of you non-English folks who may not know who the Kray Twins were, they were notorious gangsters that were responsible for much of the organised crime in London during the 1950s and 1960s.

The puzzle is 3D printed in ABS resin and has six pieces comprising three congruent pairs in three colours. The puzzle holds itself together pretty well with tolerance between the pieces just right. This allows the pieces to slide pretty smoothly and no force whatsoever was needed for my copy. 

This one is a "diagonal" burr with sixty degree angles; thereby making it much more confusing and harder to solve than a traditional rectilinear burr, the latter, depending on the number of moves, is already by no means easy.

6 pieces all with diagonal cuts and 3D printed in red, white
and blue, representing the colours of the Union Jack :-)

This notoriously difficult puzzle has a level solution (total 40 moves), meaning it takes 6 moves to remove the first piece, followed by 10 for the second and so on. Once you get past the first six moves, you will understand why its called the Kray Twins. This one really stumped me for a long time. I just could not get past move six for some reason.

I contacted Steve for the solution and after studying the Burr Tools file; I realized where I had gone wrong. It was unlikely I could have solved this one on my own without help. Even with Burr Tools, focus and concentration was needed to get the moves right. I found the re-assembly even harder than the taking apart. The angles just seem to make it so much harder! 

Overall IMHO, a very difficult puzzle, but I am lousy at burrs anyhow. Experienced burrists may probably find it a less of a challenge perhaps.

Steve runs a 3D printing website (www.threedyprinters.com) so if you would like a copy of the Kray Twins, I am sure he would be most happy to make you a one...and possibly with the colours of your choice too! 

Tuesday 25 November 2014

Rightangular Jam & Japanese Puzzle Box

These two puzzles were gifts from a puzzling friend of mine who lives in Japan. A big thank to Frederic Boucher (hope you are reading this)

The first is Rightangular Jam, designed by Hirokazu Iwasawa who entered it for the IPP24 Puzzle Design Competition. Iwasawa, as you may already know, gave the puzzling community such award winning puzzles as the ODD Puzzle and Square In The Bag.

Start Position

Constructed from MDF for the tray and three of the triangles (the blue triangle is wood), this version is made for the broader market. The Rightangular Jam is part of a series of three puzzles of the same genre (albeit different solutions and varying levels of difficulty). The other two are Rectangular Jam and Triangular Jam

The object is to get the blue triangle out of the tray through a narrow slit on one of the sides from the starting position as shown above. Its like a sliding block puzzle except here you are allowed to slide the pieces in any manner, diagonal etc, not just rectilinear, so long as none of the pieces are lifted off the tray

I found this one pretty challenging and took a good hour or so to figure out the moves. Its certainly harder than the Rectangular Jam. But a really nice and "elegant" solution; no force required. 

The second puzzle is a Japanese puzzle box or "14 Step Mame Yosegi Traditional Japanese Puzzle Box". For the history and more information about Japanese puzzle boxes, click here.  My puzzle box is "mame" (ie miniature; it measures only 4.3cm x 3.2cm x 2.7cm) with a Yosegi design.

In terms of difficulty, not difficult even though it has 14 steps. Once you discover the pattern of moves of the box, you are well on your way. Mine even came with a little "reward" in the form of a cute wooden cube (love the tiny criss-cross design!)

Thursday 20 November 2014

Double Slideways Burr

It looks like any other ordinary burr. But don't let that fool you. The Double Slideways Burr (DSB) is one of the hardest co-ordinate motion puzzles around.

I got my copy of the DSB from Ray Stanton during the IPP34 Puzzle Exchange in London this year. Ray's exchange copies were made by Eric Fuller and the six pieces are cut from Walnut, Maple and Sapele. Very well constructed with fine edges and tight tolerances.

Why is it called the Double Slideways Burr? Well, because Ray had previously come up with the (Single) Slideways Burr, which consists of just three pieces. Although the DSB has double the number of pieces, the difficulty quotient is probably quadruple (or more) that of the SSB. I have never played with the SSB before, so I was thrown right into the deep with the DSB.

I spent the better part of two evenings figuring out the DSB, attempting different combination and orientation of pairs and pieces, looking for a way to "slide" the pieces together. After all, it must slide together somehow right?...given its called "Slideways". I even got my wife to help me hold some pieces while I grappled with the rest. But I got nowhere and eventually gave up. I emailed Ray asking for a hint. When Ray replied, I realized that I was way off tangent all the while. Even with his help, It took me another good hour or two before finally getting the six pieces to form the intended shape! 

This one is a real tough cookie. I happily emailed Ray a photo of my solved DSB and was quite pleased to hear from him that I am so far, only the fourth person he knows that has managed to put together the DSB. (Edit: as of 21 Nov 2014, there are 11 people who have solved the DSB)I don't intend to take it apart since I am not sure if I can re-assemble it again, and I don't wish to find out...so it will sit nicely solved in my puzzle cabinet.

Let me put it this way...if you have never solved Ray's earlier puzzle, the SSB, well, the DSB will be very difficult indeed. But if you have solved the SSB before, then the DSB will still be very difficult indeed! And unfortunately, Burr Tools cannot help here. 

For those keen on acquiring an SSB or DSB, they are available from Eric Fuller's website for $15 and $39 respectively. For other co-ordinate motion puzzles reviewed previously, please click below:-

1. Choreographed Motion
2. Cross Box
3. 18 Dutch Mills
4. CM 13
5. Brass Ball
6. Cast Galaxy
7. Aroma

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Bob's 5x5 & Jerry's 4x4

When I first saw Bob's 5x5 during Nick Baxter's recent puzzle auction, I knew I had to get it. This was because I was a little surprise (and also a little disappointed) to find out that someone else had already earlier (in fact some 16 years earlier) come up with a design concept similar to my "Interlace 4x4" puzzle. More about the latter later.

The Bob's 5x5 I won at the auction is a reproduction of Robert Darling's IPP18 (1998) Exchange Puzzle. This is a huge puzzle, measuring a good 15.5cm (6.1in) square with a thickness of 3.5cm. Can you imagine the size of the box or crate needed to hold 99 exchange copies! 

It is very well made of wood (either teak or walnut I am not sure) and really solid and heavy. The bottom is even felt lined (so it won't scratch the surface it sits on). Displays nicely on the coffee table and one might even mistake it for a cigar box. Definitely well worth my $48 winning bid!.

Its a packing puzzle and the object is to pack 10 notched burr pieces (or sticks) flush into the box frame. 

Now to my Interlace. Its not a packing puzzle, although at one point in time I did consider making it so, but decided a free form interlocking solid with curved edges looked far more sexy. But as mentioned, the design concept is similar to Bob's 5x5. Until the Baxterweb auction in November, I had never even seen Bob's 5x5 or anything similar. The Interlace was something I came up with around September this year. 

My design consists of 8 board burr pieces that "interlock" to form the shape in the photo. I had it cut from 10mm thick plexiglass. While Bob's 5x5 pieces are two units thick, the Interlace is four. And both puzzles each have a unique solution.

The Interlace also became the starting point for my CrossRoads interlocking board burr with a level 12 solution. There are probably other puzzles out there with a similar design to Bob's 5x5 or my Interlace. If anyone knows, please drop me a note, thanks!

Thursday 13 November 2014

Borg Box (Stickman No.5 Puzzle Box)

This 3D printed version of Robert Yarger's extremely famous Stickman No.5 Puzzle Box (nicknamed the Borg Box) came to me courtesy of Brian Pletcher. For meaning of the Borg, click here. For a detailed description of the original wooden version of the box, click here.

Brian had modeled a copy of the original Borg Box for 3D printing by Shapeways. You can read his account of how he came about putting all this together (no pun intended). Thanks to Brian, I received my copy early this week. 

As it is made of 3D printed plastic, its a rather light puzzle but with a surprisingly solid feel, although there is that very slight bit of flex if you try to squeeze the puzzle hard (and during play), which can't be helped since it is made of plastic. Another reason for the slight bit of flex is that the entire Borg Box is made up of an astounding 78 interlocking pieces of various shapes and sizes. Notwithstanding, the pieces hold themselves together very well. Brian had done a good job of sanding and assembling the individual pieces to ensure a proper fit before shipping the puzzle to me. 

The Borg Box is an incredible puzzle to say the least. Even though I have never seen the original, just by looking and playing with the 3D printed version, I am absolutely astounded by the level of intricacy of the pieces and the way they were designed to interact with each other to form an interlocking 6-sided box. 

It takes 32 moves to open the top panel (as pictured) and a further 3 moves to be able to start removing each panel which can then be further dissected into 78 individual pieces. To open the top is not too difficult once you start to figure things out (like which panel is the top and which is the side) and where you need to slide what etc. But I still spent the good part of an evening just to reach this stage. I have decided I would leave it to another day for the total dis-assembly of the box, if ever that day comes.

By all accounts, the re-assembly of the 78 pieces is supremely difficult, so much so that when Eric Fuller made a limited number of copies for sale, he charged $50/- for any returned puzzle requiring reassembly. Thankfully Brian has generated a Burr Tools solution for the Box so there is help at hand, not if, but when its needed!

For another write-up on the Borg Box, you may wish to check out Allard's blog post. He is very lucky to be able to afford and own one of the real ones!

The Borg Box is available for sale through Brian. My copy costs $180, but it has since gone up in price due to the changes in pricing from Shapeways. 

Wednesday 5 November 2014


Update 23 October 2017 - Dear Reader, please check out my new puzzle blog and e-store at http://mechanical-puzzles.com

I have had the Blockhead puzzle (designed by Bill Cutler) for over a year now. In fact I have three. One from Brian Menold, a plastic version from ThinkFun (marketed under the name "a-ha Square Fit") and the third I chanced upon at a local flea market; very cheap at $3/- but works.

Needless to say, the largest and best (and most expensive but value for money at only US$30/-) of the three in my collection is the version made by Brian. It's constructed from Yellowheart and Paduak. Very nice contrast of colourful woods here. Quality, fit and finish is very good and it even has fine Paduak detailing at the four corners of the frame. 

The Blockhead has been around since 1983 and is generally considered a must-have classic. Over the years, it has been mass produced and marketed under different names. Its one of the most manufactured puzzles around, made by different puzzle craftsmen at different times.

It's a packing puzzle and the object is to fit four square blocks inside the box frame. At first glance, it seems really easy....but don't be deceived. What looks simple never usually is. And in this case, the square blocks are not really all that square either. Each block has its sides cut at an angle, making them more like 3D parallelograms. Even the insides of the box frame seem to be lop-sided! And fitting them all flush into the frame is no longer simple after all.

For the Blockhead, I already had some clues on how to go about solving it even before I got my copy, having watched someone else playing with it, so I had a head-start. But notwithstanding, I still fumbled for a while after taking out the pieces and causally scrambling them before re-arranging them correctly for insertion back into the frame. One block will always refuse to go in. I would have definitely taken much longer if I did not have any prior hints because it is a very challenging puzzle no less. And certainly one that is quite different from other more traditional packing puzzles. And too bad, Burr Tools won't help here!

Saturday 1 November 2014

Alles Schiebung (All Shift)

This weekend, I played with another IPP34 Exchange Puzzle, the Alles Schiebung (or Google translated) "All Shift" from Hendrik Haak. Hendrik is an Ad man and runs his own advertising agency in Germany. On the side, he runs Puzzle-Shop.de, his online puzzle store.

The puzzle consists of a five layer sandwich with six sliders and the goal is to navigate the sliders to their outer most positions. Cut into the sliders are maze paths with pegs within which restrict their movements. Somewhere residing in the middle is a small marble that will also hamper the movement of the sliders unless the puzzle is oriented correctly.

Designed and made by Jean Claude Constantin, All Shift comprises of laser cut wood, acrylic and plastic. Good overall construction and finish throughout. However, I did find moving the sliders a bit stiff at times, but I guess this can't be helped given the puzzle has multiple sliding and moving parts.

All Shift is a variation of the N-ary type puzzle; in simple terms, meaning there is a repeating pattern of moves in sequence to reach the solution. And you also need a decent memory to remember the pattern! I managed to solve the puzzle but I doubt if I had systematically applied an N-ary sequence. It was more random trial and error, with a bit of logic thrown in. The marble in my copy also popped out halfway (not sure how it happened, but its suppose to anyway) and went into the crevices of my sofa! In the same manner, I reset the puzzle to its original state, but left the marble out since I didn't know at which stage the marble was to be inserted.

Solved Position
The puzzle came with the solution on a business card and while it detailed the sequence of moves numerically (a total of 42), the accompanying photos on the card were just too small to make out the numbering of the individual sliders. Even with the aid of a magnifying glass, I could not make out the images. I have shot a note to Hendrik for help and awaiting a larger more legible copy of the solution..      

Overall a nice design concept with a different application of "N-ary". For those who are into this category of puzzles, the All Shift is worth considering. It is available on Hendrik's online store.

Monday 27 October 2014


I had the pleasure of meeting renowned sliding block puzzle designer Serhiy Grabarchuk at IPP34 in London this past August where we exchanged puzzles. This is how I got his Sorter. 

Start Position
This is my second sliding block puzzle from Serhiy. The first was One Fish Another Fish reviewed earlier.

Very nicely constructed of colourful laser cut acrylic, the Sorter is a "sealed" puzzle; meaning the sliding pieces are encased in the tray and you can't remove the pieces....not unless you unscrew the top cover...which is not intended.

Finished Position
The object is this - to move the coloured pieces (which has various shapes cut into them) from their starting positions, to correspond with the cut-outs on the top cover. Only linear moves are allowed, no rotations permitted.

It took me a good several minutes to get the pieces into their intended positions and after the first time, I re-solved it and counted about 38 moves from start to finish. I am not sure if this is the optimal number of moves (probably not), so if anyone who has done it in lesser moves, please feel free to drop me a note.  

Overall a nice sliding block puzzle with an appropriate level of difficulty, just right for an exchange puzzle.

Edit 28 Oct 14: A well-known puzzle collector and sliding block puzzle designer has messaged me to say that the Sorter needs only 22 moves to solve!....well there you go!

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Simultaneous Maze

This is another interesting design from William HuCalled the Simultaneous Maze, the object is to extract a maze plate from the box frame, while manipulating the three vertically sliding square pieces.

Made by Eric Fuller from Maple, Jatoba and acrylic, construction fit and finish is excellent and all moving pieces slide smoothly. Aesthetically, it really is a very pleasing looking puzzle with a nice colour combo and contrast. The choice of acrylic for the maze plate is a good one, since I doubt wood would have been able to take the stresses of play over time, given the way the channels in the maze are cut. However, I did detect some flexing even though the plate is 5mm thick. I think a 7-8mm thickness would have been a better choice. Let's put it this way...you can't be too rough with this one.

The puzzle provides a fair amount of challenge and while not unduly difficult in terms of what needs to be done, it is however, rather tricky. I found myself stuck a bit at the early stages until I discovered something which I had overlooked at the beginning. This is one of those puzzles that to move two steps forward, you may need to take one step backwards, in a manner of speaking. Once solved, the resetting is in the reverse, but still, unless you have memorized all the moves, it will still take some effort (and trial and error, which happened to me) to insert the maze plate back into position.

Monday 20 October 2014

Three-Layer Double Dovetail

The name is quite a mouthful but this doesn't detract from the fact that the TLDD is extremely beautifully made. About the size of a small jewellery/ring box, and looks like one too.

This was Robert Sandfield's IPP34 Exchange Puzzle in London this past August. Designed by Perry McDaniel, the TLDD was crafted by Kathleen Malcolmson from two exotic hardwoods, Honduran Mahogany and Primavera. 

If there are a couple of things that I really like about the TLDD, these are the very precise construction and finishing of the puzzle and the attention to detail. So precisely cut and edges sharp that if you are not careful, you can "pinch" your fingers accidentally during play. I really can't fathom the amount of work Kathleen went into making a hundred or so of these for the Exchange!

Unlike Sandfield's Rebanded Dovetail, the TLDD is more akin to the "impossible object" kind of dovetail puzzle, where you wonder, just by looking at it, if the two halves can be split apart at all.

The goal is not just to separate the two halves, but also to find a cavity within the puzzle which contains a cute little rubber star. From a puzzling perspective, not difficult for those who have experience with "impossible" dovetails, especially with the likes of Wil Strijbos' dovetail collection. But to the uninitiated, this one may take a while to figure out.

A very nicely made Exchange Puzzle, not too difficult, which displays well too!

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Join The Club

Join The Club was Scott Elliot's Exchange Puzzle at IPP34 this year. Scott designs and makes his own puzzles using his 3D printer, For more about how he produced The Club and other puzzles, you can read more about it here

The Club is "printed" out of ABS resin and quality and fit is very good and precise. Scott coloured the puzzle black with red trim, something likely possible only with 3D printing, nice! (thanks to George Bell for highlighting this). It's solid, can flex a bit and won't break unless real brute force is used. But there is a bit of a stickiness to the puzzle (probably due to the type of material used) and being a glossy finish, finger prints will start to appear after a while of play. 

Like Scott's IPP33 Exchange Puzzle, the Peppermint, the object is to "weave", if this is the right word to use, the two pieces together to form the shape of the club. Not that simple as I found myself trying all manner of orientations on the two pieces to get them to "intertwine". 

However, IMO,it is still not as difficult as the Peppermint (which I still have not put back together). After several minutes, I found the "trick" and the two pieces slid nicely into place. Pretty elegant and no force whatsoever needed. 

The Club reminds me of a well known Hanayama Cast puzzle designed by a well known European designer which works quite on the same principle. Can you guess which one?

This is the sort of puzzle you can easily pocket around and astound your non-puzzling (or puzzling) friends. Contact Scott via his blog if you wish to purchase one.

Saturday 11 October 2014

Doors & Drawers

I first saw this puzzle on Kevin Sadler's blog. He had bought a copy from Bernhard Schweitzer's table during the IPP34 Puzzle Party in London this August. For some strange reason, I don't recall seeing it at the Puzzle Party...hmm...maybe I was still too jet-lagged from my 13 hour plane ride from Singapore.

Doors & Drawers (D&D) is a design from Mike Toulouzas, who has won several puzzle design awards at IPP31IPP32 and IPP34. The bulk of the workmanship of the puzzle came from Pelikan Workshop (Mike made the cute door knobs) and the puzzle is sold by Bernhard via his PuzzleWood website. I won't go into the details of this 3-party arrangement but you can read it here.

The D&D is a large puzzle and very comfortable in the hands. It resembles a miniature chest and it even comes with four little supporting feet at the bottom to complete the overall look. Quality, fit and construction is top-notch like all Pelikan-made puzzles. A combination of woods are used here...Walnut for the frame, oak for the drawers, katalox for the knobs and Bubinga for the feet.

This is not your typical burr puzzle but probably one can call it a burr puzzle box? And because of this, the D&D is really one of the more fun and interesting puzzles to solve. It not only has 3 "burr" pieces which are interlocked inside the box frame but also 3 other loose pieces (one L-shaped and two rectangular) within. The object of course is to "open" the doors and drawers and remove all 6 pieces.

Solving would require removal of the loose block pieces first, which is not too difficult and thankfully the puzzle is large so that you can quite easily see what goes on inside the box. And then figuring out how to extract the burr pieces, which is much more challenging.

I took a good hour or so to take apart and put everything back together, most time being spent on trying to remove the 3 larger burr pieces locked inside via notches and protrusions which form part of the box frame. But after the first piece is out, the other two are easy. The knobs don't merely add to the aesthetics but also serve as handles for easier pulling and pushing the pieces.

I really like the D&D because it's got other elements of play (the a-ha moments after you remove the loose blocks) apart from the burr solving. And the latter is just right IMHO in terms of difficulty. Not so overly challenging as to frustrate! 

This is my first puzzle from Mike Toulouzas and judging from the D&D, I don't think it would be my last. A great puzzle with an interesting design concept. At 70 euros, its value for money too!