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.