Saturday 24 December 2016

Portico J

First off, Merry Christmas to everyone!

This post is long overdue. In fact it is a year overdue. I received the Portico J as a Christmas present from Pelikan Puzzles of the Czech Republic during last Christmas in 2015. Portico J was designed by Stephane Chomine, who (at the time of this posting) has just done over 500 designs on PWBP.

I had played with Portico J for a while, found it a tad too difficult and put it away telling myself that I would come back to it sometime in early 2016...and promptly forgot about it for the next 12 months. 

But over the last couple of days after some much required puzzle closet spring cleaning, out appears the Portico J and I decided to give it a go again. But before that, here are the stats; Portico J measures about 10cm x 5.5cm x 4.5cm. Consisting of an inverted T-shaped support with 3 traditional burr pieces and 2 board ones, it is an unusual shaped and looking interlocking puzzle. I figure this sort of shape may not appeal to everyone, but hey, there are loads of cubes and rectangles about so this is nice change. And I certainly quite like it. Comprising of Wenge and Cherry woods, it's impeccably made by the Pelikan Workshop. Everything slides and moves smoothly. 

It took me a couple of hours spread over several sessions before I finally managed to remove the first piece. It has a level 20 solution and while the movable pieces can move only in certain directions within limits, it's a much harder puzzle to take apart than the shape (or the few number of pieces) would suggest. My early attempts were met with dead ends and when I finally got the first piece out, the process rather surprising, something I did not expect. After that, a bit more puzzling was still needed before the rest of the pieces were disentangled. Full take apart requires 35 moves. 

As with such puzzles I needed Burr Tools to help with the re-assembly before everything was back to original. Can't do by memory here unfortunately!

The Portico J is very tricky right from the start and although not a very high level burr on paper, still it makes for a very challenging solve indeed. Oh, and there is a 5-piece Little Portico around too!

Saturday 17 December 2016

Still Yet Another Burr That's Not A Burr!

Sorry folks for a delayed post as I was on a family vacation to Taiwan...and had too much luggage to bring any puzzles along.

Well, here's yet another pseudo-burr, this time another variation of Ray Stanton's Slideways Burr series, after his Slideways Burr and Double Slideways Burr. This one is called the Quad Slideways Burr (QSB). The QSB was Ray's IPP36 Exchange Puzzle. Made of Cherry, Maple and Mahogany, it was produced for Ray by Pelikan Puzzles with great craftsmanship as per normal. The QSB measures about 8cm all around, a good and necessary size for handling this type of puzzle.

The QSB looks to be made up of many pieces but in reality comprise only 4 pieces each with slanted cuts and notches. Two of the larger pieces are actually several smaller pieces glued together. It is a co-ordinate motion puzzle and the object is to take it apart and re-assemble it.

I had difficulty with the Double Slideways Burr and so I took careful pains with this one to slowly "disentangle" the that the pieces don't just fall apart suddenly, as usually happen to many co-ordinate motion puzzles. The high average 85% humidity of Singapore ensured that the sliding apart was snug but sufficiently smooth and allowed me to make small incremental movements. The puzzle expanded right to the point where one of the two smaller pieces fell apart, followed by the others. 

Its a good thing that Pelikan manufactured the QSB in such a way that the three opposing pairs of faces on the sides of the QSB feature a different type wood; which makes the identification and orientation of the pieces for re-assembly least I knew how the pieces were going to come together. Unlike the earlier Double Slideways Burr, which I needed the wifey's help to hold the pieces (there were 6!) this one I could comfortably manage on my own, sans wife's hands. Finding that single point, ie sweet-spot where all the 4 pieces started sliding back together to form the original shape was actually not as difficult as I had expected. All said and done, this was a pretty fast solve!

As far as I can tell, the QSB is not listed on sale on the Pelikan site. But Ray may have some extra copies left for sale if anyone is interested.

Wednesday 30 November 2016

Another Burr That Is Not A Burr?

This is an interesting 3-piece "Burr" called "New Tam's Burr R-End", designed and crafted by Hidekuni Tamura. It was also his IPP36 Exchange Puzzle.

The concept design for this puzzle is similar to the Murbiter's Pseudo Burr. Like the Pseudo Burr, New Tam's Burr looks like an ordinary 6-piece burr from the outside. This one is made of a heavy exotic hardwood (I am not sure what it is) and consist of various blocks glue together. Construction is very good with the puzzle coming in its own box and instructions. One thing I am not sure of is what is the meaning of the name and the "R-End" bit??

The object is to dis-assemble and then re-assemble the 3 pieces which when taken apart, look uncannily similar to each other. And because of this, once you take it apart and scramble the pieces, you may have some difficulty putting the pieces back to the original state, particularly if you get their orientations wrong. A rather clever design as the designer has not only managed up the challenge quotient with similar looking pieces but also by the way the pieces connect to each other without leaving an voids in the centre of the puzzle.

Is it difficult to take apart? No, once you figure out which one of the pieces needs to be the first to move. What about re-assembly? Yes, harder obviously; but because there are only 3 pieces, its not difficult as such with some persistence. There are only so many ways available for randomly trying to connect all three together (and the signature on one of the pieces also helps).

Monday 28 November 2016

Theta & Triple Tango

What does a puzzle blogger do when he hasn't had time (due to work and other commitments) to play with new puzzles to write about them? Well, easy...he blogs about his own designs that have been produced by well-known puzzle craftsmen...nothing to solve and fret over!

And here are two puzzles I am shamelessly featuring, which have been beautifully crafted by Eric Fuller. There is one more coming from Eric's stable (in the coming weeks I think) but I will let that one be released first before shamelessly blogging about it!

The first is my Theta (the exact name is 9 Theta) since it has 9 burr pieces plus a cage. Excellently constructed of Maple and Purpleheart, this one has a level solution requiring a total of 29 steps to completely disassemble. Great attention to detail here and yes, I still need Burr Tools to help me re-assemble after taking it apart. 

Currently all 48 limited edition copies are sold out. Personally for me it was a nice design exercise and really a "no big deal" kind of interlocking burr. My burr design capabilities are pretty limited and I was surprise Eric chose Theta to produce for his site. But the few comments I have received from purchasers of this puzzle has generally been good. 

My second design is a sliding block puzzle called Triple Tango. I was able to design Triple Tango thanks to Goh Pit Khiam who shared with me his sliding block design program which he authored a while back (a software that works similar to Burr Tools, where you can specify the shape and units of the pieces etc). 

There is also a freeware programme called the SBP Solver by Pierre-Francois Culand but this program is rather limited in that the shapes for the pieces can only be either squares or rectangles. But for anyone who has never designed a sliding block puzzle, the SBP Solver is good enough to get you going for a start.

To see the many incredible sliding block puzzle designs out there including those by Minoru Abe, Serhiy Grabarchuk, Ed Pegg, Nob Yoshigahara just to name a few, check out Nick Baxter's Sliding Block Puzzle Page.

Start Position
 The version made by Eric consists of 6 pieces and the goal is to exchange the light and dark blocks found at the top and bottom. Eric had even made an acrylic cover with the starting position of all the blocks etched onto the surface. The puzzle is made of maple, mahogany and walnut.
End Position
This puzzle can be configured for various levels of difficulty. 78 moves (5 pieces only, move a single 2x1 block from the bottom slot to the top slot). 104 moves (the version shown here) and 122 moves, by adding another 2x1 block to be surrounded by the 4 larger blocks. And why is it called Triple Tango? Because the centre pieces "dance" three times round the inside of the tray (clockwise and anti-clockwise) during play before both the dark and light coloured 2x1 blocks exchange positions. Triple Tango was also the inspiration for my Tango 72 IPP36 Exchange Puzzle in Japan this year.

Again this was a surprise for me as I didn't think Eric would produce a sliding block puzzle like that where the pieces are uncovered. Anyway 46 copies of the Triple Tango were made and they are all also sold out!

Saturday 19 November 2016


This weekend, I played (or rather re-played) a puzzle that has seen a number of incarnations over the years. The puzzle is Naoaki Takashima's IPP36 Exchange Puzzle called Seal - Slide-Blocked Sliding Block Puzzle. 

Start Position

End Position
The original version of the SBSB with a garage and car theme was designed by Bill Cutler in 1987. Bill made a later version using the "seal and ball" theme and entered it in the 1988 Hikimi Wooden Puzzle Design Competition where he won the Grand Prize. Subsequently Tom Lensch also made versions of the original SBSB and his latest version is featured in one of my previous post, suing a "twin arrows" theme. 

Naoaki Takashima is a Japanese Puzzle collector who reputedly has the largest private collection of mechanical puzzles outside the USA/Europe and in Japan. His version of the SBSB for the Exchange is different from the original Bill Cutler and Tom Lensch versions in several respects:-

1. The design is an "upside down" version of the original.

2. The pieces are made of laser cut double layer glued acrylic and removable from the tray. You can't see it from the photos but there is a groove running along the inside bottom edge of the tray with two of the pieces having "notches". The Tom Lensch version is interlocking and pieces can't be removed. This feature is a God-send and very necessary if you are stuck halfway and want to reset it to the start position. Tom's version is not so easy.

3. Handy size of 11cm x 9cm for ease of carrying around.

SBSB made by Tom Lensch.
The pieces are un-removable, except for the holding piece
Like the previous versions, the Seal takes a minimum of 41 rectilinear moves to solve. The main notable feature is that the piece with the red ball restricts the movements of the other pieces depending on where the piece is at the moment, which have been described in my review of Tom Lensch's version of the SBSB

Although I have played with the SBSB nearly two years ago, it still took me a while to figure out the moves again with the Seal and several times I had to re-arrange the pieces and start from beginning. 

Perhaps the best part about this puzzle is that all the action (min. 41 moves or more) takes place within a simple looking 3 x 2 size grid, and involving five rectangular pieces only, moving one at a time left right up and down...incredible design feat here!

As far as I know, all the other versions of the SBSB are not currently available but perhaps Naoaki, like most puzzle exchangers, may have some copies still left over from IPP36 for sale. 

Sunday 6 November 2016

2016 8 August

There are packing puzzles and there are packing puzzles. And 2D packing puzzles come in all shapes and styles. Aside from the typical standard "fit X number of pieces" into the tray version, there are those which require the puzzler to find a symmetrical shape, an anti-slide formation or in the case of the "2016 8 August" puzzle here, leave a certain designated portion of the tray uncovered.

 "8 August" is not just a packing puzzle, but it also bears a is a calendar packing puzzle, but more on that later...

This puzzle is Rikishi (Lixy) Ramada's IPP36 Exchange Puzzle. It is made from precision laser cut acrylic for both the tray and pieces and fits nicely into a standard CD case as part of the packaging. The details, text, numerals etc and instructions are beautifully etched onto the top and inside surfaces of the tray. A very high quality piece indeed.

The object of the puzzle is to cover up the tray with all the 6 given pieces but leaving a single date open. Since there are 31 days in August, there are 31 challenges here. What is interesting is also that each of the 6 pieces is a pentomino (ie shape made up of 5 square units) selected from the total of 12 possible flat pentomino configurations.  

The design and shape of the tray provides 155 ways to pack the 6 pieces into the box, but for each date to be left uncovered, this will vary from date to date. The easiest challenge is the date 26th August, which has 22 solutions while 7 dates in the calendar have a unique solution. And of course the rest of the dates in between have varying number of solutions (see photo). Quite amazing how Lixy managed to find a combination of 6 pentomino pieces which can reveal any one of the 31 dates in the tray! Lixy had probably also chosen the month of August for his puzzle to coincide with IPP36 which officially ran from 5th to 7th August 2016.  

I tried 26th August and it was pretty easy (given there are 22 possibilities) and next I tried my own birthday (9th August). 9th August has 5 solutions and this took me a bit longer to find. When it came to the dates with only 1 solution, well, you can guess....

8 August is not only interesting and fun as a packing puzzle (with not too many pieces), but there are varying levels of challenges inherently built in which can test the novice and the expert alike and anyone else in between. And If you ignore the year and the days and just focused on the dates, this puzzle can actually be turned into a perpetual calendar.

Saturday 29 October 2016

Vivaldi Burr

Of all the IPP36 Exchange Puzzles, the Vivaldi Burr must surely be one of the most unique and unusual looking ones present this year! Very nicely packaged, it even comes with portions of a score which act as cushioning in the box!

Exchanged and designed by Rene Dawir of Luxembourg, the Vivaldi Burr was produced by Marcel Gillen, the latter who is most well known for his chess piece puzzles. 

As you can see from the photos, the puzzle takes, IMHO the shape and form more of a cello (than a violin). It is reminiscent of the Japanese Kumiki puzzles, that are interlocking puzzles which take on a familiar shape eg animal or object.

The Vivaldi Burr is constructed entirely of thick MDF board and the pieces are precision cut using a CNC milling machine. Stripped down, it is essentially a "board burr" type puzzle. Quality, fit and finish is very good and everything is nicely put together and all pieces slide and move relatively smoothly.

The object is the disassemble and re-assemble the burr. Make no mistake here; while it doesn't look anything like a traditional burr and you can see everything you are doing, the Vivaldi Burr is not that easy to take apart, even though it may appear to be so. I don't have the exact solution steps but based on my own rough count, it takes about 9 steps to remove the first piece and approximately a total of 24 steps to dis-assemble the entire puzzle completely +/- a couple of steps. The first two steps are obvious. The steps are sequential and if one is missed, it may mean starting several steps from behind again. Putting it back to together is the exact reverse. It took me a good forty five minutes to take apart the thing apart and re-solve.

Moderately challenging to solve, overall a very nice design and well executed "burr" to collect. And something certainly very different from the usual.

Thursday 20 October 2016

Trois Chocolats

Trois Chocolats is a 2015 dexterity puzzle from Frederic Boucher. In recent years, he has also designed several others including Manholes 55, Pyramida and one of my favourites, Smiley In A Bottle. As of this post, Eric Fuller is also selling one of Frederic's non-dexterity puzzles, a 2D packing puzzle called Artefacts, well-worth taking a look!

 Trois Chocolats consists of a square jar with a screw cover and inside there are 3 cubes, each with a cavity, made from maple, cherry and wenge with a fourth smaller wenge solid block. The jar looks to be something you can commercially buy off the shelf but the cubes are hand-glued and finished, and very nicely done I might add. The jar measures 10cm tall and about 6.5cm wide. 

Looking at the photos I think you can guess what the object of the puzzle is; yes, to get the cubes to stack atop one another and the smaller block to fit inside the wenge cube. The cubes have been constructed in such a way that there is a particular order for stacking them; maple at the bottom and wenge on top with the cherry in between. Any other combination and the stack will have gaps.

When I first looked at the puzzle, I thought it was going to be a really tough challenge given there are 4 pieces. And in the early stages I had some difficulty with all the cubes rolling around inside the jar. But as I puzzled on, turning the jar in all directions, it didn't appear as difficult as I had expected. I slowly got the hang of it. I could get the cherry onto the maple cube and with some persistence, the wenge thereafter. The part that was most difficult was to get the small block into the cavity of the wenge cube. This took me a good twenty minutes to get right and occasionally in between, the other 3 cubes would dislodge and I had to start all over again. 

Trios Chocolats is a rather interesting design from Frederic and as i can testify, not impossible to solve; in fact surprisingly manageable, so long as you keep at it. For those into dexterity or bottle puzzles, here's one worth collecting.  

Monday 17 October 2016

Magiq #8 & Tango 72

For this year's IPP36 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition, I submitted two entries. One was my own design (the subject of this post) while the second was a joint entry with fellow puzzler Primitivo Familiar Ramos, which I shall write about at a later date.

My first entry was called Magiq#8 and the goal (as can be seen from the photos) is to re-arrange the 5 pieces and change the #8 to a #0. Saying "abracadabra" would certainly help! I didn't manage to win any prizes...but hey, its the participation that counts right? 

Although this year's design bears some resemblance to my entry at last year's IPP competition, the "69", the Magiq#8 is totally different in terms of the solve. My design was expertly crafted by Tom Lensch and consists of exotic woods comprising walnut, holly, shedua and yellowheart. Construction, fit and finish is excellent and I particularly liked the perimeter trim added by Tom to the top edge of the box.

Its not as straight forward a packing puzzle as one might expect and there is a trick to it. No spoilers so I shall not say anymore. What's the difficulty level? I can't say as I have not received any feedback so far, although puzzler Marc Pawliger did casually mention to me in the competition room that he found it quite devilish... If anyone is keen to purchase a copy, please contact Tom Lensch via his website to check on availability. 

My Exchange Puzzle is "Tango 72". This year, I designed a sliding block puzzle consisting of 5 pieces, 4 of which are identical. Like most sliding puzzles, the goal is to rearrange the pieces from a starting position to an end position, while only moving the pieces (left, right, up and down) within the tray. 

Here the end result is to form the words IPP36 from a scrambled state. It takes a minimum 72 moves to arrive at the final solution. I tried to make my design accommodate an additional but easier challenge with fewer moves, but somehow didn't quite manage to succeed. Tango 72 is made from 3mm laser cut acrylic and I have a couple of copies left for sale if anyone is interested.

Thursday 13 October 2016

Murbiter's Devilish Burr

The past few days were spent on Rosemary Howbrigg's IPP36 Exchange Puzzle, Murbiter's Devilish Burr designed by Primitivo Familiar Ramos. 

"Murbiter" is the ancient Arabic name of a town in Valencia, Spain called Sagunto, where Primitivo was born. I think this is the second burr Primitivo has named Murbiter; In 2014, Primitivo's own Exchange Puzzle was called the Murbiter's Psuedo Burr, the latter incidentally which was a lot easier to solve.

The design was produced for the Exchange by Brian Young of Mr Australia. The puzzle measures about 8cm x 8cm x 8cm and the pieces are made from Queensland Silver Ash while the burr ends with their rather nice edges are a contrasty reddish brown Western Australian Jarrah. Overall build quality and construction is excellent and all the pieces are snug but move smoothly.

I was stuck like that for some time even with Burr Tools
What is noticeably different about the Murbiter are the burr ends that lend the "I" shape to each piece (and according to James Dalgety, this technically should not qualify the Murbiter as a "burr" in the traditional sense of the word). The ends are not there just to make the puzzle look different but are integral to the design and the way the puzzle interlocks. Without the ends, the Murbiter has only a maximum level 6 solution. And since we are talking about the number of moves, I might as well deal with the puzzling aspect. This is a mid-level 15 solution burr and requires a total of 21 moves to take the thing fully apart. I did manage to take it apart (after quite a lot of time and effort), but putting it back together was really beyond me. It's not only devilish, its hellish! Make no's way harder than it's level 15 solution would suggest.

I must insist that this puzzle is such a dexterous handful it requires more than two hands to solve! Even with the aid of Burr Tools, its difficult! Thank goodness I had my supportive wife to help....she supported and held the first three pieces in place with her hands while I slowly piled on the rest with mine. Brian says that the Murbiter "is a real challenge but not impossible"...which IMHO is somewhat of an understatement! Which is why Brian has also made an interesting video of himself solving the Murbiter unsupported, so go watch it. Don't worry, I doubt it will be a spoiler for anyone, given the way the solving goes.

For interlocking puzzle addicts, this is an interesting looking (and real challenging) one to add to your collection. Available from Mr Puzzle for A$59.09.

Tuesday 4 October 2016


Can two ordinary ordinary zippers that are joined together become a real mechanical puzzle? Well in the genius hands of Hirokazu Iwasawa, they definitely can! And here it is... 

Hirokazu (or Hiro) is very well known for what I call his "offbeat" designs. Yes he does design regular looking and playable puzzles too such the well known Odd Puzzle, Alcyl, Tritalon and the Jam Series but he also has a hidden talent for coming up with unique puzzles that most would not imagine possible; that is using everyday objects like the zippers shown here and choosing non-typical materials such as cloth and fabric. 

Many in the puzzle community will remember his extremely popular Square In The Bag which won the IPP32 Puzzlers' Award and his subsequent CorRECTly In The Bag. Amazing how he is able to think up such unusual and unique puzzle designs that actually work.

Zipper was Hiro's IPP36 exchange puzzle in Tokyo this past August. Made of two zippers joined together, the puzzle provides two challenges. 

1. Completely zip up one of the two colour zippers 
2. Zip up both zippers completely. 

My puzzler friend Khuong An Nguyen has suggested that Hiro may have been inspired by or based his Zipper design on the "Mobius Strip". Click here to find out what this is...a rather interesting read.

The Zipper measures about 29 cm and comes with two seperate zipper pulls. My copy is a green-yellow version though there are other colour combinations for sale. Quality wise the zipper is above average as the two zippers are physically glued together and can come apart if too much force is used or if you try to peel them apart. The zipper itself has already been pre-twisted so it's not just a simple task of finding the opening ends and zipping them up. 

For some strange reason in my search for the solution to the first challenge, I actually discovered and solved the second challenge. Physically as you examine the zippers, it does not look possible to zip both zippers together at the same time but in typical Hiro fashion, the solution is definitely out there and apart from eliciting my amazement, it's actually a pretty elegant solution in the final state. 

From the puzzling perspective, Zipper is not a very difficult puzzle to solve but presents a challenge that requires some thinking and close visual examination. You must not allow yourself to think that it is impossible physically, which was my initial experience with CorRECTly In The Bag.  Mentally reinforce to yourself that it is indeed solvable and there is a way to do it without resorting to force or tearing the zippers apart...You'll be surprised.   

All in, a great (exchange) puzzle that is very far removed from the norm and Zipper can be enjoyed by both seasoned and novice puzzlers alike. In fact non-puzzlers will probably have fun with it too since some thinking out of the box is required as is typical of Hiro's puzzles of this nature. 

Zipper is manufactured by DYLAN-KOBO in Japan. Currently it appears that the Zipper is not listed and available. Best to contact the site owner MINE (Mineyuki Uyematsu). MINE ships internationally.

Wednesday 28 September 2016

CheckerBored 3

CheckerBored 3 is anything but boring! 

I had thought that with the fair amount of practice I have had with packing puzzles designed by Goh Pit Khiam such as Dancing ShoesAlmost ThereFusion etc and Stewart Coffin's CCC-1Cruiser and Five-FIt, I would have been able to solve William Waite's IPP36 Exchange Puzzle the CheckerBored 3. But this was not to be the case, sadly. 

Waite runs a website called Puzzlemist selling some very beautiful (and very difficult looking) 2D packing puzzles based on various themes, all which have been designed and produced him. 

Waite's CheckerBored 3 consists of a regular square tray(10cm x 10cm) and six 6 other pieces. The pieces look as if they have been dissected from a regular 8x8 checker board into different shapes and 5 of the pieces consists of diagonal half squares as well. 

The entire puzzle has been precision laser cut with the darker squares laser etched in a grid pattern. Quality fit and finish is very good and each puzzle comes in a sponge lined box for protection. 

The object is to place all the 6 pieces into the tray to make a checker board pattern and with
half squares permitted. 

The typical starting point would be to try placing all 6 pieces inside the tray and adjusting the pieces randomly to find a fit. But of course this would have been too easy and yielded no success. Somehow one piece just "didn't gel in with the others". I think I must have spent several hours over the course of a few days of puzzling but got no where; to the point I actually wondered if I had been given a wrong piece(s). Finally I threw in the towel and shot Waite an email asking for the solution. Waite replied to say he was traveling and had no access to the solution until the following week. But he did give me a couple of hints.

Using his hints....yes, it is possible to lay out the 6 given pieces in the tray in a checker board pattern as intended and it looks why didn't I try that??

Nothing more needs to be said. A very challenging puzzle IMHO and die hard packing fans (Dave Holt, if you are reading this) won't be disappointed. You won't find CheckerBored 3 on his site but you can try contacting Waite directly (via his site contact) for availability.

Wednesday 21 September 2016

Cast Lock

The Cast Lock is one of Hanayama's recent offerings and based on the 2014 IPP34 award winning competition entry design "Cassette" of Jin-Hoo Ann from Korea. 

Shaped like a small padlock, the puzzle measures about 4.3cm x 3.1cm x 2.1cm. It consists of 4 aluminium pieces of which two "elongated" rings with notches form the shackle while the other two form the body of the lock. The objective here is to dismantle the lock into four pieces and put it back together again. Quality of construction, fit and finish is very good and there is certain "looseness" of the puzzle which I believe is intended for easy movement of the pieces. While the rings can swivel around the body of the lock pretty easily, the disassembly is anything but that.

I don't have many Hanayama cast puzzles in my collection and for those that I own, I have managed to solve most of them without any help (well, I don't have many of the really difficult ones anyway!). But sadly, this lock eluded me despite several days of on-off playing. I managed to get past what I would consider the second stage and thereafter remained stuck. And stuck for a long time. Finally I threw in the towel and checked out the video solution which some kind soul had placed on YouTube. Looking at the movements which are serial and sequential in nature, I would not have been able to solve the Cast Lock on my own. The number of twist and turns and precise moves required to un-shackle the lock is pretty confusing and mind-boggling to say the least.

This is a very difficult puzzle to take apart and Hanayama rates it 5 out of 6 stars (I think it should be a 6 out of 6). It has stumped quite a number of puzzlers since it came to the market but I know of one puzzler, blogger Kevin Sadler who has managed to solve it. Check out his review here

Jin-Hoo Ahn has really designed a gem. As I looked the individual pieces, they don't look that complicated but yet the sum of the four parts result in a very challenging puzzle requiring a lot of effort to solve. This is one of those prime examples of "less is more"? If you want a really difficult take-apart puzzle, the Cast Lock is one that will provide a lot of value for money. Outside of Japan, its presently available from PuzzleMaster of Canada.

Sunday 18 September 2016

Hexator & Kissel

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

Over the weekend, I played with two IPP36 Exchange Puzzles designed and manufactured by Vaclav Obsivac from the Czech Republic, more popularly known to the puzzle community as Vinco. I have a number of Vinco's puzzles in my collection including the Cross Box, Murbiter's Pseudo-Burr and the very large sized 18 Dutch Mills

Vinco's online puzzle site has an incredible and very extensive range of interlocking and co-ordinate motion puzzles, made of different woods, a large selection of them using exotic woods and all at very reasonable prices. 

Both my exchange copies came assembled. Both are well made with good fit and finish using Cherry wood and will display rather nicely.

The first is the Hexator, a burr-shaped interlocking solid with 6 irregular pieces each made of different rectangular blocks glued together. Measuring about 5.5cm all round, this was Abel Garcia's exchange puzzle. Taking apart the Hexator was not to difficult once you find where the pieces connect and slide them apart. But the challenge came during the re-assembly. I didn't think it was going to be that difficult but the moment I scrambled the pieces, I wished I hadn't done so. While its only 6 pieces, the pieces are (almost) identical to each other but not so. They just look confusingly similar.

There is only one solution and if you can't find the right pieces to mesh together correctly and in the correct sequence, you'll be going around in circles like I did. To borrow the phrase from one puzzler, the Hexator is confusingly disorientating. While Vinco had deliberately constructed the puzzle to have a symmetrical external pattern of colours on all 6 sides by using darker and lighter woods, I found that this didn't help me much. Thankfully he added the printed solution to the packaging. 

The next is Patrick Major's exchange puzzle, the Kissel, a puzzle comprising 4 identical pieces, each consisting of 3 balls joined together in an L-shape. In the solved state, the puzzle forms a symmetrical bunching of 12 balls. The overall size of the bunch is approximately 7cm all round with each ball about 2.7cm in diameter. 

The Kissel took me even longer than the Hexator to take apart. I had thought that this was possibly co-ordinate motion puzzle and tried to remove the pieces as such. However it was not the case. As I was pulling and pushing (the usual way I disentangle such puzzles) trying to find the one piece that can move, suddenly a piece came off and everything came tumbling down. Again, I had little luck with the dis-assembly and had to resort to the solution. In a way the Kissel sort of resembled a co-ordinate motion puzzle but not quite, since I more or less had to "snap" the last piece into place to lock down the rest, even though a slight amount of force (not excessive) was needed.

Saturday 10 September 2016

Bolt & Golden Rhombic Icosahedron

Here are two IPP36 Exchange Puzzles I played with over the weekend.

The first is Bolt, designed by Atsushi Katagiri and made by Hideto Sato. Bolt is a relatively large puzzle measuring a good 12cm x 9cm x 7cm. Very well made and high quality, its a trick opening puzzle box made of some exotic Japanese wood (I am not sure what it is tho'). Even the turquoise cardboard box which it comes in looks and feels expensive, similar to those carrying Karakuri puzzles.

The Bolt is not a difficult puzzle and requires just four moves to remove the lid.  Not too hard to discover. Inside there is a cavernous amount of free space to put in personal items. A lot of puzzle boxes have tiny spaces to keep tiny momentoes but not the Bolt; it can probably take a couple of men's watches, rings and necklaces as well. A highly functional puzzle box for sure.

The second puzzle is Stephen Chin's Golden Rhombic Icosahedron...quite a mouthful for the name! Stephen Chin is very well known in the puzzle community for his polyhedron puzzles.

An icosahedron is a polyhedron with 20 faces! I am pretty sure few of you puzzlers know right off the bat what "icosahedron" or "polyhedron" means, so click the link here to find out more.

What is unique about this particular icosahedron is that its (perfectly) symmetrical, as far as I can tell. Also called a Platonic icosahedron, it looks familiarly like a super large "diamond" made of wood. This one measure about 8cm in diameter and 6cm thick. The object of Stephan's puzzle is to find the three ways to "open" up the icosahedron, which has been dissected into three interconnecting pieces. 

The puzzle is very well constructed, so well in fact that all the edges of the puzzle line up and join perfectly with each other. It took me a good several minutes of pressing and tugging before I found a slight movement of one of the edges. A bit more pulling and soon I extracted one of the three pieces. The puzzle is not serially interlocked, so removing a different piece can similarly open up the puzzle. I was able to open up the icosahedron with the removal of 2 of the 3 pieces but the third I found a bit too tight to disassemble and didn't bother going further. If you take apart the three pieces and scramble them up a bit, it takes a while to get the orientation right and re-assemble. 

Oh I forgot to mention Stephan says there's also a fourth way to open the puzzle....drop it!

Tuesday 6 September 2016

Double Cast Puzzle Hook

This is one Hanayama Cast Puzzle which you will not find commercially available for sale anywhere in the world, online or in a shop...unless you have participated in the IPP36 Puzzle Exchange.

The Double Hook was Hiroaki Namba's creation (apart from being his exchange puzzle). Its a combination of two Cast Hook puzzles linked together as shown in the photo. Mr Namba first saw a "Triple Cast ABC" made by Yoshiaki Hirano ten years ago and was very impressed...and inspired!

I first saw these marvelous "impossible" cast puzzle creations at IPP33 in Tokyp in 2013. Absolutely amazing is what I can say...but more about those later. 

The standard Cast Hook that you can buy from puzzle retailers was designed by Vesa Timonen, who also designed a number of other cast puzzles such as the ever popular (and wearable) Cast Loop and Cast Cylinder for Hanayama. It comprises two interlocking identical hooks that have been twisted at different angles and the goal is to take them apart. Its essentially a disentanglement wire style puzzle on steroids. Hanayama rates it at one star difficulty, meaning its the easiest level out of six stars and indeed it is not too difficult.

What remains is the standard Cast Hook is on the left
I didn't find taking the Double Hook apart that difficult; now that is not to say that its easy. No its not, but my persistence paid off and after playing with a good fifteen minutes or so, the first hook came off and then the second. Like a lower level burr, the moment the first piece comes off, the rest can be quite easily figured out.

The real challenge came when I tried to assemble the Double Hook back to its original state. Despite going at it on and off over different periods for well over two days, I still cannot link all the four hooks the way it came originally. Getting three together is a cinch, what with after so much trying and practice, but the fourth hook has eluded me thus far. I cannot for the life of me remember the reverse of what I did to disassemble. From a one star difficulty quotient, I think the Double Hook has shot up to least five stars?

It makes the Cast Cake (which is an extremely challenging puzzle by all accounts) now seem rather easy by comparison. Looks like I have to contact Mr Namba for some assistance. 

[Edit 7 Sept 2016: I received an email from Mr Namba with nine photos of the steps to connect everything back together. As you might imagine, even with photos, puzzles of this nature is still not easy but I managed after quite of bit of trying (with coloured tape etc) to get the Double Hook back to its original state] 

If you already have a Cast Hook, buy another copy and try the assembly shown. If you don't, buy two copies and give it a go, Hanayama cast puzzles are inexpensive anyway.

  To see some amazing examples of "impossible objects" using different cast puzzles, click here and scroll all the way to the bottom.