Sunday, 25 September 2011

Retro Plastic Twisty Puzzles Collection

For a change from the usual posts on wood and metal puzzles, I am featuring here a small collection of 7 different twist type puzzles all plastic and very retro!

Top Row L to R: Wisdom Ball, Gerdig UFO, Puck Puzzle,  Saturn Brain Killer
Bottom Row L to R: Brain Ball, Back Spin, Enigma
I acquired these puzzles after having seen them over the internet from time to time, my purchase criteria being based on their unusual design, uniqueness in their puzzling aspects and of course their vintage rarity. Added to this, their bright and attractive colours and round shapes were also key selling points.  Hence you will find there is no twisty cube-shaped puzzles here, which are not really my cup of tea anyway. There is also a fair amount of information that can be found on the internet about these plastic puzzles. For those interested in such plastic twist puzzles, there is an internet forum with a base of 2,000 members. I guess the likes of Rubik's Cube continue to live long and prosper!.

The Wisdom Ball, Gerdig UFO, Brain Ball and Back Spin came from a gentleman from the Czech Republic by the name of Milan Vodicka who has a site featuring an extensive number of plastic twist/non-twist puzzles for sale, some produced as far back as the 1980s. The Puck Puzzle came from the puzzle shop of Hendrik Haak, Saturn Brain Killer from Amazon and the Enigma from an Ebay seller who, at the time of this writing still has several of these puzzles left.

Wisdom Ball
This is the invention of Yang Iu-Hsin of Taiwan. It is a ball puzzle with 6 rotating circles, each comprising a different colour. In the solved state, each rotating circle has 8 number tabs in running order from Nos 1 to 8. The only exception is the red circle which has only tabs Nos1 to 7. In place of No.8, there is an empty slot to which a number tab from another circle can slide into. In the unsolved state, all the number tabs are of course jumbled up on each of the 6 circles.
The object of the puzzle is to take a jumbled up Wisdom Ball, rotate the coloured circles and slide the number tabs around and render the number tabs back in the correct order on each of the circles. This is but one of the 7 challenges available for this puzzle. Other challenges include arranging every tab to be the same number on each circle, and matching the same colour for both the number tabs and circles.

The puzzle is not unduly difficult and I had a lot of fun turning the circles and sliding the number tabs here and there. It came solved, so I was quite happy just to scramble it enough for me to have a decent feel for arranging it back to its solved state.

My copy of the Wisdom Ball  is well constructed and quality is very good. The surface is matted so that there is some texture and will not slip easily for those with sweaty palms. The ball is of a good size for the hands (diameter of about 3 1/4in) and all the coloured circles rotate smoothly.

The only grouse I have, and this is a minor one, is that to slide a tab, the two circles in question must be properly lined up so that the tab can slide across from one circle to the other smoothly, otherwise you will find that the tab gets stuck sometimes. However as I played more with the ball, I realised that after a while, one can easily get the hang of properly aligning the circles quite quickly and efficiently and solving becomes a much easier process. The Wisdom Ball is pretty rare so its worth getting if you come across one.

For more information on the Wisdom Ball, check out Jaap's Puzzle Page and Gabriel's blog. There is also a video review of the Ball on YouTube.

A green stopper restrains the two
dials to prevent unintended movement
The Enigma is a one of those puzzles that is occasionally massed produced as corporate gifts or souvenirs, usually bearing the logo or name of an organisation or a company.

The puzzle is round with a diameter of 3 1/4in and 7/8in thick. Made of sturdy plastic, it consist of 3 parts; a top and a bottom circular dial with finger grooves along its edge, both which can rotate.  These two dials sandwich a centre disc with gear teeth. What the two top and bottom dials do is that when they are turned clockwise or anti-clockwise, they manipulate a series of internal gears within the puzzle which in turn will cause 8 small circles around the edge and a larger centre  ring, all on the top surface to turn in various directions. This has the effect of jumbling up the image printed on the surface of the puzzle. In the solved state, the image looks normal and nothing appears to be amiss. The 8 circles and ring have pretty tight tolerances and they are not obvious within the image unless you look closely at the puzzle. The image looks normal just as in the photo on the right above.

Once you start turning the top and/or the bottom dials, the image starts to get jumbled and becomes illegible (as in the left photo). The goal here is to rotate both the dials in order to get the image back to "normal". The puzzle is not as easy as it appears to be since both the top and bottom dials control the rotation of the 8 small circles (each dial 4 at a time) as well as the larger centre ring. So quite a fair bit of turning left and right is required, for both dials to finally line up the image again. If the image is a relatively complicated one (like the one here), this makes the puzzle even harder to solve.

Overall, the Enigma is a fun and unusual puzzle (I think great for kids too since it is plastic, safe with no sharp edges, loose parts or unduly heavy). I just wished I had been able to obtain one with a nicer image and colours and not bearing the name of some organisation, but alas, my Ebay seller had already run out of decent looking ones. See Jaap's Puzzle Page for more info.

Back Spin
Back Spin was manufactured by Binary Arts (now ThinkFun) in the l990s. It is a fairly large puzzle measuring about 6in in diameter and 1 1/2in thick. It is well constructed and the plastic quality of my copy is very good.

The puzzle consists of two flat rotating black discs joined together at the centre. Both the top disc and the bottom disc each have 6 coloured slots, each containing (in the solved state) 3 balls of the same colour. In total, there are 12 slots from both the top and bottom discs. However, at any one time, one of the slots (depending on whether you are looking at it from the top or bottom) will have only two balls.

At any one time, one of the 12 slots on the
Back Spin (for top and bottom) will only have 2 out of
3 balls such as the blue slot at 12 o'clock
containing  only a red and a blue ball
To play with the Back Spin, you are first required to scramble the puzzle to mix up the colour balls in their slots from both the top and bottom disc and you do this by rotating the 2 black discs, aligning the slot with 2 balls with a slot containing 3 balls and allowing a coloured ball from the 2nd slot to fill the slot which has only 2 balls. Now the 2nd slot that originally had 3 balls now is left with 2 and you find another ball from yet another slot (with 3 balls) to fill it.  And you continue doing this until all the balls in the slots are sufficiently mixed up in colours. To solve the puzzle, now your objective is to fill each slot with 3 balls not only all of the same colour but also that the slot colours on both sides of the discs match the colours of its  3 balls within.

The puzzle is not overly difficult but presents a fair challenge. However it can be a bit tedious since you are required not only to rearrange all 35 coloured balls back into 3 same coloured balls per slot but also into the slot of the correct colour.

After I had scrambled the Back Spin, I went about diligently trying to put everything back in order but at the time of this post, I still have not return it to the solved state....yet. Maybe I should have jumbled it less!! It's hard to describe the Back Spin in action so do watch videos of it; click here and here. Also check out Jaap's Puzzle Page; which gives the solution in very detailed steps. The Back Spin is no longer sold by ThinkFun. It also has a number of spin-offs (no pun intended) and imitations found for sale on the internet, so getting an original version may be quite difficult and would probably be via a private sale.

Puck Puzzle
For a puzzle with just one size, design and construction, I think the Puck Puzzle ranks up there with the Rubik's cube for having the most variants; perhaps even more than the basic Rubik's cube. The variants here I am talking about are the myriad of colours and graphics that adorn the Puck Puzzle in its many guises. If you did a Google search under Images for "Puck Puzzle", you will probably find no less than 15 different colours and designs of Puck Puzzles. My puck is the Blue IQ139. From what I can see from the Internet, there is also a Red, Yellow and Rainbow IQ139 puck.

The Puck measures about 3in in diameter and 1in thick and made of high quality plastic. Fit and finish is good and parts that are suppose to move all move smoothly. However, as you start twisting and turning, the puzzle becomes "seasoned" and the fit becomes less snug. Unlike a lot of plastic puzzles where parts are coloured using coloured stickers (eg; Rubik's Cube), the Puck's numbers are silk screen printed giving the puzzle a feeling of quality.

On all Pucks, the outer ring is made up of twelve separate sections (each shaped like a wedge) and together they can rotate around the centre circle.The centre circle is split into 2 halves and each half can also be turned 180 degrees forwards or backwards. In my case, rotating the outer ring in combination with turning either of the 2 centre halves has the effect of scrambling the twelve separate numbered sections.

The object is to rearrange the scrambled numbers back in running order from 1-12. To do this will again require rotating the outer ring and turning the centre halves. It takes a bit of figuring out to get the hang of rotating and turning the numbers to bring the numbers back in order again, since once you turn one half over, 6 of the top numbers disappear to the bottom leaving some to remain on top, so you may have a mix of numbered sections and blank sections. I scrambled the puzzle quite a bit but could not seem to get the numbers back in correct order again. I looked at Jaap's Puzzle Page and despite following his solution steps, can only manage Nos 4-12 in order. So now my Puck remains in a half scrambled state :-(. For a Puck in action, check out the videos on YouTube.

The Puck is not too bulky and quite pocketable. A portable puzzle to bring along to frustrate you on your travels!

Saturn Brain Killer
The coloured discs can slide along
inside the tracks around the ring
The Saturn puzzle consist of a ring with a recessed track on both sides. Within the track on either side are a number of movable discs. Each disc has a different colour on both sides. There are altogether 32 discs in the puzzle. In the centre of the ring is a bridge which can also rotate on its own axis.

The function of the bridge is to enable a disc to move from the top side to the bottom side of the ring and also allow a disc to change sides hence changing the colour from top to bottom or vice-versa. The object of the puzzle is to arrange the discs (with the help of the bridge) of 4 colours on 4 discs on each side of the rings. The Saturn measures 4 1/2in in diameter and is about 7/8in thick.

The bridge in the centre of the ring
transport the discs from top to
bottom and allows the disc to change
sides so the colour is correspondingly
When I first unpacked the puzzle, I thought the puzzle was pretty simple, just rearrange the discs by pushing them around the rings and using the bridge to change the colours or flip it to the opposite side etc. Little did I realise that there are more than 8 colours (I had assume only 4 different colours for each side of the ring, hence a total of 8 colours for both sides).

As I continued playing with the puzzle, I found myself going around in circles (no pun intended) and it was then I discovered that there are more than 8 colours. There are actually 14 colours covering the 32 discs. This makes the puzzle very much harder to solve. Difficult because you can't remove the disc to see what colour is under a particular disc....the only way to know is for you to move a disc onto the bridge and then you can see the underside of it. Also difficult because you need to figure out which are the relevant 8 colours to solve the puzzle as intended.

After the usual scrambling of the colours, I tried to solve it but gave up after some time, not only because the puzzle is difficult, but also because the bridge keeps getting stuck and cannot rotate properly because one or more discs keeps getting jammed (half of the disc is in the ring and half onto the bridge). I wouldn't say the quality is bad, in fact the build of the puzzle is pretty solid and sturdy with the use of good plastic. The only complaint being that of the bridge and I guess its the way the puzzle has been designed.

I checked out Jaap's Puzzle Page for some explanation on how to figure out the colours in order to solve this puzzle, but unfortunately (through no fault of his) I can't quite follow his analysis and reasoning to determine which are the 8 colours needed to solve the puzzle. Jaap has listed the 8 colours on his site and once you know the 8, solving becomes relatively easy. Randomly trying to solve the puzzle by trial and error is not going to work as I also discovered. Now that I know what are the 8 colours to use, I am quite happy come back to the Saturn again another other day. While I thought this puzzle was a rare find, they are still available via Amazon.

For how the Saturn looks in action, check out this video on YouTube.

The BrainBall ("BB") looks like the planet Saturn; it consists of a ring of numbers from 1-13 (white on one side as in the photo and yellow on the reverse side). This ring encircles and can rotate in either direction around the ball. The ball itself consist of 3 parts, the blue portion which is flanked by two black circles (one larger than the other) on the sides and both these circles can rotate on its axis but not independently; ie both circles can only rotate together in the same direction at the same time.

In a way, the BB is similar to the Puck, the object of the puzzle is to unscramble and rearrange the numbers back in running order and in the same colour scheme. The BB looked to be promising at first but I had a hard time with it, not because the puzzle is difficult (yes this as well!) but I found the rotation of the number ring very stiff and arduous and I was practically using quite a bit of force to get it to turn around the ball. Flipping the black circles to turn the white numbers to yellow and vice-versa was only slightly easier. Having seen a video of the BB in action, I think its my own copy of the puzzle that is having this problem.  Notwithstanding,

I would say the quality of the puzzle, in terms of materials used and colours applied (no stickers here) is very good. Everything is strong and sturdy, perhaps too sturdy! It could certainly do with some hard twisting to "season" the puzzle. The BB measures about 3 1/2in across at the widest points and the ball itself is 2 1/4in in diameter. Size is about right in the palm of the hand.

I didn't spend a lot of time with the BB; I scrambled it just a wee bit to get a feel of how the puzzle works and given how difficult my copy was to manipulate the number ring around the ball, I didn't want to make things too difficult for myself and was content to get it back to its solved state quickly. According to Jaap, the BB is a "very difficult puzzle". Looking at his analysis of the BB, the various permutations that abound and the moves required to solve the puzzle,  I would not argue with his statement. There was even a website dedicated to the BB which now appears to be defunct, although Jaap on his site also mentions another link which has info about the BB. For its rarity, definitely worth getting one for keeps if you happen to come across a unit for sale.

Gerdig UFO
The Gerdig UFO ("GUFO") I think is probably the most mechanically complicated plastic twist puzzle I have ever come across. The design and number of moving parts integrated to form a workable puzzle is really quite amazing. The GUFO has its own website with a video, photos and a guide to how to play and solve the puzzle although you will probably require Google Translation unless you understand the Slovakian language.

The Gerdig UFO standing vertically
on its side to show the two halves
and the 8 coloured semi-spheres on
both the top and bottom halves
The GUFO consist of a white and thick flat "pancake" which is split horizontally in the middle into two halves with finger grooves for easy gripping. These two halves are connected via the centre and can rotate against each other. On the top rotating half, there are eight coloured semi-spheres protruding upwards. On the opposite, the bottom rotating half similarly also has 8 coloured semi-spheres protruding downwards. In the solved state, each semi-sphere is of the same colour, when viewed from either the top or bottom. When the top or bottom half is rotated, the 8 coloured semi-spheres move together along with whichever half that is being rotated. This has the effect of changing the colours of the top and bottom semi-spheres resulting in their colours being mixed.  In the centre is also a rotatable light blue dial with a red dot and within the dial is a white button. When the button is depressed, depending at which semi-sphere the red dot is pointing ti, that sphere will flip over to reveal its bottom colour; ie top colour goes to bottom and bottom colour comes to the top. The GUFO is about 4 1/4in in diameter and 2in tall. Quality and construction is very good and all the parts move smoothly and click into position without anything getting stuck so far....

The puzzle must first be ramdomly scrambled to mix the colours of the semi-spheres top and bottom.  This is done via rotation of the two halves, turning the blue dial's red dot to a semi-sphere and pressing the white button which will flip the spheres and mix the colours. Once its sufficiently scrambled, the fun of solving begins using the same type of actions that caused the puzzle to be scrambled in the first place.

The GUFO not only has an unusual design but it comes with 5 levels of difficulty built into the puzzle as well (ie something for the whole family as stated by the maker!). By increasing the level of difficulty beyond level 1, each time you depress the white button, more than 1 semi-sphere will flip simultaneously. At level 5, 4 semi-spheres (marked by 4 red dots) will flip at the same time. Each of the 5 levels can be adjusted by unscrewing the back plate of the white button to reveal a set of gear sticks which can be removed and placed at certain positions within the internal mechanism to set the puzzle to the desired level of difficulty.

The back plate removed to show the internal mechanism
and the black gear sticks which can be moved to different positions to adjust the level of difficulty
I scrambled the GUFO quite sufficiently at random and was able to solve it fairly quickly. But this was only at Level 1. I did not want to be too ambitious, so I didn't challenge myself to the other more difficult levels. Besides, I wasn't sure about messing around with the internal mechanism, just in case I jam something in the process. Overall I found the GUFO to be pretty fun and engaging (in my case at level 1) and watching the spheres flip and change colour when pressing the white button is pretty cool. I think I had a bit more fun with the GUFO than the rest of the twisties above (all which I enjoyed except maybe for the BrainBall), or maybe its just the fairly intricate mechanism that captivated me. If only someone would produce a metal that would be really cool!

For another take on the GUFO, see Gabriel's blog. As usual Jaap has detailed information and analysis on solving the GUFO so be sure to check that out if you decide to acquire a GUFO. Its a pretty rare puzzle and you might still be able to get one from Milan Vodicka mentioned at the beginning of this post if he has any left or possibly from this site as well.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Aluminium Cylinder Box

I got the Aluminium Cylinder Box from Oy Sloyd Ab nearly 5 months back and it was only today that I finally managed to solve it! More about this later....

The Cylinder which is designed and made by Wil Strijbos is a very well machined polished aluminium puzzle measuring about 2in tall with a diameter of 1 1/2in. Quality, fit and finish like all of Wil's metal puzzles are excellent. The object of the puzzle is to take the cylinder apart to remove several ball bearings within it. As can be seen from the photo, the puzzle is made up of two main portions, a "cap" on top of the cylindrical body. The cap can be rotated as well as depressed slightly and you will be able to feel that it is positioned atop a spring which returns the cap back to its original position once you let go. Inside you will hear the ball bearings rolling about. At the bottom of the cylinder, there is a small hole to which you can shine a torch light into and see an empty recess within, or in some cases, you may see a ball beariing clanging about.

After I got the puzzle, I spent several days on it and despite twisting and turning, shaking the cylinder and whatever else I could think of to try to take apart the cap, nothing worked. I gave up and emailed Wil for some clues. Wil gave me two clues but not the solution, but at least now I had something to go on. I followed the clues but still could get no where. I decided to give the puzzle a rest and went on to other puzzles that I had acquired that week. The cylinder became forgotten for several months until today that I decided to give it another shot....back to the clues from Wil and this time after some more careful study of the clues,  I finally managed to open the cylinder and out came 4 ball bearings.

I have deliberately positioned the solved puzzle the way I did in the photo so as not to reveal the internals of the cylinder, for the benefit of those who are still trying to solve it on their own unaided. What amazed me was the way the puzzle has been designed and constructed on the inside to appear rather simple in the physics of how to take it apart, but yet at the same time devilishly clever to make it very difficult to solve without clues or the solution.

To be honest, if I had not gotten the clues from Wil, I doubt if I could have opened the cylinder on my own. Looking at the cylinder now, I have reservations whether I can solve it quickly and repeatedly. For now, I will leave the cylinder opened and keep it away again until I am ready to put everything back together for another bout of solving.

The Aluminium Cylinder has been reviewed by a number of other bloggers so you may wish to look at Neil's, Kevin's, Oli's and Allard's puzzle blogs. For those who really insist on seeing what the cylinder looks like when taken apart, scroll down and see the photo at Rob's Puzzle Page.

Sunday, 18 September 2011


This diminutive puzzle, according to the seller who sold it to me (identity withheld by request) was designed by Jean-Claude Constantine.

It is a tiny packing puzzle comprising of a wooden box frame measuring 1 7/8in x 1 7/8in x 7/8in into which 4 aluminium Ts are to be placed inside. I have been told that the wood used here by Jean-Claude is Wenge (thanks to Geduldspiele for highlighting this to me). The base appears to be 1/8in plywood.  The 4Ts is pretty well constructed with good fit and finish. The aluminium Ts are also well cut without any rough edges.

With 1 of the 4 Ts inserted here...

The goal is to place the 4 Ts back into the box so that everything fits in nicely together with nothing sticking outwards and all 4 Ts are flush with the top of the box. It may look simple at first but it took me a bit of trial and error and re-arrangement here and there before I slotted in the last T nicely. I have deliberately not shown a photo of the puzzle in the solved state since this is a sure giveaway of the solution.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Fire Plug

This puzzle is another one of Marcel Gillen's designs and like the name it bears, looks rather like a fire hydrant. In fact if you didn't know it was a mechanical puzzle, you would have mistaken it for perhaps a multi-directional valve or some heavy duty machine part, owing to its industrial-like appearance.

I acquired this puzzle from the same anonymous private seller who had sold me the Queen, Pawn and Rook reviewed in an earlier post. Like Marcel's chess piece puzzles, the Fire Plug is very rare and cannot be obtained from any online puzzle shop as far as I am aware.

The Fire Plug is a very heavy puzzle (feels almost the same weight as a Revomaze Extreme) with a ball burnished cylindrical body made out of aluminium (most likely by cast moulding). Inserted into the sides of the cylinder are 2 brass pegs, each 2 1/2in long with a cross section diameter of about 5/8in. On one end of one of the pegs are the initials M and G. The cylinder body is 3 1/4in tall with a diameter of 1 5/8in. My copy is well made and fit and finish is very good.

The object of the puzzle is to extract the brass pegs from the Fire Plug to reveal a hidden item within the puzzle, in this case a tiny little cute plastic Dalmatian dog with a fireman's hat. Marcel Gillen had chosen to hide a Dalmatian inside the puzzle for good reason - because Dalmatians have long been associated with fire fighting; click here to read the rather interesting history.

I found the Fire Plug very difficult to solve. My initial fiddling with the brass pegs and causing one of them to rotate and slide from end to end gave me the impression that the two brass pegs were locked vis-a-vis the cylinder body. Further more the way the two brass pegs were positioned relative to each other suggested that both were criss-cross interlocked somehow as well. I also heard some other sounds (apart from the Dalmatian rolling about inside) which indicated that there was another moving part involved, either a tiny ball bearing or pin of some sort, which is not entirely uncommon in puzzles of this nature where everything is hidden from view. I thought  I could "feel" my way to unlocking and removing the brass pegs from the cylinder. But boy was I wrong! I tried all sorts of moves by the book including twisting and turning, pulling and pushing, turning the cylinder upside down, shaking it, banging it etc but to no avail.

In the end, after some time trying, I gave up and decided to go for the solution. The moment I looked at the solution, I realised that there was no way I could have solved the puzzle without it. The way the brass pegs are locked in place is very clever indeed and to solve the puzzle, one had to execute a number of moves in a particular manner and sequence. However, once you memorise the moves, it is easy to repeat solving the puzzle.

Overall the Fire Plug is an extremely challenging puzzle indeed and aside from its unique (and interesting) appearance, ranks very highly as a collector's puzzle due to its rarity. Don;t hesitate to buy it if you come across one.

All Hail The Queen, Pawn & Rook

In one of my earlier reviews, I had already written about All Hail The King. This post will deal with another 3 of Marcel Gillen's chess piece wonders. Like the King, All Hail The Queen, Pawn and Rook are no longer sold commercially by any of the usual online puzzle retailers. By chance, I was really very fortunate to have acquired these 3 rare puzzles from a private seller, who has requested that I not state his identity in this blog.
First up is the Queen, standing slightly shorter than the King at 5 1/2in with a base of about 1 7/8in in diameter. The Queen was Marcel's exchange puzzle for IPP 20 in Los Angeles. Quality of construction is pretty good for my copy despite it being cast aluminium and I can detect no joint lines visible on my Queen.
The Queen with the little diamond out
The object of the puzzle is to remove (as I was to later find out after solving the puzzle) a small (fake) diamond from inside the Queen. Diamonds being a girl's best friend was probably why Marcel thought appropriate to hide one inside the Queen. While not difficult, the Queen does pose a bit of a challenge. The solution is similar to the King but with a slight difference. I did not encounter any problem while solving the Queen, as what a couple of puzzle bloggers had experienced owing to the less than perfect quality of construction of their copies, which had occasionally resulted in the puzzle being jammed, while being taken apart.

Next is the Pawn. This one measures about 4 1/2in tall and 1 7/8in at the base. Construction here is also by aluminium casting and the quality of my copy is as good as the Queen.  However my Pawn did come with some minor rub marks on the ball and sides probably due to handling and chaffing against its own packaging.
The Pawn with the cheap plastic coin
The goal is to remove a small plastic coin, similar to the one found in the King. While the solution here again is similar to both the King and Queen, there are about 3-4 extra steps needed to be executed in a particular sequence before the coin can finally be extracted from inside the Pawn. This makes it a far more challenging and engaging puzzle than either the King or Queen. This is the only puzzle of the 4 which I decided to resort to looking at the solution after quite some time trying.

Finally we have the Rook. The Rook here is different from the previous 3 in that it is not produced by aluminium casting but crafted from a solid aluminium block (CNC machining perhaps?); much like the way William Strijbos produces his metal puzzles. Quality and construction here are excellent. The crown portion of the Rook is polished aluminium while the body is ball burnished. Shortest of the 4, it stands at about 3 3/4in tall and 1 /78in across at the base.
The Rook is of superior quality; even the hidden item (a pawn) is well made  
Hidden inside the Rook is a tiny little chess piece (not sure what it is although it looks very much like a pawn). Once again, the solution and mechanism to take apart the Rook is similar to the King and Queen, but also with a slightly difference twist. Challenge level is about the same as the two and I solved it pretty quickly.

With the exception of the Pawn, these 4 puzzles by Marcel Gillen are not exactly very difficult. If I had to rate them in order of difficulty from easiest to hardest, that would be the King, followed by the Queen, Rook and finally the Pawn. While the puzzle aspect may not rank high for serious puzzlers, these 4 chess puzzles make excellent conversation items and would stand tall on any executive's desktop. All are relatively heavy for their size and can function usefully as nice paper weights! But I guess the real value to this chess puzzle series is their rarity, given they are virtually impossible to find; unless you happen to know someone who has them and are willing to sell. As I understand, there is also a Bishop and Knight in the series, this according to Neil in his blog after he attended the 22nd May 2011 California Puzzle Party in the US. So if anyone reading this has either of these two puzzles and is willing to part with them, you can contact me via email on my profile page.

For other reviews on the King, Queen and Rook, you can refer to Oli'sJeff's and Jonas' puzzle blogs.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011


Digigrams is designed by Martin Watson and made by Eric Fuller. This puzzle came from CubicDissection and as of the time of this writing, there are still 4 copies of the puzzle left. This puzzle measures 3 1/2in x 3in x 1/2in and is made of walnut for the frame, grandillo for the base (tray) and for the numerical digits, acrylic. Quality of construction, fit and finish is excellent. While not obvious, the edges of the frame are also very slightly beveled, adding to the attention to detail. The acrylic digits are very neat and precisely cut and they fit just nicely into the box frame.
This is a packing puzzle and instead of the usual blocks or other odd shapes, the pieces are actually digits (hence the name Digigrams) numbering from 1 to 9 plus a 0. The object is to fit all 10 digits into the frame. The font of the digits are similar to those found on LCD digital watches.

This is my first packing puzzle and I had a quite a bit of difficulty with it. Every time, just when I thought I had got all the 10 digits in, there would invariably be one piece that cannot fit in the last remaining space and I would have to re-arrange all the digits again. The difficulty of the puzzle also lies in the fact that not every digit is to be placed in either the vertical or horizontal orientation, but rather a mixture of the two. This is compounded by the requirement that the digits (the way they have been cut) need to be placed face up properly, otherwise adjacent pieces may not be able to fit as intended. Visually, I feel the laser cut acrylic digits also make the puzzle much harder to solve.

After quite a while I gave up and decided to look for a solution. Unfortunately none came with the puzzle. But I remembered seeing photos of the all-wood version on Steve Strickland's puzzle site (WARNING - don't click on the link if you do not wish to see the solution....just yet) where the digits were crafted out of 3 different types of wood. With the aid of these photos, I had no problem packing the digits into the frame. I committed the position of the digits to memory and after several practice runs, had no problem solving the puzzle repeatedly and quickly.

Overall, a nice pocketable puzzle of just the right kind of size for you to take anywhere. For the price and quality, Digigram is also pretty good value for money.

Saturday, 10 September 2011


The aluminium DoveTail is designed and made by William Strijbos. It is really a nice solid piece puzzle and very well machined with excellent fit. Measuring a petite 2in x 1 3/8in x 3/4in, the object of the puzzle is to separate the green convex shaped portion from the polished rectangular block. Mine has the #16 engraved onto the puzzle (the 16th unit that William made???).
Upon first glance, one would wonder how it would be possible to take apart the green portion from the larger block given it's curvature and "dovetail" joint between the two pieces. Although seemingly impossible physically, the solution is actually quite clever. The DoveTail employs a hidden mechanism that some experienced puzzlers may have encountered before, hence it would not be difficult for this group of people to solve. I managed to solve this puzzle very quickly based on my familiarity with the said mechanism. Once you figure out the solution, you're be pretty amazed, as I was, to see how easily the green piece can defy the laws of physics and come apart from the rectangular block.
This is one of two similar DoveTail puzzles from William. There other puzzle looks almost the same except that it has a concave (instead of convex) shaped green block. Both have similar mechanisms. For a review of both Dovetail versions, check out Oli's and Jeff's blogs.

Karakuri Hit Box Dark Yosegi

This puzzle box with the rather unusual surface pattern is from Karakuri and was acquired from PuzzleMaster. Overall measurements are 3 1/2in x 2 3/8in x 1 5/8in. The box seems to comprise of at least 4 different woods to create the staggered pattern (how this is done I am not sure). Quality of construction, fit and finish is really first rate here and feels solid when being handled. It even exudes a rather pleasant woody smell of some sort. My copy is the darker version, there is a lighter coloured version but this was unfortunately out of stock.
The object of the puzzle is to open the drawer which comes out of one end of the box. I figured out the solution very quickly within a minute or two. I guess partly this is because the mechanism which locks the drawer inside the box is of a type which I have come across several times before in the past with other puzzles.
The internal dimensions of the drawer is about 2 1/2in x 1 1/2in x 5/8in, somewhat useful and just large enough to store small items like jewellery, coins, personal effects etc. From a puzzle aspect, not that challenging...but it makes up for it by being a very attractive shelf display item.

Karakuri Small Box # 8

This unusual looking puzzle box made by Karakuri of Japan was acquired from PuzzleMaster. Unlike traditional puzzle boxes that are generally rectangular or square with sharp edges, No 8 is cubical with rounded edges and corners. In addition, protruding from all its six sides are circular shaped "knobs". The lighter coloured body is made of zelkova while the darker knobs are walnut. I bought the box more for its unusual shape and look rather than its puzzle qualities. The box measures about 2 1/8in on all sides and  construction, fit and finish is very good.

I found the No 8 to be pretty easy to solve.  Within a minute or two of playing around with it, I figured out the solution. To solve this puzzle box, some dexterity here is required. The way the box is opened is quite clever and not what I had quite expected. Once opened, No 8 has a very tiny space (rather disproportionate to the overall size of the box I might add) which can house a very small item; too small for a finger ring but certainly enough for a 1 carat diamond!

Overall, No 8 is a relatively easy puzzle and may not appeal to die-hard puzzle box fans. Still, I still feel No 8 is worth acquiring for its rather unusual design and aesthetics. Two other bloggers have also written about No 8 so check out Jonas' and Jeff's blogs.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

4 Steps Visible Lock

The 4 Steps Visible Lock ("4SVL") designed and made by Robrecht Louage won the Jury Grand Prize in the 2011 IPP Competition held in Berlin during the month of August. After seeing his puzzle on the IPP 2011 entries list with the different combination of materials used in its construction, I knew I just had to get one. Fortunately Robrecht's email was listed and I promptly emailed him to buy a copy of his prize winning entry. A week later, the puzzle arrived at my doorstep.
The 4SVL is about 5in x 2 1/2in x 7/8in. The puzzle is made up of a rectangular block of Trespa (a very strong and durable composite laminate made of resin reinforced by cellulose fibres generally used for interior table tops). Within the block, a number of channels have been cut which resemble a maze. Screwed onto and covering the top of the block is a sheet of acyrlic (perspex) and sandwiched in between the trespa block and acrylic cover, there is a thicker center slab also made of acrylic which slides. Within the internals of the puzzle, one can see two large ball bearings, two smaller ball bearings and a 1 Euro coin (hence the name "visible lock"). Construction and quality of the 4SVL is very good indeed and the puzzle feels really solid and heavy in the hand. Some have remarked that the 4SVL bears some resemblance to one or two of the Roger puzzles and while I have never seen an actual Roger puzzle before except those in photos, I would tend to agree.

The object of the puzzle is of course to remove the 1 Euro coin out of the block, by moving the center acrylic slab towards the left so that the coin and be extracted from a hole in the top cover. Here is where the "lock" part comes in; the center acrylic slab is "locked in" by the ball bearings and can only move sideways within certain limits. The way to solve the puzzle is to use (some) dexterity to manipulate the ball bearings around the maze to "unlock" the center acrylic slab and allow it to slide towards the left, so that the coin matches up with the hole on top. But wait! It's not just the ball bearings that have to be dealt with; there are a couple of other necessary challenges as well.

I am not sure if I just happened to be lucky that day, but I managed to solve the 4SVL pretty quickly (I guess its faster when you can see exactly what is going on). As I repeated the solution, I realised that indeed 4 steps are needed to remove the coin. Step 1 may pose a challenge for some (but I think experienced puzzlers would know how to overcome this step quite easily) but Steps 2 and 3 are quite manageable. It is Step 4 that is a surprise and probably the one that would stump people. However, once you have solved it once, the 4SVL is pretty easy to solve repeatedly.

I think Robrecht Louage has designed a very nice and well made puzzle and while not very difficult in terms of  puzzling, it nevertheless poses a fair challenge. I would dare say that the 4SVL epitomises the term "mechanical puzzle" and justifiably deserves it's IPP award. Definitely worth acquiring for keeps.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Cast Duet

I quite like the Cast Duet. I find it very refreshing because here at last is a puzzle which has:-

1. No secret locking mechanism
2. No hidden maze
3. No ball bearings rolling about which can be heard but cannot be seen
4. No internal magnets
5. No centrifugal force applicable
6. No tapping (or banging) of the puzzle
7. No dexterity of hand movement required
8. No other seemingly impossible this or that

Click to enlarge the photo to see the notches  which are cut into the grid
You look at the Duet and it stares back at you, fully exposed for what it aluminium grid with 9 squares and a number of notches cut into the grid. Attached to one corner of the grid a pair of detachable rings joined together by magnets. The grid measures about 2 3/8in square and the rings are about 1 1/4in in diameter. Quality of construction is good.
The object of the puzzle is to remove both the rings from the grid. To do this one must first separate the two rings (easily done) and navigate each ring out of the grid. The notches on the grid serve as "paths" to aid the passage of the rings from one square of the grid to the next, without which it would be impossible for the rings to move at all. Each of the rings have to be rotated and/or flipped over to achieve movement.

I didn't have to take very long to remove the rings since I could see exactly what I was doing. Apart from merely removing the rings, Hanayama has added extra levels to make the puzzle more challenging (eg; to get the rings to the centre of the square). I didn't bother with this since I was quite happy to have gotten the rings out of the grid. This puzzle is rated 5. However, I think its more towards 4 for just getting the rings out.

Cast News

The Cast News is one of those puzzles that you can spend hours or (or even days) trying to solve but get nowhere. And yet the moment you discover the solution, you just can't quite believe it's simplicity. Made of cast aluminium, the News is designed by Nob Yoshigahara (apparently when he was just 19 years old).  My copy of the News is very well made and exudes quality. Although not a large puzzle, measuring only 1 3/4in x 1 3/4in x 1/ 2in in a hexagon shape, the News feels relatively heavy in the palm. Due to its bronze coloured exterior, the News has a well worn sort of look which gives it a vintage charm.
The object of the puzzle is to separate the News into two parts (as can be seen from the join lines in the puzzle in the photo above). While the medieval looking N, S, E and W letters add to the decorative element, they do in fact play a role in the solving of the puzzle. 

I spent quite a while on this puzzle trying every trick I knew in the book. I could hear little noises coming from within the puzzle and these sounded like small ball bearings. Despite the shaking and the pulling, nothing seems to work. I even tried the method which opens the YOT puzzle but this didn't work either. After about half a day (not continuous of course), I decided I didn't want to be frustrated anymore and looked at the solution. Lo and behold...the solution required only 3 easy steps to take the puzzle apart; and here, the medieval letters come into play. 

Hanayama rates this at Level 6, the most difficult in their scale. Indeed, like most puzzles where you can't see anything from the outside, it is very difficult to solve...but once you learn how to, this puzzle is easy to solve repeatedly. Overall, I think the News is a nice take-anywhere kind of puzzle to buy and keep.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Cast Nut Case

I acquired the Nutcase and two other puzzles, Cast News and Cast Duet from my local gift shop Bloomington in Singapore. These three puzzles (without the usual shipping costs I normally would have to pay to overseas sellers) were really very reasonable priced and I couldn't resist buying all three at one go.

The Nutcase is designed by Oskar Van Deventer and made by Hanayama. As I found to my surprise it was actually very much larger than your regular household nut and bolt. It measures 2 inches tall and about 1 1/4 inch across at its widest. The puzzle looks like a "fat" screw bolt with two heads, one at each end and in the middle you have the two nuts. The puzzle is made of aluminium and while quality is not first rate, it is reasonably good. The screw bolt is actually hollow inside. Both ends of the puzzle each have a hole into which you can see a real small nut rolling about inside the hollow section.
Can you see the lines which separates the two parts of the screw bolt?
The object of the puzzle is to take apart the screw bolt and remove the small nut inside. Tolerances between the two parts of the screw bolt and the two nuts are not tight, hence you can actually feel some free play as the parts move and rub against each other. I am not sure if this was intended or is it a construction quality issue. Looking at the puzzle, one could possibly hasten a guess at how the puzzle is solved. For confirmation, one only needs to look at the back of the box packaging which actually has a photo of the puzzle in the solved state (ie what the puzzle looks like with the parts separate) so this gave me a good idea how to go about taking the Nutcase apart.

I fiddled with the puzzle for a while, rotating the two nuts back and forth along the axis of the screw bolt and managed to solve the puzzle after about 45 minutes. The free play of the two nuts and the screw bolt helped a lot as it allowed me to pull, push and twist the screw bolt while fingering the two nuts so I could feel for the separation of the screw bolt. The "looseness" of the nuts (and with the help of a torch light) also enabled me to peep a bit "inside" the nuts and their position relative to the threads of the screw bolt (I don't think Oskar intended this) and this got me to solving the puzzle very quickly :-). However, this looseness resulted in jamming of the nuts against the screw threads more than several times which was a bit of an annoyance.

Overall the Nutcase is a challenging puzzle and rated level 6 by Hanayama which is very difficult. I guess the rating is probably about right. Difficult to solve at first but not too difficult to repeat.
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