Sunday, 27 April 2014

Mysterious Galaxy

Name
Mysterious Galaxy 

Designer
Osanori Yamamoto. For other designs by Osanori, click here.


Wonderful detailing of the four corners and notice the curved edges top and bottom of the box

Manufacturer
Pelikan. Mr Puzzle of Australia, PuzzleMaster of Canada and Puzzlewood of Germany are retailing them but currently only available from PuzzleMaster and Puzzlewood.

Type & Classification

Interlocking, sequential movement

Dimensions
7.8cm (Length) x 7.8cm (Width) and 6.4cm (Height).  

Materials & Construction
A combination of 5 solid hardwoods giving the puzzle a very beautiful contrasting finish. The frame is Mahogany, the pieces are Wenge, Acacia, Paduak and Maple. The corner embellishments are Maple. Excellent construction and quality.

Overview
The Mysterious Galaxy was released in August 2012, a couple of months prior to the easier (not easy) Galaxy Z reviewed earlier. 

In fact there are two other variants in Osanori's Galaxy class puzzles (NB: there are several puzzles from other designers also named "Galaxy" this or that) ; the Galaxy I (2011) and the latest in 2014, the Galaxy R. The R is also probably the most difficult of the lot with the most moves.

The Mysterious Galaxy is a framed burr; consisting of a box frame with a number of internal protrusions. The object is to take out and fit back in all the 4 pieces. Unlike the Galaxy Z, only 3 pieces here are congruent (identical). 


This puzzle is no walk in the park. The orientation and interlocking of the pieces (especially with the one single different piece) with the notched protrusions provide for a very difficult process of removal. 

While trial and error may work to some extent initially, it can also land you in a dead end and figuring your way back to the start position then becomes another additional challenge that frustrates.

It took me a good while and several dead ends before I managed to get the first piece out. I thought with photo-taking of the moves, this would help. But nope, too many incorrect moves so photo-taking became confusing and a waste of time.

This is not a pure rectilinear puzzle and rotations are also required. So Burr Tools here won't help very much, save as to show the various possible assemblies of the pieces within the box frame. (which may be sufficient help for some perhaps). 

The challenge is also discovering which pieces need to be rotated into position and ensuring rotation is done within the correct space. Done properly, nothing should get stuck. Done wrongly, or worse still with force, and your puzzle may end up dented and damaged.

Difficulty Level
The Mysterious Galaxy is very difficult, particularly the putting back together. It has two solutions, of which one is level 17.5.2.4; in other words it requires 17 moves to extract the first piece, 5 for the next and so on. Unlike the Galaxy Z, I found it hard to memorise the moves for this one. Even after four attempts at reassembly, I still had to refer to the solution.

Summary
Without a doubt, very challenging puzzle (especially for non-burrists like me); and if you already own the Galaxy Z, get this one as well. With its sexy curved edges and colourful exotic woods, even if you can't solve it, it still makes for a very nice display.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Burrito & Columnata 2P3C

Name
Burrito / Columnata 2P3C

Designer
Yavuz Demirhan. For Yavuz's other designs, click here. As of this post, he has done a whopping 345 designs!

Manufacturer
Pelikan

Type & Classification

Interlocking; both puzzles released in 2013

Dimensions
Burrito - 8cm (length) x 5.2cm (width) x 5.2cm (height)
Columnata 2P3C - 7cm (length) x 4cm (width) x 6cm (height)

Materials & Construction
Burrito - Wenge for the frame and Maple for the pieces
Columnata - Jatoba for the columns and Maple for the pieces

For both puzzles, construction, fit and finish is up to the usual Pelikan standards, very good! All the corners and edges of both puzzles are slightly bevelled and pieces although snug, move smoothly. Nice choice of woods used to provide the contrast of colours.

Burrito
This puzzle consist of 4 congruent pieces interlocked within a frame. I suppose Yavuz chose the name Burrito because it does look like the frame is wrapping the pieces, just like a real burrito sandwich.




Once you start pulling at the pieces, it is quite easy to discover how the pieces are interlocked with each other and the taking apart is pretty straight forward. The Burrito requires 10 steps to fully disassemble. Reassembly is in the reverse and because the pieces are all identical, it is also relatively easy to fit everything right back since the horizontal pieces mirror the vertical pieces.

Columnata 2P3C
The 2P3C stands for 2 pieces and 3 columns. Yavuz also designed three other variants; the 2P2C which is easier than the 2P3C featured here, the 3P2C which is harder and the hardest of the four, the 3P3C has a level 37.9.4 solution, meaning it takes 37 moves to remove the first piece. If ever Yavuz designs a 4P4C, I estimate this will probably take about 120 moves to take apart fully.





The 2P3C is more challenging than the Burrito and this one took me a bit longer to solve. Nonetheless despite a level 12.5 solution, it is still quite manageable given that you can fully see what you are doing and the way the pieces interact with the columns. 

Reassembly will also be simpler if you remember the orientation of the pieces inside the frame. Unfortunately I forgot and it took me a while to get it right and back together.

Summary

Both the Burrito and 2P3C are very good "intro" puzzles for those new to interlocking burrs. 

Certainly they provide confidence and motivation to those like me who are lousy with burrs to play/puzzle with them from time to time. Without too much attendant frustration and without Burr Tools. Much better than just collecting and consigning them to the shelf for display. 

And at great value for money prices, you need not fear plonking down a lot of cash for some bespoke burr, which more often than not causes immense pressure to a puzzler to have to solve the damn thing!

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Hanayama Cast U&U, Key & Donuts

A very Happy Easter weekend to everyone. 

I spent part of the holiday yesterday playing with 3 Hanayama Cast puzzles. Two have been around for some time and the third which came out this month.

Hanayama Cast puzzles are available from most of the usual online puzzle retailers; and for almost all except the latest releases, can also be bought from Ebay.

Cast U&U

The U&U is really fresh from the oven; just released in April this month. This one does not even look like it's been made by Hanayama. It has two rods bent U shape with nuts screwed to the ends of each U. The puzzle appears more like it was made from parts sourced from a DIY hardware store. Quality and finish is up to the usual Hanayama standards with a shiny chrome finish.



Physically it looks like an easy puzzle - just unscrew the nuts and the both U-s should disengage. But don't let the looks fool you. The nuts can be screwed/unscrewed throughout the length of the threads they are on, but stop dead at each end and cannot be removed. Here is where the challenge of the puzzle lies.



I took longer than necessary to solve the U&U because I over-complicated things. In actual fact, there is a certain technique to it as I discovered at the end which is simpler than what I was trying to do. The U&U has pretty tight tolerances so you need to be quite precise with your movements in order to solve the puzzle.

Rated 4 out 6 in difficulty, I think that's about right. Its much more tricky and challenging than it appears. Pretty fun and quite repeatable solving once you figure out the correct way to do it.

Cast Key

This version of the Cast Key is a special commemorative edition made for IPP33, which was held in Tokyo, Japan last year. Who better than Hanayama to supply the IPP33 event premium given out to all participants. This version has the two interlocking keys in a two tone Gold & Silver as shown in the photo below. The original Key was just a one colour brass finish. The latest incarnation of the Cast Key is the Key II.




The object is to separate the 2 keys. Not difficult by any means. Its like navigating a maze but with a couple of extra twists and turns. Rated 1 out of 6, I got through mine within a minute or two. This puzzle would do well for new puzzlers.

Cast Donuts

I chipped and cracked my finger nails puzzling with this one!

Donuts was designed by Vesa Timonen and came to the market in 2011. The puzzle comprises two donut shaped rings interlocked together and each of the rings can be further split into separate halves.



Donuts is one of the most aesthetically pleasing Cast puzzles in the series with a polished two tone silver and dark gray finish giving it a very high quality appearance; relative to some of the other Cast puzzles.

Commensurate with the good looks, it is also a very difficult puzzle. It is rated 4 out of 6 in difficulty but I think it should be a 5 at least. Of the three puzzles, I spent the most time with Donuts and even then, I could not solve it and had to resort to the solution, both for taking it apart and putting it back together. Its one toughie here!



Like the U&U, there is a technique required here, although somewhat more sophisticated. Precise moves are the order of the day and random trial and error will not work. While I can appreciate the elegance of the solution, my only gripe is that I found the parts are fitted too tightly together. I personally feel that the manufacturer could have allowed for slightly more play vis-a-vis the Donut halves and yet this still would not negatively impact the solving experience. In fact, I think it would improve the solving and make it more enjoyable and put to rest any temptation to use unnecessary force. 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

IPP33 Exchange Puzzles

At each and every IPP (International Puzzle Party), one day out of the 3-day event is dedicated to a "puzzle exchange". Here is where the exchange participants get to swap their own (or with permission, someone else's) puzzle design with one another. 

In the early days, some exchange participants purchased "off the shelf" puzzles and used these for exchange, but today, the rules are strict; designs have to be original and not something commercially available in the market prior to the exchange.

Featured below are 3 exchange puzzles that I had the opportunity to acquire during IPP33 in Tokyo, Japan last August.

Peak Performance

This puzzle came from Malaysian puzzle collector Yee-Dian Lee, one of several Asians (outside Japan) and the only Malaysian who attends the annual IPP regularly. Lee also has the honour of being one of a handful of participants who have attended more than 25 IPP events (to-date 27) in the 35 year history of the IPP since its inception in 1978.



A rather unusual but interesting and fun puzzle, the object of Peak Performance is to "walk" the red man from the START position to reach the top; the CEO position. This puzzle is made of acrylic and the plate has multiple holes drilled all over. 

The red man must have at least one foot in a hole at any one time, while moving towards the goal. It may seem pretty easy at first, jumping from hole to hole towards the top but the solution is not as obvious as it would appear. There is a subtle trick to this puzzle, nicely tucked away in a little corner and likely to be hidden from most,  me included!

City Block

City Block came from David Litwin. City Block is a collaboration between David and Bram Cohen, the latter who originated the concept behind David's design. For an interesting account of how they created City Block, check out Saul Symonds' interview with the two gents on Saul's blog.



An acrylic packing puzzle using "patterned" acrylic to form building shapes (with windows even), there are two challenges. The first is the "warm up" challenge - use the pieces to form the silhouette of the building skyline that appears at the top of the tray. The main challenge is to fit all the pieces, including the one with its own slot within the tray. 

I didn't attempt the first but went straight to the second harder challenge. Took me a while before I got all 7 pieces into the tray. Challenging but not overly so, compared to some other packing ones which I could never solve without the solution. However, based on what I have read on Allard's and Saul's blogs, I am not exactly sure if my solution is the intended one?

David has his own website selling some of his other puzzle designs.

Eight Squares

When I first played with James Kerley's puzzle here, I thought it was the easiest packing puzzle I have ever come across...place the 12 diamond shaped pieces (kites) into the tray. Did it in under a minute...my fastest ever solve!

Only then I realised that it couldn't have been that easy...and this wasn't the intended solution. In fact it wasn't even a packing puzzle to begin with! But rather the object is to use the 12 kites to form 8 squares (now that's why its called Eight Squares!) outside of the tray. The 12 pieces fit into the tray only for the purpose of storage.


No...this is not the solution...this is how the puzzle is to be stored or transported


I couldn't quite figure what to do with this one until I checked the solution, then I understood. I guess I am really thick here! Eight Squares is a great one not just for puzzlers, but also for mathematicians, geometry enthusiasts or folks who like to play with shapes!





Friday, 11 April 2014

Arrow Blocks

Name
Arrow Blocks

Designer
Goh Pit Khiam. Singaporean Goh has designed well over sixty puzzles to-date. For some of Goh's other puzzle designs, click here


Starting Position

Manufacturer
Tom Lensch. Currently unavailable.

Type & Classification

This one I think fits into several categories, but Sequential Movement is probably the best description. The Arrow Blocks resembles Bill Cutler's Slide-Blocked Sliding Block Puzzle but has a totally different concept. 

Dimensions
17.7cm (Length) x 14.0cm (Width) x 2.5cm (Height). This is a large puzzle!

Materials & Construction
The frame/box is made of Indian Rosewood, while the blocks are Maple.The arrows atop the blocks are Yellowheart and Brazilian Blackwood. 

Construction, fit and finish is top notch. Built to close tolerances but all the blocks slide smoothly. A really solid and very heavy duty feel puzzle. Another good thing about the construction is that Tom made the frame/box with a removable magnetic lid, so you can reset the puzzle easily (or if you are stuck)

IPP
Arrow Blocks was Goh's entry for the IPP32 Puzzle Design Competition held in Washington DC, USA in 2012.

Overview
I first saw the Arrow Blocks when I caught up with fellow puzzle blogger Roxanne Wong when she was in Singapore for a conference about a year ago. She was very kind to lend me her copy and even told me to keep it until we next met. 

I fiddled with it a bit but never really got down to playing with it. Life went on and I forgot about the puzzle. Before I knew it, I was packing up the Arrow Blocks to return it to her at IPP33 in Japan four months later.

After IPP33, I contacted Tom Lensch to see if he had any available. Initially he didn't have any but some weeks later he got back to me to say he had a spare copy which did not need to go to someone else...lucky me!

When you first look at the Arrow Blocks, it looks like another sliding block puzzle (albeit a very high-end one). You wonder how difficult can this be, after all its only 6 movable pieces, much less than the classic 15 Sliding Puzzle

For example, when you see a complicated looking burr, it usually is! Not many are intimidatingly looking yet manageable, perhaps for a handful such as the Orsi and HALT.

Well, in this case, the Arrow Blocks would probably qualify as one of the more deceptively simple (and easy) looking puzzles around, yet the level of difficulty is beyond what it appears!

The starting point of the Arrow Blocks is with the black arrow head on the left side with the yellow arrows and the object is to place the block with the yellow arrow head into the box frame to have two arrows,each with the same colour.


Solved Position
Unfortunately the Arrow Blocks is one of those puzzles that if I describe even the broad steps as to what needs to be done, it would give too big a hint/clue away. One thing's for sure, there is a minimum of over 50 moves to get the Arrow Blocks from the start to the solved state. A good bit of work involved. And I must add, some thinking out of the box (no pun intended) is required here!

I had a lot of difficulty with this one and only managed to solve the puzzle halfway...if there is such a thing.

It was a good thing that Tom included the solution write-up/analysis from Goh, which itself requires consumption of a fair amount of brain power to understand. I would not have been able to solve it without the solution. I must admit, my mental model of a sliding block puzzle kept getting in the way!

Difficulty Level
Very difficult! And when we exchanged SMS about his puzzle, Goh said; "it's a bit tough I agree"... "a bit" of an understatement here I think....

Summary

A very tough puzzle with a unique and great concept from a prolific designer. And excellent quality from a well-respected craftsman. Definitely a must-have for the serious collector. 

Sunday, 6 April 2014

ODD Puzzle

Name
ODD Puzzle

Designer
Hirokazu Iwasawa. For more of Iwasawa's designs, click here.



Manufacturer
Torito of Japan. Retailed by Satomi Beattie of CU-Japan who's based in the United Kingdom. 

Type & Classification

3D Packing

Dimensions
8.9cm (Length) x 8.9cm (Width) x 5.0cm (Height). 

Materials & Construction
MDF Board for the box. A light coloured type of wood (looks like rubber wood) for the pieces Construction, fit and finish is overall good. This is the mass market version. There is also a high end version made of exotic hardwoods which was available for a time.

IPP
The ODD Puzzle won the Puzzle Of The Year award at IPP28 held in Prague, Czech Republic in 2008.

Overview
This one has a strange name. It's called the ODD. And it's called that because of the shape of the 3 pieces. They resemble the alphabets O.D.D (look carefully...see it now?).

The object of the ODD is to place all 3 pieces into the box without any of the pieces sticking out. For a 3-piece packing puzzle, one might wonder how difficult this can be, but believe me, it took me a good portion of an evening to figure this one out. The top of the box has a rectangular cut-out to insert the pieces, and this restriction makes the puzzle tough!

Each of the pieces can be inserted into the box, but usually when one is inside, neither of the other two can be inserted, or if both can be inserted, one is usually sticking a bit out. I had an idea what needed to be done and in fact my method was correct. However it was the way of execution that was wrong (in the opposite) that got me stuck for a while, until I tried what I thought was impossible but actually not.

Without giving any clues or spoilers, suffice to say you have to insert the pieces in such a manner that will eventually see all 3 flush inside the box. I might like to add that the ODD has a pretty elegant solution....and no force is required. I have not added a photo of the solved state here as this gives too much of a hint. But if you are struggling with the ODD, feel free to contact me for help.

Difficulty Level
Not your typical packing puzzle. Very challenging and you need to think about the end result of how the 3 pieces will sit correctly in the box and plan your way towards that. But once you solve it, it is easily re-solvable.

Summary

What's neat about the ODD is that physically, it looks deceptively really simple with just 3 pieces and a box... but a real challenge to boot. A really great packing puzzle and well deserving of it's IPP28 award. If you can't afford the high end version (if any is still available), then this one here will do just fine for a nice challenge.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

This Is "It"!

This is "it"? You are probably wondering what sort of puzzles these are. 



 Nope, nothing to do with information technology, computers or software (more on this last one later) but I am referring to the Cockpit and Petit puzzles, both by Japanese designer Osanori Yamamoto. As of to-date, he has 175 designs! Many of which have have become production copies including the following which I own:-


First off, both of these puzzles are smallish in size as compared to the typical cuboid interlocking puzzle. Both are around 5cm cube, with the Cockpit a couple of mm larger all round. Given that the Petit has only 3 pieces and the Cockpit has 4, it is quite possible to make a puzzle in a much smaller package yet remaining comfortable during handling.

Both puzzles came to me from Pelikan. Craftsmanship, fit and finish is excellent. Fellow puzzle blogger Allard Walker had commented in one of his posts that the superb quality to be found from Pelikan these days is comparable with a certain North American puzzle maker (now I wonder who that might be?). Yes, I couldn't agree more! And not to mention at great value for money prices too! 

Cockpit

The Cockpit is made of Jatoba for the frame and Maple for the pieces (2 of which are congruent). It didn't take me long to unlock the 3 intersecting pieces. No particular way of solving for me, just the usual random manipulation at the beginning and thereafter, seeing how the pieces interacted to try to get them apart.  


Putting everything back together was altogether different. I found a solution pretty quickly which got the pieces back to what appeared to be their original positions in the frame. But I knew it wasn't the right solution since it took me quite a number of moves to take them apart initially. I checked the solution with Burr Tools and found that I had used the easiest of 4 possible solutions (just 6 steps) which probably wasn't intended. The more difficult solution takes 20 steps to get that first piece out.


Petit

This one I found less difficult than the Cockpit. The Petit is made from Cherry (frame) and Paduak (pieces). Consisting of just 2 pieces interlocked within the frame, it was a much easier task trying to remember the moves, which were also far fewer than Cockpit. I managed to disengage and later assembled the pieces without the aid of Burr Tools. I would think that for Petit, even with a trial and error approach and persistence may achieve the desired result, but not the Cockpit.


Petit is definitely recommended for less experienced burr puzzlers (myself included) as it gives a good challenge but wouldn't frustrate you. To begin with, just a total of 3 pieces is already much less physically intimidating and this undoubtedly inspires confidence. The Petit is definitely much more manageable with far fewer steps. Available from Puzzlewood, Germany.



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