Saturday, 22 July 2017

Sliced Puzzle Ball

The Sliced Puzzle Ball (SPB) designed by Vesa Timonen is probably one of the smallest interlocking puzzles around and certainly the smallest in my collection. 

I had met Vesa the first time during IPP33 in Tokyo, Japan and he was really very kind to gift his SPB (his Exchange Puzzle) to me. Measuring only a micro 16mm in diameter, it consist of 6 flat "board burr" pieces with curved edges and when joined together becomes a perfectly round ball. The SPB comes with its own nice little felt-lined gift box.

Sliced Puzzle Ball next to Cast Loop
In case you don't know who Vesa Timonen is, he is a well-known designer of a number of Hanayama Cast Series puzzles including the Infinity and the famous Loop. I also have one of his less common (but unusual) puzzle called the Onion.

My copy is made by Shapeways out of white and pink dyed nylon. The SPB is currently also available (at a much larger size of about 3+cm) for sale together with some of Vesa's other puzzles listed.

When I first played with it back in 2014, I struggled with the solution and couldn't figure how to disassemble it without breaking seemed so fragile! Needless to say, the handling of such a tiny puzzle was extremely fiddly and I kept dropping it out of my fingers.  I emailed him for a solution but Vesa didn't have a step by step one instead he directed me to his Shapeways listing which showed the 6 pieces separate in an exploded view. He also indicated that some force may be necessary for the initial move. Even with that, somehow things appeared to be stuck and I couldn't take the ball apart. 

Fast forward 3 years later and this second time round, I gave the SPB another go. I finally managed to take it apart, albeit with some force... the nylon is surprisingly resilient! Thankfully nothing broke. Putting it back together was unexpectedly much easier and strangely it didn't require any force...the pieces "just slid together" back into the shape of a ball, once the pieces were in their correct orientations and positions.

I tried to configure the puzzle using Burr Tools but the programme didn't come up with any solution. Again, not sure if I got the specs correct into Burr Tools. Maybe that's why the need for some force!

Friday, 14 July 2017


Two years ago, I received a copy of Tetro-Billes, courtesy of its designer and my good friend Frederic Boucher. Billes in French means "small balls"....

Tetro-Billes was entered in the IPP35 Puzzle Design Competition by Frederic and is classified as a 1.1 2-Dimensional assembly puzzle. In common puzzle terms, I would consider it as one from the pattern matching category of puzzles. 

Frederic, who lives in Japan, is a pretty prolific designer and does not just design a particular genre of puzzles but his scope is quite varied (and interesting), ranging from exotic wooden 3D packing puzzles like the Marble Cake and Artefacts to Impossible Objects like Smiley In A Bottle and stuff in between such as his dexterity puzzles like Pyramida and Manholes 55 and a couple of burrs here and there.

Now back to the puzzle. I had kept it away for about two years since 2015, forgot about it and only recently re-discovered it and decided to give it a go. The puzzle consists of five wooden pieces (made of Japanese Beech) each containing blue and yellow marbles held in holes drilled into the wood. Quality of construction is very good and the marbles all fit tightly without fear of falling loose (although Frederic indicates that they can be removed and changed about for other sorts of challenges...which I didn't try for fear of damage)

The object of the puzzle is assemble the pieces so that the marbles form five different tetromino shapes - three in blue and two in yellow, with two solutions. Sounds rather simple doesn't it? considering its just 5 pieces to move around on a flat surface. Well I couldn't be more wrong. I spent several sessions over a few days before I discovered what I thought was the solution and happily shot an email to Frederic (which I usually do when I solve his puzzles or when I need help). Or at least I thought I did. Frederic reverted to say that while I have 5 tetraminos, two of them are identical (the yellow marbles). The photo below shows a solution, but its not THE intended solution.

I then spent another good several sessions over two days trying to figure this one out...but thus far have been unsuccessful. The time I allotted myself for this puzzle had exceeded so I decided to throw in the towel and look at the accompanied solution. Sigh...I was close but not quite there.

For anyone wanting something different to challenge your wits or if you are interested in any of Frederic's puzzles mentioned above (and mind you he may even have new ones that I am unaware of), PM me and I will link you up him. Perhaps he might just have a copy or two lying around available for sale.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Hanayama Dice Box

This weekend I played with the plastic version of a very famous Akio Kamei designed puzzle, the Dice Box. The original wooden versions hail from the Karakuri Creation Group of Japan, of which Kamei is a member and are handcrafted from exotic hardwoods. The copy that I have is a reproduction made of plastic and comes from Hanayama.

There are already several reviews of the Dice Box by puzzle collectors/bloggers Oliver Sovary-Soos and Brian Pletcher, so you can read their experiences with the original wooden version. There's even a video uploaded by PuzzleboxWorld.

While not in wood nor crafted by Kamei himself, the plastic version by Hanayama is no less of a nice puzzle. While I have not played with the wooden version, I am confident that Hanayama, as a reputable Japanese manufacturer of puzzles would have faithfully followed the design of Kamei in coming up with an inexpensive version of what is a collector's (and very expensive) copy of the Dice Box. 

My copy measures a smaller size of 5.6cm cube all round, about a third of the size of its wooden cousins. As far as quality is concerned, no issues here. The plastic feels solid and the sliding panel that opens the box slides smoothly with little free play. The inside bottom of the box is even lined with a piece of red felt, such attention to detail. Obviously for a plastic version which is significantly cheaper than the original, the pips (or dots) here are printed on the six surfaces as opposed to the wooden version which has recessed holes and contrasting woods. 

What is strange is that unlike the wooden original, the Hanayama version comes already solved, ie with the lid open. I would think the wooden version is harder, since it comes closed and being a Kamei creation, finding the panel that slides would already be a challenge in itself. As John Rausch said

"The Die is one of Kamei's most famous secret opening boxes. Familiarity with the spots on a normal die will help you discover the first clue to opening it. The objective is find a way into the secret compartment that is shown in the 2nd photograph. The mechanism is outstanding. Perhaps the best of any Kamei box"

The object of my copy is to close the lid, give it a good shake, turn it around in all directions (to activate the locking mechanism) and then try to open the lid again. I did precisely these and found the lid shut tight. Sounds of moving parts can be heard inside the puzzle and the trick is to figure how to solve the mechanism which unlatches the sliding top. As you can't see what goes on inside (nor the mechanism) even when the lid is opened, there is little clue offered as to how to go about solving the Dice Box once shut. 

So the initial stages of play consisted of random tilting and and turning of the box and even some light tapping (from the Japanese instructions on the box, I could not tell if there was something to indicate "no tapping/banging"). I have some experience with hidden mechanism puzzle boxes and I tried a couple of methods to see if these did the trick. After several minutes of play, suddenly the lid slid open by itself! I am not exactly sure what I had done correctly, but I had a rough idea of the moves needed to repeat the result. The next several attempts resulted in easy solves. I knew what needed to be done, but only had a vague idea of how the mechanism inside worked. I was able to repeat solve most of time using the sequence of moves which I assume to be correct. 

The plastic Dice Box (in several colour variations) is available from Amazon and Ebay from between $14/- to $40/- while the Kamei-made wooden ones, in excess of $150/- are available from PuzzleboxWorld and Art Of Play

Thursday, 29 June 2017


Stewart Coffin puzzles, especially those hand-crafted, exotic wood and multi-piece interlocking ones are not typically readily available for sale most of the time. And when they do become available, and even tho' they're pretty pricey, they get snapped up in a jiffy. 

So when I chanced upon the Hexsticks in a hotel souvenir store in Hokkaido, Japan last year, I bought a copy, even though I am not a die-hard fan of such puzzles...but what the was at a rather reasonable price of 2,900 Yen, or about US$25/-.

The Hexsticks is Coffin design #25A, which was based upon his earlier #25, the Hectix. My version came from a Japanese company called Woody Craft and there doesn't appear to be any website link for this brand. My copy, being made in Japan is a quality product and very well constructed. Not sure what sort of wood, probably local but the fit and finish is very good with no sloppiness or movement of the pieces in the assembled state.

The Hexsticks consist of 12 pieces, 9 of which are identical, cut in a certain way with notches and the remaining 3 also identical, but their notches cut differently. All the pieces have a hexagon cross section and the notches are all cut diagonally at a specific angle. Apparently there are three solution shapes that can be formed from the 12 pieces. This puzzle (and its variants) has been crafted and produced by a number of well-known puzzle makers.

The puzzle came un-assembled and thankfully, there were instructions on how to put the pieces together (for one of the solutions). Honestly, not being good at these sort of puzzles, I would not have been able to solve it without help. Even if the sticks were quad-coloured and I had completed puzzle photo to follow, it may still have eluded me.The instructions are in Japanese but the accompanying photos were clear enough for me to follow without resorting to trying to figure out the text.

I found that after the first solve and re-doing it second time, I could repeatedly solve it without the instructions after some practice. With 9 identical pieces to start with at the beginning, it is not too difficult to memorize where each piece goes where after a few tries. Completed, it displays very well and truly looks the part as a very serious and complicated puzzle indeed!

Both Brian Pletcher and  Kevin Sadler have solved their respective Hexsticks and Hectix Revisited copies and you can read about their experiences here and here. These guys are super-solvers, so it wasn't too difficult for them.

For those interested, there are several places where the Hexsticks is sold, one is a Japanese online retailer while the other is a US based home accessories store called Monolier, the latter which incidentally sells the same puzzle I have here but at nearly twice the price! And of course Amazon and Ebay as well, just do a search for "Hectix". And for those hard-core puzzle fans that like to know even more about burrs and polyhedral puzzles, read Stewart Coffin's very interesting and informative book here.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Hanayama Cast Shift

One of Hanayama's latest Cast Series puzzles, the Shift was released in February 2017 with their updated and contemporary packaging bearing the name "HUZZLE", a combo of the words Hanayama and Puzzle. I was very fortunate and had the great pleasure of receiving the Shift (and Box Dice puzzle) over a nice Japanese dinner from the management folks of Hanayama, namely Kunihiro Kobayashi and Takeshi Onishi, the President and Sales Manager respectively, when both gentlemen were in Singapore for a business trip early this week. 

Measuring 4cm all round, the Shift at first glance looks somewhat like a 4-piece interlocking board burr made of metal; and there are a couple of other such similar looking wooden designs such as the Lattice and Four Frames designed by Andrey Ustjuzhanin. The Shift is cut from sheet metal (thanks to fellow puzzler/collector Michel van Ipenburg who pointed this out) and chrome plated to a glossy shiny surface. The 4 pieces consist of two congruent pairs with slots and corner triangles cut into them. If it's any help, let me say the triangles are cosmetic only and doesn't affect the solve. For better grip perhaps. 

The Shift was designed by Russian designer Kirill Grebnev who, together with Dmitry Pevnitskiy, was also behind the Cast Harmony puzzle. Apart from physical appearance, there is no other similarity between the Shift and the type of wooden board burrs named above. Certainly not the solving! Quality wise it's up to the usual Hanayama standards which is very good. Takeshi-san, the Sales Manager was telling me that Hanayama has a stringent quality control programme particularly for their puzzles that are manufactured outside of Japan. I don't own many Cast Puzzles but for those that I do, rarely have I encountered any real quality issues. The tolerances for the Shift is just nice and the pieces slide and move smoothly. 

Kunihiro Kobayashi (right), President of Hanayama Toys, Japan with Sales Manager Takeshi Onishi (left)

The Shift is rated 3 stars for difficulty, meaning it is of average difficulty. Give the Shift to an experienced puzzler and the difficulty quotient would probably be, well, average. But to a pure novice, it could mean "damn difficult" or impossible. IMHO, I think the rating here is about right. It's not too difficult, but certainly provides a fair measure of challenge. It took me a good 10-15 minutes before I figured out how the pieces interacted to unravel them. Oh, Burr Tools won't work here for sure, cos you can't solve it the normal burr way.

Once the prices came apart, to put them back together again was just the reverse procedure. Just make sure the right pieces are slotted against each other or you'll find yourself getting a bit stuck. With practice, the puzzle can be easily repeatedly solved. Like most of the Cast Series puzzles rated 3-star for their difficulty, the Shift is good for both the casual and experienced puzzler alike. For me personally, I like the Shift because I can see all the pieces and nothing is hidden from view, and the solution is pretty elegant. A fun solve no less.

And for the very reasonable price of the Cast Series puzzles, typically around US$11.50 to US$12 each, you would be hard pressed to get better value elsewhere, both in terms of overall quality and puzzle experience.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Chequered Cube

I have known Neil Hutchison for the last several years and also met him on a couple of occasions during past IPPs. Chequered Cube was Neil's IPP34 Exchange Puzzle in London in 2014 and the first puzzle design from him in my collection. Neil, also know as "The Juggler" in the puzzle community, is an excellent woodworker and also has his own blog site, where he posts puzzle stuff now and again, but unfortunately not often enough!

Chequered Cube came in a smallish nice fitting cardboard box and when I first opened the lid, I thought it was some kind of burr or interlocking puzzle made out of at most half a dozen or so pieces squeezed into a 5cm-sized package.

Little did I know that as I spilled out the contents, the burr was not actually a burr but a diminutive 3D cube packing puzzle comprising a staggering 13 separate parts made of various dark (walnut) and light (maple) pieces glued together.

The pieces are all precisely cut with sharp edges, and fit together incredibly well and the quality of the workmanship is astounding. I am truly impressed how Neil was able to produce the minimum 100 copies needed for the Exchange.

The object of the puzzle is take apart the cube and re-assemble it into a 2x2 checkerboard cube. According to the instructions, there are four ways to put together the cube but only one solution for the checkerboard pattern on the sides.

While this was a beautifully made puzzle and all those 13 pieces were lovely to touch, the difficulty quotient was totally out of my league. Even just trying to put the pieces back together to form a cube (without checkerboard pattern) proved to be too difficult for me. I simply could not handle that many pieces, the shape they are in, with all their notches and grooves made me want to faint with confusion. But lets get real here...any puzzle with over a dozen pieces (and designed by an experienced puzzler) would unlikely ever be a walk in the park, would it?

Solved State
After much effort and time, I decided to find the solution via Burr Tools. For those of you puzzlers out there who have problems with this sort of puzzles or interlocking/burrs etc, trust me, its still fun, thrilling (and challenging) just to configure the puzzle in Burr Tools to find a solution. Yes....a bit of a lame consolation! Using Burr Tools with the relevant colour constraints, the programme came up with the solution on how to form the Chequered Cube with a checkerboard pattern on all six sides and I was able to put the cube back together in no time.

Chequered Cube is a fine work of art for a puzzle with great attention to detail. For those of you who are die-hard fans of 3D packing puzzles, well, this is one you should try to get from Neil. Not sure if he has any left but he can certainly be contacted via his blog site. I just wished that he had also made a matching wooden box to house the this would have been so cool!

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Coke Bottle #4 - With Padlock And Chain

The last time I played with a Wil Strijbos designed bottle puzzle was his very "burlesque" looking Limited Edition Dita Von Teese Perrier Bottle. And that was nearly two years ago. Dita Von Teese was a very fun solve in more ways than one! and certainly much easier than this Coke Bottle #4 (the latter according to fellow puzzle blogger Allard Walker's naming classification).

I have had the Coke Bottle #4 for quite a while now, I would say more than several years and just this evening decided to take it out to have a play (I still have about 4 more unsolved bottles including a opaque Coke Bottle, another of Wil's designs).

Coke Bottle #4 consist of a regular Coke bottle with a plastic cap, attached to it is a thick chain with a small padlock secured on the end. The padlock is inside the bottle and is restrained inside the bottle by a single chain link over the shackle (see photo). The chain link prevents the padlock from coming out of the mouth and the object is to unlock the padlock and take everything out.

Like most of Wil's bottle designs (and others), they look like impossible objects but we all know that its physically solvable of course; just that it may take a lot of effort and usually for impossible bottle puzzles, a fair (or even great) amount of dexterity. As you can see from the photo, you need the keys to unlock the padlock. I might add at this point that no external tools are allowed as well and you must work with only what you have been given with the puzzle. 

I did my usual bit of analysis to try to figure out the best way to unlock and remove the padlock. For a while I was getting no where and I was wondering if I am allowed to remove the set of keys from the chain. I had figured out what to do but couldn't solve the damn thing for a while with the keys still attached. I was rather impatient to get on with the puzzle so I emailed Wil Strijbos, Kevin Sadler and Allard (there's a time difference of about 7 hours between Europe and Singapore). I wasn't sure if either Allard or Kevin had solved the Coke Bottle #4 but figured at least one of them would be able to respond. Surprisingly I got a reply from all three gents within minutes of each other and all confirmed that the keys can be removed from the chain for the solve. Once I did this, I was able to unlock and remove the padlock within minutes; not too difficult I might add. Quite satisfied with my achievement I decided to leave the reassembly until the next evening. 

The difficult part came the next evening when I tried to reassemble everything back into the bottle. Like what I gathered from Allard and Kevin, the locking of the padlock back into the bottle was a real pain and caused many puzzlers untold amounts of frustration. 

Remember you can't use any "external" implements or tools, just what is provided with the puzzle. I had a fair idea how to re-lock the padlock and went about testing my theory. The re-assembly I must admit is very finicky and requires a great amount of dexterity, but its not something that is excruciatingly difficult to do. Not the kind of difficulty like when you can't solve a high level burr but the type where you know exactly what needs to be done, but you just can't seem to do it physically, given that you can only use what you have that comes with the puzzle. Nonetheless all ended well and I managed to lock the padlock again inside the bottle. Whew! 

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Tel Arad

The 'Tel Arad' is perhaps one of the more unusual puzzles I have come across. Certainly its a category of puzzles you don't see everyday, although it does remind me of the snake cube/snake man type puzzle. 

This is the brainchild and creation of Yael Meron (Ms) from Israel, with whom I had to pleasure of exchanging puzzles with at IPP34 in London in 2014. 

The name of the puzzle (according to Yael) "is inspired by the ancient Israelite city of Arad, located west of the Dead Sea. The site is a Tel, which is a type of archaeological mound created by layers of human settlements over centuries"  For more info on Tel Arad, click here.

The puzzle which is produced by Yael herself consist of 9 acrylic squares (3 of each size) which is bound together by bands. The object is to stack the squares, one inside another in three layers. The puzzle in the solved state measures 5cm x 5cm x 2cm. Now these are not rubber bands that stretch, otherwise the puzzle won't be much of challenge but rather the bands are 'non-stretchable" and they hold the squares together (quite tightly) as shown in the photo.

The starting position is as shown per the accompanying instructions (and in the photo of the puzzle) and the puzzler must stack the squares as per the solved position. Stacking the squares would obviously require the folding of one square over another, the smaller squares going into the bigger ones and so on. Simple to say, but the puzzle is actually much more difficult than it looks. Initially I was pretty gentle with the folding and twisting as I was not sure how much stress the bands can withstand without breaking. After a bit of fiddling, I realised that if you don't apply brute force, the bands are actually quite strong.

Random trying here and there may help but some logical thinking will help you solve the puzzle faster and reduce the chances of wear and possible tear of the bands. 

Definitely a rather unusual puzzle indeed and one which results in an elegant solution that surprises, and also no undue force whatsoever is needed (although wriggling is permitted to turn the squares held by the bands). The difficulty level is just right for an exchange puzzle.

As far as I can tell, this puzzle being a private exchange puzzle, is not available anywhere except perhaps from the designer. PM me if anyone is interested to acquire one and I will link you up with Yael Meron.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Checking In

Steward Coffin's designs are typically not known to be easy and my puzzle of choice this weekend was no different.In fact it is probably one of the harder ones I have played with, considering the amount of time it took me to solve. This puzzle was Jerry Slocum's IPP34 Exchange Puzzle called "Checking In" and its Coffin's design #223.

Checking In was made by Brian Young of Mr Puzzle and comprises of Western Australian Jarrah for the tray and a combo of Jarrah and Queensland Silver Ash for the eight pieces. The puzzle measures about 10cm x 10cm x 1.5cm. According to Brian, this design has never been made before so its the first time design #223 has been produced. As usual, quality and construction is very good and the pieces with its two-tone colours looks fabulous.

The puzzle comes "semi-solved" and the goal is to fit one of the pieces packaged at the bottom of the frame flat into the tray together with the rest of the other seven pieces. Not only that but to also form a checkerboard pattern as well. Each of the eight pieces consist of dark and light squares and half squares (triangles) glued together. One look and it is obvious right from beginning that this one wasn't going to be easy. The pieces don't look like they can all fit into the tray. And the fact that its eight pieces already ups the the difficulty quotient by a few notches. 

I spent around two hours or so over several sessions trying to figure this one out. At first, random sort of packing, but usually this won't work when there are a large number of pieces. Then I tried logical deduction/reasoning, which I would say helps to some extent for this puzzle. Many a times, it was always the last one or two pieces that couldn't fit. But eventually the a-ha moment came when I adjusted the last few pieces and the tray accepted the last piece nicely...and in a checker board pattern too! A rather "interesting" solution I might add!

Not at all easy but not unduly frustrating either...although I would imagine that those who don't often play with packing puzzles could spend hours on Checking In and get no where. Mr Puzzle rates it a 6/10 for difficulty but I think it deserves a 6.5 or 7. If you are into packing puzzles (and given this is a Coffin design which is not easily available), Checking In should be on your must-have list. Available only from Mr Puzzle at a price of A$50/- 

For anyone who might want to take a look at the solution, please PM me via my blog email here.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Keys To The Kingdom

I am really hopeless at disentanglement wire puzzles, that's why I rarely, if ever buy any for my collection. However, now and again, I do get a couple during the IPP Puzzle Exchange. Occasionally I would look at the wire puzzles I have and decide if I should give one a go.

Well, Dick Hess' IPP34 exchange puzzle, Keys To The Kingdom caught my eye. And moreover, it didn't look that complicated and entangled, unlike some of the other string/wire puzzles I have come across. 

The Keys has not one but two (really four smaller separate) challenges. The first two consist of removing the two "key" from the upper squarish loop and the second is to join both keys into the lower circular loop.

Like many wire puzzles, the Keys at the beginning look like a bit of a jumbled mess impossible to take apart. But you know physically it is doable. But to my (pleasant) surprise, I actually managed to solve the first challenge of removing the two keys frustration free! Of course being lousy and inexperienced at such puzzles, I am am sure I took much longer than a seasoned wire puzzle expert. I was beginning to like wire puzzles already.

However, what took me about 20 minutes to solve the first challenge, I failed to replicate to the second task. Sadly I spend a good part of a whole afternoon without success. Finally I threw in the towel and referred to Dick's accompanying solution. However, despite the text and diagrams presented, which admittedly I did not fully quite comprehend, I still couldn't figure out how to link both keys to the bottom loop. I will have to drop Dick a note to ask for a better explanation.

No doubt I didn't solve the Keys completely, I still think it is a good wire puzzle to have because it not only provides two challenges but also allows a puzzler to have a couple of A-ha moments for the (easier) first challenge.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Dutch Souvenir Pack

This cute and quirky glass jar containing colourful clogs comes courtesy of Rob Hegge, who designed and produced the Dutch Souvenir Pack (DSP) as his PP36 exchange puzzle. 

The Dutch wooden clogs or Klompen are from the Netherlands and many are sold as tourist souvenirs. The jar is an ordinary looking glass jar with an airtight lid that locks; the type where you can fill it with jellybeans for kids. As far as the clogs are concerned, they appear to be those that can be easily bought off the street.

The DSP is a "3D" packing puzzle, if I can use such a definition and comes with 4 challenges, ranging from relatively easy to impossible:-

1. after removing the clogs and ball, place all 3 pairs of clogs into the bottle;
2. Same as above but close the lid
3. Same as 2 above but all the clogs must be below the lowest metal ring of the locking mechanism.
4. Same as 2 but include the rubber ball inside.

I solved challenges 1 to 3 but had absolutely no luck with 4. #3 was a tad more difficult since the the clogs had to occupy the correct position inside the jar below the lowest ring; hence some serious packing was needed, bu still manageable.

#4 was quite impossible for me! In fact it does look quite like an impossible object. I shall wait for the solution to appear in the IPP36 souvenir booklet to find out how to pack the ball in with the clogs.

As far as packing puzzles go, this one wins the prize for originality and aesthetics... and very appropriate as a (Dutch) souvenir, which doubles as a nice puzzle too!

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The 3/4 Pack Puzzle

I have had several Dick Hess puzzles in my collection for some time now and he has designed and produced quite a number including both packing, sliding block and entanglement ones. I thought I would start off with something of his that is more manageable and the 3/4 Pack Puzzle fits the bill just right.

The 3/4 Pack Puzzle was Dick's IPP36 exchange puzzle in Kyoto last year. Its a 2D tray packing puzzle with six 3/4 discs. Manufactured by Walt Hoppe, it is made from laser cut Cherry wood and measures about 12.7cm x 9cm x 0.9cm. The tray and pieces are precision cut with tight tolerances. It even has a slot for one of discs for ease of storage when not in play

Typically for puzzles like this, where the fit is just right, I would place it in a dry box to make sure there is no expansion of the pieces due to the high humidity, which is what I did. One never knows if the inability to solve could have been due to expanded pieces which can't fit where it should.

The object is to place all six 3/4 discs flat into the square cavity. The puzzle comes with the solution sheet which shows that there are actually 8 ways to pack the pieces in. This explains why I didn't have too much trouble with this packing puzzle! But of the 8 ways 
(plus flipped pieces), only two are optimum (best) solutions and the rest go in descending order thereafter from 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th best solutions. I am proud to say my first attempt was actually one of the two "best" solutions!

The 3/4 Pack Puzzle is not too difficult and this is one of those packing puzzles that you can lay out all the pieces in the tray and slowly manipulate the pieces bit by bit to ensure every piece will fit inside. However, aside from the challenge perspective, I guess what's significant is also the math behind the design and the very precise manufacture of each and every copy to ensure that the puzzle works properly as intended. For those keen on the 3/4 Pack Puzzle or other Dick Hess puzzles, please PM me via my blog site email.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Loopy Box

"Loopy" in the English language means "mad or silly" or "having many loops". In the case of the Loopy Box puzzle, it is hardly the former (given its very difficult challenge quotient) but certainly the latter, as I shall try to describe below.

First off, its credentials; designed by Jean-Claude Constantin (now I haven't played with a JCC design for a long time, the last one in my hands was over 3 years ago; the Lock 250). It is also manufactured by him out of laser cut wood with the sides and bottom glued/screwed together to form a box. This puzzle was also Allard Walker's IPP35 Exchange Puzzle in Canada in 2015. 

The puzzle measures about 11cm x 10.5cm x 7.5cm and is essentially a box with a lid that is "locked" in place by a piece of thick rope (see photo). Quality and construction is very good, typical of the JCC standard. The object is to open the lid and solve a second puzzle inside, a modified Hanayama Cast Claw that has an extra U-shaped piece linking the two claws.

In the last few years Allard Walker has had this habit of making puzzle exchangers work really hard by exchanging not one but two puzzles at the same time (usually one contained inside the other; see Conjuring Conundrum and Baffling Bolted Book). Well, he is a gentleman of means and can afford it... and I for one is certainly not complaining, since I am getting two separate puzzles from him in one exchange! The second challenge after the box is open is to take apart the Cast Devil.

Now back to the puzzle; as one can observe, the only sensible way of opening the lid would be to remove the length of thick rope. But unfortunately this is hardly that simple as I found out. The rope passes through a hole in a vertical slat and holds the lid down. The rope itself is attached in some way to a dial (and what's underneath the numbers and inside can't be seen clearly if at all, I tried shining a torch but it didn't help). It would be obvious that the dial (which can turn in both directions) has something to do with the rope's release.

I spent an estimated three to four days trying to disentangle and release the rope and even read Kevin Sadler's experience with the Loopy Box hoping to find some clues. But Kevin, like all good puzzle bloggers gave little clues on his blog and his photos didn't indicate anything of use either. Nothing worked and after some more trying I gave up and asked Kevin for a clue. He said he was too busy during that time and he also had to find his copy from his collection of several thousand puzzles. Not forgetting, he is a busy doctor and also. has Mrs S (which I had the privilege of meeting at IPP34 in London) to spend time with too!), He did mention that it involved quite a bit of dexterity and that was all I had to go on. I left the Loopy Box alone. Fast forward to the present after several weeks, and I had a go at it again, but still no luck. After trying incessantly, I contacted Allard for help this time. Now why did't I contact Allard in the first place back then??

When I saw the solution from Allard I said to myself - damn!, now why didn't I think of it? The way to remove the rope is pretty clever (I am sure those disentanglement puzzle experts would have quite quickly figured it out) but the physical execution of the correct technique is more than fairly difficult (even when you know exactly what needs to be done). Everything was pretty fiddly and my only criticism is that perhaps the dial and other parts could have been made larger to accommodate bigger fingers! After more than several minutes, I finally freed the rope and opened the lid to face the second puzzle!

Nope - I didn't go on to the modified Cast Devil and decided I will leave it for another day. For all those interested, the Loopy Box is available from Puzzle Master in Canada for CA$52.99 and from Puzzle Shop in Germany for 35 Euros.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Cast Puzzle Vortex In A Bottle

Impossible object puzzles never cease to amaze me. They are really in a category of their own and generally, among mechanical puzzles, come far and few in between. Primarily because they are so hard to produce or "put together" into an impossible object. 

I always love it when I am able to get my hands on one. I have several really cool impossible objects in my collection including some "seemingly impossible" ones like the Puzzle Jam and 4 Street Elbows and the more "solvable" types like the Exchange Washington DC, Smiley In A Bottle and Coke Bottle #1.

This one here is the design and handiwork of Hiroaki Namba, who also gave us the Double Cast Puzzle Hook reviewed earlier. This impossible object was Mr Namba's IPP35 Exchange Puzzle in Ottawa, Canada in 2015. 

It consist of an ordinary bottle with a standard Hanayama Cast Vortex inside. I have never played with a Cast Vortex so can't comment on it, but it's rated 5 stars on the difficulty level quotient (meaning it's really very difficult) by Hanayama. And judging by the video solutions posted on YouTube, it looks extremely challenging to take apart just on its own, not to mention extracting it from a bottle.

No doubt of course Mr Namba would have found a way to twist and solve the Vortex into the bottle, and probably doing it in a very elegant way too! Inside the bottle, the Vortex cannot be taken out as it is obstructed by the narrow mouth of the bottle and the only way it seems would be to (partially) disengage the three parts before extraction.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Square & Equilateral Triangle

I have never been a huge fan of shape forming puzzles. But after I played with Emrehan Halici's Four Triangles Five Shapes, and more recently Andrea Rover's Growing Triangle, this sort of puzzles, plus the "form-a-symmetrical shape" ones have gotten more of my attention (and liking). I have also recently designed something along similar lines and hopefully will be able to showcase it at IPP37 this coming August.

Square & Equilateral Triangle (SET) is Halici's IPP36 Exchange Puzzle. There are two goals here; use the five irregular shaped pieces to form a square and the same five pieces to form an equilateral triangle (a triangle with three sides of equal length).

It makes me wonder about the genius of Turkish Halici to be able to come up with a design for two different (and symmetrical) shapes using the same pieces; incredible! Unlike his Four Triangles Five Shapes which I failed dismally, I am proud to say that I managed to solve SET without any help, although it took me a number of short puzzling sessions over several days.

I managed to solve the square within a matter of minutes, but the equilateral triangle took about fifteen times simply eluded me despite my many attempts to try the different combination of putting the five pieces side by side. Finally the A-ha moment arrived one day during a lunch time break.

[Edit 20 April 2017 - Stanislav Knot has come up with an additional 9 different shapes using the 5 pieces. Thanks Stan!]

For folks who are into this sort of puzzles, the SET has just the "right level of difficulty" for an exchange puzzle; one relatively easy goal to get the juices going and a second much tougher challenge. Anyone keen to see the two solutions please PM me here.

Thursday, 13 April 2017


Its been a while since I last played with a Yavuz Demirhan puzzle. The last one was the Quadrant 1 reviewed over a year and a half ago. This time, Yavuz's design is the Ovolo, which was also the Exchange Puzzle of Brian Young at last year's IPP36 in Kyoto, Japan.

This is a rather nice and unusual looking 8 piece interlocking puzzle, consisting of 6 board pieces cut from 10mm acrylic and two other wooden pieces (made fromQueensland Blackbean) each comprising of three sticks glued together - like in the form of the X, Y and Z axes (see photo).  

Dimensionally the size of the assembled puzzle is 7cm x 7cm x 7cm. Construction fit and finish from Brian is as usual, impeccable and the combo of acrylic and wood gives the puzzle a rather interesting and striking appearance.

The object of course is to dis-assemble the puzzle and then -reassemble it. Taking the puzzle apart was not too difficult for me and it took just a bit of experimentation to find out how the pieces moved. I took my time with the Ovolo, wanting to commit the moves to memory so that I could (hopefully) re-assemble the thing without any help later. Took me somewhere around 5-6 moves and I got the first piece out. The rest came apart quite easily thereafter.

As Brian says on his website which retails the Ovolo for A$40/-..."this puzzle is not so difficult to take apart. But mix up the pieces, walk away and forget about them, come back later and you'll find it quite difficult to put back together. There are many false moves and dead ends; 42 false assemblies and just ONE level 5 solution.

Brian is absolutely spot on about the ease of taking the puzzle apart...but unfortunately I didn't even have to "mix up the pieces, walk away and forget about them..."; in fact while I immediately tried to put everything together hoping my memory of the moves was still fresh....I couldn't!  Somehow I got the orientation of the pieces wrong and ended up with the false assemblies. Visually, the clear acrylic was no help either and in fact added to the confusion and difficulty (that's why perhaps acrylic was used).

Finally after several days, I threw in the towel and emailed Brian/Sue for the solution. The assembly process didn't quite seem the exact opposite of the way I had taken apart the pieces...but no complaints...I got the Ovolo back to its original state. Nice attractive looking puzzle with fairly simple looking pieces. Don't let the level solution fool you. Relatively easy to disassemble but putting everything back together can be a real nightmare! 

Friday, 7 April 2017

Pack Your Passport

American Eitan Cher's IPP36 Exchange Puzzle, Pack Your Passport is IMHO one of the nicest looking 2D packing puzzles I have come across, and believe me, I have quite a large number in my collection, and none of them come close!

This is a meticulously crafted puzzle that measures 13cm x 9.5cm x 1.7cm, about the size of a real passport. It consists of a number of layers of acrylic glued together to form a two-page "passport" with the covers held together by rubber bands. The puzzle including the 10 irregular pieces that come with it are precision laser cut and the entire package smacks of high quality. As I understand, Eitan has access to a number of laser cutting machines at his disposal, hence his ability to ensure quality control over the final product.

Not only is the puzzle beautiful to look at and feel, the design concept of the puzzle also deserves commendation. IPP35 was hosted in Canada and IPP36 in Japan. Pack Your Passport was designed by Rex Perez of the Philippines and aligns itself very well thematically. On the first page of the "passport" is the Canadian flag with a cut-out of a maple leaf; detach and flip it over and you see the Japanese flag with a cut-out of the sun. the second layer stores the 10 loose pieces which are neatly stored in their own slots. 

The goals are simple and clear, use all 10 pieces to form the maple leaf of the Canadian flag and the second challenge is to use the same 10 pieces to form the sun of the Japanese flag. Believe me, both challenges are very difficult, since there are 10 pieces involved and in the case of the Japanese flag, there is only one solution. Quite a design feat, I might add.

I struggled with the Canadian flag for a couple of days before I decided I needed help and promptly shot a message to Rex for a clue. Quick was his reply (he too couldn't solve it sometimes!) and he indicated to me where one of the 10 pieces was suppose to fit within the cut-out. With this, I was able to solve the puzzle during the next hour or so. Next I tried the Japanese flag but as of the date of this post, I have still not solve this one. Still waiting for Rex to forward a clue. 

Between the two challenges, the Canadian flag is the easier one, since careful observation will reveal that there are a couple of pieces that can only fit (or not) in certain places within the cut-out and this reduces the level of difficulty somewhat, but perhaps still not enough! 

For packing puzzle lovers that also demand top-notch quality, Pack Your Passport is a must-have. From what I can tell, it is commercially available from

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...