Butterfly Box

Kagen Sound, 98 copies, 23cm x 8cm
Bastogne Walnut, Quilted Pacific Maple, Madone, Wenge, Baltic Birch, Cocobolo, Paulowina, Alaskan and Western Red Cedar

It isn’t long before most tyro puzzle box aficionados will hear the name Kagen Sound. It will likely be much longer before said boxer can get their hands on one; the box abecedarian may then be an octogenarian but will nonetheless reach their arthritic hands towards their new acquisition with gleeful gratitude.

Overly (and unnecessarily) multi-syllabic ruminations aside, when I got an email from Kagen saying that my name had made it to the top of his list for the newly released Butterfly Box, this quadragenarian was more than happy to take a copy off his hands.

Butterfly Box is the third and final entry in his Lotus Trilogy, following the Caterpillar and Lotus Boxes some years prior. The series is an evolution of earlier puzzle projects and took him nine years to complete. All three boxes have certain similarities: each has eight concentric rings atop a hexagonal box, the narrow rings featuring a number of lines cross-crossing this way and that, a chaotic tease of its potential symmetries. Turning the various rings, you create and abandon all sorts of pretty shapes and patterns, searching for those that will offer you access to the four compartments contained within its base.

I had wondered how much of a challenge this could really be, and was happily surprised to learn that the answer is: a whole heckuva lot (to put it science-y); in fact, I still haven’t opened all of the compartments!

Each of the earlier entries in the series culminated in a final drawer that contained a partial hint to this final puzzle; these hints combhine to provide the Butterfly puzzler with some much-needed guidance in getting started. Kagen kindly includes a quality booklet that includes a pic of the combined hint from the previous boxes. The hint was most certainly welcome, as it seems as though the potential patterns presented atop this beautiful box is bordering on a crap-ton (I should really start using lay terms here).

This is a large source of my surprise: I had foolishly thought that finding the right patterns would be cake; it is instead bananas. With eight concentric rings containing numerous and varied lines going this way and that, it only take a few degrees in either direction for one or more rings to create entirely new patterns, some subtly and some significantly different, the majority of which will permit no progress.

Significant and Subtle differences allow for a LOT of variation: some patterns are immediately recognizable as being extremely distinct, others (such as those above) are more nuanced

Finding the correct ring placements isn’t quite all you need to do; some subtle requirements throughout the solution add another level of complexity to this Search for the Elusive Pattern(s). Kagen comes once more to the rescue with hints to be discovered as you progress, some well-hidden, others more obvious, but all crafted in unique ways that further highlight Kagen’s skills as a craftsman. And there are other surprises hidden with, reserved for those watchful puzzlers able to find their way through to the end.

Instead of being a beautiful breeze, blowing briefly by, Butterfly had become a devilishly deep and drawn out dive into an undoubtedly deep design – all brought together in an absolutely beautiful hex-box, perfect for collectors and solvers alike. Of course, in addition to its aesthetic attraction, its substantial size of 23cm x 8cm presents it as a perfectly prominent piece of any puzzle collection.

And surpassing this surprisingly challenging series of discoveries is the look and feel of the box, which is just freakin’ awesome sauce (scientificaliciously speaking, once again). All three boxes in the series are made of different types of walnut and maple, showing off the aesthetic range these woods offer, with an array of woods that have such different tones and figuring as to seem to be wholly different species: Butterfly pairs Bastogne Walnut with a lovely Quilted Maple, for elegantly contrasting woods with a buttery feel. And the patterns themselves are skillfully comprised of four layers of thin veneer made of Wenge and Madrone inset into each of the concentric rings, with Baltic Birch in between. Such a high level of skill is what earned Kagen the honor of being the only non-Japanese crasftperson to be a member of the Karakuri Creation Group.

An interesting note about Bastogne Walnut: this is an “accidental” tree that occurs in about 1% of walnut trees, resulting from a cross-pollination of European and US species. Bastogne trees are sterile, which contributes to their rarity as they cannot reproduce.

Butterfly Box puts Kagen’s fantastic skills as both a craftsman and a puzzle designer on full display, using subtle differences in woods to maximum effect and relying on expert methods to produce a box that is deceptively complex in multiple and unexpected ways and beautiful in all the right ones.


Excellence Grade: Five Sinatras

(click here for more information on the Sinatra Scaling System, (c) John Maynard Keynes, 1944)

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