Playin’ With That (Parody of Baby Got Back by Sir-Mix-a-Lot)
Early Preview Version
Lyrics by fivesinatras All tracks performed by fivesinatras
Original music by Sir Mix-a-Lot
I have spent entirely too much time over the last week writing and recording “Playin’ With That,” a puzzle-themed parody of “Baby Got Back” by Sir-Mix-a-Lot (full lyrics bellow).
This is a pretty rough version of the song and I hope to find some puzzlers who want to help me improve it; I am especially in need of someone to lay down some record-scratching and maybe help with the mix (and the music itself would certainly benefit from some further work). If you are interested, comment below and send me a DM.
I plan on re-recording the vocals as this was recorded late at night and I didn’t want to wake my son up and incur his adolescent wrath (just kidding: he’s cool).
Music Video Help!
I think it would be fun to make a music video featuring members of the puzzling community: you-tubers, bloggers, collectors and designers could submit video clips lip-syncing / dancing to the song, which I would then edit into a music video. This would, of course, require puzzlers to want to participate as I’m not going to make a video of me dancing for 4 minutes (you’re welcome).
Copyright Disclaimer: This is a parody of a well-known song and is protected under Fair Use law; I have performed all tracks myself (instrumental and vocal) and am contrasting the sexual and cultural meaning of the original song with the mores of the mechanical puzzle community 😛
If you would like to learn more about the legal protections afforded to musical parodies, I would be pretty surprised; nonetheless, you can check out this 1994 Supreme Court decision denying Roy Orbison’s case against 2 Live Crew (this is comedy gold, people: Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569 (1994)).
If you want to help with improving this song or to participate in making a music video, please comment and send me a DM.
My SoundCloud profile also has songs that a friend and I made in the mid-1990’s, so if you want to hear some lo-fi indie-folk-punk, check out “A Man Dies Slow” and “My Life is Lived.”
Oh my god, PT, look at that burr
Its level’s so big, it’s gonna take
those puzzle guys a whole weekend.
But ya know who can even solve
They only try to solve ‘em because
they look like they're impossible, k'?
I mean, that burr, its just so big.
I can’t believe it’s not even around,
it’s sold out there.
Those dudes are obsessed.
It’s just so, sad.
I like big burrs and I cannot lie
You other puzzlers can’t deny
When a burr shows up on CD’s page
With pretty woods to my taste
I press done, having paid enough
Cause I know that burr is tough
Gonna get sucked into payin’
I’m hooked and I can’t stop playin’
Oh maybe get the one
And take some pictures
Discord friends tried to warn me
That burr you got’s from (Osanori)
Oh, come get puzzlin’
You say ya gonna need more hands?
It’s co-movement, I’m usin’
BT but the file’s confusin’
Won’t ask cubic dissection
to hell with the solution
I’ll get it
Got me goin’ straight into debt
Puzzle will be played
Level 90 is what it said
30.8.9. dot what
That aha’s coming up
So puzzlers (yeah)
Your collection got some burrs?
Tell em’ don’t shake it (shake it)
Don’t shake it (shake it)
Don’t shake that wooden burr
Playin’ with that
(made of 6 exotic woods, son)
Playin with that
(made of 6 exotic woods, son)
The solution ain’t been found,
it's too big,
And then I’m throwin’ a fit
I just can’t help myself,
wanna buy every puzzle
When Haubrich’s live, I’ll
Make ‘em all my own
I’m stuck (trouble what) stuck stuck
Ain’t talkin’ bout my fails, boy,
Cause wooden puzzles ain’t ya toys
Don’t want em’ scratched
or loose, see
Cause Reassembly’s trouble
Yeah it’s a struggle
I’m watching Mr. Puzzle
He’s solving YT videos
I’m on Baxter now, bidding on those
Prices still kinda low
M..l’s got bids tho’
A word to the six-piece Cutlers
I want to get all ya
I might cuss or hate ya
But I gotta be fake sayin’ I ain’t gonna
Come and get hints from
Someone who’s got it done
I want a DM, spoil tags on
Some puzzlers solve it and list it
But I’d rather it stay to replay
List is long, I want on
Cyberstalking ya now it’s on
So puzzlers (yeah)
Wanna go with disassemblies? (yeah)
Then go log on, have no doubt,
New puzzles are comin’ out
Playin’ with that
Playin’ with that
Pelikan’s in the mail
So many puzzles by Alfons
It’s hard to make my selection
Level 36, 24, 36
Gonna be a hard disassembly
NPSO wanna surprise ya
With a puzzle but just can’t find one
Ask on the Discord group
cause we don’t mind ya
I have a box, I don’t want none
Unless you got burrs, son
You can do SD and boxes
But please don’t lose that burr
Packin’ puzzles are gettin’ sold
Boucher’s designs are gold
When they list it, I don’t leave it
Gotta order quick to retrieve it
No wallets gonna stay fat
When you order all of that
Gotta package, it’s full
and the burrs are kickin’
And I’m thinking about stickin’
To all the ones in the blogs I read
Ya can’t get everything
Wanna try, I can’t resist a
Juno design, like this burr
SD Pluredro don’t you dis
slammed car is on my list
At 2 pm he’s gonna post ‘em
Refreshin’ to get most of ‘em
Cause puzzlers, the burr you found
Ain’t always gonna be around
All them unicorns cost a lot
So which ones have you bought
Playin’ with that
Playin’ with that
It’s wigglin a little
but I built it right back
It’s wigglin a little
but I built it right back
Ship in a Bottle, Hoffman Packing & Inelegant Series
Designers: Bill Cutler (Bermuda) Dean Hoffman (Hoffman) Haym Hirsch (Inelegant Series) Pit Khiam Goh (4L Bin & Ship in a Bottle) Tom Lensch (Punch Cards & Nested Cubes)
All copies produced by Tom Lensch
Life got in the way of my puzzling these last few weeks, causing a few weeks to go by without any puzzle posts (aside from my recent post on Rob Yarger’s One Hand Puzzlebox); somehow, dear reader, you survived this lull and I am happy to be back to doing what I love – rambling and ranting about puzzles. To make up for this soul-sucking abyss that went almost entirely unnoticed, I shall pack several puzzles into the present post (see what I did there?).
This post collects several puzzles from different designers; all copies in my possession were produced at various times over the last several years by the incomparable Tom Lensch: master craftsman, puzzler and all-around-good-guy. Some designs are his and some are by others: all are amazing puzzles that bring a nuanced and original perspective to packing puzzles, stretching the term beyond our assumptions of what this might mean.
Please note that these are all older productions from Tom and are not available from him. Tom produces puzzles in fairly limited quantities and does not generally keep stock on hand, instead selling directly to collectors.
At the first Gathering for Gardner in 1993, OG puzzle designer, author, analyst and collector, Bill Cutler, shared his design for a challenging, three layer packing puzzle with the excellent puzzle craftsman, Tom Lensch. Since then, Tom has released three limited runs of this extremely challenging puzzle, most recently (a year or two ago) in an absolutely beautiful Kentucky Coffee-Tree with a Walnut frame. He offered two grains, and I opted for the narrower, medium grain. The puzzle is a good size at 3 cm x 13 cm; big enough to be appreciated aesthetically as well as comfortable manipulated but not so big as to take up an unnecessary amount of space.
Originally, the 12 pieces of Bill’s design were composed of one large triangle glued in various configurations to two smaller ones (a total of 12 large and 24 small), the whole puzzle consisting of 3 layers fitted perfectly into a hexagonal tray. The design provided a fairly significant clue, as the top layer showed 6 large triangles.
Following the dark grains of the Coffee-Tree, Tom elected to eliminate the large triangles, instead making them out of 4 small triangles, with the puzzle now using a total of 72 small triangles glued into 12 pieces; each piece is composed of 6 small triangles, but they are all quite different from one another. This design allowed the pattern to be consistent across its three layers, making the puzzle more of a challenge – considering that this was not an easy puzzle to begin with, Tom’s most recent release is, simply put, damn difficult.
I have not managed to solve this puzzle despite spending a good amount of hours spread out over a year or so: as with many great packing designs, you feel confident that you are onto something when you are nearing the end, only to find that one or two final pieces insist on poking out above the frame’s top or simply will not fit. While the use of multiple layers in most pieces limits the possible configurations, the triangles can nonetheless seemingly fit in so many different ways that the correct solution continues to elude me. However, the excellent woods and unique design are enough to keep me coming back, hoping that I will eventually find myself worthy of a happy dance when that last piece slides perfectly in.
This design by Pit Khiam Goh may share a name with other puzzles (4L by Yasuhiro Hashimoto and 4L Basket by Koichi Miura) but the similarities end there: this is an amazingly fun puzzle that has you searching for that perfect dance of pieces that must be inserted into its box in a way I’ve not seen elsewhere.
The box resembles that of Eric Fuller’s Pin Block Case , the opening severely restricted to no more than the center of one quarter – the box does leave open a strip on the back and bottom of the puzzle to assist with manipulating the oddly shaped pieces. Tom’s release uses brass pins along the edges of the right and left side of the box for a unique aesthetic, lending some color to the light woods used. When solved, the open quarter of the puzzle will be filled, apparent-cube style (the apparent cubeness belied by the gaps seen when looking through the open strips), some contrasting woods exposed asymmetrically yet beautifully at its main opening.
The four pieces are of the same general size and shape, their dimensions equal to two lengths of the square, fitted at a right angle. The challenge is based on the narrow protrusions placed along the pieces. The edge pieces are easily discerned as they only feature protrusions along a single side, lending you a much needed starting point. At 9.5 cm, the box is sizable, allowing the pieces to fit well in your hands and be easily manipulated via the access points at the back.
When first confronted with the puzzle, I was pretty intimidated; it seemed like something that would require a lot of trial and error to make any progress. However, after a bit of playing around, I saw that there was a clear logic to how the pieces must fit – before too long, I’d found the most likely configuration of pieces to be inserted for the solve and turned to determining how to get them in there.
This is what really makes the puzzle fun – rather than getting bogged down by too many possible configurations, a bit of early analysis allows you to focus your efforts on the dance, forcing you to examine the possible entries and movements to determine the order of insertion, and the needed back and forth steps to allow each to get where they need to go. The final solution relies mostly on this logic, combined with the careful planning necessitated by the restrictive nature of the puzzle.
After finding the correct configuration, I eventually found the correct order of insertion; I then needed to find the proper dance moves to follow this order, finally spending a good amount of time trying to realize these moves, forcing me to not only have a good grasp of its choreography, but to discover the kind of great aha moment that is the mark of a really cool packing puzzle. This is not the kind of puzzle that you will solve without realizing you were about to do so – you need to know what needs to happen going in and really think about how to put this into action. The solution really is elegant – turning down some dead ends, I found my failed attempts to be a bit fiddly at times and was impressed by how graceful the actual solution felt.
The puzzle fell into that sweet spot of puzzling time (not you, MQ) – I was able to solve it in just a couple sittings, well beyond anything resembling easy but well short of reaching the point of frustration (let alone boredom). This is the kind of puzzle that begs to be solved, its unique challenge playful despite being difficult.
Punch Cards was Tom’s entry at IPP23 in Chicago. Consisting of a 3.25″ X 2.75 ” X 1.7″ frame, it comes with 5 acrylic squares with a number of circles cut out in unique and asymmetric patterns. Inside its walnut frame, you can see 6 dowels of differing lengths, obstructing the ability to fit the acrylic pieces inside.
The frame has a unique, fidget-friendly feature basic to the puzzle (which is to say it isn’t a spoiler). Solving the puzzle with a static frame would clearly be impossible – the pieces simply cannot be inserted with the dowels where they are. As such, one side of the frame can be lifted a quarter of an inch or so, lifting a couple dowels from one side of the puzzle, leaving you with only those on the frame’s other side to restrict entry. Of course, placement of the acrylic pieces must allow the frame to be closed in order to find the solution.
Examining the pieces allows you to dismiss some potential entries, leaving you to try various orientations and orders to determine where each piece might fit; some amount of trial and error allows for progress with a good amount of logic to bring you home.
Solving Punch is really quite fun – each little aha combining to produce that final sense of earned satisfaction that comes when the frame snaps perfectly closed, leaving the acrylic pieces jutting out of one side, displaying its unique design wonderfully and temptingly. I’ve found it to be fun to just fidget with it, the frame snapping shut satisfyingly; while re-solving is fairly straightforward (assuming you haven’t mixed the pieces up), there is something about sliding each piece in and dropping the frame closed, securing the pieces perfectly within, that I find gratifying (I’ve done it about 5 times just while writing this).
This is a design that I have been hunting for since reading about it in some of the great puzzle blogs out there (as opposed to the mediocre one here). Originally entered into the 2012 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition, the puzzle consists of five nested cubes (you can see where the name comes from), the outermost a respectable 7.5 cm.
All but the smallest cube (which is so perfect as to seem to consist of a single piece of wood) has a lid that fits with the absolute precision found in all of Tom’s work. They rest perfectly atop each cube with an airtight feel that is stable and secure while being easy enough to remove. The largest cube features a brass pin at its bottom, protruding straight ups bit less than half the length of the cube. Each of the other four cubes feature a small hole on multiple sides, placed slightly off-center in an inconsistent manner that is the main challenge of the puzzle.
The fit of the various cubes is absolutely perfect; as they slide slowly into one another, you can actually feel the air being displaced by the precise fit. Of course, it is not a simple matter to get each in completely: the brass pin prevents this until you find the correct orientation of each successive piece.
I worked my way in, starting with the largest of the cubes, soon falling into the familiar state of puzzling zen that accompanies some puzzles. The puzzle has a conceptually similar experience to Punch Cards while feeling totally unique in practice: the reliance upon a mixture of close examination and trial & error, with a nice dose of logic bringing it all together. Each success was progressively more satisfying until all four inner cubes sat perfectly one within the other, the combined piece sliding wonderfully into the outermost cube so precisely that any puzzler would find it impossible not to smile. Having accomplished this challenging feat, I placed that final lid atop the box, the seemingly simple wooden cube subtly belying the trickiness contained within.
Ship in a Bottle
Ship in a Bottle is another design by Pit Khiam Goh; I am constantly impressed by the diversity and uniqueness of his designs that rely on a broad range of mechanisms that oftentimes use a genuinely original approach to puzzle genres, resulting in a puzzle that is pretty much impossible to resist.
Ship consists of a bottle-shaped wooden frame with an acrylic front and back attached by rounded brass pins that helps give it a slightly nautical feel; its narrow sides are open, allowing for the easy manipulation of the pieces within. Inside, there are six maple blocks: two are one-voxel cubes and four are two-voxel rectangles. Engraved on the blocks is the image of what appears to be an Ancient Greek Trireme (or similar). The interior of the bottle is three by four voxels, with two left empty. Atop the bottle, there is a one-voxel opening at its center; the puzzle comes with a lid that protrudes into the bottle’s neck, its top extending outwards to plug the hole, one side featuring a magnet that holds it to the frame with a fidget-friendly click.
The puzzle has a unique goal: it arrives with the ship facing out towards the neck and you must remove the pieces and re-insert them so the ship has turned, facing in towards the bottle’s bottom. This makes for a fun puzzle that is perhaps equal parts slider and packing. Three of the rectangular pieces are oriented perpendicular to the neck, requiring you to find the room to pack them in properly, rotating each of the pieces after having inserted them sideways. But, in the words of the late, great Don Pardo: “That’s not all!” – remember, the goal is not just to get the pieces in, but to do so such that the image of the ship can be reversed.
This combination of puzzle genres makes for a truly fun experience; although I found it not too difficult to get all of the pieces in, the available order and placement of the inserted pieces severely limits their internal choreography, which must allow for sliding the pieces around one another so as to create the reversed image of the ship. Aha moments abound along the way: first you must find how you can get all the pieces in, then you must find how to do so to allow the solved state to be found. This progressed for me in phases, as I would find myself closer to each goal only to find myself backtracking as I realized I needed to tweak my method. For example, I eventually came across the correct dance, only to find that I had two pieces inserted in the wrong order, leaving the ship with an inverted side. I’d sort of missed how exactly I had gotten to this point, and found myself struggling to reverse the dance; this allowed for a better understanding of the puzzle’s solution, and I was then able to change the order of insertion to allow for the solved state to be reached.
The design is really quite amazing: resetting the puzzle to the original ship orientation is a fairly trivial and straightforward matter (largely due to the fact that you can put the square pieces in last, leaving plenty of room to get the rectangles in beforehand) – it is only when you try to reverse it that you run into the significant challenge of the design. After a couple of good puzzling sessions, I was able to find the solution; I left it solved for a while before resetting it to allow for a solid re-solve challenge when I inevitably forget how the hell I was able to solve the thing.
Hoffman Packing Puzzle
This is perhaps one of the most iconic packing puzzles out there, a classic design first described in 1978 by Dean Hoffman (not to be confused with the 19th Century puzzle godfather Professor Hoffman, author of Puzzles Old & New and other quintessential puzzle books). (Ed. This is perhaps the second best thing to come out of that year…… 😉
Hoffman’s Packing Puzzle is such a prototypical design as to deserve its own Wikipedia page; as such, I will not get into some of its interesting mathematical significance (because I am obviously totally capable of doing that…. cough cough). The puzzle consists of 27 identical pieces that will form a 3 x 3 cube that is internally imperfect (as its total volume is less than the internal space of the box) while having perfectly parallel sides.
Haym Hirsch has come out with a series of designs built off of this design, combining pieces so as to create puzzles with a single, unique solution as compared to the original’s 21 distinct solutions. Haym’s Inelegant Series begins with the puzzle formerly known as Hoffman Jr. (Inelegant 5 x 5), followed by Inelegant Soma, Inelegant Box, Inelegant Cube, Inelegant Snakes and Inelegant Fake, which have all been produced by Brian Menold of WoodWondersOnline (I have so far only managed to obtain copies of Soma and Snakes – he does re-release these from time to time so I may yet realize the impulses of my Hoffmania). These are really quite fun and challenging, riffing on the concepts behind the original Hoffman to create a series of aesthetically similar yet mostly practically unique experiences that feature added tweaks such as empty voxels or pieces fixed to the frame.
Tom produced an insanely cool run of Hoffman some years ago; not only did he use a different exotic wood for each for the 27 pieces, but he actually engraved the name of the species on each individual piece. Fitting perfectly into a two-tone wooden box (with a lovely, floating lid), the puzzle just looks fantastic. This makes for both a cool version of a classic puzzle as well as a fun way to check out samples of exotic woods – I’ve certainly pulled them out when trying to identify what type of wood a puzzle might be or to help choose which woods to get when presented with a choice.
Despite having multiple solutions, Hoffman is quite a challenge that is entertaining to solve, as you watch what at first appears to be nothing more than a rather chaotic jumble of blocks turn into a nice, smooth cube (eventually…… hopefully… maybe).
Welp. There ya go: my packing puzzle mega-review.
Stay tuned – one of these days just might be a Good Day to Pack Hard…
Robert Yarger, walnut & various exotic woods, 6″ x 3″ x 3″ (160 copies)
One of the best things to happen to a puzzler is to open an email from a great designer and unexpectedly learn that not only have they produced a new puzzle, but that you can get a copy! I knew Rob was working on a new puzzle (pretty sure this is pretty much always the case), but had not known the what or the when. And so it was with a hearty “yes please!” that the box was ordered. Within a week, it arrived at my door: work was cast aside, chores forgotten (which I guess isn’t really all that unique), dogs and cat ignored (I don’t think the cat noticed), mail cast aside, wife…… politely informed that I would like a few minutes, if that’s ok, and so the box was opened and the villagers rejoiced (yayyy).
But you likely care little for my inner life (rude) and instead want to know about the dang puzzle.
(note: all the information below is limited to what is included in the puzzle’s original description and instructions, including the shapes of the pieces which was shown in the accompanying photo; the rest is my personal puzzling experience and is very unlikely to spoil the experience for others)
One Hand Puzzlebox is is based on a concept by puzzler Asher Simon, and is Robert Yarger’s “tribute to the genera of packing puzzles.” Burrtools is unlikely to be of much use, however, as the pieces are oddly shaped, magnets strewn about, seemingly haphazardly but of course we know that is not the case.
The box is 6″ x 3″ x 3″ and is made of a walnut that feels and looks great (which is not surprising, considering its pedigree); my pics really do not do it justice. The lid will only slide in one direction (I might prefer it to slide NKOTB-style, but hey, I don’t judge); sliding it back, you find a compartment approximately half the length of the box before the lid stops, unable to move any further. Exotic woods of various shapes and sizes fill the cubed space (albeit with some gaps present, if i remember correctly – I have yet to find the original configuration ;-). In the center, a piece shaped sort of like a Mayan temple pops up, begging to be pulled. Rob refers to this as a “grenade pin,” which is a pretty accurate description considering what happens next.
As Rob wrote in his description, the pieces will “flip around like a transformer robot” upon being removed; the mini-explosion of pieces that have been straining for release is super satisfying and more than a little intimidating. These are not the typical voxels of a packing puzzle and the apparent randomness of the shapes indicates the difficulty of getting them back in.
The puzzle’s name stems from the recommended method of using one hand to place the pieces “back into the compartment, one at a time, and in a particular order.” The description goes on to say that “combined pieces [will] have to slide around with a satisfying ‘snap into place feel’ to fit the others in.” A minimum of 18 steps later (if you can do it in 18 steps your first time you shall be exalted and known throughout the puzzling world for your giant brain), you will have re-inserted the pieces, thereby unlocking the second compartment (neat!).
Rob rates the puzzle as “‘very difficult’ to solve correctly” and from the hours I have spent on it thus far, I’d say that is a conservative description, if anything. I will readily admit that I am not so great at packing puzzles: my spatial reasoning falls far short of my ability think critically (which is itself eclipsed by my ability to ramble far beyond what is necessary or likely even desired).
I have spent a good amount of time on this puzzle already, and have not lost interest – even really great puzzles that pose a challenge big enough to require multiple sessions generally tend to join the rest of my “in progress” (read: unsolved) puzzles well before this point. This only goes to show the extent to which the struggle to solve is legitimately fun. I can burn out on some packing puzzles after a while, feeling like I am going in circles and need to set it aside to later return with fresh eyes; but One Hand offers so many new and interesting and strange and unlikely combinations and configurations that I find myself stuck in a Civilization feedback loop (named after one of my first all-night gaming sessions from grade school, the lure of “just one more turn” causing hours to go by before we noticed the sun coming up). I have found partial assemblies that I think must be correct, only to be cast aside as I see no way that the rest can fit; attractions and repulsions of magnets alternately helping and hurting my progression, as I wonder whether they are there to help or to mislead (or, more likely, both).
Suffice it to say, when (if) I do eventually find the perfect positioning of pieces that puts me on track to unlocking the box’s second compartment, the happiest of happy dances will undoubtedly ensue as I try to follow Rob’s intended method, using one hand to place them in piece by piece, until I can slide that lid back all the way, allowing me to proudly share my achievement with my not particularly interested wife (“look! look! I moved this piece of wood a couple inches that way!!!”), and bask in the glory of my success. And the villagers shall once more rejoice (yayy).
…and then I will remember that I need to find the original combination to reset the box.
The puzzling value on this one is quite high and is already filled with smaller aha moments as I find my way closer to that final Aha! moment (hopefully, eventually…. maybe); I will also admit that I have spent more than a little time attempting to construct a robot – the pieces just demand to be experimented and played with, the time spent helping me to get to know the pieces and see how they might eventually combine in that one, perfect arrangement.
And now, the ultimate egg (and all-around great) puzzle: Triple Yolk (TY) by Lewis Evans. TY is a sequential discovery take-apart puzzle that relies on a good amount of sequential movement to accomplish its goals (this is how I would categorize it anyway). Amazingly, this complex, challenging, and well-crafted puzzle is his first to be brought to the puzzling public! His skills as a professional product prototyper are on full display: the puzzle is plastic, but this is not the filament of 3d prints. Rather, you will find that it is smooth to the touch, with none of the inconsistencies in even the best PLA prints. At approximately 3″ at its widest point and 3.5″ tall, this is more akin to an ostrich egg than your typical chicken-based puzzle eggs.
TY’s goal is to remove the three yolks – of course, we initially have no way to know what exactly this means, but it is ever so obvious once they have been found. First impressions are very positive: his attention to detail is evident in the professional packaging with a perfectly molded rubbery plasticy base surrounding the puzzle inside the box. Picking it up, its weight belies the internal complexities of the design; you find yourself able to freely rotate the uppermost sections (not a spoiler – it’s readily apparent when picking it up). The movements are wonderfully smooth – neither loose nor tight and sliding around easily and intentionally. TY makes a bit of noise, giving you an early idea of some of the internal mechanisms that will only make sense upon further close observation.
The first yolk is discovered fairly quickly; an early win that gives you no sense of the legitimately difficult challenges that follow. This is by no means an easy puzzle, and will require your full attention if you hope to solve it. There are some really neat things that happen as you move through the solution, and plenty to discover and experiment with as you struggle to determine what’s what. A fair amount of the process is semi-blind, requiring close observation to make sense of what is happening; there is ample feedback to allow you to slowly develop an understanding of what is going on inside, in addition to the well-planned glimpses inside that help develop this mental map (again, this is apparent from looking at it, so no spoilers).
I hit a big wall towards the end of the puzzle – from what I can tell, this is not an uncommon experience. As with any good puzzle, when that aha finally hit, it was a major puzzle rush. There were plenty of aha moments that preceded these final discoveries, and the final steps are especially satisfying.
Suffice it to say, this is a great puzzle. Lewis takes every opportunity to display his commitment to puzzlers’ enjoyment, happy to help should you get stuck or encounter any issues (it was discovered that fully re-inserting the second yolk could lead to a bit of an issue and Lewis responded quickly and thoroughly, mailing out aesthetically-consistent, pro-grade cards with a nice warning, following up on his email to all those who has obtained a copy – I personally fell prey to this genius move and Lewis even mailed out a tool that I could use to get myself back on track – a seriously considerate and generous act).
There are only 50 copies of Triple Yolk (mine is #8) and the price was reasonably set at a place that reflects the complexity of the design and its production; it wasn’t cheap by any means but it was completely worth every penny and I haven’t heard any complaints from any of the other puzzlers who landed a copy.
Now we must eagerly await Lewis’s eventual follow-up: no pressure 😉
Eric Fuller, Zebrawood and Maple, 2.875″ x 2.875″ x 4.25″
When Eric Fuller (of CubicDissection for any puzzling noobs out there) was working on his DDD Burr Set, he had initially planned on the pieces being stored in a puzzle box, akin to the Penultimate Burr Box Set whose instructions were hidden away inside a locked compartment. Obviously, this would have been super cool, but Eric decided to separate these two ideas into separate puzzles to keep costs down, especially with some complex boxes set to come out later this year with appropriately higher price tags.
The DDD Burr Set is an excellent piece of craftsmanship; the box is so well constructed that it took some searching for many of us to open it, despite it lacking any kind of puzzle mechanism. Fortunately for us, Eric did not eschew the box ideas he had developed. The perceived “failure” led him to name the box as he did, using nomenclature that is not at all indicative of the excellent puzzling offered by Blah Box but is instead intended to capture the maker’s disappointment with keeping such trickery out of DDD.
I would easily put it among the best of Eric’s boxes that I have had the pleasure of solving. And yet, for some odd reason, I feel that Blah has kind of slipped under the radar, not garnering the attention and adulation that it most definitely deserves. There was a bit of an issue early on, with Eric issuing a semi-sort-of-recall (essentially consisting of providing a replacement piece that would help avoid an “unintended solution path” found by some early solvers). Fortunately, I had been unable to find the first step before the announcement, so I was able to wait before proceeding. Once the replacement piece arrived, my wife was able to follow the video instruction to reset the puzzle in just a few minutes – as a true NPSO, this helps show that the change was relatively straightforward. I say all this as I wonder if this contributed to Blah’s somewhat quiet release.
Blah Box is a beautiful puzzle, offered in multiple wood options (Iroko/Holly and Black Limba/Maple, in addition to the Zebrawood/Maple of my copy). It is a decent size, taller and a bit narrower than Improved Cam and Topless. The lighter ends set off the lovely frame, two holes of various diameters located on one side and one more on one end of the box. With a bit of inspection, you can find a single seam; pulling on it affords no success, as nothing seems to move or do anything at all anywhere on the box. As with many of his boxes, some rattling can be heard inside the puzzle (which may or may not indicate much of anything – Eric loves to mess with us puzzlers’ expectations, and I have learned to take nothing for granted when approaching his boxes).
As alluded to above, the first step took me quite a long time; this is one of those puzzles that starts at a seemingly insurmountable wall, requiring ample exploration and trial and error before you can find the precise step that works perfectly and wonderfully once you have found it and is seemingly non-existent otherwise. Finding it is an absolutely excellent aha moment and I have found it to be super satisfying to repeat, a fidget-friendly move if ever there was one.
After oohing and aahing over the first step, I proceeded to seek out any avenues that it may have opened up; the step seems to lead you somewhere, but you will instead hit another wall as your reward. It didn’t take me as long to surmount this next obstacle and I was rewarded with another aha moment – two in a row would be enough to make this a great box and yet there is still ample puzzling left before success can be claimed.
I was able to move through the remaining steps without as much trouble as the first two, but they were no less satisfying for it. Seemingly obvious moves led to confused head-scratching before I would notice something I had overlooked or realize this might also do that and that might get me to there…
As a true sd box, the steps flow fantastically along, sweeping you up in a rhythm that builds from its early struggles into a nice, smooth conclusion that includes another solid aha or two before you can open the box. The puzzle teases you a bit before letting you finish, a bit of tantric puzzle play to make the end that much more satisfying.
Blah Box really is a fun puzzle – while not as difficult (or perhaps as original) as Lock Box (at least in some ways), it might just be more fun, perhaps even more so than the excellent Lift and Nope Boxes (and certainly more complex than these, which were intended to be more wallet-friendly); it is certainly on par with both. Blah is playful and highlights Eric’s devious tendency to confront our assumptions in ways that are as hidden as they are obvious. The sd elements are integral to the puzzle, and necessarily flow from the mechanisms that must be discovered and overcome before sweet, sweet success might be claimed.
Blah was sold in two waves and several copies are being offered in the current CDM; as with many CD puzzles, a few were held back to be listed at one penny. If you have not obtained a copy, I highly recommend duking it out with some other hopefuls as this is a super fun solve and an essential addition to any Fuller box collection.
Overall Grade: Four and a Half Sinatras (Five for fun and Four for difficulty)
Email me at:
quantifiedcool (at) fivesinatras (dot) com
You can also find me on Discord @fivesinatras or Reddit @fivesinatras23
Dee Dixon, Mahogany body, Peruvian Walnut top, Cherry knobs with Wenge Center, 3″ x 6.25″ x 5.5″
Dee done doggone did it again, with the upcoming release of his fifth puzzle box to much anticipated fanfare and excitement (check out my reviews of his earlier boxes here). I had the good fortune to be a tester, receiving a copy that represents a (likely) final prototype of its puzzle mechanisms, although some changes may yet be in store (including a possible fourth knob of unknown purpose). Dee has had a bit of trouble settling on a name, prompting me to suggest the name “Indecisive” (get it? In-Dee-Cisive? Cue the ensuing of hilarity.) However, in the end the puzzle’s aesthetic earned it the probably more appropriate name “Portal.”
Dee has an excellent track record of puzzles that look great while presenting a solid, fun challenge. Space Case was perhaps his most difficult release, and this newest creation moves away from some of Space’s more blind aspects, providing ample direction and feedback from start to finish while preserving some of the best aspects of such semi-hidden mechanisms. The box’s aesthetic shares some similarities with Space Case, featuring shapes on its sides whose possible purpose must be determined. However, its puzzling is quite different and, I think, more playful, even if perhaps posing somewhat less of a challenge (than Space) – this is not at all to say the puzzle is easy, especially when just getting started may confound the average puzzle aspirant. While Where’s My Hammer? will always win warm fuzzies and a special place in my puzzled soul, Portal features some really cool design details that had me smiling appreciatively after I reached the end and realized the nature of the path he takes us on; the puzzle gives WMH a run for its money in the opinion of this humble puzzler, landing in the middle of his puzzles in terms of difficulty and towards the top for fun.
The box starts with a wall that can take quite a while to overcome; it took me longer than I may care to admit to find that first step (other testers I’ve spoken with had similar experiences), and when I did, I had an excellent aha moment: that kind of slap yourself in the head while laughing at the designer’s deviousness that makes me want to repeat a step a few times before moving on. The box does a great job of funneling you through the puzzle’s mostly logical progression through to the end. The puzzling rewards both exploration and careful consideration and is fun from start to finish; it feels like more of a return to the discrete steps of WMH in some ways, while evolving aspects of Space Case with a clear sense of progress and direction as you proceed through a mix of sd trickery and internal obstacles.
Looking closely, you will notice that the puzzle introduces a touch of color, with a bit of blue acrylic peeking out of the small hole at its front; Dee has said the final puzzles may feature different color options. The final version will feature different woods: a Maple body with a Cherry top and Cherry knobs with a Wenge center; it will also be a bit narrower, at about 3″ x 6″ x 4″. Some prototypes featured differing knob layouts, and the final version may well feature a layout somewhat different from mine, including the aforementioned fourth knob.
After solving and resetting the puzzle a couple times, I realized just how fun and unique the path Dee laid out really is – while I can’t say too much without spoiling anything, I could see Dee laughing at us poor puzzling folk as he makes us travel a meandering path to its end; opening the box reveals some rather unexpected mechanisms and resetting the puzzle made it clear to me that this puzzle comes with a sense of humor, betraying our expectations in a delightful and fun way that I think most puzzlers will appreciate.
Portal is both tricky and fun and is an excellent addition to Dee’s already excellent oeuvre – Portal should be available on CubicDissection sometime in its April 2021 release.
Juno, 4.5″ x 0.75″, Anegre, Jarrah, American Black Walnut, and Bamboo plywood
Don’t be fooled: not all sliders are created equal, and some keep their biggest secrets hidden within.
If you like sliders, you need to get Arrow. If you like surprisingly challenging, well-made wood puzzles with multiple challenges, a beautiful aesthetic, and excellent tactile feedback, you probably already got Arrow.
And yet, somehow, at the time of this writing there remain about 50 copies of this limited release puzzle available from Pluredro. As with most of Juno’s best works, I am confident these will not be there much longer. I thought perhaps I might try and explain what makes this design so interesting and fun, particularly for those who may be unsure or on the fence.
Most anyone who ate fast food as a child in the 80s has done a sliding tray puzzle at some point – flipping tiles around a small plastic tray to create the image of Hamburglar or Grimace while eating terrible food is certainly in my past. Classic sliding tray puzzles can be pretty basic, especially the classic 9 square design, where you use the one open voxel to move the tiles around to create a picture or move a square from one side to the other or whatever.
But that is most definitely not this……. not at all. Yes, this has nine squares with one open voxel (the puzzle comes with a lovely placeholder), and yes the tiles must be moved around to complete the 9 challenges (mostly depending on where the empty voxel is at the start). But hidden within these tiles is a confusingly simple pattern of pins and grooves that prevents certain squares from moving in certain ways, making this a totally different animal from the simple trays from which it evolved. Each square has grooves along 1.5 sides and a pin on another; the frame itself has grooves on two sides. Very quickly, you learn that not every open voxel can be crossed by every tile, depending on which tiles surround it, and that you will need to find lengthy detours to get around the frequent barriers created when a pin runs out of groove (and with Stella nowhere to be found, you are left to your own puzzling devices to get back said grooves).
Sliders can certainly be great fidget fun – solutions can oftentimes require dozens and dozens of moves to reach; considering the fact that you will almost definitely not manage to only do correct moves with a difficult slider like Arrow, the actual move count can easily be in the hundreds. So stick an old episode of Buffy up on the tv because shirt just got serious.
And this is a big part of the fun – after hours of clicking and clacking this way and that, I started to get an unconscious sense of what could go where: at first, I tried to consciously remember such limitations: e.g. “ok, pieces with a pin on the right won’t be able to travel along the left side of this piece, whereas pieces with a pin on the left can’t travel along the right side of this one…..” This quickly became too cumbersome for my averagely-smarter-than-average mind, and I found myself bumping up against a much more wonderful place of puzzling zen, where I didn’t need to think consciously to sometimes know what could or couldn’t go where.
Sliders are weird because the typical slider could be easily reproduced and solved on paper – you don’t need perfect dimensions or tolerances, just moving stuff around. This is perhaps why most sliders tend to be pretty affordable (including some really great designs: Diniar Namdarian has some excellent, original puzzles in plastic that are generally less than $20). Putting aside the fact that the pins and grooves of Arrow mean that this would be difficult to do with this puzzle, there is another reason why you would prefer wood: the tactile and auditory feedback is seriously meditative. When you get into the groove (pun intended), you can start flitting and flying around, clicking and clacking your way through and around and back again (zenning out while the Scoobies save us from yet another apocalyptic close-call).
Arrow takes an interesting aesthetic approach to its solution, requiring you to make a single light arrow out of the single dark arrow that the puzzle first displays. This requires a total rearranging of the pieces – it is really quite cool how the design has been accomplished, with the negative space around the arrow image slowly becoming the new one. While not strictly necessary to the puzzle itself, it adds an Escher-ish element to the puzzle that only makes it that much cooler to solve.
Another lovely detail is the lovely step-joinery at the corners of the frame; something Juno tells us was not necessary but just shows the level of quality you get from his work (in case you were not already aware).
The need to go back to go forward is a common occurrence in sliding tray puzzles, but Arrow takes this to another level: like other restricted sliders such as Slide-Blocked Sliding Block by Bill Cutler, Arrow will seemingly bring you close to success only to cruelly and amusingly rip it from your grasp when you realize that you are actually nowhere near done. After several hours working on the puzzle, I found that I had successfully managed to build the new image required; my only remaining issue was that the empty voxel was on the upper left instead of the upper right. Surely a minor issue that could be remedied with little trouble…….. nope. No. NoNoNoNo. Not at all. Until, finally, a few hours later and that pesky empty space had been moved an inch or two to the right: success! huzzah! Happy dance!
The listing for Arrow gives plenty of info that I didn’t include here – I mostly wanted to help any who may yet want to know what makes it so gosh-darned awesometastic. The fact that the designer said that “most human beings cannot solve the puzzle without the aid of a computer” has absolutely nothing to do with my wanting to share – my ego obviously has no need for such fluffery! Now then: Please click like and subscribe and share and leave (positive) comments below and tell my Kindergarten Vice Principal she didn’t know what the hell she was talking about!
Congratulations to the Hunt Winners and everyone who made it to the end!
I am so sincerely happy that the puzzle hunt went well! People played and I tried to give nudges here and there since some intended connections may have been a bit far – ultimately, several people made it to the end and I think there was some amount of fun to be had. I am grateful to each of you who tried it and appreciate all the feedback I have received. There were a few bumps early on that are great lessons for the future, as I ironed out some website issues and fixed a typo in the Hunt itself. For the most part, the Hunt went very well – while writing it, I learned that it is easy to make a Hunt that no one can solve, and much harder to make one people will be challenged by while being able to actually solve it (and hopefully have some amount of fun). I know that my reliance on US pop culture may have somewhat favored US-icans, but, well, we write what we know ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I wrote it so that hopefully anyone would be able to track the answers down, once you had an idea what you were looking for.
Growing up, I got to participate in some of the city-wide Puzzle Hunts in Miami (the Tropic Hunt has been an annual puzzle hunt originally written by Dave Barry – in the 80s, my family did some of the early, county-wide Hunts as well as neighborhood-focused ones that came after – more info about the Tropic Hunt here). In recent years, I have struggled to solve some excellent Hunts (usually in teams with others more capable than me), attempting to take on MIT and other excellent hunts! There is a Discord group dedicated to such Hunts, so if you are interested in joining, let me know and I can send you an invite if you need.
This year, I created a pseudonymous account for Discord, super-sneakily asserting that I was “Not an Old Member of this Group.” Somehow, many people saw through this sophisticated ruse. I posted the Hunt (in the form of a pdf) on the Discord Mechanical Puzzle group and the aforementioned Puzzle Hunt group, claiming I had found it online (mostly facetiously as it was pretty clear I had not); if you would like to give it a shot before reading the walkthrough you can find the content of that pdf here.
The Hunt consisted of the pdf, which contained clues that led you to a “hidden” page on my website; this contained further clues to help people deduce the puzzle and codeword needed to win. Throughout, there were clues as to when and where to contact me with the solution. I thought it might be cool to provide a walkthrough of the hunt, in the event that someone might care to take a look:
Puzzle Hunt Sheet:
Para 1: This refers to the song Opposites Attract by Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat: Paula has been a Judge on American Idol or the Voice (or something like that); Song of the South is a Disney movie that mixed live action and animation, as in the music video for Opposites Attract; and, Hokey Pokey / “forward and back” because the song’s dance is vaguely reminiscent (e.g. “2 steps forward, 2 steps back”). “Parts” is in italics to help indicate that you will want to find the opposite of the italicized parts of the story (3rd paragraph of the Hunt). The last sentence of this paragraph is to help you know what to do once you have deciphered the meaning of the story (we will come back to this).
Para 2: This is primarily referring to me (crooner, ten blue eyes (Frank was known as Ol’ Blue Eyes), baritone) – the hunt was posted by me under a different name so the connection to me was not immediately apparent. You will notice that some letters are bolded: www dot com; it also says that they should “follow me home.” This means that once you have figured out solution to the story, you will have something to enter as part of my blog’s address: fivesinatras.com/——–.
Story: The story consists of five sentences; each sentence gives you a different movie franchise. “How many and when” + the hunt’s name (Mr, Mrs, etc = title & “order”) means that you will need to know how many movies in each series and then order them based on which came first. I will include each clue as well the explanation.
Story Clue 1: On the day after the saddest night on tv, an athletic killer stalked the halls of a hotel’s most popular floor.
Friday the 13th (12 movies, 1980):
The opposite of saddest night is “happiest day,” referring you to the tv show Happy Days, whose theme song tells you that Saturday is, in fact, the aforementioned happiest day. “After” is in italics, directing you to its opposite (“before”) and so: Friday.
Many hotels (in the US anyway) skip the 13th floor due to superstition.
Story Clue 2: Down in the steam tunnels, a killer who reminded me of a topiary gardener I like to call Edward Burton, his face wrinkled with fear, pointed with every finger on his right hand at the teens who spent their day dreaming.
Nightmare on Elm Street (9 movies, 1984):
Freddy lived in the steam tunnels with a burned (wrinkled) face, and knives (points) on the fingers of his right hand, focusing his ire on teens.
Edward Burton the topiary gardener refers to Edward Scissorhands by Tim Burton (whose hands were also tipped with blades).
“Day dreaming” is in italics, its opposite leading you to “nightmare.”
Story Clue 3: Meanwhile, it was either a wild-eyed scientist, or a kid, that showed up asking about that book, the one called something like Nothing Loud off the Eastern…. well, I suppose by now the moment has passed.
Back to the Future (3 movies, 1985):
The start of this sentence contains a direct quote from the second movie (“it was either a wild-eyed scientist……… asking about that book”).
The opposite of Nothing Loud off the Eastern…. refers to the book All Quiet on the Western Front; the opposite of the missing word, “Front,” is “Back”.
Opposite of “passed” (pronounced “past”) is “future.”
Story Clue 4: Later that night, a tall hearse driver dropped his poking ball when there appeared before him something real and tangible.
Phantasm (5 movies, 1979):
The killer in the Phantasm movies is known as the Tall Man; he drives a hearse and kills with flying balls from which blades emerge.
“Something real and tangible” would be the opposite of a “phantasm.”
Story Clue 5: It must have been Christmas, because my friend was once again trapped inside, building kids’ toys, held hostage but feeling grateful that, all in all, the way he got to live was pretty easy.
Die Hard (5 movies, 1988):
This may be the easiest one, but it is probably my favorite clue in the story:
The first two movies take place on Christmas.
“Trapped inside, building….. held hostage” refers to the plot of the first movie.
“Live” and “easy” are in italics = “die” and “hard.”
When you arrange the number of movies in each franchise into chronological order (based on the year the first movie was released) you get: 512935. Go to fivesinatras.com/512935 and you get to the Hunt page. Unfortunately, WordPress automatically added the page to my site’s menu and so it could be found with a bit of sleuthing during the first few days. I also heard that the address might autofill on some browsers (but at least you would need to know how it began). Good lessons for me.
Hunt Sheet Poem (scroll down for solution)
Poem: The poem at the bottom of the Hunt Sheet tells you what to do once you have solved the puzzle. First you must decipher the codeword on the website and let me know via DM/PM (these letters are bolded). “Hostile place” is a hint for discord, where you can find me (@fivesinatras). Finally, the last sentence tells you that there is a holiday within one week of New Year’s. The sentence is in Spanish because Three Kings’ Day is a holiday commonly celebrated in Spain (and Cuba, among other Spanish countries); it is on January 6, which is when you were meant to tell me the codeword and the puzzle via Discord DM (I accepted anyone who let me know the date, word, and puzzle regardless of when they let me know, although most of them still followed up on the 6th, which is awesome).
Puzzle: Having found the webpage you will find a picture of the puzzle that must be identified; there is a second photo of the back of the puzzle at the bottom of the page. I added a second prize but this did not need to be identified. There are also a few hints in the poem itself: “Dam” instead of “damn,” “Klass” instead of “class,” “sea, birds” as the puzzle was made by Pelikan, and “having fun” because it is named “Party.” The puzzle is: Party, designed by Klass Jan Damstra and produced by Jakub Dvorak of Pelikan Puzzles.
Webpage Poem (scroll down for solution)
Poem: The poem is intended to lead you to four numbers, which must be added/subtracted to give you a final number:
“Tommy’s friend Jenny” refers to the song “Jenny” by Tommy Tutone, which famously gives us Jenny’s phone number: 867-5309.
“7 pieces of pie” refers to the first 7 digits of pi; “spotless” as you need to remove the decimal: 3141592.
The spy is James Bond (007), who stands backwards to become: 700.
The last bit refers to the song When I’m Sixty-Four, from the Beatles album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band:
“Birthday greetings and wine” is a quote from the song;
Four bugs = the Beatles
Military Band (Sgt.) that sneezes (Pepper) and cries (Lonely).
It says to “give” the pieces of pie, so you are subtracting this from Jenny’s number. You then add the backwards spy and the beatles:
8675309 – 3141592 + 700 + 64 = 5534481
You now use a basic substitution cypher (A1B2) to get: EECDDHA
The poem then tells you to replace the “first part” (the letter “E”) with “what some say at sea” (a pirate’s favorite letter is…..?) = RECDDHA
The letters can now rearrange to: CHEDDAR.
The rhyme scheme is also a clue (“sea” and “these” rhyme with “cheese”). Also, the Hunt’s title refers to a snack (“Comidita”).
DM me on January 6 on Discord
Party by Klass Jan Damstra
The winners were entered into a lottery to win Party. I also added a second prize, an approved print of Rob Yarger’s Snowflake by Pyrigan Puzzles (which comes disassembled, as figuring out how to build the puzzle box is especially fun), partially as I felt bad for the couple of issues early on and also because I had earmarked it for Secret Santa before figuring out that the intended recipient already had a copy (I guess that is a hint for my Santee).
Again, I am so happy folks had fun with this – any questions or feedback are more than welcome!
It’s that time of year again: families gathering around blahblahblah……. we know what really matters: Karakuri Holiday Boxes! (If you don’t know about how the holiday boxes work, you can learn more here).
At the end of a strange year, I felt like Jimmy Stewart at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life when a big box of smaller boxes containing my new puzzle boxes arrived sometime in mid-December: “Merry Christmas Movie House! Merry Christmas you wonderful Building & Loan!” Merry Christmas Karakuri Puzzle Boxes! Now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now Prancer and Vixen! Now Kamei! Now Iwahara, Kawashima and Kakuda!
Over the course of the last year, I added more and more of the craftspeople at the KCG until I was on the list for 7 of the 8 boxes (sorry Fumio, I really did mean to add yours as well……). As in the past, I chose to resist the temptation of opening the boxes upon arrival, opting instead to hold out for Christmas morning. My mother-in-law always gets a kick out of seeing them, and it is one of the rare times when I can get my teenage son to look at something I like for a moment or two. Most importantly, the anticipation is fun and this year’s boxes did not disappoint! As is to be expected, all puzzles reflect the brilliant standards of Karakuri puzzles, working smoothly and looking even more striking upon close examination.
Pics of the boxes have been making the rounds on social media, and I wanted to break my too-long blogging hiatus with a review of (most of) this year’s boxes. For those who are not aware, the names of most of the boxes have not yet been released and can be expected in January.
Kamei’s box resembles a classic safe (3.5″ x 3″ x 4.5″): four tiny legs beneath an upright, rectangle, complete with notched dial that seems to spin freely. Picking it up, you can hear one or more somethings moving around inside. Kamei’s hanko is on the back of the box; it is pretty clear when you have solved the box and seeing the hanko on its outside helps to confirm that you are not missing anything once it is open. Finding the right approach took a bit of creative cat burgling – of all the boxes, this is the one that gave me the most trouble. I was pretty sure I knew what to do at the outset, at least to some extent, and while it turned out to be correct, executing it still takes a bit of focus. I’ve heard from other puzzles who are similarly confounded by how specifically it works, in some ways feeling similar to other boxes of Kamei’s that rely on mechanisms that make little sense, until they make total sense – while you may yet continue to struggle to understand how the concept is realized, you can at least understand what is happening. Of this year’s boxes, this is the one whose internal layout most confounds me.
Kawashima’s box was one of my personal favorites (even if I do feel like there is one small change that could have made it even better in my mind). It is the only puzzle this year to resemble a classic box (albeit a small one at slightly less than 3″). One panel is light colored, calling your attention to what will presumably be your goal. Kawashima may be guiding us a bit here, as it is pretty simple to make initial success, leading you through a few productive steps until you hit a wall hiding a couple added tricks that block you from further progress. Kawashima’s hanko awaits you when you reach the final compartment, after a nice, progressive solution. The box displays well with Iwahara’s 2019 holiday gift: Aquarius Box, which is slightly larger but features a similar aesthetic.
Iwahara’s Drawer (3.5″ x 3.5″ x 2.5″) is the box that offers the most puzzling, with an appearance that resembles this year’s Drawer with a Tree but features puzzling that is quite different. The hanko is important with this puzzle, as I briefly thought I had solved it after finding a fun series of steps to open and close it, before realizing I had not yet seen his mark. Some further exploration led to a happy, second aha as the fun-to-do mechanism is expressed in yet another step. The concept is well-executed, and it is the type of mechanism that I find fun to pick up and solve here and there; I have little doubt that this box will join the ranks of other fidget-friendly karakuri boxes that currently sit on my shelves. The puzzle has the added bonus of smelling particularly good, only increasing its re-solve value.
Kasho’s box features a UFO that spins elliptically above the whimsical crop circles adorning a flattened cube (approx. 2.5″ x 3″). At first glance, I thought it was a safari hat atop a button, which made decidedly less sense. It is pretty clear what to do at first, and opening the box is rather straightforward. However, the brilliance of this puzzle really takes a bit of imagination – this is the box that has perhaps grown on me the most, as I have stepped back to observe the solution and the kind of scene the craftsman was perhaps imagining. Basically, I have come to see that the entire experience encapsulates a story and I hope this is something that has occurred to other puzzlers, because, to me, it is what really makes this unique (happy to share this with anyone who wants to know, but I don’t want to give any spoilers here). There is one particular design detail that I especially like, and which perfectly finished the concept at play in the puzzle’s solution. I had high expectations for his box this year as his was my favorite of 2019; to be honest, I was a bit let down at first but, as I said, this is the puzzle that has most grown on me as I have (I think) gotten into the maker’s head a bit more, discovering the story the puzzle is (I think) intended to tell.
Once again, I had some wildly incorrect initial impressions, thinking this was an odd-looking snake-train thing (4″ x 1.5″ x 2.25″) whose tongue had fallen out. I don’t know where my mind is sometimes but once I was able to break through my dumbassery, I realized what was what and actually laughed out loud (rolling on the floor with a puzzle seems foolhardy and excessive). Realizing what it is, the way forward is pretty clear while being no less enjoyable for it. This is another fidget-friendly box that should not be overlooked; I think it requires some precise craftsmanship that may bely its playful appearance.
Kikuchi’s is the only box to directly reference the Christmas season; last year’s box featured a Christmas tree and this year’s box is a stocking (3.25″ x 1.75″ x 4.25″) stuffed full of presents! It is decidedly adorable and has a multi-step solution that is simple but fun and, once again, quite fidget-friendly. Kikuchi is the least prolific of the KCG members and this is the first puzzle of his to make its way into my collection. I didn’t realize it, but he has the most punk of the KCG hankos, eschewing traditional Japanese characters for a more stylized signature.
Yoh delivers on our animalistic expectations, with an adorable Wombat (3″ x 4″ x 1.75″) that is not only entertaining, but educational! I don’t want to give anything away, but after a couple straightforward steps, you are rewarded with a funny (and perhaps questionably desirable) reward. A conversation about the puzzle led me to google a particular fact about the Wombat, which has led me to be surprised that no other designer (to my knowledge) has taken advantage of this fun mammalian fact. Yoh’s hanko is displayed on the bottom of the puzzle, which led to a bit of confusion in more than one puzzler, as I heard a few folks may have thought they had solved the puzzle prematurely (which is pretty cool, as it features fair more fun than one first figured). Kakuda’s Wombat is adorable and smart, and packs an excellent punchline.
Frederic Boucher, 2020, 15 copies (more coming early 2021)
Frederic Boucher makes great packing puzzles (BonBon, Takiyaki, etc.), that are much more challenging than they might appear. He also makes some really unique puzzles with a whimsical and fun twist that make them particularly awesome, puzzles like Anti-Gravity Box and X Cube that are interesting takes on a classic puzzle genre. Visitor Q continues in this tradition (and is, oddly enough, another space-theme-adjacent Boucher puzzle reviewed by me).
Frederic contacted me some time ago to let me know that he would be making a few copies of a Sequential Discovery puzzle: VQ is mostly an interlocking disassembly puzzle that eschews some of the tropes of this classic puzzle genre to carve something of a new path via some fun sd challenges. Pretty much anything Boucher makes, I will happily try – and once I saw the letters “SD” I basically fell over myself saying “yes, please” and “thank you” and “yay!”
Frederic, in his humble and kind manner, expressed that he did not think it was overly complex and hoped that I (and the others fortunate enough to obtain a copy) would nonetheless find it to be fun. Needless to say, fun I did find it indeed.
While the term SD may be thrown around quite a bit these days, VQ comfortably meets the (collaboratively written) Discord-determined definition, which declares such to be puzzles “that take you on a journey through a set of sequential and generally non-repeating steps involving the discovery of hidden mechanisms or devices to reach a final goal.” VQ presents 4 goals that build upon one another as you discover…. things… along the way; I personally prefer to call it SD-lite, a term that I think portrays to the potential puzzler a partial picture that properly predicts appropriate expectations.
“Sequential Discovery” is not technically a puzzle genre and does not appear in the Slocum or Dalgety puzzle classification systems (an excellent classification comparison chart is available on Rob’s Puzzle Page); SD was usually used to describe aspects of some take-apart puzzles that featured multiple challenges, tools, etc. “SD-lite” might be a better fit for an interlocking disassembly puzzle that integrates SD elements into its design. This is not to detract from VQ – quite the opposite: VQ is an adaptation of a classic puzzle genre that represents something unique. (I would similarly describe Jerry McFarland’s Fidget Burr and Burrlephant 3 as SD-lite, interlocking disassembly puzzles; while they are really nothing like VQ, they nonetheless share this unique approach to puzzle design).
VQ is a relatively normal-sized cube of approximately 3″, with a single, one-voxel square hole on each of 4 sides, a three-voxel wide rectangle on a 5th, and two elliptical holes less than one voxel in width on the 6th. The instructions declare that a vortex has come, bringing forth a “visitor from another dimension who wants to be your friend.”
As if I was not already hooked, the instructions include my favorite guidelines, telling us that “No hitting, shaking, force or spinning is needed to solve the puzzle. Except what it is provided with the puzzle, no external tools are allowed.”
VQ’s goals are fourfold:
Unlock the vortex.
Manage the visitor through the space warp and release him from the vortex (using only straight moves).
The visitor had a gift for you, but he lost it somewhere during the travel. Find the gift.
Return the gift and the visitor at their places of origin.
The tricky part of talking about a puzzle like this is that the first rule of talking about a puzzle like this is to “not talk about a puzzle like this.” As always, I will do my best to be careful and to only share specifics that are easily and readily discernible from a casual inspection of the puzzle, as well as a general sense of the puzzling experience.
A labeled plastic box contains the puzzle as well as instructions and a laminated strip featuring the name of the puzzle along with some neat, spacy graphics. When you first pick it up, you can see that there are a number of interlocking 3D polyominoes within the frame that are loose enough to make a bit of noise when shaken (lightly) but do not seem to be able to move any further: whatever the “vortex” may be, it is not readily apparent. Peering into the holes, you can see in its center a bright neon green something, seemingly inside some kind of clear casing: the visitor perhaps? Hard to say until we have successfully found the solution to the first challenge and unlocked the vortex in which the figure is initially trapped.
This first step confounded me: I got swept up, trying a series of moves that I thought would for sure lead to some measure of success; this is one of those puzzles that I picked up briefly, after the house was quiet: my wife and son asleep, the dogs tucked away. I did not intend on spending more than a few minutes with it, having looked forward to it since it arrived in the middle of a rather busy afternoon. As with many a fun puzzle, those few minutes grew closer to an hour before I realized that sleep might be a good idea – regardless, I realized that I might need clarification on something before I could expect any success. Frederic responded quickly, his answer waiting in my inbox the next morning (as he is in Japan, it was mid-day for him when I sent the email). As you may have guessed, all of my assumptions about the puzzle were pretty much completely incorrect and what I thought I needed to do was pretty much nothing like what I actually needed to do. Learning I was wrong only made me more intrigued by the puzzle. I had to step back and let go of my assumptions to find something I had missed; once found, I had to open my mind to think critically about what this might mean and what could be done with it. The aha moment that eventually came was probably more satisfying than that which I had previously expected, prompting laughing, some mental finger-wagging, and several repetitions of the newly discovered move(s).
The multiple challenges were well-planned: after working my way through the third goal, the puzzle was probably about as far from its initial state as is possible. This segued perfectly into the fourth and final goal as the puzzle was so jumbled that resetting the puzzle to its initial state took some thought; my spatial reasoning and short-term memory are faulty enough that successfully navigating the pieces back to the beginning was a (fun) puzzle in itself.
I asked Frederic if I could share this puzzle with my imaginary fives of readers, largely as I am advocating for someone to take up the mantle or producing additional copies for public consumption, a prospect that he has said he would welcome. Frederic seems to prefer designing new puzzles rather than producing large quantities of existing ones and I hope that VQ is simple enough that it could be reproduced without too much difficulty by someone with the appropriate skills – of course, it could well be more complicated to produce than I realize. I shared it with someone who is vastly better equipped to determine this and so maybe we will get lucky and see some additional copies down the road. I actually just received word that Frederic will be making more copies in early 2021, so good news! (ed. Great news! Not only did make a few more copies available, but Eric Fuller hasdecided to produce a run! They may be available with the March 1 update, although this is of course subject to change – you can check for updates on its production here).
If I am being totally honest, owning a really rare puzzle feels good, but it would make me happier if more people got the chance to try the puzzle as I really think others would enjoy it. It is true that it is not overly complex, but what really matters is that it is fun. Fun enough to inspire me to write what turned out to be a heckuva lot of words. Sometimes simple puzzles are so fun that I might prefer them to others that will end up sitting on my shelf for months as I struggle (sometimes seemingly in vain) to find the solution; VQ combines sneaky tricks with entertaining movements to create something unique, resulting in an interlocking disassembly puzzle that would be good without such deviousness and is even better with it.