Jesse Born & Rob Yarger Ipe, Katalox & Brass 2.75 lbs, 7″ x 4″ Box 2 in the Voyager Series (Sea Chest, Sun Dial, Alien)
Well, the past several weeks have been busy here in the 5S household, getting in the way of my puzzling (much to my dismay). But the wonderfully unrelenting onslaught of new puzzles has only seemed to increase its pace, with several excellent puzzles arriving during this none-too-brief, unplanned hiatus. I realize that this break has not been difficult for you, but fear not: plenty a puzzle ramble awaits you!
And what better puzzle with which to break this devastating dearth of dear old me than Sun Dial, Jesse Born’s follow-up to 2020’s excellent Sea Chest (reviewed by me here); Sun is co-designed with Rob Yarger (a/k/a The Great and Wonderful Stickman) and mostly made by Jesse (Rob did some laminating on the curved side panels, which are constructed of multiple layers of hand-carved veneer crafted by Jesse). Sun Dial is a circular box (?!), painstakingly covered in some rather intricate etchings and distressed in a fashion similar to its elder sibling. Jesse has plans for a third and final entry in the Voyager Series that will presumably share in this aesthetic, crafted to create the impression of a discovered Alien artifact that must be opened to access its other-worldly treasure. What pirates were to Sea Chest, the ancient Aztecs are to Sun Dial, with myriad markings and hidden secrets that invoke this lost world in the psyche of the spelunking (s)puzzler.
Jesse is one of those designers whose puzzles I would happily buy sight unseen (his Secretum Cista is quite probably the coolest puzzle I own). Rob is (of course) another such designer , so when I heard that Rob was designing Sun Dial with Jesse, I began drooling more than Pavlov’s dog at a doorbell store. (Rob was a big big fan of Sea Chest, which is especially high praise from the creator of some of the most insanely awesome puzzles ever to reach us mere mortals). Jesse and Rob went back and forth over a period of months, trading ideas and CAD models as they refined the design that Jesse would ultimately craft (for a more in-depth look at the design process, check out Boxes & Booze’s excellent post).
At a relatively hefty 2 lbs, 12 oz, the 7″ x 4″ Sun Dial is no small box. As part of its intentionally distressed appearance, its aromatic woods appear to have been partially stained, a greenish tint furthering its lost artifact aesthetic. It is shaped something like a flattened donut, with a citrine gem nestled into a piece of wood bridging the top of its center shaft. The outer wall is broken into 6 sections, 4 of which are covered by inset panels that have a noticeable bit of give when reset. The top alludes to the circular calendar of the Aztec civilization, a series of concentric circles and layers surrounding a set of gears that promise to put the mechanical in mechanical puzzling.
In its reset state, Sun allows for some quality mechanical playtime – I first spent several minutes just playing and giggling at the smoothly tactile movements possible in its initial state. Other than some admittedly puerile fun, this did not immediately lead me anywhere productive; it would take some keen and careful observation before that first aha moment, which soon led me into the puzzling depths that await within.
Over the next few weeks, I would progress in fits and starts; discovering things that must help (while unsure of exactly how) as I pieced together the path through its various compartments. Well-hidden, subtle clues abound, some more important than others in clearing the way forward. Venturing into the puzzle’s interior gave me a sense of adventure, akin to Indiana Jones-ing (Quartermaining?) my way into an ancient temple, replete with treasure and cool discoveries that could be decorative, essential, or both.
I knew I had to be reaching the end when I was surprised by the results of a particular step that I repeated a few times with a goofy grin. Some final details discovered, I held my prize in my hand, admiring how Jesse and Rob managed to bring things full circle, like the cyclical nature of time perceived by the Aztec culture.
After resetting the puzzle and going through the solution once more, I followed a QR code printed on the back of the Certificate of Authenticity (signed by both Jesse and Rob) to a short video in which Jesse walks us through the solution. I smiled at a few details whose significance had escaped me and ran back through the solve one more time, appreciating the puzzle’s rhythm and flow.
The puzzle’s mechanics do not rely on blind mechanisms, instead favoring discrete steps that must sometimes be worked out beforehand to properly progress – I suppose it could be possible to cluelessly solve certain sections through experimental trial & error but the design provides ample direction to see you through, if you can slow down and do some of that thinking stuff the kids are all talking about these days. Either way, the mechanics are clear and purposeful, laying out a meandering path to its final treasure.
Jesse decided to increase this run to 400 copies, a big jump from the 100 Sea Chests that had (officially) been produced (let alone the 30 copies of Secretum Cista). I imagine that all 400 will not have trouble finding a home: if a collaboration between two great puzzle box-makers wasn’t enough to convince you, the positive praise that has followed its premiere will probably do the trick. The larger run may help prevent the puzzle from immediately skyrocketing on the secondhand market but I don’t expect too many collectors will want to let this one escape anytime soon (there will always be solvers and flippers, of course, but hopefully the box will remain in the realm of relative reasonableness, for a while at least). While officially sold out, (at the time of writing) the boxes are still being produced in batches and there is a drop-off list for spots that might open up should puzzlers decide to give theirs up, so be sure to swing by Jesse’s site before they’re all gone.
A few months back, I was offered the chance to try a new puzzle by Joe Guarini (@jhoag), designer of Detective Box (and co-designer of some forthcoming designs from PI Puzzles, his puzzle partnership with Ross Feinstein, who is also known as our friendly discord-neighborhood @cryptosutra – they’ve got Bricked Lock coming soon, a 15 step puzzle lock that looks very cool). Obviously, I was happy for the opportunity (this post would otherwise be rather short and pointless, one of which might be strange for this blog) and I soon received a 3.25″ acrylic cube with a black rubber ball roughly the size of a racquetball ball (I debated whether that was redundant before going for it). At the bottom of said ball was a white dot, which must somehow be made to be stably pointing up for the puzzle to be solved.
Picking it up, it was immediately clear that this ball did not want to flip over for longer than a second or two; no matter what I did, the ball would just roll itself back, white dot down. And I did a great many things: I had a whole lot of ideas to try, one of which I thought must lead to a solution (it didn’t). I found myself caught in a feedback loop – that sense of “just one more try” had me staring intently at the uncooperative ball for quite some time, Happy Gilmore-ing that little b@$t@rd as if I could intimidate it into compliance.
The beauty of this puzzle is that it really lends itself to some of that thinking stuff I hear puzzlers talk about. After handling the ball for a while, I had developed some ideas of how it might work. Joe and I were chatting throughout the process, his initial curiosity turning into amusement (and perhaps, I imagine, a bit of pity) as I threw out increasingly strange ideas as to what was going on inside the thing. A few of those ideas might make for a decent puzzle, but none made the puzzle I was holding.
There were a few other puzzlers that had been given a copy to try (at least two of which I know managed to solve it) and Joe had decided that it made sense to use a smaller acrylic cube to contain the ball, and he generously (and sympathetically) sent out another version: same sized ball nestled in a cozier cubic compartment of 2″, same cruel and unyielding white dot laughing at me from below. Aha!, I thought, surely this was a clue as to what tricks could work in this smaller space, surely this would make the solution a bit more in reach for this dim-witted puzzler. Alas, while the first thought might be true, the second was not true enough to allow me to actually solve it unassisted.
As days turned into weeks turned into months (my puzzle passion generally outpaces my skill) and my ideas grew increasingly bizarre, I finally began asking Joe for some rather straightforward guidance; I would like to say that I truly figured it out on my own with just the help of his hints, but in all honesty I think he pretty much had to eventually spoon-feed it to me lol. Regardless, I was finally able to master that damn dot, which now stares upward, the laugher having become the laughee (sure, I stand there laughing maniacally in triumph at my defeated puzzles, so what? I don’t come into your house and judge what you do, do I? After all, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones…. people in glass houses probably shouldn’t throw much of anything, I guess… then again, people who live near people who live in glass houses should maybe try minding their own damn business…).
The trick hidden within this seemingly simple puzzle, this ball in a box, is quite ingenious. I can imagine Joe getting the idea and laughing at its devious originality; it is not something that I think would occur to most people as it employs (as far as I know) a truly unique mechanism. Knowing the solution, I was able to solve the puzzle, which is one of its strongest features: a solution that is quite elegant and relatively easily repeated, yet elusive enough that it poses a challenge (to me, at least). The puzzle is so original, in fact, that categorizing it seems like a circularly fruitless enterprise, one that would likely lead to a questionably accurate spoiler, at best, while still being arguably incomplete, if not straight-up wrong.
Joe is still producing these, so find him on Discord if you are interested in trying one (@jhoag). And if you are able to solve it more easily than I, good on you – no need to share such information with me: please remember what I said about glass houses (which is to say, go live in a glass house and throw stones, jerk).
Eric Fuller (of CubicDissection) has gone and got hisself a laser cutter machiney thing that can… cut… uhh…. lasers? (that doesn’t sound right…) Whatever the thing may do for mere mortals, in the hands of an adept puzzle designer like Eric, it means that we will soon be seeing some cool new challenges coming our way. I had the good luck to solve the first of these: Eric’s newest take-apart puzzle, Pennytentiary, a sequential discovery square of coin releasiness that had me smiling (once I finally stopped being stuck).
Consistent with Eric’s modus opuzzerandi, he makes laser-cut wood look good, with dark-grained panels adorning the top and bottom of the layered sides that are eye-catching and give the puzzle an added sense of class. Notches are spaced evenly around its perimeter, with a centered top “keyhole” in which a coin rests, trapped below 4 diagonal bars that slide easily back and forth with even casual movement. There is nothing else immediately visible, although close inspection may prove that to be a false assumption (a concept that crops up frequently in Eric’s designs). At about 3″ x 0.75″, it feels good in your hands; it isn’t overly heavy but neither is it light and its size is well-suited for most (human) hands. The final version will include a thin layer of acrlyic in one the middle layers, adding some strength and a mixed-medium aesthetic that I am sure will look cool.
When first looking at it, I felt compelled to attempt a pretty basic puzzle move that couldn’t help but come to mind; I assumed it wouldn’t do much of anything and (for once) my assumption proved correct, leaving me with a nice new puzzle that didn’t see to do much of anything (aside from having some potential as a maraca). Of course, this would prove to be not at all true – after a while spent exploring and experimenting, I found a well-designed aha that led me to some good initial progress, giving me plenty to work with while getting me no closer to actually solving the puzzle. I got stuck here for quite a while. And then a while more.
It took some trial & error and careful observation to make sense (cents?) of a short semi-blind sequence that stood between me and further progress; there is plenty of feedback and it is possible to deduce most of what needs to happen, assuming you paid attention during your initial explorations. I eventually got to where I thought I needed to go, foolishly thinking I might be nearing the end, only to figure something out that forced me to laugh at the puzzle’s deviousness. Following on that realization is a trick that I just think is super neat and lends a sense of magic to the solution.
I continued to make considerable progress, working my way through the kind of well-designed sd discoveries and hidden trickery that we associate with Eric’s work. I managed to get nice and stuck (again) towards the end – unsurprisingly, it turned out to largely be my idiocy that was keeping me from overcoming this last hurdle; I was fairly certain of what needed to happen and aware of some of the things that would help it happen, while apparently missing some other thing(s) that needed to happen so that it could happen. Pretty straightforward, no?
I back-and-forth-tracked for a while, thinking I would see something I had missed; the puzzle moves you along quite nicely as you solve it, and I kept looking to see if I had missed a turn. There is a lot to discover in a relatively small package and I had yet to find a purpose for every discovery; the puzzle does an excellent job of communicating where you need to go while simultaneously obfuscating how to get there. I got to be pretty certain of what and where and even how (or so I thought) – but, in classic Eric fashion, even though I was sure I knew the how, I still couldn’t find it…… there was a subtle twist that had me working against myself until I realized I had made an assumption so small I didn’t even realize it was an assumption and that last aha finally hit, allowing me to find the step that had been eluding me only to realize it was not the last aha after all! I thought for sure I would be removing the coin but it turns out there was still another sneaky sequence to suss out before the coin could be captured.
After gleefully removing the coin, I worked my way backwards through the reset – a couple sections still a bit tricky as I continued to develop my understanding of the puzzling at play. After re-solving and re-setting it a couple more times, I can confidently claim to completely comprehend the confounding cadre of coin release mechanisms nestling within this deceptively simple-seeming puzzle. And what a fun puzzle it is! It has an excellent rhythm as you work through several muti-step sequences that rely on discrete mechanisms and well-hidden sd discoveries: imagine if Rex’s best had a child with the Bolt Action series and then went on to marry Ansel and have a brief affair with Free Me 6. And if that doesn’t entice you, then I don’t know what you’re doing reading this post (unless you’re my Mom…. in which case: Hi Mom).
Pennytentiary will probably be the first of a series of coin release puzzles from CD, with ideas for other currency currently in the works. It was originally set for CD’s Feb 2022 release but due to the need to wait for some delayed hardware (and I think perhaps Eric’s admirable and ongoing quest for puzzle perfection) has been pushed to the March 21 release: it looks like this is going to be a pretty exciting drop, with a number of new and re-released puzzles to choose from. There is a chance that the relative efficiency afforded by the (sharkless) lasers may make it a design that will not need to suffer from the same level of scarcity that can sometimes affect other new CD designs – a great thing for newer puzzlers, in particular, who may be taken aback by the fervor that surrounds the typical CD release. Regardless, it is a puzzle you will not want to miss, so plan accordingly when you set your CD release alarm for next week.
Following up on last year’s post about the 2020 Karakuri holiday boxes, I figured I’d make a thing of it and do it again for 2021. (If you don’t know about the Karakuri holiday boxes and membership, you can learn more here).
Getting my box of boxes in mid-December was a cause for bittersweet celebration; I knew it was destined to sit unopened for a couple more weeks until X-Mas, when I would see each of the 7 boxes for the first time. Having not yet learned my lesson, I hoped that it might spark the teeniest bit of interest in my 15 year-old son (it did not); it did, however, continue to develop the interest of my 81 year-old Cuban mother-in-law lol (she thinks they’re super cool, which of course they are).
If you did not sign up for one or more of the boxes, maybe this will help you decide which are worth going after this year – as always, they will pop up here and there on the puzzle auctions, typically growing in value the further from December we get until, seemingly suddenly several seasons hence, they sometimes start selling for obscene sums. And for good reason: if you have yet to learn this life lesson, Karakuri boxes are cool… I know I will be getting another round of 7 come Xmas 2022.
And now: on to the show (in alphabetical order by maker’s first name):
Akio Kamei – Pile of Disks 3
Unofficially known as the Egg McMuffin, Kamei’s newest creation consists of 5 circular layers of maple, zelkova and rosewood, laid out symmetrically. As the third in a series, this Pile of Disks is leaner than its siblings at 80mm x 30mm, his hanko displayed in the center of one side. Surprisingly, this ended up being one of the last two I wiould manage to solve – I had thought that the solution was somewhat obvious but it nonetheless took me an embarrassing amount of time over several days of fidgeting with it in front of the tv, growing increasingly certain that there was “something wrong with it.” As is typical when such a thought comes to the mind of a puzzler, there was not, I am just an idiot (probably not a surprise to anyone who reads these rambles). While the basic mechanisms were what I had thought, there was a small but essential nuance that had to yet to slap me in the head. I had begun to think that the solution was annoyingly precise but, in fact, it is quite elegant, with a final touch that gave me a welcome smile after how hard a time it had given me. Having opened it, I did it several more times, shaking my head at my own ineptitude and smiling at the subtle design choices that are the difference between trivial and tricky.
Hideaki Kawashima – Moonlit Night
Following up on 2020’s Moon, Kawashima continues his lunar legacy in honor of the two lunar eclipses seen in Japan (and elsewhere) in 2021 (there is a circle on each side of the box). Its size of 72mm x 75mm, along with the colors of the magnolia, walnut and zelkova, lets it sit well with some of his other!similar boxes, most particularly its predecessor. While I did not have too much difficulty with this box, I did manage to go in circles for a bit before an aha let me find what I’d been missing. The maker’s hanko is hidden in one of its two compartments (presumably one for each eclipse). Despite not being too hard, I like the theme and idea: it is cool to be able to see what the maker was thinking and feel the connection he was going for. Holiday boxes arrive without names or descriptions, which have only recently been shipped out to participating members; these gave me a better appreciation for this box in particular, with an aesthetic that captures the concept rather brilliantly.
Hiroshi Iwahara – Fluctuation Box
One of the cooler looking boxes of this year’s holiday haul, Fluctuation has a springy, tactile feel that makes it fidget friendly and rather fun to solve. Somewhat unique in the nature of its trickiness, the box may take a bit of practice to master. The alternating layers of maple and chanchin look great inside the contrasting top and bottom of walnut and (something? – I may have confused some of these but I think I have it correct) and a little knob adorns the top.
At 160mm x 170mm x 66mm, it is the largest of this year’s boxes and is a development of Iwahara’s 2006 holiday box, Covered Chimney, with which it shares a similar aesthetic.
Osamu Kasho – Little Shark
Little Shark might be my favorite of the year, both adorable and the most difficult for me to solve! Its diminutive size of 80mm x 115mm x 45mm did not stop it from taking me weeks of picking it up and trying the same couple of things over and over before I finally did something a bit differently than (I think) I had tried before, earning me the biggest aha of the holiday. It is always a pleasure to get the kind of laugh-out-loud Karakuri moment that compels me to share my glee with my not-particularly-interested wife (who allows for a quick “that’s nice, babe” before turning back to whatever show was trying to distract me from my puzzling).
Knowing the solution, I can fully appreciate the excellent craftsmanship that hides it (one of the main reasons I absolutely love the KCG. It is also adorable, the walnut, magnolia and dogwood maintaining a consistency with Kasho’s Whale boxes: Whale, Baby Whale and Whale Type I, but with evil shark eyes contrasting cutely with the friendly, rounded eyes of the whales.
Shou Sugimoto – Reversible Box
Sugimoto’s box is another of this year’s personal (and probably public) favorites, with a unique solution that sees the box becoming more beautiful as you progress, an interesting design choice that demands repeat play. These changes are surprising and have me tempted to leave the box in mid-solve for display (my spoiler sensitivities are of course too strong to permit this, allowing for a resistance to temptation rarely exhibited by my life choices).
It is a bit smaller than most Karakuri boxes at 59mm x 97mm and compensates with a beautiful use of maple, chanchin, magnolia, wenge and Japanese torreya, some of which you may notice is not visible in its reset state. When first working on it, there was an initial worry that the solution was just painfully obvious, with early progress that turned out to be a bit misleading, functioning instead as a segue into a beautiful sequence that leads into the final steps (the last of which eluded me for a bit, partly due to my desire to repeat the middle steps and partly as it is well-hidden). The final step shows the precision with which KCG boxes are pretty much always made. His hanko is inside and is one of the cooler marks used by KCG members, a more stylized use of Japanese characters.
Yasuaki Kikuchi – Well, well, well, Where has buddy gone?!
Winning this year’s “Oddly Long and Confusing Title” Award, Kikuchi has made something that is pretty much as hilarious a Karakuri box as I have ever seen. The solution is not short but neither is it particularly difficult; the real awesome-sauciness of this box comes after it has been opened, where you find something whose purpose is not immediately apparent until you step back and look at the opened box with new eyes. I soon saw the purpose of this discovered trinket and full-on guffawed at the result of its use. I don’t mean to be so cagey about this but it would of course be a massive spoiler to say anything further.
The holiday theme is once again on full display, with Santa’s sled leading you deeper into the Christmas canon in a comically consistent manner. It is an adorably sized 61mm x 110mm x 68 and, as with Sugimoto’s box, some of the woods used are not immediately apparent; its cherry (?) outside hiding some dogwood and walnut once solved.
Yoh Kakuda – Boxing Kangaroo
What kind of Karakuri Christmas could it be be without a cute Kakuda creation like Kangaroo? It is adorable and amusing, with a design that is sure to make you smile. Despite perhaps being a bit predictable, I enjoyed the solve and felt compelled to repeat one particular step several times as Kakuda once again does a great job of integrating thematic elements into the box. Kangaroo is a good-sized 63mm x 110mm x 121mm, with padauk boxing gloves contrasting nicely with the cherry used for the majority of the puzzle (with an adorable magnolia nose). I noticed that the maker’s mark has changed a bit, with added english letters that stand apart from the more traditional hankos used by most other KCG members (and is pretty cool imo). Now I’ve just got to see how it fares against a Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robot.
(I unfortunately traded my copies of Wombat & Tunnel Maker from 2019 & 2020, so no comparison pic)
And that’s 2021!
I’m already looking forward to whatever boxes KCG will produce in 2022 – time to renew my membership!
Jerry McFarland, 3.25″ x 4″, Mahogany, Walnut, Cherry & Kingwood (Snappy) 3″ x 3.5″ (Obscure)
When Jerry asked if I would be interested in trying out a new puzzle, my fingers couldn’t hit reply fast enough – he is one of those designers whose puzzles I will gratefully buy sight (or even description) unseen. The fact that he is returning to the Magnetic Burr series with what is most likely the final design (after a brief semi-digression with Obscure Burr) should make even the most discerning of burr buyers be ready to buy (if bossible).
If you are not already on Jerry’s list(s), it may be sadly difficult to obtain a copy of Snappy; Jerry produces puzzles in small batches, and there are only a few more copies of this puzzle to come in the near future (all of which I believe have already been earmarked). As with all his puzzles, it is well worth the wait, even if it takes a couple of years (such is the nature of a good puzzle’s wait list, as I know all too well – my copy of Burrnova will hopefully be coming sometime this year after a 2-3 year wait and yet it seems like a blink of an eye when your time on a long waitlist comes up).
The Magnetic Burr series may not be an official name, but it captures the essence of the three (now four) cubic burrs: Fidget Burr (reviewed by me here), Burrlephant (also reviewed by me) and Burrnova 3d (I actually had the option to get a copy last month, but Jerry graciously asked to sell it to a certain mutual puzzling friend’s NPSO as a surprise gift and I was happy to play a small role in this friend’s holiday happiness). The burr cubes in the series all feature magnets (duh) and integrate some very cool and unique mechanisms into the designs; all of them feature some kind of surprise(s) or treasures, whether Fidget’s Pink Lady, Burrlephant’s sd mechanisms or Burrnova’s….. well, I guess I’m not sure if Burrnova follows suit but I’m going to go ahead and say that it does 😉
Obscure also uses magnets but isn’t really considered part of the series – the concept is something of an outlier, relying on a pretty esoteric idea that is sure to elude the majority of puzzlers (as it most certainly did me!). I was ultimately able to solve it by cheating, which still made for a cool puzzle, but understanding the concept behind the design gives it a considerably better pedigree. Jerry integrated a (likely needed but still rather obscure) hint into the design and later versions have it hidden under a magnetically attached block – I have not seen one of these copies in person but the pics make it look pretty cool; personally, I think the hint is a cool idea that is particularly appropriate here and is yet a feature that points to the puzzle’s difficulty and originality – I suspect there are very few puzzlers who will deduce the solution otherwise (even with the hint, few may deduce it).
Obscure was perhaps a bit controversial, the obscurity being even greater than perhaps many a puzzler expected. Regardless, it is a cool and extremely unique puzzle with a great fidget value that, I think, ensures its designation as a worthy puzzle to have in your collection. It highlights the idea of puzzles as art, being a physical manifestation of an idea that struck the maker and compelled him to find a way to produce it irl. If that ain’t art, I don’t know what is.
Snappy is a rectangular cube that consists of 28 pieces and 26 magnets(!). The goal is to “remove the snappy fidget toy inside the puzzle,” which is itself instantly intriguing. It shares an aesthetic with Jerry’s other burrs, a polished gleam highlighting the contrasting sticks of varying widths, woods and shapes, with curves at the edges that make it feel excellent in your hands. The corner pieces are set back a couple mm, creating an aesthetic that is reminiscent of columns surrounding a central core.
If you are familiar with some of Jerry’s other puzzles, you may have an idea how to initially approach the puzzle – and you may well be correct, finding yourself rewarded with the fidgety goodness you should expect. And then………… um……….. well, then I proceeded to do the same couple of things over and over and over (and over) wondering how in the heck this thing could do anything else. I really didn’t mind as its fidget friendly fun is fan-forking-tastic, possibly even beyond Fidget Burr; it has a 3-axis snappy main mechanism with a tactile sensation that is just oh so satisfying. The clickiness of it is truly awesome (perhaps not so much to my wife, who somehow tolerated it while I futzed with the puzzle over the course of a few evenings).
Eventually, I discovered…. something…. and knew I was moving in the right direction. It would still be quite a while before I was able to work out how to do what needed to be done and then, with a wonderful aha, I made actual progress, finally solving the main trick of the puzzle. From there, it was a fairly straightforward matter of disassembling the remaining pieces and removing the toy. Reassembly was both easy and very very tricky; as with his other puzzles, Jerry has helpfully included some internal initials to help identify what goes where, allowing you to appreciate the build rather than be frustrated by it, unlike many a burr cube that is likely to force you to rely on burrtools for the reassembly (or, in Jerry’s case, the pictures he provides to assist with reassembly). But when it came time to put together the main part of the mechanism it turned out to be as challenging as when I disassembled it; a certain aspect of the design had the effect of distracting me during the initial solve, so that I didn’t fully grok some of what I had done.
Finally, I was able to reverse engineer my aha and I found that what seemed like an impossible assembly that had to rely on force and inappropriate angles was actually an elegantly perfect fit. I can now do this main bit with ease, having found the sweet spot permitting it. And I gotta say it is darn satisfying to do – the puzzle earns its name, not just with its early fidgetiness but here at the core of its build.
Another well-known puzzler was also offered the chance to buy an early copy for testing, so be sure to look out for his thoughts on his excellent OG puzzle blog, PuzzleMad. Otherwise, if you aren’t able to get a copy, be sure to find me at the next puzzle party as it will definitely be accompanying me on the trip. Until then: keep puzzling and may excessive force not be with you.
Dee posted a teaser pic of the Angry Walter prototype on Discord some months back, causing my puzzlie sense to begin tingling. His 7th puzzle box (not including a couple one-off designs), AW is an aesthetic departure for Dee and is a move that has paid off: there is something about it that is just really freakin’ cool from the moment you set eyes on it, the concept is fun and there are plenty of potentially puzzle-able parts that will cause most puzzlers to crave the opportunity to try and poke at them.
I was fortunate enough to get an early copy, with puzzling that is identical to later batches while featuring some woods/details that differ a bit from the final version’s roasted curly maple, peruvian walnut, cherry and padauk. At Dee’s request, I conferred with the puzzle gods and learned of Walter’s future history, the story behind his anger. I shared what I learned with Dee and felt compelled to include the less-abridged version above. As I write this, I realize that this makes Dee’s puzzles the most written about on this site, alongside Space Case, Portal, Spirit Box and an early maze box and Blinded III prototype that turned out to be quite different from the final puzzle. (Gee – that makes this #5! How fitting 😉
AW is about 4.75″ square (not counting his g-ears) and half that in depth (including his nose). His eyes, g-ears and nose all protrude and both the eyes and mouth appear likely to be removable. It is most definitely sd, with multiple compartments and bits and bobs to discover and use as you work your way through the solution. It is probably the longest of Dee’s puzzles in terms of discrete steps, with WMH not too far behind (I haven’t written a solution to WMH yet, despite being asked very nicely (sorry Dee, I really am gonna do it) but I am pretty sure AW comes out ahead).
It is pretty straightforward to begin the puzzle but I hit a wall immediately after. There was quite a bit of poking and prodding before an idea struck me with a slap to the head, allowing me to make a (very) little bit of progress before hitting another, larger wall. Eventually, I had a great a-ha and found my way through several more steps to what I thought was the solution. One of the best surprises’ a puzzler can get is to learn that the end of a good puzzle is not actually the end. So I went back to it, finding some things that should have been enough for me to know better and that led me into a sequence of several more steps before finally reaching the clear conclusion. In the end, there had still been a good amount of puzzling to be done; what I thought was a good puzzle turned out to be a great puzzle with a fun and fairly lengthy solve.
AW has several challenges big enough that puzzlers could be stumped for a while by any one of them, although there are always some who manage to breeze through mechanisms the rest of us stare blankly at as the puzzle gets comfortable sitting semi-solved in our backlog. AW didn’t have to wait too long for me as it is the kind of puzzle that just begs to be solved, with a difficulty and rhythm right where I like it: slap your head aha’s as opposed to sidelong glances of meh or eye rolls of ugh. To my puzzled mind, AW doesn’t have any of the latter two and has plenty of the first.
AW is challenging but not annoying and, most importantly, it is legit puzzling fun – perhaps the story and appearance have something to do with its success but the puzzling most definitely does. I guess I am not the only puzzler to be lured in by Mr. Walter’s strained grimace and asymmetrical appearance; from what I’ve heard, the other puzzlers that got early copies have said equally good things about it and the recent general release of the first batch apparently sold out in seconds. If you want to help protect us from Walter’s ire, I know Dee has at least one more batch planned on his site but I’m not sure if or how many more will come after that; there may yet be hope for Walter’s dreams of world domination and destruction, so keep an eye out if you want to help us puzzle our way out of it.
Sometime in 2019, not too long before I would discover and join the mechanical puzzle discord group, I saw Visayas by Rex Rossano Perez pop up on PuzzleParadise; it was not so easy to find affordable sequential discovery (SD) puzzles at the time. This was a year or two before Alan from layerbylayerpuzzles would create Bolt Action and its brethren or PuzzledByPiker would create Free the Five or Tye from NothingYetDesigns would create Pair O’ Dice or Brandon from Puzzled Wolf would create Ansel… Puzzles seemed to come out much less often in the olden days of yore, pre-2019, before CR had garnered as substantial a puzzling audience and Covid sent people home to discover that there is great fun to be had with the right bits of wood, metal, and plastic.
As a puzzle with a particular affection for take-apart puzzles, it is not surprising that I find Coin Release to be an excellent sub-genre (after boxes, of course); whether relying on sequential movement (SM) or some kind of trick mechanism (or a mixture of both), I am always drawn to the mystery surrounding a goal with no clear path. Upon seeing Visayas available for pre-order, I was taken by the coin release-iness of it and quickly mashed the buy-out button to await the puzzle’s release.
(Rex tends to sell pre-orders for Buy-Out on PP (using a set price rather than an auction) and states in the listing that shipping will occur after a certain date; I am always happy to order when I can and receive whenever it’s ready – while some puzzlers may hesitate at the sight of a pre-order, there is really no need to do so with Rex: he is a legit and well-known puzzle-maker whose pre-orders are consistently fulfilled. PuzzleParadise is Rex’s main way to sell direct; a few of his puzzles have also been sold in the past by CubicDissection and you can usually find a few designs on PuzzleMaster at any given time – it has several at the time of this writing. I should also mention that Rex produces puzzles from other genres and designers as well – a bit more about this at the end of this post).
After paying the invoice, I did what I generally do upon finding a new puzzle or designer: I scoured the puzzle blogs for information, learning that there were a number of other, somewhat similar looking puzzles by Rex as well (you can check out some of these posts from PuzzleMad, Jerry’s/JL Puzzles, and GF’s Puzzle Collection).
Visayas was the first Rex Coin Release (RCR) that I received and it would take me long enough to solve that I would first end up buying and solving others in the series before finally getting a discord nudge that got me through the opening with a great and powerful “Aha!” Since then, Rex has continued to design new RCRs and other SD puzzles, while occasionally re-releasing older designs as well.
I figured this post might be useful to those who may be curious about Rex’s puzzles generally or any one in particular; selfishly, it was good excuse to re-solve (and open) each of the 14 existing RCRs and do a brief write-up of each. The goal of most of these puzzles (except when it isn’t) is to release the captive coin that can be seen through the circular window on the front the puzzle. The coins on Rex’s are generally Philippine piso or centavos but some later releases decided to forego the coin (likely, to some extent, due to some silly rules about shipping coins internationally…. which is obviously just NATO trying to protect Big Pharma’s fear of puzzle-based mental health support: 3 out of 4 nerds agree: “it’s more effective then (prescription) drugs!”). Some recent reproductions of earlier RCRs have included acrylic coins instead of real currency. Rex evolved and this became an opportunity to thematicize (themate?) RCRs by integrating small tokens into the design, making the acrylic “coins” into playful elements that tie into some other discoveries made along the way. Regardless of whether it is a coin, token, or another goal entirely, the series includes a diverse group of puzzles that vary widely in terms of mechanism, style, and difficulty.
Ok lets (finally) look at some puzzles!
Note on Potential Spoilers: I will not be describing any of the specific steps or mechanisms nor showing pictures of anything other than a puzzle in its reset state; however, Rex’s puzzles generally blend SM and SD mechanisms and I thought it would be helpful to say which type is favored in any individual puzzle. I do not consider this to be a spoiler but wanted to mention it nonetheless.
(Arranged in mostly chronological order of design/original availability)
2.75″ x 2.25″ x 0.5″, Blue and Black, 5 Layers, 1 Piso
This is the first RCR (I believe) and is probably the least difficult of the bunch – even still, you may find some aha’s as you figure out whether you’re actually on the right track or not. At first, it seems simpler than it is; there are no apparent openings or protrusions on any of its sides and there only seems to be the one panel on the top and bottom. As you begin making some tangible progress through its SM mechanisms, you will realize that there is a bit more going on before this coin will be yours. Resetting the puzzle is essentially solving it in reverse and affords you the opportunity to clarify how you solved it; it can be easy to miss a detail or two that might complicate things in reverse, but it is mostly clear.
2.75″ x 2.25″ x .75″, Black and Yellow, 6 Layers, 5 Piso
Aquinaldo takes things a bit further, increasing the thickness of the puzzle to further develop the complexity of the SM mechanism. There is an obvious double-layered panel passing vertically through the puzzle, with a skinny bar passing perpendicularly through the bottom. This puzzle also features a second goal, to “find the hidden secret,” adding more puzzling to the experience. This added goal shows how Rex is looking at ways to maximize the square footage the puzzles’ footprints provide, giving the puzzler more to do sometimes even after the coin has been released; in this case, the additional goal extends the solution a bit and leads to a better understanding of the puzzle’s complexity. The reset is mostly the puzzle in reverse, although I found the second goal to give me a bit of trouble as I had to work out what had happened where; a bit of logic and observation and you can clarify things and get the puzzle back to its initial state. This all makes for a fun SM puzzle, although perhaps not overly difficult.
2.75″ x 2.5″ x 0.75″, Gray, Blue & Red, 6 Layers (5 full and two half layers), 10 Piso
Barasoain again steps up the overall complexity and begins to integrate some SD elements into its mechanisms. The appearance alone makes the added complexity (as compared to Rizal and Barasoain) clear, with multiple sections on the top and bottom that appear as though they may do something, as well as a small protrusion at the top and a hole on the back. If you have solved the previous two RCRs, you may make some relatively quick progress, leading to something that clearly does something else….. only, that something else doesn’t seem to be happening! This puzzle had me confused for longer than I’d care to admit, and was the first of Rex’s puzzles to make me wonder if there was something wrong with it (there wasn’t). Some close and careful observation, combined with a bit of trial & error (and perhaps a bit of that thinking thing), and you should find yourself past this wall, gaining access to the coin. Resetting is straightforward, just reverse the steps and it is ready for someone else (or for you to try again in a year or two when you’ve forgotten how it works….. not that this ever happens to me, of course).
3.25″ x 3.25″ x 0.5″, Red & Black, 5 Layers, 1 Piso
Kusing 25 is a fan favorite – I considered it one of the top two or three RCRs until some recent releases surpassed it, which doesn’t make Kusing any less good: the difficulty ramps up significantly, with layers of complexity that go well beyond the previous entries in the series. It is significantly larger than previous RCRs, and is the first to feature holes and/or moving sections on all 6 sides, with a thick bar passing perpendicularly through the bottom. The SD elements are more significant, interacting with the SM mechanisms in dynamic ways that make for more possibilities than mere trial & error can comfortably account for – yes, this may be enough to luck you through, but pay close attention and think and you can intentionally work out the steps to solve it. This is a puzzle that I’ve heard many a puzzler say that they needed to re-solve multiple times before they could really understand it; the more time you spend with this one, the more you begin to realize just how much stuff is going on under the hood.
Speaking of which, this was the first RCR that I decided to completely disassemble (sorry, Johnny Five) to see exactly what is going on inside – I am glad I did as it is even more complicated than I had thought! It was very cool to see just how many little bits of acrylic are used and to check how closely my mental image matched the actual puzzle (I’d give myself a B-). I have since made a habit of disassembling his puzzles after solving them – figuring out how it all goes together can be a puzzle on its own, especially if you let it sit in pieces for a few weeks! Just be warned: there’s a lot of individual pieces in there, oftentimes more than you may realize (even in some of the simpler ones), so be sure to open it above a catch-all or dice tray (or whatever you tend to use). While the screws and such can be replaced, everything else is a custom piece and replacing those won’t be as easy.
2.75″ x 3″ x 0.9″, Green, Blue & White, 7 Layers (6 normal and 2 thin), 5 Piso
Rex continues to impress with Walang Galang, yet another step up in complexity, difficulty, and fun-esstness resulting in a puzzle that also tends to be at one of many puzzlers favorite RCRs. Seemingly random holes are on three sides, with multiple panels that look like the may do something and a hole on the back. The puzzle again mixes in some SD (more than Kusing, I’d say) to give you a bit more control over some aspects of the puzzle, while also confusing things considerably. There is a lot to get through and after some fairly quick initial progress and a false sense that the path was clear, I quickly hit a big wall; despite having things to do, it was difficult to obtain a sense of progress as I chased my tail for quite some time before eventually figuring out what else needed to be done. There would still be several more walls to overcome before I could arrange everything I had discovered into something that made sense. There is enough feedback to work out much of the puzzle and you will benefit from some careful mapping; random poking and prodding and tilting really didn’t get me anywhere except confused. Even still, when I re-solved it and took it apart, I realized that I still hadn’t really understood a good third of what was going on; the amount of complications I discovered was more than I had deduced when working on it. Honestly, WG may have even been a bit too hard for me – I perhaps had more fun with Kusing – but WG earned me some serious self-satisfaction when I finally surmised the solution.
3.5″ x 3″ x 0.75″, Yellow & Gray, 7 Layers (2 double and 3 nornal), 1 Piso
Apolaki rolls back the difficulty from Kusing and WG, making for a more approachable puzzle that again combines SD and SM. There are holes on both the front and back, the coin in one and a narrow channel in the other. Symmetrical holes are on either side, with no clear indication of where to begin. While on the easier side of the RCRs, I may have had a bit more fun solving it than with some of the really difficult ones, relying more on out of the box thinking leading to a good aha moment as opposed to careful mapping. It also provides a real sense of progress, once you are able to work out the basic structure of its mechanisms. This was not a puzzle that had me randomly poking and tilting (well, not as much as some others, at least) and it feels, to some extent, like a departure from some of the other types of mechanisms used in other RCRs. Solving it gave me a good amount of clarity, causing its inner workings to closely match what I had pictured when solving it.
2.5″ x 2.5″ x 0.75″, Black & White, 7 Layers, No Coin (Find the Star)
Although not technically an RCR as it has no coin, Visayas shares the same aethetic and nonetheless belongs in the series. Its goal is to “find the star,” the meaning of which is not readily apparent when looking at the puzzle (nor is it necessarily apparent later on; deducing the goal is itself a part of the puzzle). It is smaller than the last few RCRs and there is an empty hole on each side: one black and one white, both appearing to be fixed in place. A little piece of acrylic hangs out from the bottom, moving a bit in two dimensions without doing anything obvious. This was the first RCR I tried and is still one of my favorites, although perhaps general consensus goes both ways, with some people loving it and others not so much. I had a more difficult time getting started on this one than perhaps in any others (not just because it was my first RCR) and I needed a nudge before making that first aha and making some sense of what was going on and doing what needed to be done. Finally getting somewhere, I was able to progress fairly quickly until slamming smack into a wall that would take some seriously out of the box thinking to overcome. The puzzle features a bit of SD and has one particular aha moment that made me laugh out loud. Although one aspect can be a bit fiddly, there is another step that I find to be quite elegant. Visayas is a bit paradoxical: it is rather simple inside and yet the solution is tricky and wholly unique. It is still one of my favorite RCRs, although I suppose you always remember your first.
4″ x 3″ x 0.9″, Black, Reddish Brown & White, 7 Layers, No Coin (Find the Star)
Mindanao goes even further into unique territory, following up on Visayas to once again “find the star”. It is a puzzle that has been downright controversial: puzzlers seem to either love or hate it, responses that are even more extreme than with Visayas or Abraham’s Well. This is one of the largest puzzles in the series and is unique in that there is no circular hole on either the front or back; instead, there is a white hexagon on one side and small holes that form the broken outline of a circle on the back. The sides have no holes or panels and the top and bottom have a small hole with a single panel on top.
It is possible to make some good progress before too long; some of it comes without too much difficulty and then you must begin experimenting and paying close attention to start making sense of things, with the puzzle incorporating a bit of SD into the solution. I was able to figure out how pretty much of all of it worked before I hit a wall even higher than that on Visayas. This one took me quite a while and required some thinking that was way outside the box before an idea hit me that brought me to the solution (there may have been a nudge in there as well). Mindanao has an aha moment that I don’t believe I have seen in any other puzzle and which once again earned a laugh from me – whether you like it or not, this puzzle is original. So, if nothing else, come for the controversy and then stay for the fun.
3″ x 3″ x 0.75″, Gray & White, 6 layers, Ghost Piece
It seems that Rex had been running into some customs issues shipping coins internationally, which helped lead to some creative alternatives. Rex takes a thematic turn with Sanib, which eschews the coin for an angry-looking ghost that must be freed from where it is stuck behind bars in the hole that would typically hold a coin. The back has a narrow hole in one corner and there are a number of holes and panels on all four sides, along with a small protrusion on the top.
Sanib is the first in the series to really rely heavily on SD even more so than SM. Some random poking and tilting may afford you some progress, but you will need to stop and think about what you are doing in order to free the ghost. It is most definitely one of my favorites RCRs, combining an amusing theme with logic-based SD puzzling that uses SM mechanisms that have plenty of feedback and simply make sense as you solve it. There is quite a bit going on and taking it apart was a fun way to see it all laid out; solving it requires enough thought that I had been able to work out pretty well what was going on and I could appreciate the design all the more by seeing it packed neatly into a relatively small space.
2.75″ x 3.75″ x 1″, White & Blue, 8 Layers, Dog Coin
Bella continues on the path Sanib began, further developing Rex’s SD skills and thematic design while increasing the difficulty considerably. Bella is the biggest RCR yet, with a large dog-faced coin trapped behind bars on the front, a protruding disc with a paw print on back, and a number of holes on all six sides: it is definitely not a simple puzzle.
I found there was quite a bit to do from the start; there is a mix of linear and non-linear progression that allowed for some entertainingly confusing options. I got stuck more than once before hitting a major wall towards the end of the puzzle; there were several things that seemed like they should do something and a few things I’d thought might work, but nothing actually did much of anything. I’d collected a few bits of this or that and had to really explore, experiment, and examine in order to come up with what led me to the solution. And man was it tricky! For the most part, this is not something that you will accidentally solve nor will luck be of much help: the solution requires intentional and discrete steps the majority of the time. This is my personal favorite of the series as it is both legitimately challenging and fun.
5.25″ x 6″ x o.5″, Gray & Yellow, 4 Layers (3 normal and two thin), 5 Centavos
Unluck #4 brings us back to the use of coins while departing aesthetically from the rest of the RCR series; rather than the layered rectangles of the other RCRs, this looks like an oversized acrylic padlock, with the coin in the center and a panel passing horizontally through its body. The goal, of course, is to free the coin and open the shackle. The description on the original listing refers to the (semi)blind maze that is the majority of the mechanism but Rex has added some elements to complicate things. This is a SM puzzle, similar in some ways to a few of the earlier RCRs (and one in particular), but it is still unique to his puzzles, incorporating a new wrinkle that requires some thought to figure out. While not overly difficult, there is a good aha moment and it takes some time and planning to solve. The lock mechanism is fun and lends a sense of added satisfaction to the eventual solution. No need to take this one apart; once solved you will see most of what was going on and what you maybe can’t see, you’ll have already figured out. One of the great things about SM is that luck rarely plays much of a role in the solution, providing the solver with the sense of satisfaction that comes with earning your success.
3″ x 4″ x 0.3″. Orange & Blue, 5 Layers, No Coin
Abrihi isn’t a coin release nor does it look like any of the RCRs (other than Unluck #4) – still, I figured I would include it as it is another great SD puzzle from Rex. While it is somewhat similar in appearance to Unluck #4 (albeit considerably smaller), it is nothing like it: Abrihi is shaped like a lock and the goal is (obviously) to open the shackle but, in contrast to Unluck #4, Abrihi is mostly SD, with a good amount of trickery involved. This one eluded me for some time, with the final steps sitting high atop a wall for quite a while. Eventually, with a bit of a head smack, I had the final aha and solved it. I had a pretty good overall understanding of how it worked and yet, opening it up to look inside, I discovered a few things that were more complex than I’d realized . This is not a puzzle where you are likely to solve it by luck; as with his other puzzles that are primarily SD, you need to comprehend what is going on inside in order to reach the end, although a bit of luck can’t hurt.
Green & Red, 7 Layers, 25 Centavos
Katmon is the only existing RCR that I do not actually have (and am unfortunately unlikely to get, much to the consternation of my inner completist collector). This was commissioned by a puzzler who sent me a couple pics to include here and told me a bit about its mechanism: the puzzle shares its basic aesthetic with most of the RCRs, adding a wide vertical panel and two small protrusions on one side. It is essentially an SM puzzle that is “N-Ary based”; interestingly, it requires a fairly high number of moves as compared to most of Rex’s other mostly-SM RCRs. Matt did offer to bring it with him the next time we have the good fortune to puzzle irl, so I hope to give it a try sometime down the road.
Black & Orange, 8 Layers, No Coin (Find the Blue Star)
Luzon is the newest in the series, currently on its way to a few lucky puzzlers (including me :-). It features an orange frame on its face, with some rune-like symbols inside. There are three holes on the face as well, including a diamond shaped hole in the center. The goal is to “find the blue star” and Rex has said that this is the final Find the Star puzzle in the series (along with Visayas and Mindanao). It is described as SD and I am looking forward to solving it (or trying to, at least). Rex also said that “if you are not a fan of the previous [find the star puzzles], then this is not for you.” As mentioned above, the two previous star puzzles in the series have been a bit contentious; I personally think that they are great puzzles with unique aspects and fun mechanisms, so I am looking forward to Luzon. (I will add in an update once I have had a chance to try it).
(pic taken from original PP listing)
Well – that’s it! Hopefully, some folks found this useful (and maybe a few even made it to the end!). I am a big fan of Rex’s RCRs and both his SM and SD designs: they can offer great puzzling value (especially if you manage to get them direct from Rex when listed on PuzzleParadise).
It is worth noting that these are not the only kind of puzzles that Rex produces and / or designs (some of which can be found on PWBP). He has excellent acrylic skills that he puts to great use, giving puzzlers the chance to try puzzles from a number of genres: Tray Packing, Restricted Entry, & Sliders, Interlocking Assembly & Disassembly, and 3D Packing & Apparent Cubes. The puzzles are from a diverse group of designers, including himself, Haym Hirsch, Goh Pit Khiam, Tamas Vanyo, Oleg Smol’yakov, Lucie Pauwels and Alexander Magyarics (quite probably others, as well). I have bought several of these over time and can confidently say that all are well-made and some are crazy hard (I am pretty sure that Oleg’s Slider, Around, is physically impossible), oftentimes for as little as $20-30. While I can’t keep up with every single puzzle he produces, I will always (always) buy any new RCR or SD puzzle he makes without hesitation, sight/description unseen. If you are more cautious with your puzzle money, hopefully this post can help you narrow down the ones you think might most delight and challenge your inner puzzler. In my opinion, you really can’t go wrong, although of course some may better hit your particular puzzling itch.
I will try and add to this post as future RCRs and SD puzzles are released by Rex; feel free to mock or shame me should I forget (not that the interweb needs anyone’s permission to do that).