Workin’ It

13 Office-Themed Puzzles (and one Puzzle Adjacent item)

Chin, Coolen, Iwahara, Kakuda, Kamei, Kawashima, Ninomiya, Oka, Sheckels, Townsend & Walker

“Puzzles and Productivity Don’t Mix”

Puzzle Partnership for a Work-Free World

After receiving thousands of imaginary requests to identify the puzzles featured in my pic on the “Get to Know a Puzzler” series from Beats & Pieces, I felt like I owed it to nobody to share my office-themed puzzles; and thus, this post was born.

And now, the puzzles, presented in alphabetical order (by designer name):

Ze Super Stylus Pen by Stephen Chin

14.5 x 1.25cm

Stephen Chin is an amazing craftsman and puzzle designer, known for his sense of humor and seeming inability to waste wood; ordering puzzles from him pretty much guarantees that you will receive some nice napkin rings or a fun flippe top or something. He has made a number of cool take-aparts, like Ze Genie Bottle, La Boomba and Ze Tomago, as well as interlocking and coordinate motion puzzles like Ze Chinnyhedron, and the awesome Humpty Egg, an elliptical version(!) of Lee Krasnow’s Barcode Burr (with a face); all of his work displays his excellent skill as a craftsman, as well as his legit puzzling chops.

Stephen also makes some lovely wooden stylus pens that hide a very surprising secret: in addition to being a functioning pen (and stylus), it is also a legit sd take-apart puzzle. He manages to fit a multi-step puzzle in which you must discover and use tools in order to find a hidden treasure – perhaps the most amazing thing is that it is actually a good puzzle, not just because it is contained within a beautiful, working pen, but simply because it is well-designed and presents a solid challenge; that he achieves this using very limited space and resources makes it just that much more impressive a puzzle. And it is also a really nice pen (that can be used as a stylus).


Baffling Bolted Book by Louis Coolen, Adan Townsend & Allard Walker

18.2 x 12 x 3.8 cm, plywood, canvas, acrylic

One of four puzzle books in the picture, this is the product of a collaboration between three puzzlers made for IPP34 (“produced” by Allard Walker as his exchange puzzle, with most of the work apparently done by Louis Coolen of Coolen Lock fame). They made multiple versions of the fake book, all featuring the same puzzle inside with one of a few designs on the canvas wrap outside. The mechanisms are solid, typical of Louis’s work, and the book displays well, looking like a book except for a few intriguing bolts that can be seen along its “pages” (hence the name).

The puzzle consists of several sequential discovery steps to solve, opening a bit midway through and displaying a sneaky, subtle reference to the puzzle party as you search for the remaining steps needed to fully open the book. It has multiple interacting locks with some neat tricks used in their mechanisms. I was able to solve it in a single sitting, but it was by no means simple.

Once open, you are rewarded with an additional puzzle: a 2d packing, line symmetrical puzzle using three unique pieces that must fit into the parallelogram frame attached to the inside cover of the book. This probably took me as long as it took me to open the book, with a solid aha moment when the solution was finally found.


Pencil Stand 2 by Hiroshi Iwahara

9.6 x 9.6 x 14cm; Rosewood, Keyaki(Zelkova), Rengas, Zebrawood, Mizuki(Dogwood); RF-21-2; 2009

The first of several Karakuri puzzles on this list, I had been after this one for a while; of the various office Karakuri out there, this was among those I most wanted (although none as much as Ninomiya’s Desk Diary). It appears to be a lovely pencil holder, featuring four square towers of identical width and differing height, each featuring a different wood, the colors working together wonderfully.

When I initially got this puzzle, I had thought there was only a single compartment; I eventually learned from a passing comment from another puzzler that there had been a second version released, featuring an additional one. I had found the first pretty quickly upon first receiving the puzzle; this of course is the nature of some Karakuri boxes and did not take away from my fanboy appreciation of it (especially as the solve is fun to do). When I later learned of a possible second compartment, I set about the search to determine which version I had; after a bit of further exploration, I had to laugh as I found a sneaky second space – learning that more puzzling awaits you after reaching what you believed to be the full solution is a rare and surprising pleasure. I have found myself solving this one fairly often – there is something satisfying about the smooth movements that I find enjoyable, as with many Karakuri boxes. It is so very tempting to use it as an actual pen holder, but I am not, in fact, a crazy person.


Adhesive Tape by Yoh Kakuda

15.9 x 12.5 x 5.8 cm; Walnut & Burswood; KY-5; 2008

Like other Karakuri that resemble real world items, this oversize tape dispenser integrates a common aspect of the thing it represents into the puzzle mechanism. As always, it looks great and feels even better in your hands: solid and with a smooth, semi-loose tape wheel. While not difficult, the recreation of an everyday experience that is universal to the tape-wielding world is fun, and may not be quite as straightforward as you think. The real pleasure, however, comes when you find the compartment, which contains a delightful (and atypically useful) surprise. This was one of the rare boxes that led me to feel the need to share it with my wife, who reflected its uniqueness with an “oh, neat” (a big step up from the “that’s nice, babe” most boxes receive).


Coffee Cup by Akio Kamei

16 x 16 x 8.5 cm; Teak, Rosewood & Maple; P-12; 1985 (originally)

Coffee Cup is a Karakuri classic: the ubiquitousness of the actual coffee cup makes for an instantly recognizable work and its original release early in the Karakuri Club’s life helps to lend it the classic status it rightfully deserves. The two-toned, striped design is elegant and the darker wood inside the cup emulates a still cup of black coffee. It is rather oversized as compared to the typical cup of coffee, and comes with a separate spoon and sugar cubes, sized to sit alongside the cup on the lip of its saucer. Picking it up by the handle of the cup, you find that the saucer comes right along with it. The real pleasure of this puzzle comes from realizing that it is not just what you do to solve it but how you do it that really lends satisfaction to its solution (happy to explain what I mean if you ask); the end result is a puzzle that is not only fun to re-solve just for the fun of it, but is one of my go-to puzzles to share with an unsuspecting houseguest.


Safe by Akio Kamei

11.2 x 8.2 x 6.2 cm; Cherry; P-56; 2020

While not as common to an office as the rest of the puzzles here, I felt it was close enough to a practical piece of professional productivity as to justify its inclusion (somewhat to the back of the rest in recognition of this questionable pedigree). Safe is Kamei’s 2020 Holiday box and was one of the trickiest of the year (read my review of all of the 2020 holiday boxes for a bit more detail). It features the hash marks of a safe dial, as well two small triangular markers on the dial’s outside. The dial spins freely, making the impulse to attempt some form of safe-cracking pretty much a non-starter. Despite having been correct about a significant aspect of the solution, I nonetheless struggled for a while to successfully open it; having done so, it took even longer for me to work out how it worked, such that I could repeat it reliably.

I go into a bit more detail in the original post

Stapler by Akio Kamei

14 x 5.3 x 7 cm; Karin & Oak; P-43; 2008

The smooth, rounded edges of this puzzle’s dark wood make this as satisfying to be held as it is pretty to behold (…….sorry). Looking closely, you can see two wooden pins emerging like teeth from the stapler’s mouth (or whatever you call the place the staples come out of). It also comes with a flat piece of wood that proudly displays its name in both English and Japanese. You can click the stapler as one can any stapler, complete with a fidget-worthy click as your (sole) reward. The solution brings forth a surprise that is in some ways similar to that of Kakuda’s Tape (above), and is equally rewarding and amusing.


The Folder by Hideaki Kawashima

12 x 8.5 x 5 cm (folder), 8.7 x 5.6 x 3 cm (cursor); Japanese Torreya, Walnut & Maple; CO-4-2; 2012; Idea by Seiji Masuike

Created for the 4th Karakuri Idea Contest, this puzzle consists of two separate pieces modeled after everyday symbols found on computer screens the world over: the file folder and the mouse cursor. The use of opposing colors is striking and helps the cursor appear somewhat two-dimensional, as if the underside should fade into the shadows and be overlooked. The cursor’s build causes you to automatically want to hold and move it like a mouse; the underside has a protrusion that not only allows the piece to slide smoothly but to press down with a springy softness, furthering capturing the feel of a computer mouse. The puzzle is consistently thematic: the way it opens is unique and the space inside brought forth a good giggle when first discovered – this is another Karakuri I enjoy re-solving for the heck of it.


Yosegi Bookmarks by Yoshiyuki Ninomiya

12.5 x 4.5cm & 10.5 x 2.5cm

While not puzzles, these were crafted by the former Karakuri craftsman, Ninomiya, whose works are as hard to come by as they are pricey when found. The bookmarks are actually thin slices of yosegi, being the traditional form of Japanese marquetry for which he is well-known. At the age of 92 at the time of this writing, he has retired from work for the most part; I was happily surprised when I learned that he was releasing some new bookmarks, which I promptly purchased to complement the older one I had obtained some time before.

It is hard to fully explain how lovely these are: while they appear to be pretty simple in most pics, they feel and look amazing in real life. His work, as always, is exquisite, using patterns that are unique and complex; the tactile sensation when held is hard to describe: they feel delicate but sturdy, the differing woods a perfect blend of smooth and textured. The backs all feature his hanko, in case you couldn’t tell from holding them that they are the work of a master.


Memo Pad by Hiroyuki Oka

10 x 8.7 x 5.3 cm; Walnut, Mizuki/Dogwood & Purpleheart; H-10; 2008

Oka is also former member of the Karakuri Club, now focusing on crafting traditional himitsu-baku, the historic predecessor of the Karakuri trick boxes. His work is excellent, and if you are in the market for such puzzle boxes, he sells them via his Etsy store as well as directly through his website.

When the opportunity to get Memo Pad arose, I was quick to jump on it; not only is it a wonderful office-themed Karakuri box (which, if you haven’t noticed, I like), but it is the only one of his Karakuri creations that I have managed to obtain thus far. Memo Pad looks like, well, a pad of papers for taking down memos but much much prettier. There is a (fake) wooden pen with a (non-removable) pen cap, that can rest, standing up, in a small hole made for that purpose. The “paper” is made with the lighter of the woods, the grains resembling pages, similar to Bill Sheckels’ Book Boxes. The solution has a neat trick to it, that probably took me longer to find then it should have, and is fun to repeat.


Art Deco Clock and three Book Boxes by Bill Scheckels

If you watched the Beats & Pieces interview, you will have seen that my Art Deco Puzzle Clock contains a tilt sensor to open the “secret” door to my puzzle room (also shamefully known as my home office). While you may think it will now be easy to break in, please know that I did not disclose the secrets of the many many booby traps built into the threshold, enough to make One-Eyed Willy and Doctor Jones nervous; nor will it help you survive the vicious attack dogs in the room leading to it (they may look small, but they’re as fierce as sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads or a giant octopus destined to be cut in post-production).

Anyway, I wrote about these four beautiful puzzles in a previous post, so I’ll just include some pics below:

I wrote about these four puzzles in a previous post and even my inefficient rambling knows some limits

And that, dear puzzling friends, is the extent of my present pool of procrastinatory, pretend-professional puzzle pieces for your perusal.


Real-Life Work Grade: One Bishop

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

Pretend-Work Puzzle Grade: Five Sinatras


It’s a Karakuri Miracle! Holiday Boxes 2020

Karakuri Holiday Boxes 2020

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).

Back Row (Left to Right): Kawashima, Kamei, Kikuchi, Iwahara, Kasho; Front Row: Sugimoto, Kakuda

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.

Akio Kamei

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.


Hideaki Kawashima

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.


Hiroshi Iwahara

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.


Osamu Kasho

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.

Kasho’s 2020 and 2019 Holiday Boxes

Shou Sugimoto

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.


Yasuaki Kikuchi

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.

This could well be upside-down and/or sideways but is pretty cool from any angle.

Yoh Kakuda

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.


Overall Grade for Holiday Puzzles: Five Sinatras


Now that 2020 is done, we can start gearing up for next year (Fumio, I won’t forget you this time):

Happy New Year my tens of imaginary friends and readers! Thank you for reading and believing my opinion is worth a damn!

2020 was a weird year but oddly enough, it was an excellent year for puzzles – so many new releases from great designers, and great puzzles from new ones. I finally got rid of all those paper things that were cluttering up my puzzle shelves and installed a secret door leading to my puzzle room (well, home office, but you know where my priorities lie).

May 2021 be better generally, that puzzle parties might once more resume (and other social stuff as well…. I guess…. I mostly just care about the puzzle parties).

2020 Grade: A Bishop and a Lawrence (ugh)