Three Dee Boxes, Parts 2 and 3: Untitled Upcoming (and Never-Coming) Boxes

Untitled (Big Red) Box & Untitled (Two Knobs) Box

Dee Dixon, DEDWood Crafts

I recently posted about the box of Boxes I received from Dee and wrote about the first, Spirit Box, as it is currently available for purchase on Dee’s site. And now:

As (sort of) promised, I bestow upon thee

my puzzled ramblings on boxes two and three.

Untitled (Big Red) Box

Dee had told me that there would be a big box coming and provided ample warning that, no, said big box could not be kept. After failing to convince him that he actually meant the cardboard box the puzzles were shipped in, Dee told me that the big box was actually the first puzzle box he had ever made, and therefore held sentimental value. While pretending to respect his feelings, I began hatching a long-term plan of subtle manipulation to eventually be granted ownership of it….. (crap, is he reading this?…uh………) And on a totally unrelated subject, I think it is great that he wants to hold so tightly to the past; we all know never to stop clinging to the objects that tie us down to our old selves and let go, lest we keep growing as people (…subtle).

For reals, Dee granted permission for me to go ahead and spoil Clifford, the Big Red Box, since there is only the one copy – and, anyway, it is the type of box that knowing what it is doesn’t really tell you how to do it:

Basically, it is a large maze, covering all four sides and the bottom of the inside of the box, with a couple of external bits that do this or that. Most of the puzzling entails solving a pretty extensive blind maze in which your best guess goes on and on, while you’re doing it; this makes it last a little longer and lets you laugh a little longer…. longer with Big Red! 😉

Ahem… the maze is pretty extensive and had me going around and over, Hobbiting there and back again, before figuring out that I’d gotten to where I might be able to open it – and I gotta say that opening it really did double the pleasure and double the fun…… 😛

My actual point here (I’m pretty sure there is one somewhere) is that I think the inside is really cool as it displays the maze on all 5 sides under clear acrylic, so you can see everything you just did (unfortunately, it is rather difficult to get a good pic as the glare is intensified significantly in photos, but it looks great irl). And, it leaves close to a shoebox-sized space open for use (hopefully not for anything you will ever need quickly). The large size of the ball and channels helps immensely, creating significantly more auditory and tactile feedback than I suspect a smaller maze might provide.

I told Dee that I think it could make for a pretty fun series for the maze-lovers of the puzzling world: he could add traps, dead ends, maybe windows and some dynamic tricks, etc… basically turn it into something like a wooden revobox, which kinda sounds cool. Blind mazes aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but opening it was a fun challenge and the red-topped, black maze under the clear acrylic was just neat. This was made before Dee really knew as much about puzzling in general, and I think it was maybe a bit of a proof of concept to see if he’d enjoy doing it – luckily for us he did, as it was just several more months of ideas and prototypes from there to Blinded II and WMH.


Untitled (Two Knobs) Box (prototype)

Returning to his recent run of boxes with various protrusions on its sides, the final Box in Dee’s box of Boxes was a prototype of his next release (let’s call it TNB for “The New Box aka Two (k)Nob Box”).

This third entry in Dee’s Protrusion Series (not actually a series) is not really like either Space Case or Portal, although they are all largely blind puzzles with some amount of external controls: I enjoy puzzle series (of which these are not a part) that share an aesthetic while offering totally different mechanisms and experiences (such as Brass Monkeys 1-4 from Two Brass Monkeys, Kel Snache’s Tea Boxes, Karakuri Small Boxes, Bill Sheckel’s Book Boxes, the coin release puzzles by Rex Rossano Perez, as well as those by layerbylayerpuzzles, and so on).

TNB has contrasting woods similar to Spirit Box, with a maple body, sapele knobs, and a lovely monkeypod top (the final box may well use different woods). Sized at 6″ x 3″ x 4″, it fits nicely among the majority of Dee’s boxes. The pair of knobs on the narrow sidesh makes me wonder if Dee will next design a box with a single knob, giving the series (not a series) a nice balance (i.e. Portal = 4, Space = 3, TNB = 2, Non-existent Box = 1).

Unlike Space and Portal, the top of the box is flush with its body, giving it a somewhat unassuming appearance, especially as compared to its more flashy, star-struck sibling. At first, one knob will rotate freely, while the other will not move more than a few mm. I could hear something knocking about inside as I began experimenting with it. I was able to find the first couple of steps fairly quickly, but it would be some time before I found the next, well-hidden step. Progress continued as such: find something, wander about trying to put it into context, find myself going in circles, discover something else, me a couple solid aha’s along the way.

While you cannot see inside the box (except, of course, for you, Mr. Kent), there is ample feedback to get a feel for what’s inside. Once open, you can see the majority of the box’s mechanisms, but one part I found to be particularly tough was not so easily sussed out; such subtlety gave me a good post-solve aha as I poked and prodded a bit before I could fully grok what was happening.

The reset is straightforward and the mechanisms are quite fluid and reliable: once mastered, you can re-solve it reliably and I’d be surprised if there are any problems down the road. I found the solve to be really satisfying, so much so that I kept at it until I could solve it quickly enough to soothe my inner Fonzi (‘eyyyyyyyyy). While writing this, I’ve solved it at least another 10 times: I hadn’t solved it in a few weeks, so the first time took me a bit to remember everything, the next few let me lock it down, and the last few were just for fun.

As this is still an unfinished design, I had some feedback for Dee as I did feel like there are opportunities to add a bit more complexity to the design (to which Dee agreed, as he had been thinking the same thing). I had a couple vague ideas, so if there is anything you really like about the puzzle, clearly it will be due to the Yoda-like guidance I provide this particular puzzling pa-Dee-wan, rather than Dee’s extensive woodworking experience and increasingly honed puzzle-design skills (obv). I figure he still needs some time to get the box shined up and grab some bits of fancy wood and then this box is gonna move ya, (e.g. move you up, move you out, the box is gonna move ya just don’t pop it in your mooouuuuth…. I really should stop that).

Gum commercial allusions aside, I anticipate that the final version will make for a great puzzle, with any additional elements building upon what is already a tricky challenge and fun solve. I certainly plan on buying a copy of it when it becomes available, and look forward to whatever added trickery it will contain.

If you like what you read about Large Mauve and want a box just like this box (ok, that joke might be a stretch) I’d recommend harassing Dee about it, as I suspect he might explore the concept further if there was sufficient interest.

If you like what you read about TNB, just chillax and give it some time; Dee and his puzzlelves are hard at work on the more complex follow-up to the playful (but not too difficult) Spirit Box, which is still available now (like now now, as I write this, not the future now when you are reading this, at which time they may no longer be available, especially as there will be multiple future nows as this is read by multiple you’s….. for more thought-provoking ideas, please contact your local dispensary or go here).

And if you like what you’ve read at all, there may be something wrong with you: Get help.


Puzzles that Make You Think of Gum Grade: Five Sinatras

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

Deux ex Cista: Spirit Box by Dee Dixon

Spirit Box

Dee Dixon of DEDwood Crafts, 3″ x 4″ x 2″, European Beech and Granadillo

Not too long ago, Dee surprised me with a box of Boxes: I knew a puzzle was coming, perhaps even two, but when I saw a third box buried within the bubble wrap, my traditional happy dance of delivery soon became the rarely seen joyful leaping of surprised arrival (followed soon thereafter by the ritual mockery of adolescence, performed accurately by my son).

This cardboard box begat three smaller boxes: the smallest was the Spirit, the first batch of which has already been released on his site; the largest was an oversized untitled red box, which I believe is the first puzzle box he ever made, one that I must reluctantly return to Dee due to its sentimental value; and last was a prototype of an untitled box with two knobs, sized similarly to most of his boxes. Intending to give only a preliminary inspection, what was intended to be just a few minutes grew closer to an hour as I tilted and pressed and pulled at each in turn, finding some things but solving none until I had to go to reluctantly go and do some of that life stuff.

To avoid further delay, I will go ahead and end this post now and write about the other two of Dee’s boxes that I received later, lest this post continue to languish unfinished, as with the still-early preview version of my puzzle parody of Baby Got Back, my barely begun novel, my composition for the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and the actualization of my inner self.

Ok, enough with the pre-ramble…

Spirit Box

Spirit Box is a bit smaller than most of Dee’s boxes at 3″ x 4″ x 2″ and something about its size and appearance just makes you want to pick it up. As with all of Dee’s work, it is beautifully made, with a European beech body speckled with a natural grain that creates an impression of texture in stark contrast to its slippery smooth feel. The bottom features a short granadillo layer, the seam so perfectly hidden from sight and touch as to seem like the wood naturally becomes dark at the bottom, with a slight curve to the edges that softens the contrasting aesthetic. At its top is a floating granadillo panel that you quickly realize is delightfully springy. Aside from a bit of noise from within, you can find nothing else that would seem to provide a clue as to its solution.

I managed to make a bit of progress before too long, at which point I became stuck for quite some time. Honestly, if it wasn’t so darn fun to play with, I may have made additional progress more quickly (maybe). It got to the point where I thought perhaps I had solved it and, you know, there was maybe something wrong with the box (shocking, I know). Dee assured me this was not the case (he was correct) and with a nice Aha!, I proceeded to solve the puzzle, discovering a surprise that elicited the Bark of Laughter; as much as I love Dee’s boxes and the Aha moments they create, I’ve not been as amused by one of his boxes since finding the surprise that was hidden inside early copies of Where’s My Hammer? While different, the surprise similarly shows Dee’s strong sense of humor and adds to the playful feel of the puzzle.

I love a puzzle that rewards you with a look at its mechanisms, and this one gives you the Full Monty (as opposed to the pasties teasingly worn inside some of his other boxes). The mechanism is uniquely executed, although perhaps not necessarily completely new; there is also a small design element that I found to be subtly elegant and a good example of Dee’s attention to detail, as it contributes greatly to the fun tactile feel of the solve.

Spirit is not Dee’s simplest puzzle, but neither is it as complex as most of his other boxes (something that I think is fairly reflected by the lower price point). However, I did find it to be one of the most fun and one of the prettiest, and certainly the most fidget-friendly: I’ve spent a good amount of time running through the solution or just absent-mindedly playing with it, simply because it feels nice to do.

Dee is releasing Spirit Box in batches via his website; as is the case with his other boxes, he has not specified a number that will be made, but they will assuredly not be made forever (what with the sun dying and all). While early on there were small batches and one-offs of WMH and Blinded II being sold concurrently, this may be the first time two of his boxes are generally available at the same time, as I believe that CubicDissection will soon be selling additional copies of his most recent box, Portal.

(to be continued in Parts 2 and 3)

Extended Family Portrait
Clockwise from top: Untitled Large Box, Untitled Box w/Two Knobs, Space Case (unique woods), custom Space Case (Metallica logo), Space Case prototype (unique woods), Spirit Box, Where’s My Hammer? (early version), Blinded II (early version), Portal (late prototype), Slideways (one of the original 8)

Fun Grade: Five Sinatras

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

Gateway to Puzzledom: Dee’s Portal to SD Fun

Portal

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.


Grade: Four and a Half Sinatras



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