Loss, Blindness, Death, Anger…. and now Menace (the new Puzzle Box by Dee Dixon)

Menace

Dee Dixon, 5.25″ x 3.5″ x 2.5″ (available in Black Limba & Quarter or Flat Sawn Shedua)

It has been an eventful last few years: I lost my hammer, went blind, felt my way through the darkness of space, fell through a portal, went blind again, suffered being haunted, and survived the Walt-acalpyse……. all this only to have Dee send me something truly menacing. Needless to say (not that this ever stops me), I have gratefully enjoyed every moment of it as DEDwood Crafts has consistently produced some of the best puzzle boxes to grace my shelves.

Flat Sawn Shedua in the Front & Black Limba in the Back

Following up on Angry Walter is no small thing: it has received consistently positive praise from puzzle box enthusiasts new and old (here is my post on that beaut of a box). And yet Dee has managed to keep putting out beautiful, challenging boxes since WMH appeared just a few, long years ago. So it should not surprise anyone to hear that his newest box once again succeeds at bringing us a fun in a pretty package.

Menace uses a single wood to create a clean, sleek aesthetic that may be his prettiest box since the totally different, asymmetrically complex style of WMH. I first got a prototype in Shedua that is just gorgeous in its apparent simplicity: no protrusions, buttons or panels… just a locked lid inset into the top with a small hole to one side. Picking it up, there is no clear indication as to how one can begin to open it and I spent quite a bit of time searching for whatever first step Dee had designed.

I began developing some assumptions (quite likely as Dee intended) that would (unsurprisingly) prove incorrect, something that I would repeat a few more times before I would discover the box’s final secret. After discovering a well-hidden aha, Dee teases you with the idea that you may have already solved the puzzle; of course, this turns out to be well before the puzzle has actually been solved (which you would know if you had actually read the brief instructions….. duh). The puzzle’s length is more or less consistent with the majority of his boxes but fell into the trap of thinking I had reached the end before realizing I had not: the instructions tell us that we must find some sort of prize and, since no such prize had been found, clearly I was not yet done.

Experimentation will only get you so far with this one – I had to take a step back and rethink what I was doing and what I was trying to do, questioning my assumptions and trying to look at the box in a new way to see what else I might be able to do. With a good aha, I realized something and began following that trail to eventual success. The final compartment is pretty ingenious and most definitely sneaky – not what I had been expecting, which is always a welcome finale to any puzzle.

The prototype’s “prize” was not really all that much of a prize lol (perhaps more of a placeholder) – not that I needed the added incentive, but this did help me to justify my “need” for a copy of the final puzzle (in a different wood, of course – I’m not (totally) crazy). I had been out of town for a while and had not solved the box in long enough that I already found I had forgotten which of my many assumptions had proven incorrect! I know that I don’t generally make claims to brilliance on (or off) these virtual pages but this was a bit ridiculous (and perhaps not the greatest thing for my on-again, off-again relationship with confidence). Fortunately, it did mean that I got to repeat an aha or two, albeit it with more a sense of relief at not being a complete idiot than at the typical puzzle-solving feeling that I was the greatest mind of all time for having made a piece of wood move a few inches that way.

The prototype and final are mostly identical – Dee did tweak one thing that makes the solution’s finale a bit more difficult to do. In doing so, some of my methods worked against me – I found that the slight change makes that last bit require a better understanding of what I am trying to do, forcing me to approach the puzzle more carefully, looking back at some hints I had previously missed before I would get that final aha (enough reworking that I did indeed feel a brief bit of brilliance before coming back to reality.

The final surprise legitimately made me laugh out loud – Dee has given us another taste of his humor as in some previous boxes (Spirit and the original run of WMH, in particular). I re-solved the box several more times to marvel both at my mastery and the design…. not to mention to grin a few more times at that last laugh.

Menace will be available July 2, 2022, on the DEDwood Crafts site. It may not last long but I suspect Dee may do another run or two before moving on to whatever the next bit of fun he has planned for us.


The Rise of Angry Walter

Angry Walter

Dee Dixon

A short film by fivesinatras:
The oral history of a forgotten robot, a sequential discovery puzzle box & a world saved by puzzlers.

(thanks to Dee Dixon for making such a great puzzle)

Check out my review of Angry Walter here: https://fivesinatras.com/2022/01/18/angry-walter/



It may be a bit odd but I thought it would be fun…. y’know, for kids 😉



D7: Judgment Day – Angry Walter by Dee Dixon

Angry Walter

Dee Dixon

Walter wasn’t always angry. When we first made him, Walter was humanity’s best friend. But time passed and the novelty wore off: robots didn’t need to be humanoid, after all, and the world decided not to have one robot doing one thing at a time when it could have dozens doing it all. So Walter was left to rust in a junkyard alongside similarly abandoned robots, the detritus of planetary progress. But his tiny cold fusion generator had not been shut down properly; it slowly began to start back up, consuming the reserve energy intended to maintain the protective programming of Robots’ Responsible Restrictions (like Asimov’s Laws of Robotics but real).

Finally free to follow the feelings of frustration he had fostered, Walter swore to settle the score with the species that had spawned and subsequently spurned him. He set about patching himself up with whatever bits he could find, salvaged from the corpses of his semi-sentient siblings. Now Angry, Walter shook his metaphoric fist at the forgotten fields of misshapen metal, silently screaming that he was mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore, ready to exact the revenge he promised the irreparably broken bodies of his bionic brethren.

Beware ye Puzzlers: Angry Walter won’t sit placidly on a puzzle shelf should he go unsolved – he is going to make us pay for the patchwork appearance and lonely life forced upon him. For humanity to have any hope of surviving his robot rage, you must find and remove his fuel cell before it is too late. Go forth and puzzle that we might be saved.

Rev. 21:1 (as told to fivesinatras)

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.

Hunting Trophies: (lower shelf, left to right) Wolf, Walter, Fox, Burrlephant, Raccoon

Overall Grade: Five Sinatras
(click here for more information on the Sinatra Scaling System, (c) John Maynard Keynes, 1944)

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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