Eric Fuller & Frederic Boucher 3.4″ x 2.7″, Sapele & Black Palm box w/Ebony pieces
The awesomeness that is ResQ (based on the almost as awesome, wholly unique VisitorQ) must have helped bring two amazing puzzle-designers back for another team-up: Eric Fuller has once again taken a characteristically awesome packing puzzle by Frederic Boucher (Minima XIV, the latest in his Minima series) and turned it into a characteristically awesome SD puzzle from CubicDissection. Anytime two of my favorite makers co-design a puzzle, I am going to be mashing that Buy button upon release. And such enthusiasm is well-deserved: Jammed Gem is unique, challenging, pretty and fun.
Frederic is a prolific designer, putting out great (and truly hard) designs so fast they sometimes fly under the radar; some get brought back to a more mainstream audience via CD or Osho but many just find their way into the hands of too few puzzlers (case in point: how many of the first 13 Minima puzzles have you tried? Not enough.) Such is the puzzling life – too many puzzles, not enough money or time. Our friend at Nothing Yet Designs has helped fill the gap, putting out some of Frederic’s difficult 2D packing puzzles (which I can almost never solve) in affordable and slick acrylic and, more recently, wood. Eric is, well, if you are not familiar with CubicDissection then what are you doing reading this? Get over there and do some rabbit hole diving – you will be happy you did.
Enough background and fluffery (yeah yeah, we get it, Eric and Frederic are awesome, blah blah blah….. does this fivesinatras guy ever stop with the effusive praise? No, no I do not).
The Minima series are 3D packing puzzles that involve seriously tricky rotations, the box designed carefully to allow just enough movement in the right places, holes placed in various spots to allow fingers or pieces (or both) to get through. Jammed Gem takes this and flips it, making it a disassembly puzzle in which the puzzler must remove the pieces and find the gem (duh). This would be much easier than packing a Minima frame (for me, anyway) but Eric swoops in and integrates his sneakiness throughout, the two genres interweaving wonderfully. And of course this is all with the precise and perfect production we get from CubicDissection. This allows for some subtle design elements that could easily go unnoticed but are essential to the smooth functioning of the puzzle in classic Fuller fashion.
And what of these sequential discovery steps that have been integrated into the design? Well, Eric does what Eric does best: create and exploit assumptions for the best kind of challenging fun. I spent quite a long time over a couple weeks trying everything I could to get started (or so I thought) and making little to no progress. I had to take a step back (with some help from a fellow Discordian) before…. aha! Aaaaaand I was stuck again, although for not as long, before…. aha! again. Completely hooked, I worked my way slowly through the rest of the solution. Frederic’s movements are just as fun as a disassembly and Eric complicates things in a good balance, making for a great puzzling experience that demands both critical and spatial reasoning.
The reset was tricky – if you are anything like me, you can quickly forget what you were just doing or have done……………. (uh, what was I saying?…); this may give you an added challenge with the puzzle, if you need to re-discover the movements in reverse. Fortunately, everything follows some kind of logic, and (with perhaps a bit of help) I was able to get everything back to where they needed to be (unlike ResQ, which is still sitting here sadly disassembled…. I suspect I may need to seek out some assistance to put it back together (I got the ebony version which is beautiful but that much harder to reset)). In resetting Gem, I did manage to make one fatal mistake (“communism is just a red herring”) that caused a teeny bit of a dent to one piece but I managed to survive the ensuing dismay nonetheless.
I am hoping that this is not the last collaboration between these two that we will see – I happen to know that Frederic has co-designed another SD 3D packing puzzle with a puzzler who is decidedly less of an established designer (and is also a complete dork…. ahem); they are currently looking for someone to help prototype/produce (anyone? Bueller?). Hopefully we will see some progress on this soon (in the meantime there is an SD 2D packing puzzle co-designed by these same two that is aaaaalmost ready for public consumption via Nothing Yet Designs 🙂
Regardless of these nascent designs, there is plenty of puzzling to be done – more copies of Jammed Gem will be available from CD in their October 2022 release so get that page refreshed 😉
Designed by Michael Toulouzas Trinity Made by Pelikan; Bubinga; 3.9″ x 3.9″ x 5.5 “ Doors & Drawers Made by (Old) Pelikan/Toulouzas; Walnut, Light & Dark Oak, Katalox & Bubinga; 4.2″ x 3.7″ Hellas Cube made by (Old) Pelikan; Jatoba & Maple; 5″
Michael Toulouzas may best be known for his sd/take-apart puzzles, such as Toolbox, Vault and Fairy Door (which led in part to Ken Snache’s Puzzleduck Pastures and Tracy Clemons’ Dark Fairy Door), but his interlocking designs are perhaps just as impressive. I thought I would write about three such designs I have had the good fortune to collect and solve this year.
Trinity is as beautiful as it is unique: the goal is to wrap three identical pieces around three ornate posts attached to a base. The pieces feature extreme and somewhat odd angles and turns. The frame is crafted from a matching bubinga, a lovely and bright wood choice that highlights this puzzle’s double duty, exemplifying puzzles as art better than most. Between the curves of the lathed columns and the precisely sharp corners of the pieces, the crafting must have been difficult; it is no wonder that Pelikan only made 60 of these beauties but I do truly wonder how they somehow remain available on Puzzlemaster at the time of this writing (if you’re buying, be sure to use the discord affiliate link to PM).
I suppose I shouldn’t really be too surprised they are still available – I personally passed on it repeatedly over the last few years. But it is just so darn pretty, causing me to return to it time and again, contemplating its purchase… after a few more rave reviews from trusted puzzlers (thanks Puzzling Time) I nabbed one on PM before it was too late.
It arrived a bit smaller than I had originally expected (I checked the dimensions when ordering but had always had it in my head as being a bit bigger) but this turns out to be a smart choice. I knew the goal was to wrap the three pieces around and through the frame posts, but was not certain of what this might look like; I knew the configuration would be symmetrical, as I had seen the pics previously but declined to check it after receiving the puzzle. It wasn’t all that hard to find the correct build outside the frame; it follows a somewhat straightforward logic with perhaps not too many incorrect builds realistically possible.
The real puzzle comes when trying to take this configuration and build it around the precisely tight confines of the frame. This took me a while, requiring some puzzling skills that are not my strongest (assuming I actually have some strong ones). Eventually, I found that oh-so-perfect aha move, the pieces suddenly falling into place after fumbling frustratingly around. this puzzle is very much doable, not like some puzzles that make you wish for some extra hands; the size is pretty much perfect and it just takes some patience and logic to discover the winning movements.
And there it is: a cool and fun design so beautifully crafted that it easily earned its place Downstairs, its beauty there to be beheld by non-puzzling people and puzzlers alike.
Doors & Drawers
Doors & Drawers is another Toulouzas design crafted by Pelikan (the knobs and feet were crafted by the designer and highlight his excellent woodworking skills complementing those of Pelikan) and originally sold by Bernhard Schweitzer. D&D is completely different from Trinity but just as unique (perhaps a bit less beautiful, but that’s a big bar to beat). It begins as a take-apart puzzle, featuring three interlocking drawers confoundingly blocked further by some simple packing pieces hidden away in inconveniently devious places.
The puzzle looks like a cube sitting atop a base, raised on four angular feet, doorknobs fitted to drawers on most sides. It features subtly contrasting woods, with a walnut frame offset by light and dark oak pieces, the katalox and bubinga knobs creating a wonderful aesthetic somewhat reminiscent of an Escher drawing.
My copy was a bit tight at first and required a bit of boveda love (once I confirmed that it was, for once, not just my dumbassery) before I could begin solving it. The packing pieces complicate the disassembly of the interlocking pieces, requiring some precise orientations found after numerous false starts. Despite relatively few pieces overall, the design is more than complicated enough to allow for an assembly challenge when left mixed for a matter of weeks; it was really here where I began to fully appreciate the design as I had to reverse engineer the purpose of the off-center knobs – these turned out to be much more than ornamental, their asymmetric locations constricting assembly options and requiring some of that thinking stuff to figure out.
D&D is a fun challenge, blending interlocking assembly with a packing challenge wrapped up in an adorably surreal aesthetic that matches the excellent craftsmanship of multiple master woodworkers.
Hellas Cube seems to be a somewhat lesser known design, allowing me to pick it up on PuzzleParadise at an only slightly silly price. At 5″, it is a rather fat 3 x 3 cube, with large, 3 x 3 x 9 voxel pieces. The top and bottom feature a striped design mixed out of contrasting Jatoba and Maple woods, strongly reminiscent of the Greek flag (Hellas is the ancient name for Greece), causing the puzzle to sometimes be referred to as FlagBurr.
Michael has said that he “didn’t have the courage due to the long time and labor to make it.” Well Elijah said after making it that the many meters of sticks used would likely prevent them from making them again. Fortunately, they still took the opportunity to produce the puzzle at the direction of Bernhardt Schweitzer, which may not be as aesthetically pleasing a design as those discussed above but still displays wonderfully; to be fair, that is a very high bar to set and Hellas nonetheless makes for a strong puzzle presence, like a monument looking down on its more petite puzzling siblings.
I began pulling and pushing on the pieces until finding something that did something; the design features one or more hooks on each of the nine pieces, requiring a minimum of two moves to remove each, oftentimes more. The design is further complicated by what I can only describe as a lock that further frustrates disassembly; although this is not an overly hard challenge, it is fun, the process of discerning hook vs. lock making for an interesting puzzling experience.
Reassembly is another significant but doable challenge. The design on the top and bottom of the puzzle becomes essential, making a daunting task surmountable as we can at least put aside three of the pieces to determine which of the other pieces are on the top or bottom of the final assembly. The “lock” is no problem during assembly but its location still takes some thought (particularly if your memory is as terrible as mine); the hooks make for the real assembly challenge, with pieces similar enough to be confusing while allowing for a single, unique solution.
Michael Toulouzas has quickly become one of my favorite designers despite sadly being a challenge to collect due to his rather limited runs and releases – patience is not only a virtue when collecting puzzles, but a necessity should you hope to maintain your sanity amidst the FOMO, bonkers auctions, and ever-increasing rate of puzzle production. Most importantly, I should somewhat soon be the proud and ecstatic owner of his upcoming Xenia table: a puzzle box shaped like an ordinary (albeit shrunken) office fixture is right up my alley so I expect you may be seeing more about it on these pages (should you come looking).
Tye Stahly and Haym Hirsh, Nothing Yet Designs, 20 x 16 x 12mm (inc. jail), Acrylic,
We knew it was coming. We knew it would be big and heavy and made of acrylic. We knew it would involve dabbits (invading). We knew it would be a big, complicated take-apart sd puzzle box-like thing that would involve a packing design by Haym Hirsch – the end result is even bigger and complicateder than I’d anticipated.
Dabbit Invasion is the newest puzzle by Tye Stahly of Nothing Yet Designs (with Haym Hirsh providing the design for the final packing puzzle). Tye came on the puzzling scene with a strong start, his Pair O’ Dice receiving properly positive praise for its entertaining sd trickery. He kept busy over the ensuing months, bringing us some great designs that were otherwise far too difficult to get: unique packing puzzles from Haym and Frederic Boucher, among others.
If you don’t know what a dabbit is, you will when you see one. Neither duck nor rabbit and yet both at the same time, the optical illusion dates back to the 19th century; I learned this from the puzzle’s backstory, which also warns us that the dabbits have already invaded, sneakily spreading out while we foolishly did nothing. We are tasked with finding and jailing all ten dabbits and their two eggs before resetting the puzzle.
I was lucky enough to have the chance to buy an early copy and was kindly offered the chance to choose my titular colors (future copies will use set colors) and I chose red and yellow to match my copy of POD (which was designed to best match the dice from Catan, because I’m cool like that). The puzzle’s name is prominently displayed in a font and style reminiscent of Mars Attacks and 50’s B-film fare (just so you don’t confuse it with another giant acrylic puzzle box with a removable cage trapped in a frame by a combination lock).
It came packaged extremely well and is heavy, feeling dense and solid. The jail is in a locked frame attached to the top with magnets and there is a piece of laser cut wood with the story and instructions engraved onto both sides, setting the stage and giving us our favorite rules (no banging, spinning or excessive force, etc). Tye graciously gives us a bit of a head start with a single dabbit already jailed; otherwise, there is no clear indication of how or where to begin. There are a couple things that seem like they will probably do something at some point, but a cursory examination of the puzzle did not give me any immediate ideas of how to proceed.
I began coming up with theories (which were mostly wrong) and proceeded to go down a pretty deep and mostly fruitless rabbit hole (dabbit hole?). I sought a nudge from Tye (obviously this was only because I wanted to be able to provide feedback as an early tester…. obviously… ahem), and this gave me an idea, which gave me an aha, which had me laughing and kicking myself as it hit me: things fell into place, and I was able to make some progress, doing and finding things for a bit until I hit another wall, and then another, and another, and so on.
Tye has clearly put a lot of thought into carefully walking the line between keeping things hidden but not buried, challenging but not impossible. Dabbit has a great rhythm: there are plenty of stops and starts, allowing you to make good progress and multiple discoveries as you work your way through a number of varied and interconnected puzzle genres and mechanisms. Very little of it came easily, and all of it felt totally fair. It is the kind of puzzle that surely has something for everyone, and keeps things flowing between sections; the disparate puzzles are linked, meshing well and smoothly, and in such a way as to keep the puzzler hooked, even when stuck.
By spreading the dabbits and eggs throughout the puzzle, it keeps you engaged in the story throughout the solve, reminding you that your progress is building towards something and keeping you in the story by sprinkling the thematic rewards for your successes along the way in preparation for the final puzzle.
The multiple puzzle types had me smiling and scowling, concentrating and contemplating, discovering some great aha’s, needing to think and plan or unearthing tricks through exploration and experimentation as my pile of dabbits grew. I got stuck several times, needing to step back and rethink some assumptions, or to try various random things in the hopes of figuring out what was next. This is most definitely a puzzle that delights in the joy of discovery, which may not always follow a clear path.
Eventually, I knew I had completely solved the box as I had collected all ten dabbits and the two rectangular eggs – the last of these was particularly tricky for me and led to a strong, final aha: a fun finale to an excellent puzzle box. My glorious revelry was soon cut short when I remembered that I was by no means done solving the puzzle. As I moved on to the culminating packing puzzle, I quickly realized that packing them into the jail was, in the words of Hannibal as he and his elephant stared at the mountains before them: “freakin’ hard.”
If you’ve done some of Haym’s many designs, you’re aware that he knows how to design a fun packing challenge: Dabbit’s packing puzzle is a particularly difficult design. Before even attempting to pack them into the jail, I spent a few mostly fruitless hours trying (and failing) to find the correct build outside the cage, getting soooo close to finding the right configuration (but always a voxel or two off). I probably would have ended up stuck at this stage for an embarrassingly long period of time but I really did want to give Tye some feedback (and, perhaps more importantly, I wanted to jail those darn dabbits before it was too late). So Tye provided a partial burrtools image to assist (don’t judge: people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones… or anything really… then again, people who live near people in glass houses should really try and respect their privacy instead of judging them for what they do at home).
Eventually, I found a workable build and set about trying to solve the puzzle; I found that I benefited more from some logical thinking rather than just random packing and pokery (always a sign of a good packing puzzle). After some examination, I figured out the basics of how to approach it, did some of that thinking stuff, planned my approach, and eventually got there. Success! Glory! Happy Dance!
But the puzzling doesn’t stop there! We have been told that to truly solve this, one must reset it completely. Oftentimes, this “just” means going through the solve backwards – yes, this can sometimes be quite tricky (POD comes to mind), but you usually won’t find puzzling that is unique to the reset. I was therefore pleased to find that even after solving the puzzle, I had to figure some things out that I’d not realized would require such figuring-outness; there are a few mini-puzzles and steps that come only as you go about getting back to the puzzle’s original state, steps that are only tricky in reverse. Eventually everything was all nice and reset, the dabbits once more frozen in invasion formation, awaiting the Return of the Puzzler.
I ran back through the solution and reset (“ran” is an exaggeration, I “slowly progressed” is probably more accurate) while writing out some feedback for Tye, and marveled at how much fun he has packed in. He clearly spent a lot of time planning and tweaking this puzzle, which feels like nothing less than a labor of love from someone who excels at executing an excellent idea into existence, whether his own or someone else’s.
I’m not sure how many of these will be made, so be sure to keep an eye out; Tye will likely release a few batches of them and is unlikely to return to such a complicated, time-intensive design.
I definitely recommend fighting off the Invasion, but if you somehow don’t like sequential discovery puzzling involving a variety of distinct puzzle types brought together into an interconnected, cohesive puzzle box with a unique reset, there is the possibility that he may one day release the packing puzzle as a standalone (likely with the fun theme removed). It may not be as rewarding as when you earned the right to pack by working to get there, but you’ll still find solid ahas and a cool packing puzzle. And at least you’ll have cheated your way there even more than I did 😉
Ship in a Bottle, Hoffman Packing & Inelegant Series
Designers: Bill Cutler (Bermuda) Dean Hoffman (Hoffman) Haym Hirsh (Inelegant Series) Pit Khiam Goh (4L Bin & Ship in a Bottle) Tom Lensch (Punch Cards & Nested Cubes)
All copies produced by Tom Lensch
Life got in the way of my puzzling these last few weeks, causing a few weeks to go by without any puzzle posts (aside from my recent post on Rob Yarger’s One Hand Puzzlebox); somehow, dear reader, you survived this lull and I am happy to be back to doing what I love – rambling and ranting about puzzles. To make up for this soul-sucking abyss that went almost entirely unnoticed, I shall pack several puzzles into the present post (see what I did there?).
This post collects several puzzles from different designers; all copies in my possession were produced at various times over the last several years by the incomparable Tom Lensch: master craftsman, puzzler and all-around-good-guy. Some designs are his and some are by others: all are amazing puzzles that bring a nuanced and original perspective to packing puzzles, stretching the term beyond our assumptions of what this might mean.
Please note that these are all older productions from Tom and are not available from him. Tom produces puzzles in fairly limited quantities and does not generally keep stock on hand, instead selling directly to collectors.
At the first Gathering for Gardner in 1993, OG puzzle designer, author, analyst and collector, Bill Cutler, shared his design for a challenging, three layer packing puzzle with the excellent puzzle craftsman, Tom Lensch. Since then, Tom has released three limited runs of this extremely challenging puzzle, most recently (a year or two ago) in an absolutely beautiful Kentucky Coffee-Tree with a Walnut frame. He offered two grains, and I opted for the narrower, medium grain. The puzzle is a good size at 3 cm x 13 cm; big enough to be appreciated aesthetically as well as comfortable manipulated but not so big as to take up an unnecessary amount of space.
Originally, the 12 pieces of Bill’s design were composed of one large triangle glued in various configurations to two smaller ones (a total of 12 large and 24 small), the whole puzzle consisting of 3 layers fitted perfectly into a hexagonal tray. The design provided a fairly significant clue, as the top layer showed 6 large triangles.
Following the dark grains of the Coffee-Tree, Tom elected to eliminate the large triangles, instead making them out of 4 small triangles, with the puzzle now using a total of 72 small triangles glued into 12 pieces; each piece is composed of 6 small triangles, but they are all quite different from one another. This design allowed the pattern to be consistent across its three layers, making the puzzle more of a challenge – considering that this was not an easy puzzle to begin with, Tom’s most recent release is, simply put, damn difficult.
I have not managed to solve this puzzle despite spending a good amount of hours spread out over a year or so: as with many great packing designs, you feel confident that you are onto something when you are nearing the end, only to find that one or two final pieces insist on poking out above the frame’s top or simply will not fit. While the use of multiple layers in most pieces limits the possible configurations, the triangles can nonetheless seemingly fit in so many different ways that the correct solution continues to elude me. However, the excellent woods and unique design are enough to keep me coming back, hoping that I will eventually find myself worthy of a happy dance when that last piece slides perfectly in.
This design by Pit Khiam Goh may share a name with other puzzles (4L by Yasuhiro Hashimoto and 4L Basket by Koichi Miura) but the similarities end there: this is an amazingly fun puzzle that has you searching for that perfect dance of pieces that must be inserted into its box in a way I’ve not seen elsewhere.
The box resembles that of Eric Fuller’s Pin Block Case , the opening severely restricted to no more than the center of one quarter – the box does leave open a strip on the back and bottom of the puzzle to assist with manipulating the oddly shaped pieces. Tom’s release uses brass pins along the edges of the right and left side of the box for a unique aesthetic, lending some color to the light woods used. When solved, the open quarter of the puzzle will be filled, apparent-cube style (the apparent cubeness belied by the gaps seen when looking through the open strips), some contrasting woods exposed asymmetrically yet beautifully at its main opening.
The four pieces are of the same general size and shape, their dimensions equal to two lengths of the square, fitted at a right angle. The challenge is based on the narrow protrusions placed along the pieces. The edge pieces are easily discerned as they only feature protrusions along a single side, lending you a much needed starting point. At 9.5 cm, the box is sizable, allowing the pieces to fit well in your hands and be easily manipulated via the access points at the back.
When first confronted with the puzzle, I was pretty intimidated; it seemed like something that would require a lot of trial and error to make any progress. However, after a bit of playing around, I saw that there was a clear logic to how the pieces must fit – before too long, I’d found the most likely configuration of pieces to be inserted for the solve and turned to determining how to get them in there.
This is what really makes the puzzle fun – rather than getting bogged down by too many possible configurations, a bit of early analysis allows you to focus your efforts on the dance, forcing you to examine the possible entries and movements to determine the order of insertion, and the needed back and forth steps to allow each to get where they need to go. The final solution relies mostly on this logic, combined with the careful planning necessitated by the restrictive nature of the puzzle.
After finding the correct configuration, I eventually found the correct order of insertion; I then needed to find the proper dance moves to follow this order, finally spending a good amount of time trying to realize these moves, forcing me to not only have a good grasp of its choreography, but to discover the kind of great aha moment that is the mark of a really cool packing puzzle. This is not the kind of puzzle that you will solve without realizing you were about to do so – you need to know what needs to happen going in and really think about how to put this into action. The solution really is elegant – turning down some dead ends, I found my failed attempts to be a bit fiddly at times and was impressed by how graceful the actual solution felt.
The puzzle fell into that sweet spot of puzzling time (not you, MQ) – I was able to solve it in just a couple sittings, well beyond anything resembling easy but well short of reaching the point of frustration (let alone boredom). This is the kind of puzzle that begs to be solved, its unique challenge playful despite being difficult.
Punch Cards was Tom’s entry at IPP23 in Chicago. Consisting of a 3.25″ X 2.75 ” X 1.7″ frame, it comes with 5 acrylic squares with a number of circles cut out in unique and asymmetric patterns. Inside its walnut frame, you can see 6 dowels of differing lengths, obstructing the ability to fit the acrylic pieces inside.
The frame has a unique, fidget-friendly feature basic to the puzzle (which is to say it isn’t a spoiler). Solving the puzzle with a static frame would clearly be impossible – the pieces simply cannot be inserted with the dowels where they are. As such, one side of the frame can be lifted a quarter of an inch or so, lifting a couple dowels from one side of the puzzle, leaving you with only those on the frame’s other side to restrict entry. Of course, placement of the acrylic pieces must allow the frame to be closed in order to find the solution.
Examining the pieces allows you to dismiss some potential entries, leaving you to try various orientations and orders to determine where each piece might fit; some amount of trial and error allows for progress with a good amount of logic to bring you home.
Solving Punch is really quite fun – each little aha combining to produce that final sense of earned satisfaction that comes when the frame snaps perfectly closed, leaving the acrylic pieces jutting out of one side, displaying its unique design wonderfully and temptingly. I’ve found it to be fun to just fidget with it, the frame snapping shut satisfyingly; while re-solving is fairly straightforward (assuming you haven’t mixed the pieces up), there is something about sliding each piece in and dropping the frame closed, securing the pieces perfectly within, that I find gratifying (I’ve done it about 5 times just while writing this).
This is a design that I have been hunting for since reading about it in some of the great puzzle blogs out there (as opposed to the mediocre one here). Originally entered into the 2012 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition, the puzzle consists of five nested cubes (you can see where the name comes from), the outermost a respectable 7.5 cm.
All but the smallest cube (which is so perfect as to seem to consist of a single piece of wood) has a lid that fits with the absolute precision found in all of Tom’s work. They rest perfectly atop each cube with an airtight feel that is stable and secure while being easy enough to remove. The largest cube features a brass pin at its bottom, protruding straight ups bit less than half the length of the cube. Each of the other four cubes feature a small hole on multiple sides, placed slightly off-center in an inconsistent manner that is the main challenge of the puzzle.
The fit of the various cubes is absolutely perfect; as they slide slowly into one another, you can actually feel the air being displaced by the precise fit. Of course, it is not a simple matter to get each in completely: the brass pin prevents this until you find the correct orientation of each successive piece.
I worked my way in, starting with the largest of the cubes, soon falling into the familiar state of puzzling zen that accompanies some puzzles. The puzzle has a conceptually similar experience to Punch Cards while feeling totally unique in practice: the reliance upon a mixture of close examination and trial & error, with a nice dose of logic bringing it all together. Each success was progressively more satisfying until all four inner cubes sat perfectly one within the other, the combined piece sliding wonderfully into the outermost cube so precisely that any puzzler would find it impossible not to smile. Having accomplished this challenging feat, I placed that final lid atop the box, the seemingly simple wooden cube subtly belying the trickiness contained within.
Ship in a Bottle
Ship in a Bottle is another design by Pit Khiam Goh; I am constantly impressed by the diversity and uniqueness of his designs that rely on a broad range of mechanisms that oftentimes use a genuinely original approach to puzzle genres, resulting in a puzzle that is pretty much impossible to resist.
Ship consists of a bottle-shaped wooden frame with an acrylic front and back attached by rounded brass pins that helps give it a slightly nautical feel; its narrow sides are open, allowing for the easy manipulation of the pieces within. Inside, there are six maple blocks: two are one-voxel cubes and four are two-voxel rectangles. Engraved on the blocks is the image of what appears to be an Ancient Greek Trireme (or similar). The interior of the bottle is three by four voxels, with two left empty. Atop the bottle, there is a one-voxel opening at its center; the puzzle comes with a lid that protrudes into the bottle’s neck, its top extending outwards to plug the hole, one side featuring a magnet that holds it to the frame with a fidget-friendly click.
The puzzle has a unique goal: it arrives with the ship facing out towards the neck and you must remove the pieces and re-insert them so the ship has turned, facing in towards the bottle’s bottom. This makes for a fun puzzle that is perhaps equal parts slider and packing. Three of the rectangular pieces are oriented perpendicular to the neck, requiring you to find the room to pack them in properly, rotating each of the pieces after having inserted them sideways. But, in the words of the late, great Don Pardo: “That’s not all!” – remember, the goal is not just to get the pieces in, but to do so such that the image of the ship can be reversed.
This combination of puzzle genres makes for a truly fun experience; although I found it not too difficult to get all of the pieces in, the available order and placement of the inserted pieces severely limits their internal choreography, which must allow for sliding the pieces around one another so as to create the reversed image of the ship. Aha moments abound along the way: first you must find how you can get all the pieces in, then you must find how to do so to allow the solved state to be found. This progressed for me in phases, as I would find myself closer to each goal only to find myself backtracking as I realized I needed to tweak my method. For example, I eventually came across the correct dance, only to find that I had two pieces inserted in the wrong order, leaving the ship with an inverted side. I’d sort of missed how exactly I had gotten to this point, and found myself struggling to reverse the dance; this allowed for a better understanding of the puzzle’s solution, and I was then able to change the order of insertion to allow for the solved state to be reached.
The design is really quite amazing: resetting the puzzle to the original ship orientation is a fairly trivial and straightforward matter (largely due to the fact that you can put the square pieces in last, leaving plenty of room to get the rectangles in beforehand) – it is only when you try to reverse it that you run into the significant challenge of the design. After a couple of good puzzling sessions, I was able to find the solution; I left it solved for a while before resetting it to allow for a solid re-solve challenge when I inevitably forget how the hell I was able to solve the thing.
Hoffman Packing Puzzle
This is perhaps one of the most iconic packing puzzles out there, a classic design first described in 1978 by Dean Hoffman (not to be confused with the 19th Century puzzle godfather Professor Hoffman, author of Puzzles Old & New and other quintessential puzzle books). (Ed. This is perhaps the second best thing to come out of that year…… 😉
Hoffman’s Packing Puzzle is such a prototypical design as to deserve its own Wikipedia page; as such, I will not get into some of its interesting mathematical significance (because I am obviously totally capable of doing that…. cough cough). The puzzle consists of 27 identical pieces that will form a 3 x 3 cube that is internally imperfect (as its total volume is less than the internal space of the box) while having perfectly parallel sides.
Haym Hirsh has come out with a series of designs built off of this design, combining pieces so as to create puzzles with a single, unique solution as compared to the original’s 21 distinct solutions. Haym’s Inelegant Series begins with the puzzle formerly known as Hoffman Jr. (Inelegant 5 x 5), followed by Inelegant Soma, Inelegant Box, Inelegant Cube, Inelegant Snakes and Inelegant Fake, which have all been produced by Brian Menold of WoodWondersOnline (I have so far only managed to obtain copies of Soma and Snakes – he does re-release these from time to time so I may yet realize the impulses of my Hoffmania). These are really quite fun and challenging, riffing on the concepts behind the original Hoffman to create a series of aesthetically similar yet mostly practically unique experiences that feature added tweaks such as empty voxels or pieces fixed to the frame.
Tom produced an insanely cool run of Hoffman some years ago; not only did he use a different exotic wood for each for the 27 pieces, but he actually engraved the name of the species on each individual piece. Fitting perfectly into a two-tone wooden box (with a lovely, floating lid), the puzzle just looks fantastic. This makes for both a cool version of a classic puzzle as well as a fun way to check out samples of exotic woods – I’ve certainly pulled them out when trying to identify what type of wood a puzzle might be or to help choose which woods to get when presented with a choice.
Despite having multiple solutions, Hoffman is quite a challenge that is entertaining to solve, as you watch what at first appears to be nothing more than a rather chaotic jumble of blocks turn into a nice, smooth cube (eventually…… hopefully… maybe).
Welp. There ya go: my packing puzzle mega-review.
Stay tuned – one of these days just might be a Good Day to Pack Hard…
Robert Yarger, walnut & various exotic woods, 6″ x 3″ x 3″ (160 copies)
One of the best things to happen to a puzzler is to open an email from a great designer and unexpectedly learn that not only have they produced a new puzzle, but that you can get a copy! I knew Rob was working on a new puzzle (pretty sure this is pretty much always the case), but had not known the what or the when. And so it was with a hearty “yes please!” that the box was ordered. Within a week, it arrived at my door: work was cast aside, chores forgotten (which I guess isn’t really all that unique), dogs and cat ignored (I don’t think the cat noticed), mail cast aside, wife…… politely informed that I would like a few minutes, if that’s ok, and so the box was opened and the villagers rejoiced (yayyy).
But you likely care little for my inner life (rude) and instead want to know about the dang puzzle.
(note: all the information below is limited to what is included in the puzzle’s original description and instructions, including the shapes of the pieces which was shown in the accompanying photo; the rest is my personal puzzling experience and is very unlikely to spoil the experience for others)
One Hand Puzzlebox is is based on a concept by puzzler Asher Simon, and is Robert Yarger’s “tribute to the genera of packing puzzles.” Burrtools is unlikely to be of much use, however, as the pieces are oddly shaped, magnets strewn about, seemingly haphazardly but of course we know that is not the case.
The box is 6″ x 3″ x 3″ and is made of a walnut that feels and looks great (which is not surprising, considering its pedigree); my pics really do not do it justice. The lid will only slide in one direction (I might prefer it to slide NKOTB-style, but hey, I don’t judge); sliding it back, you find a compartment approximately half the length of the box before the lid stops, unable to move any further. Exotic woods of various shapes and sizes fill the cubed space (albeit with some gaps present, if i remember correctly – I have yet to find the original configuration ;-). In the center, a piece shaped sort of like a Mayan temple pops up, begging to be pulled. Rob refers to this as a “grenade pin,” which is a pretty accurate description considering what happens next.
As Rob wrote in his description, the pieces will “flip around like a transformer robot” upon being removed; the mini-explosion of pieces that have been straining for release is super satisfying and more than a little intimidating. These are not the typical voxels of a packing puzzle and the apparent randomness of the shapes indicates the difficulty of getting them back in.
The puzzle’s name stems from the recommended method of using one hand to place the pieces “back into the compartment, one at a time, and in a particular order.” The description goes on to say that “combined pieces [will] have to slide around with a satisfying ‘snap into place feel’ to fit the others in.” A minimum of 18 steps later (if you can do it in 18 steps your first time you shall be exalted and known throughout the puzzling world for your giant brain), you will have re-inserted the pieces, thereby unlocking the second compartment (neat!).
Rob rates the puzzle as “‘very difficult’ to solve correctly” and from the hours I have spent on it thus far, I’d say that is a conservative description, if anything. I will readily admit that I am not so great at packing puzzles: my spatial reasoning falls far short of my ability think critically (which is itself eclipsed by my ability to ramble far beyond what is necessary or likely even desired).
I have spent a good amount of time on this puzzle already, and have not lost interest – even really great puzzles that pose a challenge big enough to require multiple sessions generally tend to join the rest of my “in progress” (read: unsolved) puzzles well before this point. This only goes to show the extent to which the struggle to solve is legitimately fun. I can burn out on some packing puzzles after a while, feeling like I am going in circles and need to set it aside to later return with fresh eyes; but One Hand offers so many new and interesting and strange and unlikely combinations and configurations that I find myself stuck in a Civilization feedback loop (named after one of my first all-night gaming sessions from grade school, the lure of “just one more turn” causing hours to go by before we noticed the sun coming up). I have found partial assemblies that I think must be correct, only to be cast aside as I see no way that the rest can fit; attractions and repulsions of magnets alternately helping and hurting my progression, as I wonder whether they are there to help or to mislead (or, more likely, both).
Suffice it to say, when (if) I do eventually find the perfect positioning of pieces that puts me on track to unlocking the box’s second compartment, the happiest of happy dances will undoubtedly ensue as I try to follow Rob’s intended method, using one hand to place them in piece by piece, until I can slide that lid back all the way, allowing me to proudly share my achievement with my not particularly interested wife (“look! look! I moved this piece of wood a couple inches that way!!!”), and bask in the glory of my success. And the villagers shall once more rejoice (yayy).
…and then I will remember that I need to find the original combination to reset the box.
The puzzling value on this one is quite high and is already filled with smaller aha moments as I find my way closer to that final Aha! moment (hopefully, eventually…. maybe); I will also admit that I have spent more than a little time attempting to construct a robot – the pieces just demand to be experimented and played with, the time spent helping me to get to know the pieces and see how they might eventually combine in that one, perfect arrangement.
In case you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of puzzles out there. A lot. Within the various subgenres of mechanical puzzle-dom, therein lies nearly infinite possibilities – who would have thought that even “just” a 4×4 cube could contain so many possibilities as to continuously bring us more TICs and Somas and so on…
Some puzzles push out into their own territory, their movements and solution sitting somewhere amidst or between those that already exist. Yavuz Demirhan’s Squary Pack series is a great example of such a design: they are 2D/3D packing sliders that require you to navigate four dual-leveled pieces through a restricted one-piece-size opening at the center of the space to cover the bottom of the square box. The pieces are all flat-bottomed, with various voxels of different dimensions further complicating the solution, requiring you to slide your pieces around as you attempt to find a way to insert whichever piece needs to go in last; some of the series are further encumbered by blocks affixed to the box. You need to get all pieces in with the blocks facing up and you will find varying degrees of difficulty identifying where and when in the dance of pieces you can insert the final pieces.
The result can be quite tricky and is most definitely fun. I initially got #2 and 4 (knowing as I did that I would almost certainly end up wishing I had just gotten them all – my recent delivery of #1, 5, 7, and 8 shows I was most definitely right in thinking I had been wrong). My first impression was that they are quite attractive looking puzzles: his work is always wonderful looking and these are no exception. Dark wenge boxes with a reddish sappeli for those with blocks attached, which cover one of the two levels and protrude above the acrylic top for half that height. The pieces match the boxes with the same wenge contrasted by light ash blocks atop them. On the bottom of the box he has his logo/initials engraved above the name and # of the puzzle. Interestingly, they range considerably in the square’s dimensions (while all sharing a height of 3.5 cm): 1 & 2 are 7.5 cm, 3-5 are 9.5 cm, 6 is 11.5 cm, and 7 & 8 are 13.5 cm (ranging in price for a reasonable $30 – $50 depending on size). I’m happy to say that Yavuz is designing additional Packs, extending the series to (at least, I believe) 15.
Sitting down with the Packs, it took a minute to orient myself to what exactly I needed to do – initially, I solved my first two incorrectly by placing one of the pieces upside down (which was itself a non-trivial solve). I later learned that this was not correct and proceeded to attempt to (re)solve them correctly. It is necessary to find a way to get three of the pieces into the Pack such that there remains room for the 4th to be inserted and slid into the existing space – oftentimes requiring that the remaining pieces dance around before this becomes possible. This is complicated further in those Packs that contain internal pieces blocking the way. Each solution is unique and while these puzzles share a pleasantly consistent aesthetic, they are quite diverse. They range in difficulty: all the feedback I have heard from our fellow puzzlers has been most definitely positive, although some have felt that a couple of them were a bit easy. Regardless, I found them all to be challenging, with some being quite difficult (particularly #2 & 4). The coming versions are apparently a further step up in difficulty, and I look forward to getting them once available.
Yavuz has been making puzzles for a while and has a LOT more interlocking and packing puzzle designs out there (he has a few hundred on PWBP); while he produces his own works from time to time, it is not at all uncommon to find his works included in the puzzle releases of others (including one design set to come out in this week’s CubicDissection release). While I have a few of his designs that were made by other puzzle-makers, I also have the pleasure of owning a few more that he made himself – also 3D packing puzzles with restricted openings. His work is all wonderfully precise, using quality woods that look and feel great.
Quadro is a small-ish puzzle whose wooden box and acrylic top share an aesthetic with the Squary Packs (the puzzle’s name also etched into the bottom). It consists of 6 identical squares that must fill a rectangular box – while not interlocking, the solution will require a rather delicate dance to allow you the chance to drop that last block in with the satisfaction the comes with finally filling this up with those. This is one of those puzzles that is more complicated than it looks without being something insurmountable – I still managed to go in circles for quite a while, even asking other puzzlers if perhaps there was a “trick” that I was missing. Eventually I actually stopped and tried that thinking thing I’ve heard so much about, soon managing to find the right moves (leaving me wondering how I had managed to do everything but the one thing that would work).
Snake Pit eschews the acrylic top for an attractive mix of light and dark woods with an opening that runs the length of the puzzle and is 1/2 as wide, leaving one voxel on either side. There are 4 pairs of mirrored pieces that must find their way inside for a fun solution that was just the right level of difficulty for me.
Mushkila is my newest acquisition, having received it along with my second order of Squary Packs. It uses a beautiful mix of woods with lovely grain patterns that play nicely with the mix of red and dark and light brown. Interestingly, the opening is not a regular shape: it runs the length of the box (similar to Snake Pit) to allow the single rectangular piece to go in and also adds a square cut-out to allow the five angled pieces to go in at any orientation. This gives it a bit of a deco look, which meshes well with his choice of woods. I have yet to solve it, but having spent a little bit of time on it, it is clearly a non-trivial solution that should provide a fun solve while looking great on my shelf.
All of these packing puzzles share a simplicity and elegance, both in terms of their aesthetic as well as their movement – I highly recommend following Yavuz’s Etsy page as I know that any time Yavuz has something available, I will happily say “yes, please” to whatever it is, sight unseen
Frederic Boucher, 3D Packing Puzzle, 2.25″ x 2.25″ x 1.5″
A few months ago, I wrote to Frederic in the hopes that he might happen to have a few puzzles that were seemingly unavailable. Most were, but he did happen to have a last copy of Anti-Gravity Box, which I happily requested, along with a few other new puzzles that he had on hand.
March 2022 Update: CubicDissection will be releasing a new version of AGB (titled: “Anti-Gravity Box+”) in it’s upcoming March 21, 2022 release – not only will this feature the ever-awesome craftsmanship and woods CD is deservedly known for, but, according to Frederic: “This new version includes a 2nd set of pieces with a solution that includes a trick that I think has never been seen in any other design yet…” This presumably constitutes the + in CD’s AGB+. So get your clicky finger ready as I don’t expect that these will last long: (EF + FB)CD = Awesome Sauce!
I have solved several of Frederic’s puzzles in the past – 3D and 2D packing puzzles that offer a serious challenge, comparable to pieces by Osanori Yamamoto, Koichi Miura, and Volker Latussek, and featuring elements such as interlocking elements and restricted openings.
Anti-Gravity, however, adds new mechanics by introducing a number of magnets into the mix. This makes for a unique and novel puzzling experience; it is no longer “just” about finding a way to get the pieces into their frame, as the magnets throw one’s general approach out the window.
The box is a 3×2 voxel frame that features a removable, acrylic top, allowing you to easily reset the puzzle and view your progress. The box has two, single voxel openings at 90 degrees to one another; both are in the middle of the bottom level, allowing you to enter each axis, but offering no room for angles of any kind. You must fill it with 6 identical rectangular 3×1 blocks; 2 have two magnets on one side, 3 have magnets on one end, and one block has none.
There are rules, of course: you need to place it on a flat surface and you are not meant to pick it up or tilt it (of course, you may hold it while you insert other pieces); you cannot poke your finger into either of the openings to push the pieces; it goes without saying that you cannot just lift off the top and place them in. The removable top is a kind addition, as it avoids the need to struggle to remove pieces when you have eventually found you had made a mistake. The puzzle arrived with the pieces stacked neatly inside. It is kind of cool to have a puzzle so confident in its structure, that it can come fully solved without having spoiled anything.
While by no means simple, neither is it an overly difficult puzzle – in my experience, one of his other packing puzzles was more challenge than I could meet (I am admittedly not so great at packing or interlocking puzzles generally – my interest far exceeds my ability when it comes to these types of puzzles).
More importantly, this is a very fun puzzle, and one with which trial and error will not get you very far; knowing the pieces you can eventually figure your way through it.. After spending a few minutes playing with it, experimenting to get to know the pieces and what they can and can’t easily do, I had to stop and think. This led to the first big aha moment of a series of such moments, leading to the full solution. Each step is its own planned approach, each piece requires forethought once a workable order has been determined. Apparently, this has two approaches that lead to similar solutions; I have found one and will undoubtedly spend some more time to find the second.
TL;DR: Anti-Gravity Box by Frederic Boucher is an original approach to a 3D packing puzzle, with magnetic pieces needing to be stacked using entries that allow for little margin of error. While not Boucher’s hardest puzzle, each move must be planned and purposeful through thoughtful approach and not just trial and error. It features a convenient removable top to reset after you inevitably make a mistake, and is so confident in its own puzzling, that it can arrive solved without lessening its challenge.