The puzzles sit silently, awaiting new friends
when a big box of boxes arrives once again.
A set of seven secrets from the masters of wood,
it's hard to wait but I know that I should:
Each year they arrive,
so my collection can thrive,
once they've been opened on this holiday.
It's worth every penny,
for the boxes they send me,
give plenty of rambling for this puzzler to say.
Following on the last two years of comprehensive Karakuri holiday box ramblings (see2020 & 2021), I will once more focus on the most important aspect of the holiday season: family? no! joyful gift-giving? no! Elvis?…… well, there’s always Elvis, watching over us all from high atop Santa’s sleigh: Ho, ho, thank ya very much. But no! Not even Elvis… ’tis the season for Karakuri Holiday Boxes!
But first, a brief word on the wonderful Discord Secret Santa gift I received! A custom (five) Sinatra puzzle that is not whatit seems!!! I am told that may be an even nicer version forthcoming but this was more than enough to have me laughing under the tree, much to the amusement of my teenage son. Using a fedora-shaped tray with restricted entry, there are five (yay!!!) Sinatras that must be placed within. Despite being rather terrible at tray-packing, I was able to solve this once I discovered something very cool (hells yeah Santa!); it helped that I was determined to solve the puzzle that sings out my namesake. Thank you thank you to my wonderfully generous and inventive Santa!
And now…. onto the show!
Akio Kamei – Sliding Panels
Kamei’s 2022 offering is a somewhat traditional-looking 3.25″ x 2″ box with two panels on the top and bottom. The aesthetic is one of the simpler of this year’s releases, with a trick that has grown on me since my first solve, which didn’t take me that long.
As always, the craftsmanship is superb (despite a somewhat nit-picky issue I have with it), with a smooth opening that highlights the box’s precise tolerances; it has that air displacement that signifies the craftsmanship we love about KCG. While I find the mechanism satisfying, Kamei’s box is outshone by some of the other boxes released, in my sometimes humble opinion. I do like the simple aesthetic, however, and appreciate the bit of misdirection it holds.
Hideaki Kawashima – Origin Regression Cube
Ok this one had me stumped for quite a while! We are instructed to “find the stamp” (the maker’s hanko) within a rather classic looking cube with double lines wrapping around its faces. I managed to get through the first section of the puzzle pretty much right away and made what I was sure was clear progress through the second before I smacked into a wall it would take me weeks to overcome. I tried all sorts of things and yet nothing bore fruit until…. aha! A quite devious trick had prevented me from finding the hanko, something somehow both obvious and well-hidden (as some of the best tricks are).
This is the most “classic” looking box of the year (perhaps a bit smaller at 2.5″) and stands out with one part in particular that seems somehow to never have been done before. Going back and solving it again, I gotta say this one has grown on me more and more – the mechanism really is devious and ever-so-sneaky, making for an enjoyable tricky solve.
Hiroshi Iwahara – Karakuri Joint 2
Iwahara’s box looks similar to his Karakuri Joint box released earlier this year; it appears to be a miniature version at 3.75″ x 2″ (plus 1″ for the protrusions). However, do not expect to be able rely on the steps taken to solve the larger puzzle as it will not get you much of anywhere: despite having solved the larger one, I struggled with this, my brain insisting that the other’s solution must play a role. Moving past that and trying some less fun things I eventually stumbled across that elusive aha! and opened the box. While not amongst my favorites of the year, it does look quite nice next to its bigger sibling.
Osamu Kasho – Angry Lion
Kasho has once again brought us an adorable 2.75″ x 1.75″ animal box, following on last year’s deceptively difficult Little Shark. Angry Lion is similarly difficult, with an initial step that is as obvious as the next is subtle. This one would also take me an embarrassingly long few weeks picking it up and fiddling before hitting on the aha! that had eluded me. Despite its relative simplicity, or perhaps because of it, Lion is very satisfying and will be a fun puzzle to share, not to mention pick up and solve here and there (it makes me smile)
Shou Sugimoto – Kusha Box
Sugimoto’s box is once again one of my favorites for the year, with a relatively simple mechanism that is elegant and just plain fun. Last year’s box was one of the best-looking and this year’s I found to be one of the most enjoyable, with an aha! that had me smiling.
I was able to solve it without too much trouble (although by no means right away) but then spent even more time re-solving it for kicks. This is likely to join the ranks of boxes that I like to pick up and fiddle with as its solve is just so darn satisfying! The aesthetic is simple but nice, cute at a rather diminutive 2.25″. It’s aesthetic allows it to sit well alongside puzzles like the Fluctuation and Reversible Boxes from last year.
Yasuaki Kikuchi – Sensitive Santa
Sticking with the Christmas theme of the last three years, Kikuchi brings us Santa’s (beardless) head, somehow smiling merrily despite his unfortunate decapitation. The largest of this year’s boxes at 5.25″ x 2.25″, there is something rolling around inside to work with (or be distracted by). I found this to be somewhat tricky, making early progress before getting stuck going in circles, eventually discovering that logic would provide me with the aha! I needed to open it. A fun if a bit simple solve that keeps up with Kikuchi’s holiday tradition of Christmas-themed boxes.
Yoh Kakuda – Cat & Cardboard Box
Yoh’s adorable box is another favorite, with a delightfully surprising solution that is sure to elicit a smile. This box has a solution that is sure to get re-solved numerous times. I had initially believed it was solved despite not reaching a somewhat obvious resolution in retrospect;. I do enjoy a puzzle that keeps giving after I’d thought it solved and I was happy to find there was a bit more to discover.
The box comes with some semi-shredded cardboard inside, hence the name, although such cardboard’s purpose is less clear (but hey, it’s thematic so whatevs). It is perhaps included for the cat atop of the box to play with and support the overall theme. Its size of 3″ x 2.5″ it smallish but not tiny, with a rather teeny yet cute widdle bitty kitty-cat. This was not the hardest or most original of this year’s puzzles but it is one of the most fun and is sure to be a must-have for cat-loving puzzlers. It was certainly the one to elicit the best response from my (cat-loving) NPSO, who found it adorably fun.
And that’s this year’s roundup of Karakuri Holiday boxes! If you didn’t get the ones you wanted, keep an eye out on Puzzle Paradise as we are sure to see them popping up in the coming months.
Kagen Sound, 2022; 55 copies; Ziricote, Pacific Maple Burl, Curly English Sycamore, Hard Maple; 6.2″ x 5.4″ x 2.8″
At the close of 2022, Kagen Sound announced the release of Hex Flex, a new box that sounded entirely too intense to pass on (not like it is ever easy with the beautiful boxes he creates): the description states that it has “the most unusual opening” of any box he has ever made! Um……. I am but human.
A few weeks later and an absolutely gorgeous box arrived: dark Ziricote contrasting with Pacific Maple Burl and Curly English Sycamore, the burl wood’s tones shifting between light brown and pink, and a slight trim to the lids that is a subtle nod to his skills. This is a box to drool over (as with many of his creations). Its size is similar to Plus Box, smaller than the Lotus/Caterpillar/Butterfly boxes; a perfect fit for two hands. The sides feel like butter and the box has an overall feel of solidity that helps with what comes next, for Kagen warns us that we “will need to take a leap of faith and overcome [our] worst fear about the box.”
Settling into the solve, I was able to manipulate a few things on the box, which allowed me to reason out what it seems like it should maaaaybe do…. but…. no way, that’s crazy…. it can’t…. should I? Kagen’s warning/advice is helpful as I try something no box should do and it works! Beautifully and perfectly! Wow…. but the box is not yet open. I needed to continue stepping out over the puzzle abyss, my faith in Kagen’s work taking me even further from what my cautious collector’s conscience is commonly comfortable with.
Having worked another bit of logic, I find my way to the finale and realize that Kagen has made a box that manages to do something truly amazing, executing a concept that most woodworkers would surely run from and doing it in a way that the solver realizes that it’s ok, there’s nothing to worry about. Kagen accomplishes what he set out to do, creating something stunning and shocking for us to enjoy.
Solving and re-solving it multiple times, I have to shake my head in awe at the craftsmanship and ingenuity represented by the work. Kagen continues to astound and push the boundaries of the craft… it may not be a singing desk but it is still one of the best boxes I’ve had the pleasure to solve, not to mention one of the prettiest, and quite certainly the most daring.
And in the last few weeks I had the good fortune to try two new Dee Boxes: Bad Moon & Apeiron Box! Hells to the yeah!
One of Dee’s two recent releases is a lovely and rather !large half-circle, sort of like a half eaten cookie with a creamy puzzle filling, the light tones of the center offsetting the darker top and bottom beautifully. This is perhaps Dee’s most beautiful box yet – it’s size (at a rather impressive 10″ x 2.5″) and distinctive shape allow it to stand out, and it is as soft and buttery as any a Dee box can be. So loathe to scratch this new addition to my Dee collection was I that I was amply pleased to find three circular feet on the bottom of the puzzle, perfect for protecting my pretty pretty precious. The only other obvious things at first are a rectangle and square on the front face, both grabbing my attention as likely targets for puzzling without giving any indication as to how to begin.
Dee doesn’t make it too difficult to get started, however, and before long I had made some progress. Bad Moon has some truly delightful mechanics and an oh so smooth series of movements overall that make opening it a delight. While it is not always clear how to proceed, you mostly know where to focus; and yet, I found myself stuck more than once as I navigated myself through the numerous, discrete steps to the end.
At one point, I found I had perhaps partly progressed through a section with at least a bit of luck – I backtracked to be sure I understood and was duly impressed by the mechanism at hand. Dee has focused this design on fun; while it is by no means easy, nor will you be banging your head against the wall in frustration as you find your way through (that said, I did notice that some well-seasoned puzzlers at a recent puzzle party struggled mightily with the puzzle, so it is most definitely not simple…). Dee tends to give you notice that you have reached the end and it is very clear when you have reached the end – even if there were no logo to find, the culmination of steps into the finale is well executed and kinda sums up the overall flow.
And the reset! This is one of those rare puzzles that contains puzzling steps that are unique to the reset (I’m looking at you, Dabbit Invasion). While resetting most boxes is simply a matter of reversing the order of the solution, I found myself needing to logic out one part of the reset after discovering something that is only put to use after having solved the puzzle (of course, no box is fully solved until it has been reset but the presence of unique puzzling makes me particularly appreciative of this puzzle). With a combination of experimentation and some of that thinking stuff, I managed to work my way through the reset, to where it flowed easily back to the starting point.
Dee’s Bad Moon is an excellent addition to an already excellent collection of boxes – I am not one to question a Dee box but, if I were, this would make it onto my list of “must-haves” (which, admittedly, I would have a hard time whittling down – not liking puzzle boxes is not my strong suit).
The second of Dee’s new puzzle boxes, Apeiron, presents a substantially different challenge – forgoing the sequential discovery chops of Bad Moon (and others), Dee turns back to some of the more blind mechanisms he has wonderfully created in the past – as someone who doesn’t generally prefer blind solves, I can say that Dee manages to walk the line between frustrating and fun extremely well – put another way, if I enjoy solving a demanding box like Space Case, whose mechanisms are hidden behind subtle cues and clues, then most any puzzler may as well.
Apeiron is not as hard as Space Case but is much trickier than Spirit – I spent a good hour or two just going in circles, which the design and name would seem to anticipate (Apeiron resembles an infinity sign (or perhaps a peanut) and its name means as much). This is how long it took for me to explore and understand all the subtle clues and feedback available, which is more than enough to develop working theories on the box’s mechanism(s). Its 6″ x 2.5″ size allows it to fit perfectly in two hands, the smooth curves begging to be explored and handled.
I took a break for a day or two and let my subconscious go to work (my brain surprises me sometimes – WMH had me stuck for weeks until I woke up one morning with a clear and correct understanding of what I was missing). Returning to the box, I found that I had developed sufficient context such that experimenting with the box now led to success: with a great aha! the box came open, allowing me to examine the inner mech as with most of Dee’s boxes (a trait which is just another reason why I love his work).
Having solved it, I opened and closed the box for a while, enjoying my newfound knowledge and hard-earned understanding and appreciating Dee’s ability to develop an idea into an entertaining reality. Dee’s skills as a puzzle designer continues to develop, his penchant for tricky but doable puzzles boxes leading to the creation of yet another box of devious trickery whose mastery had me smiling. Apeiron does not rely on random fiddling or dextrous fickleness – its solution is easily executed once understood but getting there may not be so simple (as some readers may know, my passion for puzzles sometimes outstrips my ability with them but I would not expect Apeiron to open for you without some degree of difficulty).
Bad Moon and Apeiron share an aesthetic to some extent, and look wonderful paired together amidst whatever other of Dee’s boxes you’ve had the good fortune or forethought to obtain. Both boxes should have additional releases in the near future, so keep an eye on Dee’s website for updates.
Having just solved the aMAZEing PuzzleBox from QuizBrix (reviewed below), I have been reflecting back on the first Lego puzzle boxes I saw a few years ago, the excellently complex and large designs such as Cake Box and Gift Box designed by Legolamaniac. At the time, I jumped on these new puzzling temptations, buying the designs on Rebrickable and tracking down all the various bits and pieces to build it myself (their designs are available to build here or pre-built copies can be purchased from the designer). Amazingly, the build process did not take away much from the solve, which remained a fun and unique sd challenge. I still plan on one day building their Zelda Sword box but haven’t found the time to take on the project (these are no small task!). I also built the similarly large Grandma’s Gramophone by Andrew Parr, currently available pre-builtfrom the designer.
These large, complex designs allow for some fun experimentation – Legolamaniac’s designs get increasingly wild, with their newest treasure hunt design existing as a pretty major temptation for me (and likely inevitable buy). Their designs are solid and reliable; the Gramophone was a bit more fiddly but this is perhaps the result of me building it – even with Lego’s my thumb-filled hands likely led to a somewhat less-than-perfect build (but oh so fun to do nonetheless) Gramophone has one section in particular that had me laughing delightedly at the ingenious use of rather obscure Legos, akin to Gift Box in these rather daring mechanisms.
I was recently contacted by QuizBrix, a newer Lego puzzle designer who has released their first design, the aMAZEing PuzzleBox (available here); they offered to send a copy to me to solve, which I was of course happy to do (in case you haven’t noticed, I like puzzles). The box is a double handful of securely built Lego puzzling that offers quite a lot of puzzling in a reasonably sized footprint. I am impressed by their ability to fit as much puzzling into it as they did and found the solution to be both challenging and fun, with no problems or fiddly bits getting in the way of an sd solve hiding multiple aha! moments.
Starting out, there appears to be very little to do, despite the existence of numerous holes of various sizes and shapes. It took me a bit to find that first step and then off I went!…. until I couldn’t. I hit a number of walls that took me back and forth and around again, experimenting my way through its discrete steps and progressing in fits and starts. At some points, I found myself taking a leap of faith, marveling at some of the puzzling sections that worked perfectly despite my fear – one section in particular rewarded some seemingly risky trial and error with a series of seemingly semi-blind steps that would ultimately rely on a logical deconstruction of how things might work (in fact, there is even more guidance for this section that I had initially realized!). This was true for most of the puzzle – trial and error and experimentation are of course essential, but some sections really needed some thought and understanding to determine what I was trying to do and how it might work.
While some of the solve is somewhat similar to other Lego puzzles (there are some basic movements and design elements that will make up much of any Lego puzzle solve, in my experience), there were aha! moments that took me by surprise and showed ingenuity on the part of the designer. So much so that I “may” have needed a nudge from my NPSO, relying on the welcome solve video available via QR code (along with a reset video that was extremely helpful!). QuizBrix’s puzzle stands comfortably alongside these other great Lego puzzle designs – if you have not tried a Lego puzzle box, this is a great starting point – if you have some preconceptions causing you to hesitate, I can assure you that a good design such as this will not have you trying to do things you shouldn’t – it is clear what you can do and what you can’t and I did not find any trouble distinguishing one from the other.
Lego puzzles offer something tempting – while they can theoretically be built by anyone with hands, the designs are just on another level, using the finite (but broad) pieces available in seemingly limitless patterns. To manage to map out ways to get lego bits to interact in ways that avoid inadvertently disassembling rather than solving is just awe-inspiring, as devious and genius as any puzzle, simply using a different medium to express the designer’s vision.
Having enjoyed this first puzzle from QuizBrix, I look forward to seeing what other creations they will come up with – this release shows that they have a good sense of what puzzlers want and the ability to realize this in a fun and challenging way.
Designed by Will Strijbos PETG/PLA Version Produced by Gerard of Bayou Puzzles
One of the many (many) wonderful things about the Mechanical Puzzle Discord (MPD) Group is its puzzle library: members are able to borrow some truly amazing puzzles for just the cost of postage (subject to some MPD terms). Puzzlers have generously donated some excellent puzzles to the library, including a printed version of many a puzzler’s unicorn: Angel Box by Wil Strijbos. (Do not confuse this with my recent post on the Red Herring Box, which is not a part of the MPD library despite similarly traveling the puzzling world).
Gerard of Bayou Puzzles, designer and producer of the wonderful sd puzzle, Turtle Trip, was granted permission by Wil to produce two copies of a fully accurate 3D printed PETG / PLA version of Angel Box – I say two copies as one is for the North American MPD library and one for the ROW library (it is worth noting that he also got permission from Juno to produce and sell copies of a printed Slammed Car).
Angel is so true to the original design that it even features the eponymous cherub whose imprisoned state can be viewed through an acrylic window at the front of the box, as in the original. There have been some delays since its release into the puzzling wild due to some needed repairs but, after patiently waiting for a couple years, I finally got my turn.
Angel Baby Atop Puzzle Hamster: A Perfectly Puzzled Picture
All of Wil’s puzzles are quality designs, his sd puzzles perhaps most of all: Lotus and First Box have been known to be responsible for many a nascent puzzler’s initial descent into puzzledom and the 2020 re-release of Pachinko and Revenge Lock released waves of relief amongst the many of us who had been hoping for a chance to obtain copies. Alongside Butterfly, Pachinko, and Revenge Lock, the original Angel Box is a sizable hunk of metal, somewhat imposing in size. The PETG/PLA version is presumably a bit more wieldy but no less of a puzzle for it.
I found that it offers some excellent puzzling without being so difficult as to leave me stuck for weeks on end (as happened with Pachinko and Revenge, for example), favoring elegance over anguish. After solving Butterfly at the former Puzzle Palace a few months back, this is, I think, the last of Wil’s sd/boxes for me to solve (and, weirdly enough, the first for me to write about!). And while it may not have had me laughing at my own brilliance it was nonetheless a darn fun solve at that!
As this was a loaner from the library, I intended on solving it as quickly as possible so that it might get back on the road (ironically the next person in line is the same puzzler who recently sent me Red Herring! It really is a small puzzling world…). I was able to solve it in two focused sittings with a great balance of challenge and fun as I worked my way through the substantial aha! moments sprinkled throughout the solve. There is a great rhythm and flow that gives class to this classic puzzle. A few steps did smack me up against a nice, solid wall, but overcome them I did, albeit with perhaps the grace of a tiny, fat baby with vestigial wings. I will admit that I may have cheated a bit on the starting lock, picking it rather than taking the time to tease out the riddle (I figure I can retroactively solve this without creating delays for the remaining puzzlers on the library list); otherwise, I stayed true to the design, conquering it relatively quickly so that it might get back on the road.
The solution follows a clear logic, with discrete steps that make sense once discovered; I worried at first that the accumulated bits and pieces might pose a problem for the reset, but the mechanisms, once understood, make it easy to know how and where such pieces must reside. Before dropping it off at USPS for a short trip east, I ran through the solution a second time just to appreciate the flow of steps; there is a reason that this is design is considered a classic and I am grateful to have the chance to experience it!
And so, Angel heads back out on the road today, back once more to unicorn status for this grateful puzzler.
Making its way around the world is a puzzle box by Doog from DoogalooGames, a puzzle-maker (and super yacht engineer, which is also way cool) whose puzzles have been popping up on Instagram and elsewhere over the last few months (such as the Precision Box, seen on Mr. Puzzle). One of my oldest MPD friends, Josh, asked me if I wanted to try a box that Doog had given to the community to share and solve… as if he had to ask!
(Ironically, although I’ve spoken and DM’ed with Doog a few times, I had not heard about the puzzle until Josh let me know, much to Doog and my amusement – it really is a small puzzling world!)
The idea is to have the box go from puzzler to puzzler, asking solvers to add their initials/name to the bottom of the box and take a pic in their city or town before sending it off to its next puzzling location.
Not since Amelie‘s gnome has an inanimate object’s world travels been as compelling and interesting, already making it from France to the southern parts of the US (soon to travel West, if memory serves).
There are a couple neat little surprises inside that I won’t ruin, suffice it to say that I absolutely love the whole thing! It generously brings puzzlers together into a shared puzzle experience for nothing more than the cost of shipping it on to whoever is next in line. (There’s no specific way to get in line, each person is just sort of asking whomever is next… I know the next two stops have been determined but beyond that…. this is a slow, friendly travel from stop to stop – if you do get it, make sure to solve it quickly and pass it on!) If you’re hoping to be a stop on its world tour, I’d suggest popping onto the various puzzling social media vortices from time to time and asking around – I suspect we will see and hear more of its travels as time goes on.
But what of the puzzle? The concept is cool but if the puzzle isn’t…. well, fortunately this is not an issue as the box is rife with misdirection and trickery, including a mechanism that I have simply never seen before! I set aside other puzzles (and responsibilities, ahem) to focus on the aptly named Red Herring Box. Sturdy and simple in its sizable appearance (and weight at 3.75 lbs), there are numerous screws of various sizes adorning 5 sides (yay)just calling to be harassed. Thus begins the process of poking and prodding and pushing and pulling and sliding and staring and sneaking up on it, hoping to catch it unaware.
I made some progress before hitting a few walls, proceedings in starts and stops along the way until I had several bits and pieces to play with. And that is where I stayed for a few hours before I asked Josh a few clarification questions to climb out of some rabbit holes down which I had begun to descend. I find that sometimes the best help is just to talk through what I am doing: by sharing and describing what I have done, it may show me what I have not, revealing something by verbalizing the thinking process.
One aha! in particular was a darn fine puzzling moment, getting me past a wall through which I had previously seen no way. The puzzle manages to be really sneaky in a way that shows Doog is a maker to watch. Far from unfair, the box exploits our assumptions in the best way possible – I had begun to think things that were so far from correct, imagining complicated blind whatevers that surely must be there, otherwise I would have solved it already! Nope! Elegant in its simplicity, Red Herring deceives and distracts you before giving up its secrets and treasures.
I took a few pics and sent it back on the road.
(My only sadness: had I realized I was the fourth solver, I’d have asked Josh to send it to one more person before me…. y’know, because of the whole 5 thing. You know what I’m sayin’…)
Red Herring Comes to Nashville (note: one of these images is photo-shopped)
You probably know of Rob Yarger a/k/a Stickman and if you don’t, head over to the Google and do the Googling because you are missing out (check out one of my go-to videos to show non-puzzlers the coolness of puzzling: the amazing Wisteria Cabinet he made with Craig Thibodeau). Rob is a master woodworker and a downright deviously cool puzzle-maker. I have a few of his boxes and have been fortunate enough to try (and even solve in the case of one or two) some of his puzzles at the Puzzle Palace (while it was still in FL). However, most of his puzzles sit at the top of my unicorn list (something in which I am hardly unique): Checkmate, Lighthouse, Burl Tile…. the list goes on and on. And his (comparatively) more easily obtained puzzles such as One-Hand and Chopsticks are still totally badass bonkers (he also helped Jesse Born create the wonderful Sun Dial).
I was fortunate enough to have the chance to get Keep Locked and gratefully responded: “yes please.” Fast forward several weeks and it arrived! Keep Locked is essentially a castle with locks attached to the four towers of the battlement; each lock uses different woods, focusing on one primary species with several others integrated for smaller details – I believe that they are Leopardwood, Maple, Purpleheart, & Yellowheart. One features the Stickman logo, which is also displayed on the back of the castle, opposite from the metal lion above a portcullis and door on the front. The roof of each tower matches the neighboring lock. The castle is itself constructed of several more woods (I am not sure how many different woods are used, but it has to be around ten by my layperson’s count). As with any of Rob’s puzzles, it is wonderfully made, the quality readily apparent from afar but even more so when you start with the puzzling.
And as pretty as it is, the puzzling is better. While the ultimate goal is unclear (as it is a puzzlebox there must be some hidden compartment but we are not told where… although I had my suspicions I’ve learned to be careful. Starting out, it seems pretty clear that each of the four locks must be removed and, man, there is enough puzzling there to sate my puzzle thirst, sequential discovery abounds and one must question every assumption as Rob is able to hide mechanisms in plain sight almost as easily as he can hide them. If you have solved the lock he used on his Pirate Wallet (and reproduced on its own by Eric Fuller of CubicDissection), you have an idea as to how much puzzling he can fit into a 2″ by 3.5″ lock.
After finding nothing more than a few small things, I knew this siege might well be a war of attrition, therefore staring intently at the box while assuring it that I would deprive it of food and water until it gave up its secrets. The castle seemed indifferent to such threats and I therefore constructed a catapult with which to launch a Trojan Hamster until realizing that this was insane and went back to the staring. This proved equally ineffective and I returned to my poking and prodding until I began finding…. things that did things! Huzzah! The townspeople rejoiced! After an hour or two of puzzling, I had managed to remove some locks and determine that I had no idea what to do next.
I will admit that I asked my wife to confirm a couple things in the solution for me, nudging me in the right direction (the copies are only just rolling out, so hints from other puzzlers were still pretty sparse). The nudge having been nudged, I got through some more sections of the puzzle before, you guessed it, hitting another wall. I simply could not see what else I needed to do and left the box for a couple days to allow my subconscious to go to work. Lo and behold, I had an idea, realizing I hadn’t tried something and, huzzah once more! Further rejoicing by the imaginary townspeople! I had found…. things that did other things! All this occurred in little fits and starts over the course of a week or so, interminable wall after wall confounding me in between as I explored the significant extent of puzzling hidden within.
The certainty of my brilliance faded as I realized that I, once again, had no idea what to do. Fast forward a few more days of staring and, wait a sec, is that…? OMG of course! More progress ensued until, finally, I was pretty sure I was at the end but…. wtf dude. There must be something wrong. This is obviously supposed to do this and it’s not. Another wife check and she confirmed something she learned long ago in the 17 years we have been together: I am an idiot. Rob’s subtle sneakiness had worked its magic and a small nudge afforded me the aha! I needed. Uh…. no it didn’t. Yes, I had found a cool thing but, no, I was not done. I found my way to this last step after a bit longer and happily discovered the compartment that had eluded me. I basked in my glory and reversed course to reset everything. By this time my horrible memory had allowed to forget a few details, giving me a bit more fun re-solving the locks that I’d reset previously for safe-keeping.
Keep Locked is one of the best puzzles I have tried in a while, which is saying a lot considering how many great puzzles have been rolling out this year. It will most definitely not be going anywhere – I will consume the rest of my puzzles and pets (not necessarily in that order) before admitting defeat in any war of attrition levied at me (and the townspeople were happy).
I was trying to explain to my wife how puzzling can be a mindful experience (she’s a therapist… I’m just cool like that ;-P ) as you may spend an hour or more in near silence, focused on every sound or perceived resistance or reaction to determine just what in the heck is going on, divining patterns from some series of stimuli, some so subtle as to cause concern that it’s just me doing something wrong or hearing or feeling something that isn’t there. But when finally this intense focus bears fruit and you get that aha! midnfulness is out the window with the dopamine hit you’re getting, earned with the eye strain and aching back from contorting yourself to try and look down some tiny hole or shaft.
And what fruit hath been bear-ed? I’m sure you didn’t click on this write-up to read me ramble vaguely about puzzling in general but rather to read me ramble vaguely about Bananas, the new puzzle by Jon Keegan (his follow-up to Jewel Thief). And if the paragraph above ap-peals to you, then your interest in Bananas is anything but bananas (because you see: Bananas is bananas).
Bananas arrives wonderfully: super safely packed with a wooden shipping crate straight off the boat to Skull Island, ready to pack away something wild and dangerous. Cue a cute lego monkey caged by Keegan for our puzzling pleasure. Inside we find the puzzle, along with a metal objectives / story card, an envelope with pics of the internal mechanisms to decipher post-solve and a kindly supplied towel to protect the puzzle (and whatever surface you will be working on.
And as for the puzzle itself: Bananas is trapped in a cage set into the corner of a pretty massive block of metal replete with holes and knobbies and squares and circles to poke and prod and wonder at. Everything does something, of course, although nothing does anything just yet. The ticket in isn’t easy in itself (but you will get to understand it eventually); I struggled there for a bit and passed through with a bit of luck before too long, going on to make good progress before finding myself with a whole bunch of stuff and things to do with no clear path. Examining the puzzle does give you a sense of what is going on, at least in some areas, so I thought I know where I was shooting for, for the moment anyhow.
What follows would be a montage set to an uplifting light rock ballad about overcoming struggles as I proceeded to do what I started this post with, trying to find some magical combination of moves that would see me through to the next section. And eventually: aha! of course, and aha! again, with ever more aha!s big and small throughout the entire puzzle. There are some really great discoveries to be made before you free Bananas… and that’s the really crazy thing because you’ve only just started! The instructions tell you to solve the puzzle in 4 parts:
I had done 1 and 2 but…. wtf.
So I kept going and going, through multiple additional sections, each with several variously moving bits to contend with. Eventually I sat back with pride, Banana’s snack in hand, admiring the mess of metal that had amassed around me, amidst my super-cool puzzle headgear and pleather dice trays. Such puzzling pride passes quickly though, and it’s time to reset.
The reset is tricky and challenging but not frustrating or overly confusing; I had some concerns about whether I’d be able to piece it all together after having taken a couple weeks to solve it but while it took fully understanding all that had happened to make it all ready to go again, this was not so difficult in reverse. In my typical genius fashion I had to solve and reset multiple sections multiple times due to having reset some part before some other part… I’d say I did it purposely, to better master the puzzle, but really I just do it all the time because I’m a dumbass ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Such dumbassery does have its benefits though: I feel now that I truly get what was happening throughout the puzzle when at first I couldn’t imagine how I ever could. What else can you ask from a puzzle? There is a fair amount of blind struggle but careful and close observation and experimentation will give you guidance, along with some subtle clues to make sense of as you go.
Bananas was released in a limited run of 225 by Jon Keegan and were all claimed (as is fairly typical with a good puzzle) long before this was written – in typical voracious puzzle fashion, we all politely and (seemingly) patiently waited with occasional but regular updates on Jon’s progress and puzzle maturation. I have to admit that I have not actually solved any other puzzle by him! My zealous overuse of multiple emails led to a snafu in which I missed my chance at a Jewel Thief… (meh, whatcha gonna do – from what I’ve heard, while it seems to be an amazing puzzle I’m pretty sure I would still be struggling with the first step lol). I did get a Scarf prototype but want to wait for the updated version coming out down the road (which just means that I haven’t been able to solve it 😉 But Bananas… the more I let it sit after finally solving and resetting I come to appreciate it more and more… quite simply, Bananas is bananas.
Akio Kamei & Kagen Sound Walnut, English Sycamore & Cherry 10cm x 10cm x 10cm
Amazing Puzzle Collaborations: Episode II – Get Back in your Homes (because there’s a tornado coming… not because it sort of rhymes with “Attack of the Clones”)
Hundreds of days ago, in the puzzling days of yore (i.e. 2021), Karakuri announced that they would be releasing a limited run of a new box co-designed/made by Akio Kamei and Kagen Sound. This collaboration was enough to make many a puzzle go bonkers: Kamei is The Godfather of the KCG, its oldest living member and all-around awesome designer & craftsman; Kagen is the only non-Japanese member of the Karakuri Creation Group (KCG) and also an all-around awesome designer & craftsman. Therefore, according to Puzzle Algebra: X + X = 5S, where X is an all-around awesome designer & craftsman and 5S is… well, hopefully you know what that is if you’re reading this.
Tornado Box is a beautifully smooth cube, broken along the center by a carefully crafted imperfect line. It is silky smooth to the touch, its beautiful walnut grain offsetting the two-tone interiors. It is quite a bit lighter than I had expected, particularly for a decent-sized 4″ cube. These two master craftsman collaborated on the design, as the two halves must work together to open both sides.
Kagen crafted the lovely walnut box along with the lighter, sycamore interior, sending it to Kamei to add in the cherry interior on the other side (for more information on the puzzle’s background, check out Boxes & Booze). It is important to note that separating the two halves does not require any puzzling, so showing the interior faces is not a spoiler (it is shown on the original KCG description, which FYI does have a bit of a spoiler in the written description).
Unlike most Karakuri boxes, this was announced as a limited run (other boxes could conceivably be remade at any time, although the majority, of course, are not). Despite a hefty price tag, it unsurprisingly still received more interest than there were boxes, pushing it to a member lottery, which I sadly did not win. I watched from afar as the boxes began arriving in the homes of fellow collectors, a single tear slowly slipping from my eye…
Until, out of the bottomless void that is the interweb, there ascended the kind and caring Vonsch (from the MP Discord), offering to loan it to me! I am constantly amazed by the level of trust and generosity of the MPD and the puzzling community at large. Needless to say, this was a bad idea that earned me one free puzzle box! I hope this can be a good lesson for Vonsch in the future.
Buuuuuuut seriously, I was taken aback by this kind and unsolicited offer, gratefully accepting and asking what I might have to loan in exchange (not that there was a presumed quid pro quo, I just hoped I could return the favor). Soon, there arrived the tell-tale blue box containing a Kamei Karakuri creation and I set to work. If you read these write-ups, you may have noticed that my enthusiasm for puzzles oftentimes surpasses my skill: Tornado, like oh so many others, would take me a pretty darn long time to solve. In my defense, I was even more cautious and obsessively careful than usual – this may have hindered some early progress as I kept asking Vonsch if I could do this or try that. Vonsch took it all in stride, possibly enjoying my ignorant flailing about as I went through idea after idea.
Eventually…. aha! Once more crowned the smartest person in the world, I managed to move small bits of wood that I previously could not move! I stood and shouted at this mere block of wood: “Son of Jor-El, kneel before Zod!” before remembering that not only had I not just escaped from the Phantom Zone, but I had only solved the first half of the puzzle, its solution beautifully hidden, an elegant mechanism that is probably even harder to craft than I realize.
I knew that the solution to the other half of the puzzle somehow relied on having solved the first but I nonetheless would struggle to discover it, continuing to bug Vonsch with my paranoid, high maintenance ruminations. I had some ideas (it happens every now and then) and narrowed them down until developing a fairly clear picture of (more or less) what needed to be done. And so……. aha! I found yet another graceful movement that can likely only be achieved by craftspeople of this caliber. Despite repeating the solution a few more times, I am still not exactly sure how one half works – I mean, I know what to do, I’m just not sure why it works! A nice mystery to think on, sure to be a future conversation that will leave me a little bit smarter (clearly I can use it). In the meantime, Tornado will soon be back with its rightful owner and I will return to failing to solve something else.
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.