Rising to the Endless Occasion: Bad Moon & Apeiron Box by Dee Dixon

Bad Moon & Apeiron Box

Dee Dixon

You may have noticed by now that I am a fan of puzzle boxes by Dee Dixon… with six separate previous posts (plus an apocalyptic video), I have had the pleasure to write about the majority of the puzzles he has released (Space Case & WMH, Portal, Spirit, his first box as well as a Blinded III prototype, Angry Walter, and Menace, in case you were wondering and don’t mind a little self-promotist synergictivism).

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!

Bad Moon

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).

Apeiron Box

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.


Another Brick in the Wall: aMAZEing Puzzle Box by QuizBrix (and other Lego Puzzle Creations)

aMAZEing Puzzle Box

QuizBrix

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-built from 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.

Three Little Puzzle Cubes Are We: MW Puzzles

3 the Peg, Penny Pincher and Lib Orb Rate

MW Puzzles, Approx. 2″

Some months ago, MW puzzles appeared on the scene with 3 the Peg, a smallish black metal cube with enough holes and protrusions to tempt most puzzlers. I didn’t know anything about the maker but when has that stopped me from trying a new puzzle…

Peg and its two siblings make for a trilogy of puzzles that share an aesthetic, making for an extremely collectible group – I do love puzzles in a series that manage to have a consistent style at the same time as containing distinct mechanisms. The black metal cubes have slightly varied dimensions (more or less 2″) and the distinct protrusions and holes across their faces send a clear signal that these are wholly different from one another. The amount of puzzling contained within these relatively small footprints (particularly in the second and third in the series) reminds me of the trio of printed puzzles by Alan Lunsford (aka Layer by Layer on Etsy): Unsafe Deposit, Bolt Action & Mighty Pin, all of which offer absolutely excellent puzzling at a particularly good value. A good designer can fit a lot of puzzling into a small frame and MW’s use of metal makes for a very high quality example of this puzzling axiom.

3 the Peg

When 3 the Peg arrived, I was first taken with the overall quality of the build – there is some serious machining skills on display, with every piece placed perfectly in prime puzzle position such that pretty much any puzzler can appreciate the sleek appearance and solid feel of the puzzle.

3 the Peg is the first and the simplest of the three puzzles released by MW – this is not to subtract from the elegance of the solve which relies on a well-hidden trick that could certainly keep a puzzler stuck. I managed to solve it fairly quickly but this could at least partly be due to luck (one of my early guesses proved correct), although I would venture to guess that more experienced solvers may have a similar experience. Having found the main trick, it was not terribly difficult for me to work out the remainder of the solve. I think this is a particularly great puzzle to hand to non-puzzlers as it it not too long a solve and can show how one’s basic assumptions about the workings of a puzzle must be discarded; further, the extremely well made parts will show any non-puzzler the level of craftsmanship we tend to expect from our makers.

Penny Pincher

I missed out on buying this one on release and gratefully solved a loaner copy from a fellow Discord puzzler- and I am glad I did! This one really steps things up in terms of complexity and difficulty, with a pretty long and involved series of steps and discrete mechanisms to get through before the titular penny is released. Luck will not get you very far and even experimentation is somewhat limited as I needed to have a good sense of what I was trying to do to avoid going in circles. PP is a bit crazier looking, with plastic rings on two of its faces, almost resembling camera lenses. These bits help to create the impression that there is a lot to work with, helping to lead me down some rabbit holes at more than one point in the puzzle; one early section in particular had me smiling once I fully grokked how it works. Construction of the puzzle is still quite good, although I did have an issue with a couple bits falling off (easily fixed) but the instructions tell us that these don’t do anything, which was good to know.

Several legit aha! moments await you as you get through the sd solve, more than one of which is likely to earn a guffaw or two. While Penny may not be the prettiest of the three puzzles, it may be my favorite: the mechanisms are smart and tricky, making for a fun and satisfying challenge that rivals the next puzzle in this MW trilogy.

Lib Orb Rate

Lib Orb Rate is the newest of the three puzzles they have released and it really is a darn fine puzzle. They once again pack a lot of puzzling into a small footprint, for a multi-phase sd solve that poses a solid challenge and works smoothly. I hit a wall early on and got nudged in the right direction – I was sure that there was some blind muckery about and my own assumptions and faulty deductions were tempting frustration … until I realized everything I needed was there for me to work with. They don’t hold up a sign to focus on what that might be but the information is mostly available after some close observation and trial & error to see what’s what making it sometimes semi-blind (but totally fair).

Passing through this first phase, I moved on through the puzzle in a pretty clear, but not at all simple, progression: I never felt lost even when stuck and I eventually worked my way through the rest all by myself (golly gee). Stupidly, I forgot that the name of the puzzle tells you what you’re trying to do and briefly believed I may have solved it – it would have been an ok puzzle if it stopped at that point and I was pleased to find that it continues on to a cool mechanism that is executed quite well, with some small details that must be precisely followed, particularly on the reset. While this final section was perhaps not necessarily 100% new to me, the other puzzle that shares a somewhat similar section is rare enough that many if not most puzzlers playing today may well have missed out. Regardless, it is executed differently (and perhaps more reliably, if I’m being totally honest) and is as worthy an aha! as in that other solve, particularly as it adds additional subtle trickery. All in all, Lib is another great puzzle from MW with a solid challenge and satisfying solve.


These three quality builds from MW Puzzles has me eagerly anticipating whatever follow up they might have in store – they are a welcome designer to the puzzling world and well worth watching for whatever they will come up with next. According to the designer, it may be a while before these three are re-released, if at all but, perhaps more importantly, there will be a smaller “key ring puzzle” in time for the holidays and a major release coming in the New Year – I am looking forward to it!


Falling to Me: Angel Box by Wil Strijbos

Angel Box

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.


Lost All Over: Red Herring Box by Doog

Red Herring Box

Doog from DoogalooGames, 8.5″ x 6.5″, 3.75 lbs.

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)


“Glamour & Glitter, Fashion & Fame” – Jammed Gem by Eric Fuller & Frederic Boucher

Jammed Gem

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.

Minima 8, Jammed Gem & Minima XIII (made by Frederic – check out the wild angles on those pieces!)

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 😉


Keep on Puzzlin’ w/ Stickman’s Keep Locked

Keep Locked (Stickman #36)

Rob Yarger, 52 copies, 7″ x 6″ x 6″

Dude. I seriously love this puzzle.

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).


Quoth the Puzzle, “Ever-poor” – Rav’n by Ken Snache (w/art by Janice Bell)

Rav’n

Kel Snache (w/artist Janice Bell), 15 copies, 10″ x 13″ x 6″

The line between art and puzzle is oftentimes vague: many a Karakuri’s craftsmanship outweighs its complexity as a puzzle, while challenging, original puzzles may not always be the prettiest. Kel Snache runs the gamut: repurposed tea boxes are fun but a bit rough (which really is part of the charm), whereas EWE UFO and Puzzleduck Pastures are as pretty as they come.

Cue one of his newest releases, Rav’n, a collaboration with artist Janice Bell (who is also contributing to the Dragos boxes). As soon as I saw a pic, my puzzlie senses began tingling: a unique trick-opening puzzle reminiscent of an Edgar Allen Poe story?! Um, yes please.

Several weeks later and a big box arrived, containing the sizable wooden bird affixed atop three beautifully made wooden books. Bigger than I expected at more than a foot from beak to tail and almost as tall, the bird is a gorgeous black with shimmering purple and blue detailing on its head, eyes, neck and wings and feather carvings throughout; the bird stands one-legged upon the smallest of the three books, their spines crafted with yosegi-like details and “pages” that exploit the wood grain for a fitting look, akin to Bill Sheckel’s book boxes.

The goal of the puzzle is quite unique: open the wings! This originality was almost as enticing as the aesthetic (almost). While not insanely difficult, with around a dozen sd-lite steps it still proved to be a fun challenge for me. Further, the inner spaces behind the wings are adorable in typical Kel fashion. Similarly, the three knobs on the pages of the bottom book are classic Kel and fit wonderfully with the woods used elsewhere.

After ooh’ing and ahh’ing my way around the piece, I showed it off to my wife who was actually impressed, earning it an “oh! that’s really cool” rather than the typical “that’s nice, babe” that the majority of puzzles receive. Admittedly, she is even more of a Poe fan than me, which may contribute to the response, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is just so damn pretty a puzzle!

It was a solid challenge for me, as I managed to solve it in three dedicated sessions; there are some fun mechanisms that, in typical Kel fashion, are at least as aesthetically pleasing as they are tricky. Needless to say, this piece of puzzle art (art puzzle?) earned its place Downstairs, where many of the prettiest and coolest of my collection lurk. It is a great puzzle to show to non-puzzling passersby, who invariably had assumed it could not be a part of that odd collection of wood and metal things this weirdo rather obsessively collects (but hey, who’s judging!).

Kel continues to work his way through the Dragos boxes; check back in a year or so and perhaps I will be able to share my Lovecraftian dragon box with you 😉 Rav’n is, I believe, fully claimed, so obtaining one may be difficult; hopefully these pics will tide you over until you have a chance to visit one being held in captivity for our puzzling pleasure.

Part of my Kel collection: (from left to right) Puzzleduck Pastures, EWE UFO, Rav’n, There Goes Bill & Flor Fina 2

Bananas is bananas.

Bananas

Jon Keegan, 8.5 x 8.5 x 11.5cm, 1.45kg

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:

Bananarama!

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.


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

Menace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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