Locked Out

Lock Box

Eric Fuller, Figured Quartersawn Sapele 3″ x 4″ x 1.45″ Box, 2.45″ x 1.25″ x 0.75″ Key 133 Copies

I have a tendency to write about puzzles that may not be easy to obtain – I enjoy reading about such pieces, that I might live vicariously through the vague reminiscences of puzzlers more fortunate than I, adding to my ever-expanding list of unicorns and future lost auctions.

This is also due to the simple fact that great puzzles sell quickly. In a bout of good fortune, Eric Fuller’s Lock Box will again be available in limited quantities on CubicDissection.com in late July (2020). Personally, I need only hear Eric Fuller + Puzzle Box to anxiously wait to give him my money, but if you are unsure, my suggestion is: buy it. If you cannot afford it (at $450 it ain’t cheap), sell some other puzzles and then buy it. In the unlikely event you do not like it, there will be plenty of people happy to take it off your hands; I believe it is destined to be yet another unicorn with auction prices that get bonkers fast.

At first glance, we have a key and a box with a keyhole; so far we have more to go on than the T12 initially shows. Unsurprisingly, after dutifully inserting the key (because you’ve got to try, right?), you will find it will not get you very far. And that’s it.

Before too long, I had my first aha. Followed by a few more. Followed by a wall. And more wall. Then another aha. More wall. Aha. Wall. Wall. Think, plan, take notes. Wall. Aha? Hm, no: Wall……… and here I am: a pretty good understanding of the wall I am facing, with no idea how to get past it. I have made good progress, with the end somewhere in sight and I can confidently say this will be very satisfying when that final aha has been found.

The puzzle has so many of the things I love in a box (some of which I will not say): things that look they should work that don’t; a bit of progress that may not come right away, but before too long; a series of stops and gos, extending the pleasure of solving across a spread of mini-solves; the ability to make progress during my first, focused session; the inability to fully solve it during that same session; the need for both trial and error as well as actual thinking; pretty, pretty wood; and while it has some similarities with other great puzzles, it is mostly very unique.

Everything works well and consistently, which is always nice (and is not always the case even with some excellent puzzles). And did I say that it is pretty? The instructions do warn that this will not stand up to humidity well – we are advised to keep it between 40% and 60% lest it be ruined (!), so some folks may be facing a dilemma (I’m looking at you my Hawaiian puzzling friends).

I expect that the final step (or steps) will be something quite different from what has worked thus far: this is something many of Eric’s puzzles feature; were it not the case, I probably would have found it (them?) already, after all. It took me a while to determine how to get to my current stopping point reliably and with full comprehension but this final wall may be staring me in the face for some time.

But man, this reminds me of why I love puzzle boxes.

Originality: Five Sinatras

Difficulty: Four and a Half Sinatras (probably)

“Number 5 is Alive”

Asymmetric Cube

Hideaki Kawashima

The newest box from Karakuri member Hideaki Kawashima is the fifth in his Bars Box series, consisting of Bars Boxes I – IV, 2018 – 2019. Asymmetric Cube’s name is a
departure from the series and, while it continues to feature the series’ titular bars, its design represents the biggest leap forward yet.

Its asymmetric appearance is the first indication that Kawashima’s tendency to play with puzzler expectations is central to the box’s design. The series has always managed to both create and confound assumptions, something that is clear just from looking at his newest creation. As with each consecutive box in the series, the solution differs completely from that which preceded it, and the approach is unclear from the moment you pick it up.

Kawashima’s craftsmanship is as meticulous as ever, the potential location of breaks in any of the panels remaining unapparent even upon close inspection. For the first time since Bars Box I, he has eschewed the dominance of walnut in favor of alternating panels of different woods, further developing the asymmetric theme as their colors are unmatched from varied perspectives, with panels of three different woods framing the off-center bars visible at any given time. The box uses more woods than its previous siblings, featuring five woods: magnolia, purpleheart, padauk, zelkova, and maple, a design choice that reflects the box’s place as the fifth in the series. It may take a moment to notice another way in which the design directly reflects its place in the Bars Box series; forsaking the numbered sequence of titles used thus far, Kawashima has instead integrated this into the design itself, a small aha that can be enjoyed even without the pleasure of seeing the box in person.

Kawashima’s craftsmanship is as meticulous as ever, the potential location of breaks in any of the panels remaining unapparent even upon close inspection. For the first time since Bars Box I, he has eschewed the dominance of walnut in favor of alternating panels of different woods, further developing the asymmetric theme as their colors are unmatched from varied perspectives, with panels of three different woods framing the off-center bars visible at any given time. The box uses more woods than its previous siblings, featuring five woods: magnolia, purpleheart, padauk, zelkova, and maple, a design choice that reflects the box’s place as the fifth in the series. It may take a moment to notice another way in which the design directly reflects its place in the Bars Box series; forsaking the numbered sequence of titles used thus far, Kawashima has instead integrated this into the design itself, a small aha that can be enjoyed even without the pleasure of seeing the box in person.

It took me quite a while to find my way through to the center of Asymmetric Cube; the initial aha eluded me for longer than I would have expected and, having broken through to the foundation of the solution, I nonetheless got turned around, as with any well-designed Karakuri cube. The reveal is unique
as well, the final discoveries occurring in a manner as different from its predecessors as its aesthetic. Finally, upon reaching the end, Kawashima integrated additional design elements that are only visible upon reaching the solution; this is a somewhat rare addition adding some excellent detail work to surprise and welcome you to the box’s hidden compartment.

Kawashima’s fifth entry in the Bars Box series is a more nuanced and complex design than used in previous installments, as should be expected from a non-holiday release that carries a concomitantly higher price tag. It is, by far, the best yet of the series and sits as one of the best Kawashima boxes overall that I have had the pleasure of solving, showing that his puzzling design skills have only continued to grow more nuanced with time.

You Deserve a Brake Today…

Snack Brake from Daniel Alterman (DanielScottWoodworks on Etsy) hit the puzzling scene from out of nowhere. It helped that Chris Ramsay did a vid on it (you know, the guy who somehow manages to solve IMPOSSIBLE puzzles all the time – somewhat counter-intuitive, but I digress) – buy mostly, it is just a unique looking puzzle, with a fun design that just makes it stand out from the crowd.

First off, it’s fun to have a puzzle box (which I’d say this is, more than anything else, at least) with a bit of a story: it’s a vending machine, and you got to get your snack out, right? But alas no coin slot! What shall I do? Well, it took me quite a while to figure out how to get my wooden snacks to drop down to the vending slot. Even then, more surprises await, a welcome double solve!

Snack Brake is a pretty big piece – it weighs a good amount, and comes with a plastic viewing window on the front, behind which you can see your wooden snack, colorful tubes extending upwards; the panel is locked and you can see a key in a little vial on the same shelf as your snack.

The whole thing is pretty colorful, and has a good, nostalgic and playful feel to it; especially when you plug it in and use the handy remote to, that’s right, light up the back! Puzzle Party over heeere!

Like I said, the puzzle has some good challenges – the opening sequence of moves was something I’ve never seen before. I especially appreciated (eventually) getting a good look at the build, which was even more original than I’d thought.

It’s also rare to have a puzzle with some electronics built in, and it made for a nice aesthetic addition to my collection.

Finally, Dan is a super nice guy – easy to get in touch with, and happy to provide some direction or just chat about the experience. He has since released his Toasted puzzle, which also looks fun and keeps with the theme of eating one’s wooden puzzle solutions, and who doesn’t love the thematic consistency of tongue splinters!

Seriously though, I think Dan is someone to watch, as he brings something of an outsider mindset to his puzzles, leading to mechanisms and themes that are unexpected and deviate significantly from many other emerging works.

Make sure to follow his shop on Etsy as his puzzles seem to fly off the cyber shelf…. maybe I shouldn’t say that as it only means more competition, but he’s just that nice! Besides, Ramsay may have already driven one or two more people than this blog.

Packing It In 2: Pack Harder

While Gretel remained unsolved (the first time), I became aware of how many excellent packing puzzles there are out there – and, unsurprisingly, Cubic Dissection held several excellent examples of my newfound delight.

I decided to take a few steps back, opting for a couple “easier” packers; mostly, I think, so I could show myself that, yes, I am actually capable of putting things into something else.

Pin Block Case is wonderfully made, as one would expect from anything from CubicDissection, with perfect dimensions that allow its pieces to juuuuust fit. True, it is not perhaps as challenging as some of its noteworthy cousins, but it does not change the fact that the solution is elegant and satisfying. Designed by Hajime Katsumoto, CubicDissection had released it as a part of their (unfortunately discontinued) Artisan series.

It is a pretty straightforward puzzle: 4 blocks with small metal pins on one side and a slot running down another must fit into a cube with one corner open. This is made much more difficult by the fact that the slots do not run the length of the block; the perfect fit into the cube creates a challenge in fitting them in despite the pins’ best efforts to the contrary.

I think that this is an excellent introduction to packing puzzles, and to wood puzzling generally; it shows how something that seems simple is not necessarily easy. What’s more, trial and error may help you to see what not to do, but the solution is best found by stepping back and, well, thinking.

Suddenly, the necessary angles and orders became clear, and they slipped in perfectly and elegantly, as though I should have known all along that is how they were meant to go. And an excellent final detail: unlike many packing puzzles, Pin Block may be displayed and shared solved without spoiling anything – all one sees are 4, apparently plain, same-sized blocks resting comfortably behind the quarter cut hole. Removing them offers the same challenge in reverse, although it should of course first be approached unsolved, as with packing puzzles generally.

Not being the most difficult puzzle is an attribute of this lovely piece; the satisfaction of the graceful solve is not lost in such relative simplicity, quickly adding packing puzzles to my addiction while putting a happily stupid grin on my face.

Ballin’

Multiball

Eric Fuller, CubicDissection, 2019
Sold Out
  • Puzzle Details:
    • Puzzle Box: 2 Steps
    • Woods: Ash, Wenge, Walnut
    • Number Made: 99 (signed and dated)
  • Dimensions:
    • Overall Size: 3″ Cube

It is almost immediately apparent upon holding Eric Fuller’s what one must do in order to open it: get the stainless steel ball bearings out of the way so the panel can slide out. Easy, right? If you are familiar with Fuller’s work, you should know the answer to that already.

The panel moves slightly, showing you enough of a gap to confirm that this is the way out, and a plastic window teases you with a view of the obstacles rolling in your way. This is part of the fun of Multiball – as you turn it this way and that, first carefully, then perhaps more abruptly, then veeerrrrry slowly, then all these repeated with the box inverted, sideways, and diagonal, then perched upon one’s open palm while you perform your most graceful whirling dervish, and then clenched tightly in your fist while you glare at it scanners-style. All to no avail.

I rather quickly figured out how to will the first ball bearing out of the way, slipping sneakily into some secret recess, then the second soon after, only to have them burst back in, after having gone just a bit too far, like a drunk Uncle regaling your family with Dad’s early sexual escapades over thanksgiving dinner. Rinse and repeat: one ball, two ball, do the hokey pokey and shake it all about, ok there goes the third again, and…. and…. annnnnnnd…… damnit.

After hours of this, the noise of the ball bearings earning quite a few annoyed glances from my wife as we Netflix away our evening, suddenly: it opens! Can you believe it?! Check it out, it’s open! (“that’s nice, babe.”) Yeah, all I did was…. was….. waaaaasssss…. damnit. Still waiting on figuring out what exactly I did right. But I did see that the internal compartment was sizable, maybe not loaf of bread sizable, but more than big enough to fit your Uncle’s next white chip.

The box is beautiful, dark and light woods focusing your eyes on its window, inside of which you can manage to see just enough mirrored mechanisms to further frustrate, but not enough to know for sure what exactly you are looking at – maybe I will have a better sense once I manage to open it…. again.

Grade: Four Sinatras

Breakdown

Slammed Car

Junichi (Juno) Yananose, Pluredro, 2019
Still Available
  • Puzzle Details:
    • Sequential Discovery Box: 15 to 20 Steps
    • Woods: Koto, Blackbean, Jarrah, PNG Rosewood
    • Number Made: 100 (Still Available)
  • Dimensions:
    • Overall Size: 7.1″ x 3.1″ x 3″
    • Compartment Size: 1.8″ x 1.5″ x 1.5″
    • Weight: 14.5 oz

The first impression I have of Juno’s second sequential discovery puzzle is that it is no small affair: it feels solid and significant in my hands, larger and heavier than most quality wood puzzles. Its wheels move, and separate pieces are readily apparent, distinct from the carved doors on its sides. It is clear that the goal will be to remove the front, rear, and top of the car, in order to gain access to the concealed compartment(s).

Unlike many themed puzzles, Slammed Car is unique in that the theme is maintained as one progresses: the tools discovered are clearly intended to encourage the feeling that one is opening and disassembling a car. This playful take on the puzzle box does not mean that the steps are simple, however; while the initial steps may be somewhat apparent upon initial inspection, the difficulty quickly ramps up, leaving you with several tools with no clear purpose. Personally, I enjoy the ability to quickly become immersed in a puzzle, only to find myself suddenly adrift, with only a hazy view of the opposite shore.

As I write this, I have still not reached my destination: I have tools and direction, with some of the mechanics worked out after having been granted a view of some further inner workings and thereby developing a notion of how to proceed. I anticipate larger “a-ha” moments when I return to experiment and explore further, likely following extended bouts of confusion and delighted frustration.

Slammed Car has already introduced some unique mechanisms, presented in a thematic approach that feels more practical than some of the more whimsical Karakuri pieces. The woods are lightly aromatic and exceedingly smooth, their hues contrasting nicely with one another, encouraging the feeling of heading to the beach in the iconic, California Woodie of the early 20th Century. Although I have yet to fully solve this puzzle, I can confidently say that it is a trip worth taking, whether or not I may wipeout along the way – that is, after all, part of the fun.

Grade: Four Sinatras