Changing It Up: Pennytentiary by Eric Fuller

Pennytentiary

Eric Fuller

Eric Fuller (of CubicDissection) has gone and got hisself a laser cutter machiney thing that can… cut… uhh…. lasers? (that doesn’t sound right…) Whatever the thing may do for mere mortals, in the hands of an adept puzzle designer like Eric, it means that we will soon be seeing some cool new challenges coming our way. I had the good luck to solve the first of these: Eric’s newest take-apart puzzle, Pennytentiary, a sequential discovery square of coin releasiness that had me smiling (once I finally stopped being stuck).

Consistent with Eric’s modus opuzzerandi, he makes laser-cut wood look good, with dark-grained panels adorning the top and bottom of the layered sides that are eye-catching and give the puzzle an added sense of class. Notches are spaced evenly around its perimeter, with a centered top “keyhole” in which a coin rests, trapped below 4 diagonal bars that slide easily back and forth with even casual movement. There is nothing else immediately visible, although close inspection may prove that to be a false assumption (a concept that crops up frequently in Eric’s designs). At about 3″ x 0.75″, it feels good in your hands; it isn’t overly heavy but neither is it light and its size is well-suited for most (human) hands. The final version will include a thin layer of acrlyic in one the middle layers, adding some strength and a mixed-medium aesthetic that I am sure will look cool.

When first looking at it, I felt compelled to attempt a pretty basic puzzle move that couldn’t help but come to mind; I assumed it wouldn’t do much of anything and (for once) my assumption proved correct, leaving me with a nice new puzzle that didn’t see to do much of anything (aside from having some potential as a maraca). Of course, this would prove to be not at all true – after a while spent exploring and experimenting, I found a well-designed aha that led me to some good initial progress, giving me plenty to work with while getting me no closer to actually solving the puzzle. I got stuck here for quite a while. And then a while more.

It took some trial & error and careful observation to make sense (cents?) of a short semi-blind sequence that stood between me and further progress; there is plenty of feedback and it is possible to deduce most of what needs to happen, assuming you paid attention during your initial explorations. I eventually got to where I thought I needed to go, foolishly thinking I might be nearing the end, only to figure something out that forced me to laugh at the puzzle’s deviousness. Following on that realization is a trick that I just think is super neat and lends a sense of magic to the solution.

I continued to make considerable progress, working my way through the kind of well-designed sd discoveries and hidden trickery that we associate with Eric’s work. I managed to get nice and stuck (again) towards the end – unsurprisingly, it turned out to largely be my idiocy that was keeping me from overcoming this last hurdle; I was fairly certain of what needed to happen and aware of some of the things that would help it happen, while apparently missing some other thing(s) that needed to happen so that it could happen. Pretty straightforward, no?

I back-and-forth-tracked for a while, thinking I would see something I had missed; the puzzle moves you along quite nicely as you solve it, and I kept looking to see if I had missed a turn. There is a lot to discover in a relatively small package and I had yet to find a purpose for every discovery; the puzzle does an excellent job of communicating where you need to go while simultaneously obfuscating how to get there. I got to be pretty certain of what and where and even how (or so I thought) – but, in classic Eric fashion, even though I was sure I knew the how, I still couldn’t find it…… there was a subtle twist that had me working against myself until I realized I had made an assumption so small I didn’t even realize it was an assumption and that last aha finally hit, allowing me to find the step that had been eluding me only to realize it was not the last aha after all! I thought for sure I would be removing the coin but it turns out there was still another sneaky sequence to suss out before the coin could be captured.

After gleefully removing the coin, I worked my way backwards through the reset – a couple sections still a bit tricky as I continued to develop my understanding of the puzzling at play. After re-solving and re-setting it a couple more times, I can confidently claim to completely comprehend the confounding cadre of coin release mechanisms nestling within this deceptively simple-seeming puzzle. And what a fun puzzle it is! It has an excellent rhythm as you work through several muti-step sequences that rely on discrete mechanisms and well-hidden sd discoveries: imagine if Rex’s best had a child with the Bolt Action series and then went on to marry Ansel and have a brief affair with Free Me 6. And if that doesn’t entice you, then I don’t know what you’re doing reading this post (unless you’re my Mom…. in which case: Hi Mom).

Pennytentiary will probably be the first of a series of coin release puzzles from CD, with ideas for other currency currently in the works. It was originally set for CD’s Feb 2022 release but due to the need to wait for some delayed hardware (and I think perhaps Eric’s admirable and ongoing quest for puzzle perfection) has been pushed to the March 21 release: it looks like this is going to be a pretty exciting drop, with a number of new and re-released puzzles to choose from. There is a chance that the relative efficiency afforded by the (sharkless) lasers may make it a design that will not need to suffer from the same level of scarcity that can sometimes affect other new CD designs – a great thing for newer puzzlers, in particular, who may be taken aback by the fervor that surrounds the typical CD release. Regardless, it is a puzzle you will not want to miss, so plan accordingly when you set your CD release alarm for next week.

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


Inaccurate Monikers and Inappropriate Sobriquets: Blah Box by Eric Fuller

Blah Box

Eric Fuller, Zebrawood and Maple, 2.875″ x 2.875″ x 4.25″

When Eric Fuller (of CubicDissection for any puzzling noobs out there) was working on his DDD Burr Set, he had initially planned on the pieces being stored in a puzzle box, akin to the Penultimate Burr Box Set whose instructions were hidden away inside a locked compartment. Obviously, this would have been super cool, but Eric decided to separate these two ideas into separate puzzles to keep costs down, especially with some complex boxes set to come out later this year with appropriately higher price tags.

The DDD Burr Set is an excellent piece of craftsmanship; the box is so well constructed that it took some searching for many of us to open it, despite it lacking any kind of puzzle mechanism. Fortunately for us, Eric did not eschew the box ideas he had developed. The perceived “failure” led him to name the box as he did, using nomenclature that is not at all indicative of the excellent puzzling offered by Blah Box but is instead intended to capture the maker’s disappointment with keeping such trickery out of DDD.

I would easily put it among the best of Eric’s boxes that I have had the pleasure of solving. And yet, for some odd reason, I feel that Blah has kind of slipped under the radar, not garnering the attention and adulation that it most definitely deserves. There was a bit of an issue early on, with Eric issuing a semi-sort-of-recall (essentially consisting of providing a replacement piece that would help avoid an “unintended solution path” found by some early solvers). Fortunately, I had been unable to find the first step before the announcement, so I was able to wait before proceeding. Once the replacement piece arrived, my wife was able to follow the video instruction to reset the puzzle in just a few minutes – as a true NPSO, this helps show that the change was relatively straightforward. I say all this as I wonder if this contributed to Blah’s somewhat quiet release.

Blah Box is a beautiful puzzle, offered in multiple wood options (Iroko/Holly and Black Limba/Maple, in addition to the Zebrawood/Maple of my copy). It is a decent size, taller and a bit narrower than Improved Cam and Topless. The lighter ends set off the lovely frame, two holes of various diameters located on one side and one more on one end of the box. With a bit of inspection, you can find a single seam; pulling on it affords no success, as nothing seems to move or do anything at all anywhere on the box. As with many of his boxes, some rattling can be heard inside the puzzle (which may or may not indicate much of anything – Eric loves to mess with us puzzlers’ expectations, and I have learned to take nothing for granted when approaching his boxes).

As alluded to above, the first step took me quite a long time; this is one of those puzzles that starts at a seemingly insurmountable wall, requiring ample exploration and trial and error before you can find the precise step that works perfectly and wonderfully once you have found it and is seemingly non-existent otherwise. Finding it is an absolutely excellent aha moment and I have found it to be super satisfying to repeat, a fidget-friendly move if ever there was one.

After oohing and aahing over the first step, I proceeded to seek out any avenues that it may have opened up; the step seems to lead you somewhere, but you will instead hit another wall as your reward. It didn’t take me as long to surmount this next obstacle and I was rewarded with another aha moment – two in a row would be enough to make this a great box and yet there is still ample puzzling left before success can be claimed. 

I was able to move through the remaining steps without as much trouble as the first two, but they were no less satisfying for it. Seemingly obvious moves led to confused head-scratching before I would notice something I had overlooked or realize this might also do that and that might get me to there… 

As a true sd box, the steps flow fantastically along, sweeping you up in a rhythm that builds from its early struggles into a nice, smooth conclusion that includes another solid aha or two before you can open the box. The puzzle teases you a bit before letting you finish, a bit of tantric puzzle play to make the end that much more satisfying. 

Blah Box really is a fun puzzle – while not as difficult (or perhaps as original) as Lock Box (at least in some ways), it might just be more fun, perhaps even more so than the excellent Lift and Nope Boxes (and certainly more complex than these, which were intended to be more wallet-friendly); it is certainly on par with both. Blah is playful and highlights Eric’s devious tendency to confront our assumptions in ways that are as hidden as they are obvious. The sd elements are integral to the puzzle, and necessarily flow from the mechanisms that must be discovered and overcome before sweet, sweet success might be claimed.

Blah was sold in two waves and several copies are being offered in the current CDM; as with many CD puzzles, a few were held back to be listed at one penny. If you have not obtained a copy, I highly recommend duking it out with some other hopefuls as this is a super fun solve and an essential addition to any Fuller box collection.


Overall Grade: Four and a Half Sinatras (Five for fun and Four for difficulty)


Email me at: quantifiedcool (at) fivesinatras (dot) com

You can also find me on Discord @fivesinatras or Reddit @fivesinatras23

Gateway to Puzzledom: Dee’s Portal to SD Fun

Portal

Dee Dixon, Mahogany body, Peruvian Walnut top, Cherry knobs with Wenge Center, 3″ x 6.25″ x 5.5″

Dee done doggone did it again, with the upcoming release of his fifth puzzle box to much anticipated fanfare and excitement (check out my reviews of his earlier boxes here). I had the good fortune to be a tester, receiving a copy that represents a (likely) final prototype of its puzzle mechanisms, although some changes may yet be in store (including a possible fourth knob of unknown purpose). Dee has had a bit of trouble settling on a name, prompting me to suggest the name “Indecisive” (get it? In-Dee-Cisive? Cue the ensuing of hilarity.) However, in the end the puzzle’s aesthetic earned it the probably more appropriate name “Portal.”

Dee has an excellent track record of puzzles that look great while presenting a solid, fun challenge. Space Case was perhaps his most difficult release, and this newest creation moves away from some of Space’s more blind aspects, providing ample direction and feedback from start to finish while preserving some of the best aspects of such semi-hidden mechanisms. The box’s aesthetic shares some similarities with Space Case, featuring shapes on its sides whose possible purpose must be determined. However, its puzzling is quite different and, I think, more playful, even if perhaps posing somewhat less of a challenge (than Space) – this is not at all to say the puzzle is easy, especially when just getting started may confound the average puzzle aspirant. While Where’s My Hammer? will always win warm fuzzies and a special place in my puzzled soul, Portal features some really cool design details that had me smiling appreciatively after I reached the end and realized the nature of the path he takes us on; the puzzle gives WMH a run for its money in the opinion of this humble puzzler, landing in the middle of his puzzles in terms of difficulty and towards the top for fun.

The box starts with a wall that can take quite a while to overcome; it took me longer than I may care to admit to find that first step (other testers I’ve spoken with had similar experiences), and when I did, I had an excellent aha moment: that kind of slap yourself in the head while laughing at the designer’s deviousness that makes me want to repeat a step a few times before moving on. The box does a great job of funneling you through the puzzle’s mostly logical progression through to the end. The puzzling rewards both exploration and careful consideration and is fun from start to finish; it feels like more of a return to the discrete steps of WMH in some ways, while evolving aspects of Space Case with a clear sense of progress and direction as you proceed through a mix of sd trickery and internal obstacles.

Looking closely, you will notice that the puzzle introduces a touch of color, with a bit of blue acrylic peeking out of the small hole at its front; Dee has said the final puzzles may feature different color options. The final version will feature different woods: a Maple body with a Cherry top and Cherry knobs with a Wenge center; it will also be a bit narrower, at about 3″ x 6″ x 4″. Some prototypes featured differing knob layouts, and the final version may well feature a layout somewhat different from mine, including the aforementioned fourth knob.

After solving and resetting the puzzle a couple times, I realized just how fun and unique the path Dee laid out really is – while I can’t say too much without spoiling anything, I could see Dee laughing at us poor puzzling folk as he makes us travel a meandering path to its end; opening the box reveals some rather unexpected mechanisms and resetting the puzzle made it clear to me that this puzzle comes with a sense of humor, betraying our expectations in a delightful and fun way that I think most puzzlers will appreciate.

Portal is both tricky and fun and is an excellent addition to Dee’s already excellent oeuvre – Portal should be available on CubicDissection sometime in its April 2021 release.


Grade: Four and a Half Sinatras



Poll:

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)