“I want to say one word to you, just one word: Plastics”

Tree Box, Cocktail, and Football Match

Diniar Namdarian

After seeing some of his puzzles floating around the net, I reached out to Diniar Namdarian and, some weeks later, a box arrived, bringing me plenty of plastic puzzling. Even better, Diniar included a few extra pocket puzzles for some extra fun.

I was not sure what to expect, but the sheer variety of puzzles, some classic, some surprisingly unique, has given me hours and hours of entertainment, ranging from fidgety fun that didn’t need too much dedicated attention, and as much frustrated focus as any puzzle can offer.


Tree Box

Tree Box is a combination slider / take-apart box, consisting of a pretty brown and black bonsai design atop a yellow box. Unlike some sliders, this starts in its proper arrangement; the challenge, of course, is to first open the box and to then reset the tree (the latter part containing the hardest part of the challenge).

The pieces have a tongue and groove on its edges, keeping them firmly in place (except one piece, which Diniar made the excellent design decision of keeping as the same color rather than an empty spacer). It is no trick to find this piece, and once you do you set about finding your way clear to get the pieces out, granting you access to the box beneath.

Of course, the tongue and groove edges keep you locked in and you must start messing up that pretty tree to find a way to properly remove a piece. The build is excellent – the pieces are not going anywhere until and unless you find the intended way of doing so.

I highly recommend mixing the pieces up once you’ve removed them; I let it sit for a day to allow my terrible memory to work for me, and came back to it clueless as to how I ever got them out.

It is NOT a trivial matter to get these pieces back in, at least not in a way that will then allow you to get the tree back in its original condition. The shapes and sizes of the pieces brilliantly prevent you from getting all pieces in just anywhere; it takes some thought to find the seemingly single arrangement of pieces that will allow you to successfully replace and rebuild.

This was an excellent and very unique challenge. Not a good place to hide anything you may need quick access to, but the box is plenty big if you wanted to hide a surprise for someone. It’s also confusing enough that you could certainly replay it, but don’t expect multiple challenges as with many of Diniar’s puzzles.


Cocktail

Cocktail is another wonderfully unique puzzle. I think of it as a reverse hedgehog: you must get a single ice cube into your drink by finding the correct orientation of three turning panels with partially overlapping polygons cut into their centers. The ice cube, as one would expect, is cut in seemingly random and certainly complex angles that make this a challenging task.

Trial and error may afford you success, and the fantastic fidget factor will allow you to be entertained while doing so, but without some luck it is unlikely to be anytime soon. Instead, it is beneficial to spend a bit of time examining your options to decide which orientations of the cube are most likely to afford you success.

Once again, the design feels intentional – these angles are not haphazard but made so as to minimize the window of success – I suspect there is only one possible way of getting the cube in, and, once found, force is unnecessary.

As with any good hedgehog, finding that one perfect angle is so satisfying. Here it is even more satisfying as you had to find multiple, overlapping angles of perfection before the cube slides right in.

The cage comes apart easily, allowing you to examine what worked and appreciate the solution, before resetting the puzzle for another go. An excellent twist that made me enjoy a type of puzzle that’s generally not at the top of my list.


Football Match

The last puzzle from Mr. Namdarian that I will share is more of a classic slider, but it carries a few novel additions that make it particularly enjoyable. I am currently about halfway through the 22 challenges, which range from 50 to 100+ move solutions, and I am still enjoying myself.

The puzzle is not overly large, about 18 voxels, including 2 spacer squares. The goal (sorry, couldn’t resist), is to get the “ball,” a white half-sphere disc, to go from one goal to the other, each located on either side of a narrow rectangle.

Interestingly, you do not just slide the ball through, as in a maze, Instead, there is one piece with a cutout on the right that must grab the ball and then “pass” it to a single piece with a cutout on its left, that can then carry it to the other goal.

For added difficulty, the cutouts are not centered, causing you to need to find a way to have your players pass by the goal vertically, before they can catch or release the ball.

The challenges definitely range in difficulty and ramp up quite well (except for one of the early ones, that I still cannot find my way through); the minimum required moves steadily increasing as you work your way through the challenges.

Once again, Diniar has taken a classic puzzle and made it especially interesting by adding his unique take on the medium. As an added benefit, as with most of his sliders, it comes with a top, allowing you to bring this one on the go and try and make it through one more challenge.


Grade: Four Sinatras

Let’s See What’s Behind Door #8!

Dark Fairy Door

Tracy Clemons

After cyberstalking Tracy Clemons for some time, in late 2019 I saw she had something available. As the cost was several times the cost of my next most expensive puzzle (until Secretum Cista comes, at least), l consulted my horrible, horrible wife, seeking convincing that not getting it was the right thing to do, and she, in all her horribleness, told me that I should get it because it would make me happy (such nerve!).

There are 8 copies of Dark Fairy Door (DFD), each with distinct aesthetics hiding the same mechanisms and additional puzzles within. From the pics one could see that there were two doors, on the top and bottom of the box, which, we were told, contained a pentominoes set, a second puzzle box, and a fairy treasure (different for each box). They were 10″ x 11″ x 5″, and would require a few dozen (!) moves involving about 60 pieces (22 of which constitute the pentomino set) to travel through to the end.

My DFD

As with any box from Tracy, these did not last long – I was fortunate that one of my 2 favorite designs was still available, although I would happily have taken any of the 8. So I sent the PayPal, and within a few days a large box was at my house.

I picked up said box and… dang! That thing is heavy, coming in at close to 7 lbs. Really I should say the puzzles, as we have the external doors, the pentomino set, and the final puzzle box (whose secrets shall yet remain a mystery, except to say that opening it is only one part of solving it).

More importantly, pictures are hard to really show the attractiveness of such a large, well-made wooden box. The contrast of its many woods and the whimsical, detailed designs featured on all 4 sides make for a very pretty piece of art. It was even permitted to remain downstairs, where non-puzzling people might see it (!), much to the chagrin of its tinier cousins upstairs.

I set about working on my new favorite thing and made some headway, discovering a couple tools (presumably), some moving thingies, some unmoving but potentially moving thingies, and the sounds of unseen moving thingies. However, I could not connect most of these thing(ie)s to one another, and certainly no door would open.

Fast forward several days and still not much progress. Clearly the puzzle was broken……. no? It’s not broken? Hm. Fine.

……after another couple weeks, I chatted with Tracy to get some direction. I had done a lot, but there was (at least) one thing I simply could not figure out. I knew what I needed to do, but not how to do it! Tracy benevolently (and with more than a little amusement at my bewildered state) led me to a place where I could get the first step, which turned out to be the first of a series of steps that would finally allow me do that thing I knew I needed to do.

There were certainly bumps and blocks between that moment and the final discovery of my treasure, but I had spent so much time exploring the box that it was mostly a matter of figuring out how everything worked together.

The pentomino set is beautiful: lovely, silky smooth pieces (probably 1/2″ – 3/4″), waiting somewhere inside; even more beautiful is the second puzzle box, which really isn’t a full description as it involves more than “merely” opening a puzzle box, although there is that too, of course. I left this displayed for a few days before setting about resetting the box.

A few days later, I was able to fully reset, re-solve, and re-reset everything in one sitting. It was then that I was really able to truly appreciate how beautifully the steps cascaded from start to finish, all the disparate pieces and movements coming together into a cohesive and flowing whole. All in all, there is a sum of parts that creates a puzzling experience that feels like more than “just” solving a puzzle – and I think that is the idea….. you are, after all, finding your way through a dark fairy door… and Lil’ Ms Fairy Pants will not be what’s waiting for you on the other side…

Deck of Cards for Scale

Grade: Four and a Half Sinatras

No, I Don’t Think He is Dead

He Can Not Get the Ball!

Yoh Kakuda and Yasuaki Kikuchi

He Can Not Get the Ball! is a winner of the 11th Annual Karakuri Idea Contest. This box was built by Yoh Kakuda and Yasuaki Kikuchi out of oak and cherry, based on an original idea by Masaki Ohnishi,

The puzzle depicts a moment in which most people have found themselves on at least one occasion – arm stretched out under a dresser, cheek pressed to the floor, face turned so you can get as far in as possible, fingers just brushing the elusive item, still just a bit too far out of reach. Fortunately, the artisans have left us an unattached baseball bat and broom to help us in our quest.

Perhaps the best detail in this puzzle is the tiny baseball that can be seen deep under the dresser – but only if you get your eyes level with the bottom of the dresser. This “hidden” feature really makes this puzzle for me, as it puts the puzzler in the place of the child.

You will notice that the child’s eyes are X’ed out. I am not sure why this is, except perhaps to imply that this poor child died while struggling to regain his lost ball. A tragic end to a common situation. But while we may be too late to save this tiny wooden person, we can at least get his ball! Well, no, actually we can’t…… but we can open his dresser! This is, after all, a puzzle box, albeit a rather simple one.

As with many Karakuri (but certainly not all), the solution is rather straightforward, fitting thematically into the concept of the puzzle, easily deduced from the situation being depicted. However, this collector’s piece is exquisitely made and is surprisingly fun to solve.

The video features the solution following a short spoiler break. As with my last post, this may not be a puzzle that will appeal to a pure solver, but it is one that looks wonderful in my collection – if you are a collector, I definitely recommend getting one of these, if you have the chance.

The Tail of the Uroboros Puzzle Box

Uroboros

Shiro Tajima

Check out the Uroboros box from Shiro Tajima of the Karakuri Creation Group, made in 2012. This is my first video that includes me solving the puzzle.

It is not an overly difficult box, but it has a couple tricky-ish steps that utilize some cool movements. As with many Karakuri boxes, the beauty of the piece itself is as important as the mechanisms, and this box does not disappoint.

The video includes a spoiler break halfway through, so if you do not want to see me solve it, make sure to close it out at the break.

I went back and forth on whether I should post videos of my solving puzzles – I generally do not watch solves unless it is a box I have already solved. Early on, I watched some videos of puzzles I thought I might never get, only to find myself with the opportunity to get it or to solve it. However, if you are purely a Solver focused on puzzling time per $ spent, then this may not be something that will appeal to you.

For collectors out there, on the other hand, this is a really nice box, and a welcome addition to my own collection.

The Uroboros is a snake that is forever eating its own tail – it is a symbol of regeneration and renewal that dates back to Ancient Egypt and was adopted by the Ancient Greeks and, eventually, the Gnostics and alchemists. Tajima made this when he was doing a series of puzzles to reflect the Chinese Zodiac – this was made ahead of 2013, the Year of the Snake, following up on his Dragon Wing box.

Hope you enjoy the video!

Lost in the Weeds

Plant Cycle

Designed and Built by Christian Cormier

Plant Cycle is a limited run of 50 puzzles, designed and built by Christian Cormier as a follow-up to his Father & Son Dueling Keys. Plant features three custom keys (as opposed to Father’s two), which are protruding evenly from a BIG piece of layered metal, notched discs centered in recesses at different heights outside of each key. The top of each key has a different image cut out: seeds, stem, and flower (from where we get the name). The goal is to remove all three keys.

The first thing that you will notice should you be fortunate enough to get your hands on one, is that this thing is heavy. Like drop-it-in-a-sock-and-fight-your-way-through-hordes-of-zombies heavy. It comes with a circular piece of astroturf to thematically protect your table and shelves from this metal hulk (did I mention it was heavy?), a card with instructions, and a thin reset tool, which is not required to reset the puzzle but can certainly help. The instructions tell you that there are no magnets inside and no tools allowed (including the reset tool, obviously).

I ordered this from Christian a few months ago, and it arrived quickly, packed well and with care. It feels solid in your hands and looks very cool. And so I began turning keys. Unsurprisingly, they do not just come out, but each one can be turned this way and that, hitting obstacles and dead ends, allowing you to lift each one up and down (to some extent), but not to actually remove them from the base. I did most of my work on it with it at rest on a table, occasionally picking it up to turn it around and peer confusedly into its three faces, wondering what in the heck is going on inside. It would end up taking me many hours over several weeks (and a couple nudges from him) to fully solve it.

It is not a spoiler to say that working on this puzzles feels akin, to a limited extent, to manipulating three Revomazes that share the same base. Whether or not it can be solved in the same way is not something I will say (and considering the fact that I have never actually solved either of my Revos, I suppose I am hardly one to do so). Suffice it to say that this aspect of the puzzle is clear as soon as you start getting lost in each key’s journey up and down and all around.

I will say that there is more to the puzzle than “just” wandering through the three keyholes – Christian included a few tricks that made this puzzle stand out and be truly enjoyable. The solution had to be worked out through deduction, with a bit of help from some clues provided by the puzzle itself, in combination with trial and error and general fiddling about (and perhaps a bit of mapping).

On several occasions while working on it, I felt that I was just about to “solve” one or more keys, only to find that Christian was just messing with me. But I never felt frustrated, only mystified. And when that first, big a-ha hit, I was genuinely pleased: it made total sense and let me know, to some extent, what I needed to do, without actually knowing how to do it. This was something I had to work out intellectually before I could apply it, which to me is a hallmark of a great puzzle. And this disconnect between understanding at least this one trick and knowing how to fully implement it affords the puzzler even more quality puzzling.

Having figured out this aspect of the solve, I proceeded to make good progress, but I would still need a few more hours to fully solve this behemoth, getting lost and trapped many times, creating the need to backtrack and rethink my approach as I progressed through to the end. As I indicated, this main a-ha is not the only one, and there were other hidden features that I had to discover before I was able to get any one key out. This elicited a squawk of success, startling my sickeningly supportive spouse as I set this single key down with satisfaction, somewhat certain that I could now solve this sucker. However, Christian again seems to have planned for this, as I was not able to easily go on to remove the second and third key, and actually had to (reluctantly) re-insert the key, seemingly having overlooked something or needing to take a few steps back before I could continue forward.

Nonetheless, I was now able to find my way clear to the removal of the second key without too much trouble. But the third would elude me for quite some time, requiring more painful thinking as I tried to see what I was missing. Finally, eventually, all three keys were out, and, after the requisite happy dance, I snapped some pics for posterity and allowed it to rest peacefully before I would go on to tackle the reset. I chose to tackle this without the use of the provided tool, although I did use it at the end to make absolutely sure that all three keys were fully reset back to their starting positions.

Plant Cycle is an excellent puzzle from a relatively new creator who I am certain will bring us some new and exciting puzzles in the future – it is a unique puzzle that incorporates some mechanisms that I have not previously encountered with a novel goal. I also love this puzzle from a philosophical perspective, which may sound somewhat pedantic, but had to be said as it is not something one will generally find in a puzzle. Plant took the lessons Christian learned from Father & Son and applied the same concepts to create this apparently more difficult puzzle that will most assuredly delight and confound any puzzler and I genuinely look forward to seeing what he will come up with next.

Grade: Four and a Half Sinatras


Pushing All the Right Buttons

Push Button Burr

Designed by Ken Irvine
Built by Tom Lensch

Let me start by saying that, historically, I am not particularly good at interlocking solids. It is only in the last few months that I have begun to expand my puzzling horizons beyond boxes, SD and locks. My first burrs had me running to fellow puzzlers that I have inter-met for burrtools files (thanks MrMark!). I at least felt vindicated by Mr. Eyckman congratulating me for having “solved” his puzzles when I returned to him, tail between my legs, for help reassembling a couple of his pieces (even worse: these were some of his simpler ones!).

I feel no shame in saying this – at least no more than general. I say it to provide some context to my imaginary readers…

Not so long ago, I ordered a few puzzles from Tom Lensch – if you do not know who he is, look him up and buy whatever he will sell you. They came quickly (and were packed amazingly well!). One of my new acquisitions was Push Button Burr, an interlocking burr cube (a puzzle-fluid identity). Designed by Ken Irvine and built by Mr. Lensch, it arrived, much to my initial dismay, unassembled!

Me of little faith, I looked at the pieces and thought that I may as well crawl into the dark hole of failure in which my meaner puzzles prowl. I had read of the joy of disassembling this puzzle – I thought that perhaps I would be able to reassemble it (with the help of some tiny colored stickers and a roll or super skinny post-it tape) after I finished taking it apart.

But when my package arrived with several more balls of bubble wrap than expected, I realized that my assumption did not match that of the master Mr. Lensch who puts interlocking burr cubes together for breakfast.

Instead of a solid cube with little brown buttons, I had a few twisted crazy pieces of varying strange Seussian shapes, and five identical brown sort-of Z’s. What to do? Do I first work on some of the other puzzles that had arrived? No! Do I immediately give up and ask for the solution? Maybe! Do I stare at it stupidly for longer than I care to admit? Probably!

But if I were to assemble it based on instructions, I would kill the fun of disassembly (this works better the other way). So you know what I did? I did another puzzle.

Later, after getting myself in the right mindspace by failing to solve something else, I sat down with my dysmorphic cube pieces and figure I will at least try before probably failing.

And try I did – it took me a while, but I was able to build the frame; it made more sense to me than many such spatially demanding puzzles do – perhaps the disorder saw something in me and decided to give me a break. Eventually, however, build it I did! I was pretty satisfied with myself, until I remembered the five buttons still sitting there outside my almost-cube. The nature of this puzzle is such that it looked close to finished – absent a few holes (10 if you have not guessed), the cube was complete.

Now here is one of the things that makes this such a great puzzle: building it had required trial and error, memory, and, yes, a bit of thought. But getting these buttons in? Well, that is going to take a lot of thought! Not my strong suit, but let’s see if any of those brain cells survived my adolescence.

And so I thought before trialing. And then I thought some more after erroring. Slowly, a dance began to form. These would require a very specific order, back and forth, cube and button, button and cube; the cage was there but must be rebuilt with its prisoners present. And, eventually, I saw it: the right order, in the right way, and piece after piece slid into place, leaving my buttons ready to be pushed (unpushed?).

Declaring myself the smartest man in the world (or at least the room), I gleefully showed by wife, who, true to herself, didn’t really care but did afford me a brief “That’s nice, dear, now shut up” look. But I was too busy admiring my utter and complete brilliance: clearly it goes Albert Einstein, David Byrne, me, and then whoever invented the pop tart.

After doing my happy dance for an acceptable amount of time, I proceeded to do it for an uncomfortably longer time. I went to discord and bragged about something so many others can do more easily than I. And then I went back to push buttons and let the dance play out in reverse, appreciating the creativity it took to design this mashup and the skill that went into making it.

High on my own utter and complete genius, I went back to Stumbling Blocks and was quickly and absolutely humbled.

Oh well, it was good while it lasted.

Grade: Four and a Half Sinatras

Oh Schrat

My latest (meaning second) video takes a look at Schrat by Stephan Baumegger, an interlocking solid puzzle featuring 6 burr sticks in a wood cage. It is a beautiful puzzle of the high quality one should expect from Stephan’s work.

I have only started disassembling this piece and it is proving to be an accessible and fun solve. I have been getting better at these types of puzzles, having mostly collected boxes and other take apart puzzles in the past.

I generally find reassembling interlocking solids to be quite challenging. With practice (and some small, colored stickers), I am improving as I gain experience. In this case, I think I may have a chance at reassembly without resorting to burrtools (file to be begged off some other puzzler, because I am lazy and only semi-computer-literate).

This is a good-sized puzzle and it looks and feels great. I could say what woods are used, but I would be guessing and that is unlikely to be fair to the puzzle or to the maker. However, it is definitely a piece that shows well, with its corner joints an off-white color that plays well with the darker woods of the burr sticks, set within a frame that features lovely wood striations.

As with most of Stephan’s works, I think it is a great addition to my collection aesthetically, with a solve that feels fun (although I have only begun working on it).

Grade: Four Sinatras

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.

Eggs-celling at Eggs-cellence

Unstable Eggs

CoreMods, 2019 (Available on Etsy)

First, I would like to officially state that I solemnly swear not to make any more eggs-hausting puns (…starting now).

I think I should start by saying that these are the first 3D-printed puzzles I have bought; I think many of us assume that only wood and metal-workers can bring quality fun to us puzzlers, or at least I think maybe I did. However, I am far from disappointed with the colorful assortment of trickiness that arrived today, the noise of small things shaking around betraying its contents. In fact, I think the 3D print may be a benefit in this particular case (and not just in terms of helping to keep the cost within the bounds of reason).

My initial reaction was to smile; the whimsical font on the front of a half-dozen cardboard egg crate was a good start. Opening the box, there is a sticker warning me not to expose the eggs to magnets – a good precaution to know considering the plethora of magnets hiding within the puzzles on my shelves. Thanks for the heads up.

The eggs are all brightly colored and they bear the marks of their pedigree; CoreMods tells us on his Etsy page that we should expect the texture of 3D printed materials. Honestly, I can’t really see these being made any other way: I like the weight of them and the sound comes through clearly, essential should I have any hope of ever getting these bad boys to stand at attention. The movement of whatever mechanisms hide within can be felt and heard through the 3D mold. Further, it provides for a good texture with which to grip the eggs. Perhaps most significant is the fact that, in trying to solve them, they will definitely be rolling around, sliding, dancing, and generally making merry upon my desk; I would hate to watch a wooden puzzle of this ilk go spinning around my desk. The 3D print allows me not to worry about rocking and rolling and just generally experimenting with movements that may (and so far mostly don’t) work..

The purpose / goal of these eggs, if not already apparent, is to get the eggs to stand up. Unlike Weebles, these definitely wobble and fall down. I had been wondering how many different things one could put into an egg to make such a concept difficult, without them feeling repetitive or boring. The answer is at least 6. Judging from the fact that the sticker says this is Series 1, I suspect CoreMods knows of even more.

I had also been thinking of some obvious (to me) moves that might solve such a puzzle; I worried that I would get 6 centrifugal pieces of plastic with which I would be done in a moment. This is (thankfully) NOT what I got: of the 6, I was able to get 1 to stand up with any amount of ease (admittedly using one of the methods I expected to find, the rest of which have yet to bear any fruit… or yolk, perhaps – not a pun, mind you…).

Whatever is going on inside of these guys is unclear, but I can tell that they will all require different approaches; the noise and feel of each individual egg allows me to begin to develop an image of diverse mechanisms waiting to be solved.

And, at the end of the day, that is really what this is about: we want to find a puzzle we have never seen before, executed in a new way, which is uniquely solvable. I feel that this is what I got (and at a very reasonable price, I might add – another benefit of the 3D printed puzzle). Although this may not be true for everyone, I have not seen puzzles with this same goal (I may have heard of a couple, but this is certainly not a common puzzle-type). It is a combination of dexterity and the type of lateral thinking required to open a puzzle box, as one works to understand what is happening through trial and error (and error and error) and keen observation (again, this is where the 3D form comes in handy).

Suffice it to say that I am very happy with what I got – CoreMods has come up with a novel concept that displays with fun and humor, while requiring more than a little head-scratching to make progress. Which means I will be ordering his Screwball as soon as I have all my little eggs standing in a row (so it may be a while).

Update: a couple months later and…. I did it! I got them all to stand! Well. Not bronze, of course. I mean that ones impossible. But the others just began making sense to me, for the most part. I still not 100% clear what’s going on inside of purple, but if I can ever get bronze to stabilize, I’d told myself is crack open the included solution sheets that CoreMods has said contains images of what lies within. Maybe I’ll actually get to take a look one day and see how closely my understanding matches the reality.

Grade: Four Sinatras

Updated Update: Bronze! Wow. I’m genuinely surprised I got it lol. I immediately grabbed the solutions and, as suspected, I was still way off on purple (bronze is much more complicated and a very cool mechanism that I’d probably never have dreamed up). The other four were very close to what I pictured, having built up a mental model over weeks of light shaking, ear pressed to the teeny plastic eggs, mouth screwed up in concentration (I may have looked like a crazy person, but who cares? I got my eggs to stand!). It was very satisfying to compare this schematic to the reality, and even more satisfying to get these guys to stand. I didn’t dare touch my desk for a day for fear of falling, but now I’m able to get them all to reliably stand with a bit of practice. Well, maybe not bronze. Not yet, at least.

Cards go in the Box. Box goes on the Shelf. Puzzles are on the Shelf. My Puzzles.

Jack in the Box,

Jesse Born, 2019 (Sold Out)

A few months ago, I received the Jack in the Box puzzle from Jesse Born. Jack is a cool concept, blending puzzle boxes with one of my other favorite collectibles, playing cards! The box allows most decks of cards to sit snugly within, allowing only the slightest feel of movement when holding the unsolved puzzle.

It arrived unsolved (duh) and the quality was immediately apparent: the wood is smooth and feels solid and weighty in your hands. The Yosegi design on the top is excellent; except for four seams that are part of the design, the breaks are not immediately noticeable by eye or hand – a difficult achievement, I am sure, and I think it is as good as any Karakuri I have.

With some inspection it becomes relatively clear where the opening will be; I could figure out where the final step would likely take place, but that was it. Nothing moves, nothing slides… like some of my favorite puzzles, it is essentially a Wonka factory (“nobody ever goes in and nobody ever comes out”).

I find it very satisfying to get a solid puzzle with no clear first step. It can of course be fun to know how to start a new puzzle before hitting a wall, but there is something about a puzzle with no indication of how one should begin. I tried all the usual stuff (spinning it, holding it at different angles, sneaking up on it to catch it unawares, etc.), before putting it back on its shelf to glare derisively at me.

I may have done this a couple more times than I like to admit; with some exceptions, I do not typically manage to solve a good puzzle right away, although I suppose this is changing as my puzzling experience levels up. I am probably just trying to make myself feel better by implying that it was before I became the esteemed Solver that I am today. Of course, that is about as likely as my inability to solve a new puzzle actually being due to the always suspected, rarely existent design defect that we oftentimes seek to blame when nothing else seems to work (typically, this occurs a few minutes before being solved, for maximum shaming effect).

Eventually I hit upon that first move, which I find to be a very satisfying move to make even now, months later. After that, it is not a hard path to find the next 4 steps before it opens. Inside, Jesse included a classic red Bicycle deck. I replaced the deck with my Red Labyrinth Cards from King’s Wild; thematic consistency is fun, and what is better to find tucked away inside a puzzle but another puzzle?

Jack in the Box is an excellent addition to my collection, and one that looks great while serving as an ambassador between these two great nations (the world-weary puzzle boxes and the upstart playing cards, like an extra-nerdy West Side Story without the singing, dancing, or blatant Romeo and Juliet rip-off….. and if it was made out of wood, metal, and paper and was sitting on my shelf…).

Jesse is currently working on the wonderfully elaborate Secretum Cista puzzle chest, which will be crazy cool, I am sure, and will be worth not much less than my entire current collection does, but he was kind enough to allow me to pay over time while he works. I will most assuredly share this with the 2 imaginary people reading this (thanks Bob Dobbs and Zaphod! I couldn’t do it without you).

I am telling myself that I will blog on here more frequently, but I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t be trusted, so we’ll see.

Grade: Four Sinatras