Puzzling by the Dashboard Light

Pair O’Dice

Tye Stahly, 3D Printed 2.5″ Cubes (2), Sequential Discovery

Recently, I was fortunate enough to solve an early edition of Tye Stahly’s excellent puzzle debut, Pair O’ Dice (hereinafter POD), kindly custom-crafted in red and yellow in a nod to one of my favorite board games (future copies will likely be a classic white with black pips). POD consists of two 2.5″ plastic dice, their pips featuring either a square, circle, or dollar sign, seemingly at random. The dice are linked together by a (removable) metal loop on which hangs the instructions along with a very cool title design by none other than Jared Petersen (Etsy’s CoreMods, creator of Unstable Eggs (reviewed by me here) as well as a number of other, excellent puzzles).

From the complexity and fun of the puzzle, you would not know that this is Tye’s first design; he has clearly poured a lot of time and energy into it, taking pride in his work and displaying the kind of connection to his design that any artist will recognize, that mixture of pride and anxiety in seeing something personal, something over which you have stressed and sweat, going out into the world to be judged by those for whom it was intended.

And I have to say: I really liked it. Despite how seriously he may take his work, his sense of humor nonetheless keeps things light, pervading the experience, which manages to exude more than a little playfulness (as evidenced by the slightly silly and thoroughly thematic instructions).

These must have taken quite a bit of time to print and build as they contain a large number of parts. The build quality is quite good – I didn’t find anything to be wonky or to do anything but what was intended (except for one now-fixed design issue that Tye discovered before I did, quickly sending out an entire replacement die before I had even realized there might be a problem – he even added in a free puzzle, which just shows his respect for puzzlers getting a copy from him).

The puzzling is even better, solidly falling into the much lauded sequential discovery category. I found the experience and difficulty to be somewhat akin to Juno’s Ring Case (albeit quite a bit longer): first, there are a good amount of pieces and tools that you are able to discover relatively quickly, amassing a considerable pile of stuff while causing you to wonder whether you will be able to keep a clear sense of what you will need to do to reset it properly (which is great as this will only add to the experience with resetting becoming a bit of its own challenge). Second, while some phases of the puzzle are not crazy difficult, nor are they simple and, perhaps more importantly, all are quite a bit of fun; significantly, there are a couple parts that had me stuck for quite a while, with one being particularly sneaky. Next, it follows a path that is mostly linear but feels like you have meandered far and wide to come back to a point of focus. Finally, POD also features two main challenges (which makes sense, considering there are two dice): first you must find the tiny dice, followed by a hidden coin.

These separate challenges also serve as a clear indication of when you have solved each die, quite helpfully providing some clarity and helping prevent you from getting lost as you move through the puzzle’s controlled chaos. Although you don’t know which die is which when starting out, the design does a good job of focusing you where you need to be, with plenty of misdirection to keep you on your toes (particularly challenging when you hit a nice wall midway through the puzzle, which hid perhaps my favorite of several aha moments).

Tye will be releasing more copies of POD; it is not clear yet whether these will be a limited run or not, and if you are interested you should reach out soon lest they all be gone (there is most assuredly a list already). The price is representative of the design’s complexity and the significant amount of puzzling it contains and is not at all unreasonable. You can reach him by emailing Thinkingfin@gmail.com (you may already know him by this same name if you frequent some of our online puzzler haunts). He is also planning on opening an Etsy store (this link may still work once the store is open).

Hopefully, you will get a chance to experience Pair O’ Dice; I am already psyched to see whatever he will come up with next – I anticipate it taking some time, as he put a lot of time into this design and I expect there will be a good number of puzzlers wanting one, but I also know he is not the type to let his mind sit idle. Regardless, good puzzles come to those who wait…

Fun and Challenging Debut Grade: Four and a Half Sinatras
(click here for more information on the Sinatra Scaling System, (c) John Maynard Keynes, 1944)

“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

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.