A Tragedy in the Puzzling World

Recently, we all lost someone truly special when the puzzling world was rocked by the unexpected and untimely passing of Eric Fuller, puzzle designer and maker and the person behind CubicDissection. Eric was much too young to leave us and his passing leaves a hole that is unlikely to ever be filled.

I was not personally close friends with Eric: we spoke on the phone a few times and chatted online here and there over the years. I wish I had known him better – I always hoped that I would have the chance to meet him at a puzzle party down the road; sadly this will never happen (Boxes & Booze wrote a wonderfully moving tribute to Eric that tells us more about his life beyond puzzling). His work includes many of my favorite puzzles and he is, by pretty far, the single most represented maker in my collection (the only source of puzzles that represents more of my collection than CubicDissection is from the various makers of the Karakuri Group). A few of these are boxes that I have been unable to solve despite owning them for years.

I had been prepared to post a write-up of the excellent trilogy produced by MW Puzzles when I heard the news. I did not feel comfortable posting it at the time and could not see how I could allow my site to move on without addressing this tragic loss.

I thought I would review something by Eric that is an example of his genius as a puzzle designer and his talent as a puzzle maker. And what better puzzle than one that sums up how I first felt after hearing the news last week: Nope Box. I just couldn’t picture a puzzling world without Eric’s work in it; it was my first reaction to hearing the news and seemed apropos.

Eric: I hope that whatever you find on the other side answers the big puzzles of life. We will all miss your humor, generosity and puzzling deviousness. You accomplished great things in much too short a time. My heart goes to out to Eric’s family and close friends – know that he was loved and respected by many many people all over the world. We all lost something with his passing.

Nope Box

Nope was originally released in 2019 as part of the Small Box series with a slightly updated version released in 2021. It is still one of my favorite puzzles and a go-to to show how a good designer can pack great puzzling into a small footprint.

Nope is a diminutive 2″ cube that had me stumped for quite a while. At first, you are able to press the center up and down a few mm within the frame, with it snapping back when released. It has a surprising amount of sd-lite puzzling for something so small – it would be a satisfying puzzle at any size and keeping it small just makes it that much cooler. Each step gives you a great aha! moment and I hit a wall each time I made progress, getting that rush that only a great puzzle can give when I finally managed to move on. The final steps had me especially stumped and the newly formed Discord group brought me the help I needed to get through it.

It is also simply a lovely little box: the original release was made with a Leopard/Lacewood frame and Walnut top and bottom, woods that give a beautiful contrast between color and grain. The newer version went with a somewhat different look, with a dark Chechen or Morado frame against a light quartersawn sycamore top and bottom.

As some may know, the original version had a design element that made it possible to damage the puzzle – this might make some people question why I would use it as an example of Eric’s work but it highlights another aspect of Eric’s personality: a strong sense of fairness and a need to “make it right.” Eric began shipping out parts to remedy the situation, just in case (I was, unsurprisingly, one of the people to break their copy and receiving this unprompted was one of the early examples of Eric’s character I saw – anyone who has had the rare issue with a CD puzzle knows that he could not allow a “wrong” to go unaddressed). This possible design issue was smartly addressed in the re-release (along with one other minor tweak).

Nope Box highlights Eric’s excellent skill at designing fun and challenging puzzles, as well as his high standards in production and business. Eric is known for creating assumptions so that he might exploit them, misdirecting you in unexpected ways. He is also someone who always strove to find ways to get more puzzles into more hands, always working to keep costs low despite the fact that his work routinely went for much higher on the secondary markets (Nope is also a good example of this; the small box series was an attempt to create quality boxes at a reasonable price point – not an easy feat to achieve). He was also just a cool, funny and interesting person to know, even if only a little.

Rest In Peace Eric – we miss you.


“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 😉


Get Lost: FastMaze by Dan Fast

FastMaze 1

Designed by Dan Fast
Produced by CubicDissection
Aluminum & Brass, 3″ x 1″

I got the chance to try an early copy of one of FastMaze 1 (designed by Dan Fast and produced by CubicDissection), and “fast” is not one of the words I would use to describe it: smooth, yes; fun, certainly; challenging, absolutely; but fast? Nope. Not for me anyway.

Dan has designed many a high level burr, including the relatively recent Stir the Coffee produced by Pelikan; PWBP shows more than 100 puzzles designed by him, a level of prolificacy shared by few others, including the rather iconic Superman and Batman burrs (also produced by Pelikan). FastMaze 1 is one of a series of three new puzzles being produced by the excellent craftspeople at CubicDissection, whose recent equipment expansion allows them to create more affordable challenges that still meet Eric’s extremely high quality demands (perhaps the hallmark of CD creations).

FastMazes 1 – 3 are three-level square mazes in which you must navigate pins in each of the four corners to a hole that will allow them to be removed one at a time; of course, this hole is in a totally different spot on each of the three levels so getting them to line up is no small feat. FastMaze 1 is the “easiest” of the three – I say this with my tongue firmly set into my cheek as its 137 moves is far from easy. Not only is that a lot of moves total, but once you have removed the first piece you still have another 83 moves to go for complete disassembly (the full solution is 54.28.24.28). FastMazes 2 and 3 are levels 160 and 196 respectively (#3 requires 121 moves just for the first piece!). This may sound intimidating but while it is most definitely a challenge, it is by no means unapproachable.

CD has produced the series of 3 puzzles in metal, with super smooth aluminum mazes navigated by four brass pins. The puzzles have been designed to easily come apart, allowing for a simple reset that makes the puzzle much less terrifying. The quality is apparent from the moment you pick it up: the metal is smooth to the touch, the pieces gliding over one another softly and easily. Notches marking the edition of the puzzle have been built into the center of each side, a nice aesthetic detail that helps you maintain control over the puzzle, especially once the levels start getting spread out as you progress through the solution. This happens quickly as the paths block one another unless you are able to have all pins situated such that the maze levels can shift. After a little while, it becomes possible to rotate one or more levels, something that I am still not sure whether it helped or hindered my progress. Apparently, the second of the three designs requires rotations, which I plan on confirming once they all become available. Regardless, the rotations are similarly smooth and, importantly, feel controlled – this is not like a burr that has become unmanageable with pieces rotating against your will. Its size fits perfectly into two hands (or your pocket for easy transport), allowing for easy control even as the pieces spread apart into its various contortionist configurations.

At first, I simply appreciated the construction and fit, the pins refusing to move until sliding smoothly and freely once a path becomes available. I began playing with it just to get to know its movements, finding it has a fun fidget friendly factor as an added bonus (it was also oddly satisfying to pinch one of the pins and swing the puzzle back and forth….. maybe that’s just me lol). It quickly became clear that such an approach was not going to afford me much progress: I was going to have to apply some brain power if I wanted to get anywhere as random fiddling isn’t going to get this little guy apart on its own (eventually, I suppose, but there might be a monkey Shakespeare by the time you get there). The exposed top and bottom levels allow you to work out a lot of where you need to go, but the center layer is largely hidden, confused by the paths above and below it through which you can try to make it out. As you work through the solution, of course, more of this layer is revealed and you must adjust your intentions and goals accordingly. Solving multiple mazes simultaneously with multiple moving restrictions is much more than the sum of its parts: dead ends exist in most any maze but here you must sometimes take advantage of these, working pins somewhere just so you can allow another to move elsewhere before backtracking once again. This makes for a great balance of experimentation and logic in working towards the solution, which will sometimes seem so close only to slide away once more. After finally releasing the first pin, I thought things would open up and become easy but in fact there was still plenty of puzzling left, the logic somewhat simplified but still significant in the strategy required to solve it.

FastMazes 1 -3 were released today, August 29th, 2022, available individually or as a set of three. I found that as soon as I had solved mine I wished I could reach for another, so I will definitely be picking up at least one more (who am I kidding, like my compulsive completionism will allow me to have just 2 of 3…). These are a fun challenge at an affordable price point with no sacrifice of quality (as we expect from our friends at CD), bringing excellent puzzling value to whatever puzzle shelves it will soon grace. You can find FastMaze 1 here and the others here.


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)


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:

Deez (boxes are) Nuts

Space Case

Dee Dixon, Canarywood and Bloodwood, 5.5″ x 4.25″ x 2.25″

Dee Dixon burst onto the puzzle scene in 2019, and his 4th box, Space Case, is set to be released on CubicDissection in August. He made a huge splash with Where’s My Hammer? (WMH), a great puzzle box that has been pretty much loved by everyone who has gotten their hands on one, and proved he was no one-hit-wonder with his follow-up box, Blinded II.

I am fortunate enough to have an early (Etsy) copy of both WMH and Blinded, the woods or designs of which are a bit different from what was ultimately released on CD (WMH in particular had a few more rectangular bits of exotic wood on top and were made out of different woods for a unique, semi-custom appearance). Fortunately, their amply attractive aesthetics could well accommodate the slight concessions made for the sake of getting them into the hands of more puzzlers.

Dee’s first box, Slideways, was made in 2019 – there are not many established makers who can come out with four solid puzzle box designs in less than two years. With this kind of prolificity, it makes sense that he was able to start working on puzzles full-time, much to our collective benefit. There were only 8 copies of Slideways released (one of which sits happily among its siblings on my shelf) – it is a beautiful box, purple with some asymmetric strips of yellow wood (canarywood, maybe?) on top. While the simplest of his designs (just 2 or 3 steps), the concept is well-executed and shows Dee’s nascent puzzle-designing chops.

WMH is an especially excellent puzzle: it has plenty of misdirection, tools, and a tempo that I love to find in a box, with some relatively quick success at first, followed by fits and starts until you have found everything there is to find at which point you must actually think before you can hope to solve! The last step took me a few weeks of letting my subconscious work on it before I awoke one morning and somehow just knew the solution (admittedly following some conversations about it that had helped me eliminate some wrong moves) – I went upstairs, grabbed it, and bam! it worked! Super satisfying and very fun to re-solve. All in all one of my favorite puzzles boxes (although it does have one middle step that uses a mechanism I don’t love and may cause some puzzlers to need a nudge to find).

Blinded II is another excellent and attractive box and shares some similarities with WMH: there are misdirections that left me spinning my wheels for longer than I’d care to admit. With the first two or three steps finally found, it was not too much longer until I worked out the last half of the solution.

However, this is (supposed to be) about his newest release, Space Case, a canarywood box with a bloodwood figure on three of its sides: an alien head, a rocket, and a flying saucer with a tractor beam. Some of these figures will move off the bat; I don’t think I am giving anything away by saying that some will spin freely….. at first (in fact, this is the state in which I believe you can know it is fully reset).

I managed to get an early copy prior to its upcoming release – it is a 10-12 step puzzle box that requires close and careful observation to solve. You will need to develop an understanding of what is happening inside before you will have much hope of opening it.

Trial and error will help at first – if you’re not paying attention you may start to think that this is a blind solve but there is plenty of feedback inside and outside the box to let you know when things are happening. It quickly becomes apparent that manically shaking the box isn’t going to get it open. Instead, with some patience and focus, you will begin to get a picture of what is happening, helping you to build up a mental blueprint of each successive step until you can finally get it open.

Once open you will be rewarded with some clarity and it may yet take several resets to fully grok how it all works. This only adds to the fun as you can continue to work on the puzzle even after opening it – the full solution means making sure that each step is understood in detail, allowing you to open it quickly thereafter. Space is quite different from his previous boxes and highlights Dee’s ability to approach a puzzle box in different ways – while it is different in its mechanisms, it still features the practical attention to detail that makes his puzzles work reliably. As with all his designs, it has a wonderful aesthetic, using contrasting woods to create an excellent look. It also adds a bit of whimsy and fun to your collection that looks great on display.

I should add that I have the pleasure of possessing a copy of a metal prototype of Space Case (I pun – it has the Metallica “M” etched into its wonderfully dark wood). As it remains unsolved, I am not yet certain as to how it differs from the final version – I am not sure of whatever steps diverge from its improved offspring, but as a completist I’m grateful to have lucked out to get it from a fellow puzzler.

I look forward to whatever Dee comes up with next – we are fortunate that the appetite we puzzlers share has allowed him to eschew his workaday life to focus on what is really important: giving me more puzzles (us, I meant us: giving US more puzzles).


Space Case Difficulty Grade: Four Sinatras

Complete Oeuvre Grade: Five Sinatras

Locked Out: Lock Box by Eric Fuller

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.


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.

Packing It In: Pack Hard

I’m sure they’ll all go right back in – yeah, sure they will….

First off, I’ve decided to dispense with some of the bells and whistles to my posts, as I’ve found it prevents me from sitting down and writing. And I know my one (imaginary) follower is just salivating for more of my puzzling narratives.

Recently I began exploring packing puzzles; as one who had come to puzzles with a fascination with boxes and locks, the elusive, hidden “trick” being the main attraction, packing initially seemed a bit…. meh.

Once again, I was quite wrong! I began with Baumegger’s Gretel, quickly becoming disappointed I had not also bought her brother at the same time. First off, it is a truly lovely puzzle. The various woods are smooth and the colors play wonderfully with one another. Perhaps my favorite detail is the tiny nub at the top that secures the clear, acrylic cover (assuming you can solve it of course).

Stephen was easy to contact and talk with, and the puzzle arrived soon. For such a small, straightforward task, this thing was HARD. Maybe it is the ancient Tetris player within, but I took to it immediately. Solving it would take much longer, and in the meantime I would go on to collect several more packing puzzles.

Eventually, it just…. worked. Such satisfaction. I gleefully showed my wife, who glanced briefly over (“that’s nice, babe”), before returning her attention to the show I’d forgotten we were way supposed to be watching. My focus was all on my perfectly packed puzzle, grinning proudly (me, not the puzzle). My little cover slipped on, perfectly held in place, and off she went to join my small collection of solved packing puzzles.

Fast forward a couple weeks, and I was taking a pic to show a fellow puzzler how pretty she is: hold on…. I can’t take the pic of it solved lest too much be revealed. I’ll just dump it out; surely I can repack it, no prob.

Yes, it remains unsolved. Yes, I swear it was packed. Yes, she got moved back to her evil, unfriendly and unsolved cousins. Maybe she’s mad I didnt get her brother? Well, guess I have no choice. What’s one more puzzle? Right, it’s just one. One never hurt…… Sigh……

Ballin’

Multiball

Eric Fuller, CubicDissection, 2019
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  • 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