Up, Damned Spot; Up, I say! PLOD by Joe Guarini

PLOD

Jo Guarini

A few months back, I was offered the chance to try a new puzzle by Joe Guarini (@jhoag), designer of Detective Box (and co-designer of some forthcoming designs from PI Puzzles, his puzzle partnership with Ross Feinstein, who is also known as our friendly discord-neighborhood @cryptosutra – they’ve got Bricked Lock coming soon, a 15 step puzzle lock that looks very cool). Obviously, I was happy for the opportunity (this post would otherwise be rather short and pointless, one of which might be strange for this blog) and I soon received a 3.25″ acrylic cube with a black rubber ball roughly the size of a racquetball ball (I debated whether that was redundant before going for it). At the bottom of said ball was a white dot, which must somehow be made to be stably pointing up for the puzzle to be solved.

Picking it up, it was immediately clear that this ball did not want to flip over for longer than a second or two; no matter what I did, the ball would just roll itself back, white dot down. And I did a great many things: I had a whole lot of ideas to try, one of which I thought must lead to a solution (it didn’t). I found myself caught in a feedback loop – that sense of “just one more try” had me staring intently at the uncooperative ball for quite some time, Happy Gilmore-ing that little b@$t@rd as if I could intimidate it into compliance.

The beauty of this puzzle is that it really lends itself to some of that thinking stuff I hear puzzlers talk about. After handling the ball for a while, I had developed some ideas of how it might work. Joe and I were chatting throughout the process, his initial curiosity turning into amusement (and perhaps, I imagine, a bit of pity) as I threw out increasingly strange ideas as to what was going on inside the thing. A few of those ideas might make for a decent puzzle, but none made the puzzle I was holding.

There were a few other puzzlers that had been given a copy to try (at least two of which I know managed to solve it) and Joe had decided that it made sense to use a smaller acrylic cube to contain the ball, and he generously (and sympathetically) sent out another version: same sized ball nestled in a cozier cubic compartment of 2″, same cruel and unyielding white dot laughing at me from below. Aha!, I thought, surely this was a clue as to what tricks could work in this smaller space, surely this would make the solution a bit more in reach for this dim-witted puzzler. Alas, while the first thought might be true, the second was not true enough to allow me to actually solve it unassisted.

As days turned into weeks turned into months (my puzzle passion generally outpaces my skill) and my ideas grew increasingly bizarre, I finally began asking Joe for some rather straightforward guidance; I would like to say that I truly figured it out on my own with just the help of his hints, but in all honesty I think he pretty much had to eventually spoon-feed it to me lol. Regardless, I was finally able to master that damn dot, which now stares upward, the laugher having become the laughee (sure, I stand there laughing maniacally in triumph at my defeated puzzles, so what? I don’t come into your house and judge what you do, do I? After all, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones…. people in glass houses probably shouldn’t throw much of anything, I guess… then again, people who live near people who live in glass houses should maybe try minding their own damn business…).

I turned a ball upside down! Glad I am finally putting all those student loans to good use…

The trick hidden within this seemingly simple puzzle, this ball in a box, is quite ingenious. I can imagine Joe getting the idea and laughing at its devious originality; it is not something that I think would occur to most people as it employs (as far as I know) a truly unique mechanism. Knowing the solution, I was able to solve the puzzle, which is one of its strongest features: a solution that is quite elegant and relatively easily repeated, yet elusive enough that it poses a challenge (to me, at least). The puzzle is so original, in fact, that categorizing it seems like a circularly fruitless enterprise, one that would likely lead to a questionably accurate spoiler, at best, while still being arguably incomplete, if not straight-up wrong.

Joe is still producing these, so find him on Discord if you are interested in trying one (@jhoag). And if you are able to solve it more easily than I, good on you – no need to share such information with me: please remember what I said about glass houses (which is to say, go live in a glass house and throw stones, jerk).

Uniquely Fun Puzzling Grade: Five Sinatras

(click here for more information on the Sinatra Scaling System, (c) John Maynard Keynes, 1944)
It’s oddly addictive

It’s Electric! Boogie Woogie Woogie: Detective Box by Joe Guarini

Detective Box

Joe Guarini, 2020

Just a few days ago, some fellow puzzlers and I were discussing how there are not many puzzles that truly integrate electronics into their puzzling; there are a few great puzzles that feature electronics (I’m looking at you Turtle Trip and Snack Brake), but not necessarily as a part of the solution itself. This, however, is no longer the case: Detective Box wonderfully integrates electronic elements into the puzzling, creating a imaginatively unique and fun experience that I think of as an SD escape-room-in-a-puzzle-box.

Detective Box is a seemingly unassuming 3″ x 3″ x 1.5″ metal lock box with a four number dial-lock on its face. The back shows four small holes, one of which belies its electrical nature by giving you a peek at some red wires that can be seen inside. Along with the box, there is an instruction sheet which includes our favorite rules, “no banging” and “no spinning”, along with “no gravity required” and a surprising early indicator of the puzzle’s distinctive nature, “no external tools except….” The instructions go on to explain that our goal is, essentially, to open the box and then “???…” Opening the box, we are told, requires that we “follow the clue” written on an accompanying letter and “find the box’s signal” (?!). Ultimately, the solution is not just to open the box, but to solve what is inside it (the aforementioned “???”).

After reading these instructions, I was extremely intrigued: its strange goals and reference to “a computer for your detective research” had me wholly hooked.

There is also a letter accompanying the puzzle, which gets you started (as per the instructions) and helps set the stage for the puzzle’s theme (which carefully and vaguely alludes, more or less indirectly, but probably not in any right-infringing way, to a certain flying-mammal-loving detective). The letter features a clue that will lead you to your computer (this is stated in the instructions, so no spoiler) – and, at that point, I was pretty clueless. The site does…. things…. but what could that have to do with the box? After spinning my computer availed me nothing (oddly enough), so began the electro-mechanical puzzling! After a couple cool aha moments, I managed to find the code needed to open the box. But this is by no means the end of the puzzle! Not at all – it is just the beginning.

I want to be careful not to give away too much: this really is a puzzling experience like no other I have ever had and one which I would not want to ruin. Suffice it to say that inside the box are some more electrical components that must somehow be used to solve a cypher, which will then lead you to the ultimate solution. Along the way, you will find a few more great aha moments, before you reach the puzzle’s end.

Joe clearly has some skills that are being put on display here – the functionality of its various electrical components must require a working knowledge of….. stuff….. that he is putting to good use. Although it was not necessarily an overly difficult box (for me, anyway), it is, even more importantly, a really really fun one. Sometimes puzzles seem to forego a full focus on facilitating fun in favor of bang-your-head-against-the-wall levels of difficulty (which can also be fun, of course, but sort of scratches a different itch than this novel, entertaining experience).

I am quite happy to have had the opportunity to try this puzzle out – Joe will be making them available for sale relatively soon and will likely be selling them directly, so keep an eye out on your favorite online puzzling haunt (i.e. Discord and Reddit). If you’re on Discord, he is @JHoag – you may want to hit him up with ye old LIST!!! emoji.

Originality Grade: 5 Sinatras

(click here for more information on the Sinatra Scaling System, (c) John Maynard Keynes, 1944)