“Number 5 is Alive”

Asymmetric Cube

Hideaki Kawashima

The newest box from Karakuri member Hideaki Kawashima is the fifth in his Bars Box series, consisting of Bars Boxes I – IV, 2018 – 2019. Asymmetric Cube’s name is a
departure from the series and, while it continues to feature the series’ titular bars, its design represents the biggest leap forward yet.

Its asymmetric appearance is the first indication that Kawashima’s tendency to play with puzzler expectations is central to the box’s design. The series has always managed to both create and confound assumptions, something that is clear just from looking at his newest creation. As with each consecutive box in the series, the solution differs completely from that which preceded it, and the approach is unclear from the moment you pick it up.

Kawashima’s craftsmanship is as meticulous as ever, the potential location of breaks in any of the panels remaining unapparent even upon close inspection. For the first time since Bars Box I, he has eschewed the dominance of walnut in favor of alternating panels of different woods, further developing the asymmetric theme as their colors are unmatched from varied perspectives, with panels of three different woods framing the off-center bars visible at any given time. The box uses more woods than its previous siblings, featuring five woods: magnolia, purpleheart, padauk, zelkova, and maple, a design choice that reflects the box’s place as the fifth in the series. It may take a moment to notice another way in which the design directly reflects its place in the Bars Box series; forsaking the numbered sequence of titles used thus far, Kawashima has instead integrated this into the design itself, a small aha that can be enjoyed even without the pleasure of seeing the box in person.

Kawashima’s craftsmanship is as meticulous as ever, the potential location of breaks in any of the panels remaining unapparent even upon close inspection. For the first time since Bars Box I, he has eschewed the dominance of walnut in favor of alternating panels of different woods, further developing the asymmetric theme as their colors are unmatched from varied perspectives, with panels of three different woods framing the off-center bars visible at any given time. The box uses more woods than its previous siblings, featuring five woods: magnolia, purpleheart, padauk, zelkova, and maple, a design choice that reflects the box’s place as the fifth in the series. It may take a moment to notice another way in which the design directly reflects its place in the Bars Box series; forsaking the numbered sequence of titles used thus far, Kawashima has instead integrated this into the design itself, a small aha that can be enjoyed even without the pleasure of seeing the box in person.

It took me quite a while to find my way through to the center of Asymmetric Cube; the initial aha eluded me for longer than I would have expected and, having broken through to the foundation of the solution, I nonetheless got turned around, as with any well-designed Karakuri cube. The reveal is unique
as well, the final discoveries occurring in a manner as different from its predecessors as its aesthetic. Finally, upon reaching the end, Kawashima integrated additional design elements that are only visible upon reaching the solution; this is a somewhat rare addition adding some excellent detail work to surprise and welcome you to the box’s hidden compartment.

Kawashima’s fifth entry in the Bars Box series is a more nuanced and complex design than used in previous installments, as should be expected from a non-holiday release that carries a concomitantly higher price tag. It is, by far, the best yet of the series and sits as one of the best Kawashima boxes overall that I have had the pleasure of solving, showing that his puzzling design skills have only continued to grow more nuanced with time.

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!

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……

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

Puzzle Box Train(ing)

Railroad Crossing, Karakuri Puzzle Box

Akio Kamei and Shou Sugimoto,
11th Annual Idea Contest Winner, June 2019
Designed by Ichiro Sato
Unboxing Puzzle Boxes with fivesinatras

The newest puzzle box from Karakuri master Akio Kamei and Shou Sugimoto is based on a winning design of the 11th Annual Karakuri Idea Contest from Ichiro Sato. This trick box is made of Oak and Magnolia, and is a whimsical take on waiting for a train to pass, and the secrets that lurk beneath the surface, a comment on the underlying depravity of urban life and the innate search for escape…. well, maybe not, but the wood and whimsy are correct.

Not the hardest puzzle box from the Karakuri Group, as some of the more fun creations tend to be, but it still requires some creative thinking to make the few steps required to open the compartment beneath the tracks. It is pretty big and heavy, a puzzle box with some mass and heft to it, and one that looks great on my shelf, amongst its wooden friends.

And how fun it must have been for my wife to see her grown husband sitting on the floor playing train! I may have even allowed a choo-choo or two to escape my lips as I tried and failed and tried again, before showing my wife with glee the solution, complete with an imagined scene for full effect (“picture yourself in your car, the bells ringing to warn of the approaching train, searching for the correct steps that will allow you to gain access to the safety of the hidden compartment beneath your feet…..” – super cool, I know).

If you manage to get your hands on one, enjoy its weight and the light-hearted fun it carries. And let yourself play for a minute.

Ballin’

Multiball

Eric Fuller, CubicDissection, 2019
Sold Out
  • 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

Breakdown

Slammed Car

Junichi (Juno) Yananose, Pluredro, 2019
Still Available
  • Puzzle Details:
    • Sequential Discovery Box: 15 to 20 Steps
    • Woods: Koto, Blackbean, Jarrah, PNG Rosewood
    • Number Made: 100 (Still Available)
  • Dimensions:
    • Overall Size: 7.1″ x 3.1″ x 3″
    • Compartment Size: 1.8″ x 1.5″ x 1.5″
    • Weight: 14.5 oz

The first impression I have of Juno’s second sequential discovery puzzle is that it is no small affair: it feels solid and significant in my hands, larger and heavier than most quality wood puzzles. Its wheels move, and separate pieces are readily apparent, distinct from the carved doors on its sides. It is clear that the goal will be to remove the front, rear, and top of the car, in order to gain access to the concealed compartment(s).

Unlike many themed puzzles, Slammed Car is unique in that the theme is maintained as one progresses: the tools discovered are clearly intended to encourage the feeling that one is opening and disassembling a car. This playful take on the puzzle box does not mean that the steps are simple, however; while the initial steps may be somewhat apparent upon initial inspection, the difficulty quickly ramps up, leaving you with several tools with no clear purpose. Personally, I enjoy the ability to quickly become immersed in a puzzle, only to find myself suddenly adrift, with only a hazy view of the opposite shore.

As I write this, I have still not reached my destination: I have tools and direction, with some of the mechanics worked out after having been granted a view of some further inner workings and thereby developing a notion of how to proceed. I anticipate larger “a-ha” moments when I return to experiment and explore further, likely following extended bouts of confusion and delighted frustration.

Slammed Car has already introduced some unique mechanisms, presented in a thematic approach that feels more practical than some of the more whimsical Karakuri pieces. The woods are lightly aromatic and exceedingly smooth, their hues contrasting nicely with one another, encouraging the feeling of heading to the beach in the iconic, California Woodie of the early 20th Century. Although I have yet to fully solve this puzzle, I can confidently say that it is a trip worth taking, whether or not I may wipeout along the way – that is, after all, part of the fun.

Grade: Four Sinatras