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)

The Other Best Blue Metal SD Puzzle Cube

Wishing Well

Perplex Puzzles, Stainless Steel, Aluminum, and Brass, 3.5″ x 3″ x 3″, Currently Available

Recently, a puzzling friend of mine sent a pic of a metal puzzle box that had my puzzling parts tingling: Wishing Well is a new (currently available) puzzle from Perplex Puzzles; while seemingly a newcomer to the mechanical puzzle scene (afaik), the creator is a machinist with 39 years experience and the impeccable craftsmanship of the puzzle is definitely consistent with this expertise. At first glance, it seems somewhat similar to Will Strijbos’s First Box: it is a blue metal cube, with a cylindrical protrusion on its top. However, it is a bit bigger and significantly heavier than that puzzling classic; its blue surface is ceramic-coated “for long life,” and it has a number of holes and nubs and such located around its periphery.

Perhaps more importantly, this puzzle boasts an approximate number of 50 steps to solve(!) – this is made even more sweet by its instructions, informing us that there are no magnets, no need to spin or shake, and no smacking or excessive force needed. Described as “sequential mechanical,” after spending time with it, it most definitely falls squarely into the sequential discovery sub-genre of take-apart puzzles: it contains an “intricate assembly” of various metal parts that have been “precision machined on both CNC and conventional machines.” Presumably, this requires a lot of time and effort to make (a fact belied by its significant price tag); I took a bit of a leap of faith and bought it (who am I kidding – a brand new 50 step, SD puzzle box?! yes, please). As stated on the website, these are made in small batches: “[d]ue to the extremely close tolerances and tight fits, they are individually fit and assembled.” Yet again, music to my puzzling soul.

Made in the US, it arrived in just a couple days, arriving in a heavy wood crate with a dozen or so screws around its edges. This was obviously extremely cool and had me anticipating the puzzling experience all the more. Opening the crate, I found a wooden case with a metal clasp taking up about half its interior. Inside this unassuming (not a puzzle) box, lay Wishing Well, comfortably nestled in the foam-lined interior. Lifting it out of its perfectly-sized hole, the first thing I noticed is that it is heavy. Like really heavy. I mean, noticeably heavier than Pachinko, let alone First Box. Its ceramic coating feels smooth and softer than most metal puzzles had led me to expect, and the two-stage, two-toned protrusion on top immediately grabs my eye: a two inch metal circle (aluminum, presumably) topped by a one inch brass circle with what appears to be a brass ball nestled within. The primary directive has been etched into the surface of the box, just above the circles: “Recover the Coin from the Bottom of the” (and then, curving around the bottom of the circle) “Wishing Well.” There is something so practical about it that I like – almost like coming across an odd-looking lock box deep inside the guts of a factory.

Inside its wooden case were two folded sheets of paper: one were the instructions (see below), which included several points in addition to those listed above, instructing the puzzler to not only recover the coin, but to reassemble it completely before it can be considered solved. But the unassuming line that mechanical puzzlers will be likely to find most intriguing sits somewhere in the middle: “Disassembly and removal of the coin can be accomplished easily when taking the proper steps in the proper order.” Wunderbar! This is a puzzle that seems to follow a series of discrete steps – rather than vague movements blending into one another, I have found a tool-based mechanical progression that is by no means easy.

In addition to the instructions, there is a hint sheet – after spending a significant amount of time on the puzzle, I peeked at it, almost as much out of curiosity for the sheet’s contents as for the hint itself. Included hints are not a common occurrence with puzzles for some reason (many don’t even show up with instructions), and I found this to add to my enjoyment of the puzzle, especially as the hunts themselves are conceptual and do not really spoil anything: there are a couple quotes that provide as vague a nudge as any esoteric comment from a fellow puzzler might, as well as (wait for it) a crossword puzzle! Apparently, by solving the crossword, you can then put the words into the order provided to reveal an additional hint. The quotes were not anything particularly helpful – an experienced puzzler is likely to find them to be advice that is generally good to keep in mind when approaching a new, complicated take-apart puzzle, but I appreciate the vague nudges (and I think it is especially welcome to include something for those that may be relatively new to the puzzling world). I have not yet done the crossword, which I suspect may contain something a bit more concrete.

Along with the wooden case, there is a manila letter-sized envelope labelled “Solution.” Because of how heavy it is, I had to open it and at least peek in the top; careful not to reveal any of the actual content, I was able to see that it contains 10 laminated pages with printed text and pictures(!) – pretty awesome and likely quite thorough.

Finally, on to the puzzling experience. As I mentioned, I have not yet solved it fully (I suspect it will cause me to flounder and flail about for quite a while, which should come as no surprise if you know me at all); at this point, I have progressed through about dozen steps and I can confidently say that this thing is badass. As claimed, when you find a step, it is clearly a step; and yet, it is oftentimes totally unclear what to do – it seems like there is so much that you should be able to do, and yet at any given time it may take a while to find anything that you actually are able to do. The visible holes and nubs hide tools and inner working that change in nature as I work my way along – what did little, now does much; what was sticking out, is now sticking in; things move and potential pathways begin to open up, moving the puzzle along at a decent pace until I get to a point where I find myself yet again going in circles, able to do several things, but unsure which to do or in what way or order. Do I need to do this before I do that? Should this go here or should that go there? I am gathering intel on what lies inside the box, details emerging as I discover ways to make this or that happen. Each piece moves perfectly; this is a puzzle clearly made by an expert in the craft that knows how to get metal to do what he wants. Unlike some puzzles I have done, it does not feel like round pegs are being forced into square holes, where you are unsure whether you should do this or that – while it is by no means always clear what to do, I have found it very clear what not to do; this puzzle hides but it does not cheat.

I will end by saying this: it is very clear that this took a lot of thought to design and a lot of effort to make. The puzzling is very enjoyable, with well-concealed, discrete steps that incorporate tools and non-obvious movements that keep me interested and excited as I struggle to find my way through to the next wall. Perplex’s product page features a “Coming Soon” sign beneath Wishing Well; the new puzzle is named Turn, Turn, Turn and comes in at a slightly lower price tag. If it is anything like Wishing Well, the price is likely to be well worth it. I don’t know whether Perplex will continue to make Wishing Well after the new puzzle has been released, but I assume that once the puzzling world gets wind of these, they may start disappearing, so start saving or selling your solved stuff because this thing is seriously fun.

Craftsmanship: Five Sinatras
(No Terence Trent D’Arby jokes were made during the writing of this blog… until now)

A Puzzle with a View


PuzzledWolf, Walnut

The Silver Age of Puzzling is surely upon us; perhaps Puzzle Renaissance is more accurate. The Golden Age would be that time a decade or two in the past when mechanical puzzles began showing up more and more, with amazing makers making amazing puzzles, almost all of which are now unicorns. However, the puzzle world was perhaps more limited: fewer makers, fewer collectors, fewer puzzles, fewer dollars……

With YouTubers encouraging a growing awareness of mechanical puzzles, an increasing number of people are being drawn into the puzzling world – the initial interest fostered by the growing presence on Reddit and (of course) Discord (go team!). This has brought more makers out of the woodwork (sorry) as the demand for new and unique puzzles grows:

Cue PuzzledWolf, busting out with Ansel: The List (LIST!!!) was born in May with shipping and public sale soon starting in June (2020). (There are plans for additional releases at the time of this writing, with a likely hiatus to allow for the development of future puzzles)

Ansel itself is a wooden rectangle with a relatively slight depth, its appearance a line-drawing take on a classic camera (and we can now understand its name). The puzzle’s goal is extremely unique: the camera’s view-finder is stuck and we need to open it. This makes classifying it a bit tricky: its thematic journey has the feel of an SD take-apart but really the goal is the most puzzle-y of puzzle goals: move this bit of wood here to just a little bit over there! (A Puzzler can most definitely appreciate the joy of figuring out how to move a piece of wood a couple inches and doing so here is extremely satisfying)

I would be remiss if I did not reflect momentarily upon the puzzle’s presentation: PW pulled out all the stops, branded by an eye-catching color and distinct wolf mark adorning a custom box intentionally made with Ansel in mind.

Pretty much everyone I’ve heard speak of Ansel got stuck right off the bat, taking some time to find what is one of my favorite first steps in a while: I thought it was one thing or another and it turned out to be a totally different thing and even though I generally like being able to make a little bit of progress before getting stuck, the sneakiness of it makes me smile. The early struggle satisfyingly resolved, one can move on to a bit of study: patient observation mixed with trial and error as you work your way through the puzzle, which still has some surprises up its lens.

Resetting Ansel is relatively straightforward (following the obligatory photo of a pet or puzzle through its now-open viewfinder). I found myself fidgeting with it after solving it and have picked it up several times since to enjoy one moment in particular.

Ansel is quite original, very well-made, and offers really good puzzling at a great price point. It’s thematic and has an aesthetic that is readily recognizable as a puzzle while also being totally different from pretty much anything I’ve seen before. I look forward to PuzzledWolf’s (hopefully relatively imminent) follow-up to Ansel – a Washing Machine puzzle currently in development, which seems to maintain some aesthetic consistency with Ansel while also appearing totally unique, which is itself pretty cool (perhaps to be called the Alva after none other than Alva Fisher, the man sometimes considered to be the inventor of the electric washing machine, apparently unjustly but it sounds cool as a name and is quite wonderfully alliterative….. and yes, I had to look that up).

Originality and Presentation: Five Sinatras

Difficulty: Four Sinatras

Midcentury American Photography Signification: One Adams

Dr. PinkLady, or How I Learned to Stop Fidgeting and Solve the Burr

Fidget Burr (a/k/a Dollar Burr, a/k/a Chin Burr)

Jerry McFarland, 3.28″ x 3.28″ x 2.92″

Recently, I was lucky enough to get a copy of Jerry McFarland’s Fidget Burr (not to be confused with the puzzle of the same name designed by Tim Alkema and recently produced by Eric. Fuller of CubicDissection). It has quickly become one of my all-time favorite puzzles, with an extremely original design replete with fun and challenging nuances.

First off, the puzzle is beautiful, consisting of 23 wood pieces crafted from walnut, maple, mahogany, and bloodwood (with the keypiece possibly made in a different exotic wood, such as Bubinga, Santos Rosewood or Cocobolo), for a interestingly contrasting aesthetic. It feels soft, presumably waxed into a delightful sheen that allows the puzzle to stand out, adding to the temptation to play and fidget beyond one’s attempts at finding the solution.

But what really makes it stand out is the addition of 22 magnets integrated into the puzzle, adding layers of novelty, difficulty, and stability that makes it stand out from its (still excellent) burr cube brethren. And last but not least, a Lego minifig can be seen, trapped within a window on one piece of the puzzle’s frame, lending the puzzle a hint of puzzle box / take-apart puzzling.

NOTE: The following paragraph reveals details of the puzzle’s first move – I feel comfortable writing about it as this has been blogged about before and is not really a hidden feature of the puzzle, but for those purists out there who want to know absolutely nothing about a puzzle, I thought I would give you fair warning – it has been formatted to make it easy enough to skip:

iIt is readily apparent which piece offers the first move (being the only piece that can move) and, when you press it, you are rewarded with a chain of clacking, automatic movements as 4 pieces are released, magnets forcing them out. This chain will most certainly be repeated again and again, both in the search of its solution, as well as the sheer entertainment value.

Following this first step, I immediately hit a wall. Fortunately, this first step is more than fun enough to play with absent any further progress. However, after numerous attempts at exploring possibilities through trial and error, I explored that other method of puzzle solving: thought. With this, I was able to narrow down the possible next steps, more quickly finding my way past this wall. Soon, it is possible to remove some pieces of the puzzle.

However, this is not the end as one must deal with some (possibly less difficult, but still non-trivial) additional steps, revealing the reason for at least one of the puzzle’s aliases. As you continue through the puzzle, you find a number of added details, magnets, chamfers, clips, and pins that really show off Jerry’s expertise, as they allow for a more consistent and stable puzzling experience (these are detailed in the included instructions in a series of notes, which would be spoilers if shared). One such detail does double duty, causing me several minutes of confusion as I lost all momentum just as I thought I was about to free my Pink Lady. Moving past this, the lovely lady can be freed (and even her window frame reveals evidence of Jerry’s thoughtful and precise approach to puzzle-making, as it is designed in such a way as to make her intended orientation obvious when looking to cruelly force her back into her wooden prison).

The key piece has the puzzle’s “signature,” the maker’s initials, year of creation, and serial number etched into perfectly matched frames (as seen above).

Note that this picture is also no spoiler, as Jerry designed the puzzle such that one can view the signature without having solved the puzzle – yet another unique detail that demands appreciation.

Reassembly is not overly difficult: Jerry has thoughtfully marked some of the pieces to aid with the proper orientation, allowing you to reassemble the puzzle with pleasure rather than frustration. Burrtools is unnecessary, good considering my strong suspicion that it would not provide much (or perhaps any) assistance.

As mentioned, the puzzle comes with instructions and notes: 5 pages that includes solution descriptions assembly instructions with pictures and illustrations, as well as the aforementioned notes and a general explanation of the puzzle (the latter being graciously printed on the first page to avoid any accidental and unwanted spoilers).

Fidget Burr will be entered in the 2020 IPP40 Design competition, where I would be surprised if it did not earn some significant recognition. While 2020 seems it will be a banner year for puzzling, Fidget Burr will no doubt be amongst its top designs; it is certainly amongst my puzzle favorites overall (assuming my judgment is at all reliable), not least considering its atypical replay value.

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