Check out the excellent video prowess of Beats and Pieces as he interviews me as part of his “Get to Know a Puzzler” series and test your puzzle knowledge during my moment of semi-glory on his puzzle quiz show, “Are You a Puzzle Master?”
Get to Know a Puzzler – Beats and Pieces interviews fivesinatras (a/k/a “me”)
Are You a Puzzle Master? – fivesinatras takes on Beats and Pieces quiz show
I brought out all of my office-themed puzzles for the photo featured on the interview’s thumbnail; I will post the pics below and see if anyone can identify all 13 puzzles (plus a puzzle-adjacent bonus item)?
And here is the pic I did for the Puzzle Master quiz – can you identify all 10 of these puzzles as well?
Ryan Hughbanks, Maple, Walnut, Purpleheart, Padauk, Cherry, Oak, Alder, & Poplar (!), 10.5″ x 7.5″ x 6.5″
The ketchup lessons of yore are true: good things come to those who wait…
Ryan Hughbanks popped up on Facebook (the puzzling pages at least) a little over a year ago; thanks to some puzzle friends (Merci!), I was able to start my process of polite harassment and cyber-stalking early. This gave me the opportunity to get to know Ryan a bit over the last year, and to recently be offered the 7th copy of his sd puzzle box, Side Swiper. Obviously I jumped at the chance (this post would be rather pointless had I not) and soon a !large box arrived with a slightly less large (and decidedly more interesting) box inside: Smooth and buttery like a Kagen Sound box, with the colorful playfulness of a Kel Snache, and the generous puzzle proportions of a Juno, Ryan has created an excellent puzzle with numerous nooks and crannies to be discovered, using clues, sequential discovery, exploration, and general puzzle-boxery.
Almost a foot (27 cm) long, SS stands out in any collection (it’s pretty enough that it would anyway). The reason for its name is pretty clear: three bars are situated on either side of the box, set into channels running most of the box’s widths with a few vertical lines of various woods spaced along its length. The box has four drawers and a hinged door visible as well. Atop the box are two striped pieces of wood, which we are warned are NOT handles, as well as three more wooden lines set into its surface.
The box features a number of decorative touches that really make it stand out, using a grand total of eight (!) different woods. Thin strips of wood are perfectly integrated into its surface in many places an the edges and corners are covered in a Walnut frame (with protruding semi-spheres) that contrasts wonderfully with the maple that is the box’s base color. The bottom is made with as much care, despite being featureless: we are told that it is not “active” (which makes sense considering the box’s dimensions and weight).
The instructions confirm what casual inspection may lead you to suspect (and the instructions more or less confirm): at least some of the solve will rely on discovering some kind of clues to do some kind of something. He instructs us not to pick any locks (not if you want to do it the right way!) and assures us that “There is an answer for everything.” This admonition of impending fun is also comforting for those of us lost in a perpetual state of existential dread.
The clue-based mechanisms featured in the solution seem straightforward enough in some respects that they may mislead you in others. While some amount of escape-room-in-a-box puzzling plays a significant role in the box, it is really just one comparatively small (yet significant) aspect of the solution as a whole; it is a great balance, as the sequential discovery / take-apart aspects of the puzzle form the majority of the mechanisms that must be discovered and understood.
This is the kind of puzzle that keeps on puzzling: even after you think, “once I figure out how to do this, it must be the end,” nope, there’s probably another step or three to be solved before you will find the signed piece that lets you know you’ve reached the end. (As a semi-digression, I have come to increasingly appreciate such a touch – it’s happened more than few times that I’ve looked at a puzzle wondering if I’d finished it or had put it away thinking it was done, only to learn that there was a bit more puzzling to be done (a further digression: in some rare cases this is actually pretty awesome – there is one specific puzzle (one which I reviewed previously) to have come out in the last year that infamously “finishes” with several more “hidden” steps that continue past the official solution provided (in this case, I’d found something that I knew had to do something and asked my npso to check the solution: nothing in there about it, but an amused and somewhat cryptic response from the designer confirmed my suspicions – it is worth noting that I still haven’t figured this part out lol!)).
Side Swiper is definitely tricky, hiding multiple ahas in its sizable frame, although I wouldn’t necessarily say that it is crazy hard – it is not necessarily the kind of puzzle that will spend months sullenly sitting in some semi-solved state, staring at my sad-a$$ self and is instead the type that you will want to run back through the solution just for the fun of it (like a good Juno sd).
SS is just plain fun and extremely satisfying. The preponderance of compartments positively predicts puzzlers’ impending pleasure at progressing through its plentiful parts. Asinine alliteration aside, the sense of discovery is strong with this one as you are rewarded with access to spaces that are clear from casual inspection, as well as suspected and secret ones.
And, as has been said and deserves being said again, it’s just so darn purty that I’d be surprised if many puzzlers actually turned one down, should they have the opportunity to get one. When his initial fb posts were discovered and shortly thereafter shared on discord, he was inundated with messages and requests; I think he was surprised but I most certainly was not because (one more time!) it looks awesome!
Ryan has been busy this past year; his obvious talent as a woodworker and the compelling nature of the box has led him to meet and get to know some of the best puzzle box makers out there. He already had a couple designs (copies of which were also shown in that early post) and has since been working on a couple more – and lo, the cyber-stalking of puzzles past would continue on, its vigor renewed and spirit unbroken.
Lalalalalalalalalalalaaaaaa…… The Tippenary Mystery Tour is coming to take you away… coming to take you away, take you awaaaaaaaaay!
I have been politely and patiently cyberstalking Jack Krijnen for some time now, particularly after learning that he had begun working on his second puzzle box; after some months of his newest creation being teased, I was happily surprised to get an email from him with the chance to get a copy of this new, limited box release of 30 copies. Needless to say, my answer was a resounding “yes, please!” and the package was soon on its way across land and sea and into my eager, puzzling hands.
TTMT is a truly fun and unique puzzling experience: the only negative is that it is so hard to talk about it without giving anything away as you are initially able to see only a very small portion of the puzzling the box ultimately contains. Jack described it by saying that it is “sequential (puzzle) discovery, it is riddle solving, it is n-ary, and in the end there is a challenge waiting.” This is, of course, all perfectly accurate, but the unique, genre-blending nature of its multi-tiered puzzle experience is hard to communicate; if only there were a puzzler capable of speaking at length without communicating much of anything at all.… perhaps someone with a good (?) sense of humor and an arbitrary rating system….
The box is pretty sizable, and Jack puts the majority of its interior space to use. Looking at pics, you can discern how to first approach its initial puzzle, and such discernment is likely to yield results; however, the puzzle is going to subtly play with expectations before granting progress and this was true for me from the start. I’d soon descended deeper into the box, arriving at its next challenge, which is a really fun blend of riddling and multiple puzzle types that makes for a very original challenge.
There were several ways to approach this next section, and all of them were going to require some good, old-fashioned thinking (and more than a little note-taking) to make sense of it. Figuring out what means what and what needs to happen is only half the fun, as execution is at least as challenging. I’d found that while some of my puzzling had been correct, there were some things I had missed; going back to the drawing board, I’d found that I had been correct about one part, but for the wrong reason – it took more notes and thinking to make sense of this before I could re-execute a modified version of my puzzling plan and find I had successfully navigated through this next level of the puzzle. Some of my initial deductive leaps had paid off, but needed to be further corroborated by straight puzzling to break through this section.
The next section wasn’t too difficult for me, mostly as it is a puzzle type with which I have a decent amount of experience and knew how to tackle. Having passed through, I momentarily thought that I had completed the puzzle, having discovered….. something cool. However, after puzzling in circles for a time, I realized that the box is hiding even more interesting puzzle trickery! I spent quite a bit of time here, going around and around, wondering if I had missed anything and what it could have been, before semi-stumbling into a laugh out loud aha that had me figuring out yet another puzzling secret, which would lead me to yet another puzzling secret or two before I would finally have solved the box in its entirety. After several great puzzling moments, this finale was surprising and ensured that a really cool and original puzzle was something absolutely memorable and unique.
While the first rule of TTMT may well be to not talk about TTMT, I must say that it wonderfully manages to bring together so many different types of puzzles into one, cohesive whole: the various puzzles and challenges are distinct but interconnected and it almost feels like being taken on a tour of the various types of challenges mechanical puzzling can offer, wrapped up in a pretty box of maple and mahogany. The box connects well with some of Jack’s past work, which links past and present in a cool way; as someone who is still in his first decade of legit puzzling, this was a really nice feeling: he created the ability for us to connect to some puzzling history in a direct and tangible way that provides the box with a greater context, which I appreciated and enjoyed. Now if I could only get my hands on a Jack in the Box…….. 😉
Playin’ With That (Parody of Baby Got Back by Sir-Mix-a-Lot)
Early Preview Version
Lyrics by fivesinatras All tracks performed by fivesinatras
Original music by Sir Mix-a-Lot
I have spent entirely too much time over the last week writing and recording “Playin’ With That,” a puzzle-themed parody of “Baby Got Back” by Sir-Mix-a-Lot (full lyrics bellow).
This is a pretty rough version of the song and I hope to find some puzzlers who want to help me improve it; I am especially in need of someone to lay down some record-scratching and maybe help with the mix (and the music itself would certainly benefit from some further work). If you are interested, comment below and send me a DM.
I plan on re-recording the vocals as this was recorded late at night and I didn’t want to wake my son up and incur his adolescent wrath (just kidding: he’s cool).
Music Video Help!
I think it would be fun to make a music video featuring members of the puzzling community: you-tubers, bloggers, collectors and designers could submit video clips lip-syncing / dancing to the song, which I would then edit into a music video. This would, of course, require puzzlers to want to participate as I’m not going to make a video of me dancing for 4 minutes (you’re welcome).
Copyright Disclaimer: This is a parody of a well-known song and is protected under Fair Use law; I have performed all tracks myself (instrumental and vocal) and am contrasting the sexual and cultural meaning of the original song with the mores of the mechanical puzzle community 😛
If you would like to learn more about the legal protections afforded to musical parodies, I would be pretty surprised; nonetheless, you can check out this 1994 Supreme Court decision denying Roy Orbison’s case against 2 Live Crew (this is comedy gold, people: Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569 (1994)).
If you want to help with improving this song or to participate in making a music video, please comment and send me a DM.
My SoundCloud profile also has songs that a friend and I made in the mid-1990’s, so if you want to hear some lo-fi indie-folk-punk, check out “A Man Dies Slow” and “My Life is Lived.”
Oh my god, PT, look at that burr
Its level’s so big, it’s gonna take
those puzzle guys a whole weekend.
But ya know who can even solve
They only try to solve ‘em because
they look like they're impossible, k'?
I mean, that burr, its just so big.
I can’t believe it’s not even around,
it’s sold out there.
Those dudes are obsessed.
It’s just so, sad.
I like big burrs and I cannot lie
You other puzzlers can’t deny
When a burr shows up on CD’s page
With pretty woods to my taste
I press done, having paid enough
Cause I know that burr is tough
Gonna get sucked into payin’
I’m hooked and I can’t stop playin’
Oh maybe get the one
And take some pictures
Discord friends tried to warn me
That burr you got’s from (Osanori)
Oh, come get puzzlin’
You say ya gonna need more hands?
It’s co-movement, I’m usin’
BT but the file’s confusin’
Won’t ask cubic dissection
to hell with the solution
I’ll get it
Got me goin’ straight into debt
Puzzle will be played
Level 90 is what it said
30.8.9. dot what
That aha’s coming up
So puzzlers (yeah)
Your collection got some burrs?
Tell em’ don’t shake it (shake it)
Don’t shake it (shake it)
Don’t shake that wooden burr
Playin’ with that
(made of 6 exotic woods, son)
Playin with that
(made of 6 exotic woods, son)
The solution ain’t been found,
it's too big,
And then I’m throwin’ a fit
I just can’t help myself,
wanna buy every puzzle
When Haubrich’s live, I’ll
Make ‘em all my own
I’m stuck (trouble what) stuck stuck
Ain’t talkin’ bout my fails, boy,
Cause wooden puzzles ain’t ya toys
Don’t want em’ scratched
or loose, see
Cause Reassembly’s trouble
Yeah it’s a struggle
I’m watching Mr. Puzzle
He’s solving YT videos
I’m on Baxter now, bidding on those
Prices still kinda low
M..l’s got bids tho’
A word to the six-piece Cutlers
I want to get all ya
I might cuss or hate ya
But I gotta be fake sayin’ I ain’t gonna
Come and get hints from
Someone who’s got it done
I want a DM, spoil tags on
Some puzzlers solve it and list it
But I’d rather it stay to replay
List is long, I want on
Cyberstalking ya now it’s on
So puzzlers (yeah)
Wanna go with disassemblies? (yeah)
Then go log on, have no doubt,
New puzzles are comin’ out
Playin’ with that
Playin’ with that
Pelikan’s in the mail
So many puzzles by Alfons
It’s hard to make my selection
Level 36, 24, 36
Gonna be a hard disassembly
NPSO wanna surprise ya
With a puzzle but just can’t find one
Ask on the Discord group
cause we don’t mind ya
I have a box, I don’t want none
Unless you got burrs, son
You can do SD and boxes
But please don’t lose that burr
Packin’ puzzles are gettin’ sold
Boucher’s designs are gold
When they list it, I don’t leave it
Gotta order quick to retrieve it
No wallets gonna stay fat
When you order all of that
Gotta package, it’s full
and the burrs are kickin’
And I’m thinking about stickin’
To all the ones in the blogs I read
Ya can’t get everything
Wanna try, I can’t resist a
Juno design, like this burr
SD Pluredro don’t you dis
slammed car is on my list
At 2 pm he’s gonna post ‘em
Refreshin’ to get most of ‘em
Cause puzzlers, the burr you found
Ain’t always gonna be around
All them unicorns cost a lot
So which ones have you bought
Playin’ with that
Playin’ with that
It’s wigglin a little
but I built it right back
It’s wigglin a little
but I built it right back
Ship in a Bottle, Hoffman Packing & Inelegant Series
Designers: Bill Cutler (Bermuda) Dean Hoffman (Hoffman) Haym Hirsh (Inelegant Series) Pit Khiam Goh (4L Bin & Ship in a Bottle) Tom Lensch (Punch Cards & Nested Cubes)
All copies produced by Tom Lensch
Life got in the way of my puzzling these last few weeks, causing a few weeks to go by without any puzzle posts (aside from my recent post on Rob Yarger’s One Hand Puzzlebox); somehow, dear reader, you survived this lull and I am happy to be back to doing what I love – rambling and ranting about puzzles. To make up for this soul-sucking abyss that went almost entirely unnoticed, I shall pack several puzzles into the present post (see what I did there?).
This post collects several puzzles from different designers; all copies in my possession were produced at various times over the last several years by the incomparable Tom Lensch: master craftsman, puzzler and all-around-good-guy. Some designs are his and some are by others: all are amazing puzzles that bring a nuanced and original perspective to packing puzzles, stretching the term beyond our assumptions of what this might mean.
Please note that these are all older productions from Tom and are not available from him. Tom produces puzzles in fairly limited quantities and does not generally keep stock on hand, instead selling directly to collectors.
At the first Gathering for Gardner in 1993, OG puzzle designer, author, analyst and collector, Bill Cutler, shared his design for a challenging, three layer packing puzzle with the excellent puzzle craftsman, Tom Lensch. Since then, Tom has released three limited runs of this extremely challenging puzzle, most recently (a year or two ago) in an absolutely beautiful Kentucky Coffee-Tree with a Walnut frame. He offered two grains, and I opted for the narrower, medium grain. The puzzle is a good size at 3 cm x 13 cm; big enough to be appreciated aesthetically as well as comfortable manipulated but not so big as to take up an unnecessary amount of space.
Originally, the 12 pieces of Bill’s design were composed of one large triangle glued in various configurations to two smaller ones (a total of 12 large and 24 small), the whole puzzle consisting of 3 layers fitted perfectly into a hexagonal tray. The design provided a fairly significant clue, as the top layer showed 6 large triangles.
Following the dark grains of the Coffee-Tree, Tom elected to eliminate the large triangles, instead making them out of 4 small triangles, with the puzzle now using a total of 72 small triangles glued into 12 pieces; each piece is composed of 6 small triangles, but they are all quite different from one another. This design allowed the pattern to be consistent across its three layers, making the puzzle more of a challenge – considering that this was not an easy puzzle to begin with, Tom’s most recent release is, simply put, damn difficult.
I have not managed to solve this puzzle despite spending a good amount of hours spread out over a year or so: as with many great packing designs, you feel confident that you are onto something when you are nearing the end, only to find that one or two final pieces insist on poking out above the frame’s top or simply will not fit. While the use of multiple layers in most pieces limits the possible configurations, the triangles can nonetheless seemingly fit in so many different ways that the correct solution continues to elude me. However, the excellent woods and unique design are enough to keep me coming back, hoping that I will eventually find myself worthy of a happy dance when that last piece slides perfectly in.
This design by Pit Khiam Goh may share a name with other puzzles (4L by Yasuhiro Hashimoto and 4L Basket by Koichi Miura) but the similarities end there: this is an amazingly fun puzzle that has you searching for that perfect dance of pieces that must be inserted into its box in a way I’ve not seen elsewhere.
The box resembles that of Eric Fuller’s Pin Block Case , the opening severely restricted to no more than the center of one quarter – the box does leave open a strip on the back and bottom of the puzzle to assist with manipulating the oddly shaped pieces. Tom’s release uses brass pins along the edges of the right and left side of the box for a unique aesthetic, lending some color to the light woods used. When solved, the open quarter of the puzzle will be filled, apparent-cube style (the apparent cubeness belied by the gaps seen when looking through the open strips), some contrasting woods exposed asymmetrically yet beautifully at its main opening.
The four pieces are of the same general size and shape, their dimensions equal to two lengths of the square, fitted at a right angle. The challenge is based on the narrow protrusions placed along the pieces. The edge pieces are easily discerned as they only feature protrusions along a single side, lending you a much needed starting point. At 9.5 cm, the box is sizable, allowing the pieces to fit well in your hands and be easily manipulated via the access points at the back.
When first confronted with the puzzle, I was pretty intimidated; it seemed like something that would require a lot of trial and error to make any progress. However, after a bit of playing around, I saw that there was a clear logic to how the pieces must fit – before too long, I’d found the most likely configuration of pieces to be inserted for the solve and turned to determining how to get them in there.
This is what really makes the puzzle fun – rather than getting bogged down by too many possible configurations, a bit of early analysis allows you to focus your efforts on the dance, forcing you to examine the possible entries and movements to determine the order of insertion, and the needed back and forth steps to allow each to get where they need to go. The final solution relies mostly on this logic, combined with the careful planning necessitated by the restrictive nature of the puzzle.
After finding the correct configuration, I eventually found the correct order of insertion; I then needed to find the proper dance moves to follow this order, finally spending a good amount of time trying to realize these moves, forcing me to not only have a good grasp of its choreography, but to discover the kind of great aha moment that is the mark of a really cool packing puzzle. This is not the kind of puzzle that you will solve without realizing you were about to do so – you need to know what needs to happen going in and really think about how to put this into action. The solution really is elegant – turning down some dead ends, I found my failed attempts to be a bit fiddly at times and was impressed by how graceful the actual solution felt.
The puzzle fell into that sweet spot of puzzling time (not you, MQ) – I was able to solve it in just a couple sittings, well beyond anything resembling easy but well short of reaching the point of frustration (let alone boredom). This is the kind of puzzle that begs to be solved, its unique challenge playful despite being difficult.
Punch Cards was Tom’s entry at IPP23 in Chicago. Consisting of a 3.25″ X 2.75 ” X 1.7″ frame, it comes with 5 acrylic squares with a number of circles cut out in unique and asymmetric patterns. Inside its walnut frame, you can see 6 dowels of differing lengths, obstructing the ability to fit the acrylic pieces inside.
The frame has a unique, fidget-friendly feature basic to the puzzle (which is to say it isn’t a spoiler). Solving the puzzle with a static frame would clearly be impossible – the pieces simply cannot be inserted with the dowels where they are. As such, one side of the frame can be lifted a quarter of an inch or so, lifting a couple dowels from one side of the puzzle, leaving you with only those on the frame’s other side to restrict entry. Of course, placement of the acrylic pieces must allow the frame to be closed in order to find the solution.
Examining the pieces allows you to dismiss some potential entries, leaving you to try various orientations and orders to determine where each piece might fit; some amount of trial and error allows for progress with a good amount of logic to bring you home.
Solving Punch is really quite fun – each little aha combining to produce that final sense of earned satisfaction that comes when the frame snaps perfectly closed, leaving the acrylic pieces jutting out of one side, displaying its unique design wonderfully and temptingly. I’ve found it to be fun to just fidget with it, the frame snapping shut satisfyingly; while re-solving is fairly straightforward (assuming you haven’t mixed the pieces up), there is something about sliding each piece in and dropping the frame closed, securing the pieces perfectly within, that I find gratifying (I’ve done it about 5 times just while writing this).
This is a design that I have been hunting for since reading about it in some of the great puzzle blogs out there (as opposed to the mediocre one here). Originally entered into the 2012 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition, the puzzle consists of five nested cubes (you can see where the name comes from), the outermost a respectable 7.5 cm.
All but the smallest cube (which is so perfect as to seem to consist of a single piece of wood) has a lid that fits with the absolute precision found in all of Tom’s work. They rest perfectly atop each cube with an airtight feel that is stable and secure while being easy enough to remove. The largest cube features a brass pin at its bottom, protruding straight ups bit less than half the length of the cube. Each of the other four cubes feature a small hole on multiple sides, placed slightly off-center in an inconsistent manner that is the main challenge of the puzzle.
The fit of the various cubes is absolutely perfect; as they slide slowly into one another, you can actually feel the air being displaced by the precise fit. Of course, it is not a simple matter to get each in completely: the brass pin prevents this until you find the correct orientation of each successive piece.
I worked my way in, starting with the largest of the cubes, soon falling into the familiar state of puzzling zen that accompanies some puzzles. The puzzle has a conceptually similar experience to Punch Cards while feeling totally unique in practice: the reliance upon a mixture of close examination and trial & error, with a nice dose of logic bringing it all together. Each success was progressively more satisfying until all four inner cubes sat perfectly one within the other, the combined piece sliding wonderfully into the outermost cube so precisely that any puzzler would find it impossible not to smile. Having accomplished this challenging feat, I placed that final lid atop the box, the seemingly simple wooden cube subtly belying the trickiness contained within.
Ship in a Bottle
Ship in a Bottle is another design by Pit Khiam Goh; I am constantly impressed by the diversity and uniqueness of his designs that rely on a broad range of mechanisms that oftentimes use a genuinely original approach to puzzle genres, resulting in a puzzle that is pretty much impossible to resist.
Ship consists of a bottle-shaped wooden frame with an acrylic front and back attached by rounded brass pins that helps give it a slightly nautical feel; its narrow sides are open, allowing for the easy manipulation of the pieces within. Inside, there are six maple blocks: two are one-voxel cubes and four are two-voxel rectangles. Engraved on the blocks is the image of what appears to be an Ancient Greek Trireme (or similar). The interior of the bottle is three by four voxels, with two left empty. Atop the bottle, there is a one-voxel opening at its center; the puzzle comes with a lid that protrudes into the bottle’s neck, its top extending outwards to plug the hole, one side featuring a magnet that holds it to the frame with a fidget-friendly click.
The puzzle has a unique goal: it arrives with the ship facing out towards the neck and you must remove the pieces and re-insert them so the ship has turned, facing in towards the bottle’s bottom. This makes for a fun puzzle that is perhaps equal parts slider and packing. Three of the rectangular pieces are oriented perpendicular to the neck, requiring you to find the room to pack them in properly, rotating each of the pieces after having inserted them sideways. But, in the words of the late, great Don Pardo: “That’s not all!” – remember, the goal is not just to get the pieces in, but to do so such that the image of the ship can be reversed.
This combination of puzzle genres makes for a truly fun experience; although I found it not too difficult to get all of the pieces in, the available order and placement of the inserted pieces severely limits their internal choreography, which must allow for sliding the pieces around one another so as to create the reversed image of the ship. Aha moments abound along the way: first you must find how you can get all the pieces in, then you must find how to do so to allow the solved state to be found. This progressed for me in phases, as I would find myself closer to each goal only to find myself backtracking as I realized I needed to tweak my method. For example, I eventually came across the correct dance, only to find that I had two pieces inserted in the wrong order, leaving the ship with an inverted side. I’d sort of missed how exactly I had gotten to this point, and found myself struggling to reverse the dance; this allowed for a better understanding of the puzzle’s solution, and I was then able to change the order of insertion to allow for the solved state to be reached.
The design is really quite amazing: resetting the puzzle to the original ship orientation is a fairly trivial and straightforward matter (largely due to the fact that you can put the square pieces in last, leaving plenty of room to get the rectangles in beforehand) – it is only when you try to reverse it that you run into the significant challenge of the design. After a couple of good puzzling sessions, I was able to find the solution; I left it solved for a while before resetting it to allow for a solid re-solve challenge when I inevitably forget how the hell I was able to solve the thing.
Hoffman Packing Puzzle
This is perhaps one of the most iconic packing puzzles out there, a classic design first described in 1978 by Dean Hoffman (not to be confused with the 19th Century puzzle godfather Professor Hoffman, author of Puzzles Old & New and other quintessential puzzle books). (Ed. This is perhaps the second best thing to come out of that year…… 😉
Hoffman’s Packing Puzzle is such a prototypical design as to deserve its own Wikipedia page; as such, I will not get into some of its interesting mathematical significance (because I am obviously totally capable of doing that…. cough cough). The puzzle consists of 27 identical pieces that will form a 3 x 3 cube that is internally imperfect (as its total volume is less than the internal space of the box) while having perfectly parallel sides.
Haym Hirsh has come out with a series of designs built off of this design, combining pieces so as to create puzzles with a single, unique solution as compared to the original’s 21 distinct solutions. Haym’s Inelegant Series begins with the puzzle formerly known as Hoffman Jr. (Inelegant 5 x 5), followed by Inelegant Soma, Inelegant Box, Inelegant Cube, Inelegant Snakes and Inelegant Fake, which have all been produced by Brian Menold of WoodWondersOnline (I have so far only managed to obtain copies of Soma and Snakes – he does re-release these from time to time so I may yet realize the impulses of my Hoffmania). These are really quite fun and challenging, riffing on the concepts behind the original Hoffman to create a series of aesthetically similar yet mostly practically unique experiences that feature added tweaks such as empty voxels or pieces fixed to the frame.
Tom produced an insanely cool run of Hoffman some years ago; not only did he use a different exotic wood for each for the 27 pieces, but he actually engraved the name of the species on each individual piece. Fitting perfectly into a two-tone wooden box (with a lovely, floating lid), the puzzle just looks fantastic. This makes for both a cool version of a classic puzzle as well as a fun way to check out samples of exotic woods – I’ve certainly pulled them out when trying to identify what type of wood a puzzle might be or to help choose which woods to get when presented with a choice.
Despite having multiple solutions, Hoffman is quite a challenge that is entertaining to solve, as you watch what at first appears to be nothing more than a rather chaotic jumble of blocks turn into a nice, smooth cube (eventually…… hopefully… maybe).
Welp. There ya go: my packing puzzle mega-review.
Stay tuned – one of these days just might be a Good Day to Pack Hard…
Robert Yarger, walnut & various exotic woods, 6″ x 3″ x 3″ (160 copies)
One of the best things to happen to a puzzler is to open an email from a great designer and unexpectedly learn that not only have they produced a new puzzle, but that you can get a copy! I knew Rob was working on a new puzzle (pretty sure this is pretty much always the case), but had not known the what or the when. And so it was with a hearty “yes please!” that the box was ordered. Within a week, it arrived at my door: work was cast aside, chores forgotten (which I guess isn’t really all that unique), dogs and cat ignored (I don’t think the cat noticed), mail cast aside, wife…… politely informed that I would like a few minutes, if that’s ok, and so the box was opened and the villagers rejoiced (yayyy).
But you likely care little for my inner life (rude) and instead want to know about the dang puzzle.
(note: all the information below is limited to what is included in the puzzle’s original description and instructions, including the shapes of the pieces which was shown in the accompanying photo; the rest is my personal puzzling experience and is very unlikely to spoil the experience for others)
One Hand Puzzlebox is is based on a concept by puzzler Asher Simon, and is Robert Yarger’s “tribute to the genera of packing puzzles.” Burrtools is unlikely to be of much use, however, as the pieces are oddly shaped, magnets strewn about, seemingly haphazardly but of course we know that is not the case.
The box is 6″ x 3″ x 3″ and is made of a walnut that feels and looks great (which is not surprising, considering its pedigree); my pics really do not do it justice. The lid will only slide in one direction (I might prefer it to slide NKOTB-style, but hey, I don’t judge); sliding it back, you find a compartment approximately half the length of the box before the lid stops, unable to move any further. Exotic woods of various shapes and sizes fill the cubed space (albeit with some gaps present, if i remember correctly – I have yet to find the original configuration ;-). In the center, a piece shaped sort of like a Mayan temple pops up, begging to be pulled. Rob refers to this as a “grenade pin,” which is a pretty accurate description considering what happens next.
As Rob wrote in his description, the pieces will “flip around like a transformer robot” upon being removed; the mini-explosion of pieces that have been straining for release is super satisfying and more than a little intimidating. These are not the typical voxels of a packing puzzle and the apparent randomness of the shapes indicates the difficulty of getting them back in.
The puzzle’s name stems from the recommended method of using one hand to place the pieces “back into the compartment, one at a time, and in a particular order.” The description goes on to say that “combined pieces [will] have to slide around with a satisfying ‘snap into place feel’ to fit the others in.” A minimum of 18 steps later (if you can do it in 18 steps your first time you shall be exalted and known throughout the puzzling world for your giant brain), you will have re-inserted the pieces, thereby unlocking the second compartment (neat!).
Rob rates the puzzle as “‘very difficult’ to solve correctly” and from the hours I have spent on it thus far, I’d say that is a conservative description, if anything. I will readily admit that I am not so great at packing puzzles: my spatial reasoning falls far short of my ability think critically (which is itself eclipsed by my ability to ramble far beyond what is necessary or likely even desired).
I have spent a good amount of time on this puzzle already, and have not lost interest – even really great puzzles that pose a challenge big enough to require multiple sessions generally tend to join the rest of my “in progress” (read: unsolved) puzzles well before this point. This only goes to show the extent to which the struggle to solve is legitimately fun. I can burn out on some packing puzzles after a while, feeling like I am going in circles and need to set it aside to later return with fresh eyes; but One Hand offers so many new and interesting and strange and unlikely combinations and configurations that I find myself stuck in a Civilization feedback loop (named after one of my first all-night gaming sessions from grade school, the lure of “just one more turn” causing hours to go by before we noticed the sun coming up). I have found partial assemblies that I think must be correct, only to be cast aside as I see no way that the rest can fit; attractions and repulsions of magnets alternately helping and hurting my progression, as I wonder whether they are there to help or to mislead (or, more likely, both).
Suffice it to say, when (if) I do eventually find the perfect positioning of pieces that puts me on track to unlocking the box’s second compartment, the happiest of happy dances will undoubtedly ensue as I try to follow Rob’s intended method, using one hand to place them in piece by piece, until I can slide that lid back all the way, allowing me to proudly share my achievement with my not particularly interested wife (“look! look! I moved this piece of wood a couple inches that way!!!”), and bask in the glory of my success. And the villagers shall once more rejoice (yayy).
…and then I will remember that I need to find the original combination to reset the box.
The puzzling value on this one is quite high and is already filled with smaller aha moments as I find my way closer to that final Aha! moment (hopefully, eventually…. maybe); I will also admit that I have spent more than a little time attempting to construct a robot – the pieces just demand to be experimented and played with, the time spent helping me to get to know the pieces and see how they might eventually combine in that one, perfect arrangement.
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.
Juno, 4.5″ x 0.75″, Anegre, Jarrah, American Black Walnut, and Bamboo plywood
Don’t be fooled: not all sliders are created equal, and some keep their biggest secrets hidden within.
If you like sliders, you need to get Arrow. If you like surprisingly challenging, well-made wood puzzles with multiple challenges, a beautiful aesthetic, and excellent tactile feedback, you probably already got Arrow.
And yet, somehow, at the time of this writing there remain about 50 copies of this limited release puzzle available from Pluredro. As with most of Juno’s best works, I am confident these will not be there much longer. I thought perhaps I might try and explain what makes this design so interesting and fun, particularly for those who may be unsure or on the fence.
Most anyone who ate fast food as a child in the 80s has done a sliding tray puzzle at some point – flipping tiles around a small plastic tray to create the image of Hamburglar or Grimace while eating terrible food is certainly in my past. Classic sliding tray puzzles can be pretty basic, especially the classic 9 square design, where you use the one open voxel to move the tiles around to create a picture or move a square from one side to the other or whatever.
But that is most definitely not this……. not at all. Yes, this has nine squares with one open voxel (the puzzle comes with a lovely placeholder), and yes the tiles must be moved around to complete the 9 challenges (mostly depending on where the empty voxel is at the start). But hidden within these tiles is a confusingly simple pattern of pins and grooves that prevents certain squares from moving in certain ways, making this a totally different animal from the simple trays from which it evolved. Each square has grooves along 1.5 sides and a pin on another; the frame itself has grooves on two sides. Very quickly, you learn that not every open voxel can be crossed by every tile, depending on which tiles surround it, and that you will need to find lengthy detours to get around the frequent barriers created when a pin runs out of groove (and with Stella nowhere to be found, you are left to your own puzzling devices to get back said grooves).
Sliders can certainly be great fidget fun – solutions can oftentimes require dozens and dozens of moves to reach; considering the fact that you will almost definitely not manage to only do correct moves with a difficult slider like Arrow, the actual move count can easily be in the hundreds. So stick an old episode of Buffy up on the tv because shirt just got serious.
And this is a big part of the fun – after hours of clicking and clacking this way and that, I started to get an unconscious sense of what could go where: at first, I tried to consciously remember such limitations: e.g. “ok, pieces with a pin on the right won’t be able to travel along the left side of this piece, whereas pieces with a pin on the left can’t travel along the right side of this one…..” This quickly became too cumbersome for my averagely-smarter-than-average mind, and I found myself bumping up against a much more wonderful place of puzzling zen, where I didn’t need to think consciously to sometimes know what could or couldn’t go where.
Sliders are weird because the typical slider could be easily reproduced and solved on paper – you don’t need perfect dimensions or tolerances, just moving stuff around. This is perhaps why most sliders tend to be pretty affordable (including some really great designs: Diniar Namdarian has some excellent, original puzzles in plastic that are generally less than $20). Putting aside the fact that the pins and grooves of Arrow mean that this would be difficult to do with this puzzle, there is another reason why you would prefer wood: the tactile and auditory feedback is seriously meditative. When you get into the groove (pun intended), you can start flitting and flying around, clicking and clacking your way through and around and back again (zenning out while the Scoobies save us from yet another apocalyptic close-call).
Arrow takes an interesting aesthetic approach to its solution, requiring you to make a single light arrow out of the single dark arrow that the puzzle first displays. This requires a total rearranging of the pieces – it is really quite cool how the design has been accomplished, with the negative space around the arrow image slowly becoming the new one. While not strictly necessary to the puzzle itself, it adds an Escher-ish element to the puzzle that only makes it that much cooler to solve.
Another lovely detail is the lovely step-joinery at the corners of the frame; something Juno tells us was not necessary but just shows the level of quality you get from his work (in case you were not already aware).
The need to go back to go forward is a common occurrence in sliding tray puzzles, but Arrow takes this to another level: like other restricted sliders such as Slide-Blocked Sliding Block by Bill Cutler, Arrow will seemingly bring you close to success only to cruelly and amusingly rip it from your grasp when you realize that you are actually nowhere near done. After several hours working on the puzzle, I found that I had successfully managed to build the new image required; my only remaining issue was that the empty voxel was on the upper left instead of the upper right. Surely a minor issue that could be remedied with little trouble…….. nope. No. NoNoNoNo. Not at all. Until, finally, a few hours later and that pesky empty space had been moved an inch or two to the right: success! huzzah! Happy dance!
The listing for Arrow gives plenty of info that I didn’t include here – I mostly wanted to help any who may yet want to know what makes it so gosh-darned awesometastic. The fact that the designer said that “most human beings cannot solve the puzzle without the aid of a computer” has absolutely nothing to do with my wanting to share – my ego obviously has no need for such fluffery! Now then: Please click like and subscribe and share and leave (positive) comments below and tell my Kindergarten Vice Principal she didn’t know what the hell she was talking about!
It’s that time of year again: families gathering around blahblahblah……. we know what really matters: Karakuri Holiday Boxes! (If you don’t know about how the holiday boxes work, you can learn more here).
At the end of a strange year, I felt like Jimmy Stewart at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life when a big box of smaller boxes containing my new puzzle boxes arrived sometime in mid-December: “Merry Christmas Movie House! Merry Christmas you wonderful Building & Loan!” Merry Christmas Karakuri Puzzle Boxes! Now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now Prancer and Vixen! Now Kamei! Now Iwahara, Kawashima and Kakuda!
Over the course of the last year, I added more and more of the craftspeople at the KCG until I was on the list for 7 of the 8 boxes (sorry Fumio, I really did mean to add yours as well……). As in the past, I chose to resist the temptation of opening the boxes upon arrival, opting instead to hold out for Christmas morning. My mother-in-law always gets a kick out of seeing them, and it is one of the rare times when I can get my teenage son to look at something I like for a moment or two. Most importantly, the anticipation is fun and this year’s boxes did not disappoint! As is to be expected, all puzzles reflect the brilliant standards of Karakuri puzzles, working smoothly and looking even more striking upon close examination.
Pics of the boxes have been making the rounds on social media, and I wanted to break my too-long blogging hiatus with a review of (most of) this year’s boxes. For those who are not aware, the names of most of the boxes have not yet been released and can be expected in January.
Kamei’s box resembles a classic safe (3.5″ x 3″ x 4.5″): four tiny legs beneath an upright, rectangle, complete with notched dial that seems to spin freely. Picking it up, you can hear one or more somethings moving around inside. Kamei’s hanko is on the back of the box; it is pretty clear when you have solved the box and seeing the hanko on its outside helps to confirm that you are not missing anything once it is open. Finding the right approach took a bit of creative cat burgling – of all the boxes, this is the one that gave me the most trouble. I was pretty sure I knew what to do at the outset, at least to some extent, and while it turned out to be correct, executing it still takes a bit of focus. I’ve heard from other puzzles who are similarly confounded by how specifically it works, in some ways feeling similar to other boxes of Kamei’s that rely on mechanisms that make little sense, until they make total sense – while you may yet continue to struggle to understand how the concept is realized, you can at least understand what is happening. Of this year’s boxes, this is the one whose internal layout most confounds me.
Kawashima’s box was one of my personal favorites (even if I do feel like there is one small change that could have made it even better in my mind). It is the only puzzle this year to resemble a classic box (albeit a small one at slightly less than 3″). One panel is light colored, calling your attention to what will presumably be your goal. Kawashima may be guiding us a bit here, as it is pretty simple to make initial success, leading you through a few productive steps until you hit a wall hiding a couple added tricks that block you from further progress. Kawashima’s hanko awaits you when you reach the final compartment, after a nice, progressive solution. The box displays well with Iwahara’s 2019 holiday gift: Aquarius Box, which is slightly larger but features a similar aesthetic.
Iwahara’s Drawer (3.5″ x 3.5″ x 2.5″) is the box that offers the most puzzling, with an appearance that resembles this year’s Drawer with a Tree but features puzzling that is quite different. The hanko is important with this puzzle, as I briefly thought I had solved it after finding a fun series of steps to open and close it, before realizing I had not yet seen his mark. Some further exploration led to a happy, second aha as the fun-to-do mechanism is expressed in yet another step. The concept is well-executed, and it is the type of mechanism that I find fun to pick up and solve here and there; I have little doubt that this box will join the ranks of other fidget-friendly karakuri boxes that currently sit on my shelves. The puzzle has the added bonus of smelling particularly good, only increasing its re-solve value.
Kasho’s box features a UFO that spins elliptically above the whimsical crop circles adorning a flattened cube (approx. 2.5″ x 3″). At first glance, I thought it was a safari hat atop a button, which made decidedly less sense. It is pretty clear what to do at first, and opening the box is rather straightforward. However, the brilliance of this puzzle really takes a bit of imagination – this is the box that has perhaps grown on me the most, as I have stepped back to observe the solution and the kind of scene the craftsman was perhaps imagining. Basically, I have come to see that the entire experience encapsulates a story and I hope this is something that has occurred to other puzzlers, because, to me, it is what really makes this unique (happy to share this with anyone who wants to know, but I don’t want to give any spoilers here). There is one particular design detail that I especially like, and which perfectly finished the concept at play in the puzzle’s solution. I had high expectations for his box this year as his was my favorite of 2019; to be honest, I was a bit let down at first but, as I said, this is the puzzle that has most grown on me as I have (I think) gotten into the maker’s head a bit more, discovering the story the puzzle is (I think) intended to tell.
Once again, I had some wildly incorrect initial impressions, thinking this was an odd-looking snake-train thing (4″ x 1.5″ x 2.25″) whose tongue had fallen out. I don’t know where my mind is sometimes but once I was able to break through my dumbassery, I realized what was what and actually laughed out loud (rolling on the floor with a puzzle seems foolhardy and excessive). Realizing what it is, the way forward is pretty clear while being no less enjoyable for it. This is another fidget-friendly box that should not be overlooked; I think it requires some precise craftsmanship that may bely its playful appearance.
Kikuchi’s is the only box to directly reference the Christmas season; last year’s box featured a Christmas tree and this year’s box is a stocking (3.25″ x 1.75″ x 4.25″) stuffed full of presents! It is decidedly adorable and has a multi-step solution that is simple but fun and, once again, quite fidget-friendly. Kikuchi is the least prolific of the KCG members and this is the first puzzle of his to make its way into my collection. I didn’t realize it, but he has the most punk of the KCG hankos, eschewing traditional Japanese characters for a more stylized signature.
Yoh delivers on our animalistic expectations, with an adorable Wombat (3″ x 4″ x 1.75″) that is not only entertaining, but educational! I don’t want to give anything away, but after a couple straightforward steps, you are rewarded with a funny (and perhaps questionably desirable) reward. A conversation about the puzzle led me to google a particular fact about the Wombat, which has led me to be surprised that no other designer (to my knowledge) has taken advantage of this fun mammalian fact. Yoh’s hanko is displayed on the bottom of the puzzle, which led to a bit of confusion in more than one puzzler, as I heard a few folks may have thought they had solved the puzzle prematurely (which is pretty cool, as it features fair more fun than one first figured). Kakuda’s Wombat is adorable and smart, and packs an excellent punchline.
Frederic Boucher, 2020, 15 copies (more coming early 2021)
Frederic Boucher makes great packing puzzles (BonBon, Takiyaki, etc.), that are much more challenging than they might appear. He also makes some really unique puzzles with a whimsical and fun twist that make them particularly awesome, puzzles like Anti-Gravity Box and X Cube that are interesting takes on a classic puzzle genre. Visitor Q continues in this tradition (and is, oddly enough, another space-theme-adjacent Boucher puzzle reviewed by me).
Frederic contacted me some time ago to let me know that he would be making a few copies of a Sequential Discovery puzzle: VQ is mostly an interlocking disassembly puzzle that eschews some of the tropes of this classic puzzle genre to carve something of a new path via some fun sd challenges. Pretty much anything Boucher makes, I will happily try – and once I saw the letters “SD” I basically fell over myself saying “yes, please” and “thank you” and “yay!”
Frederic, in his humble and kind manner, expressed that he did not think it was overly complex and hoped that I (and the others fortunate enough to obtain a copy) would nonetheless find it to be fun. Needless to say, fun I did find it indeed.
While the term SD may be thrown around quite a bit these days, VQ comfortably meets the (collaboratively written) Discord-determined definition, which declares such to be puzzles “that take you on a journey through a set of sequential and generally non-repeating steps involving the discovery of hidden mechanisms or devices to reach a final goal.” VQ presents 4 goals that build upon one another as you discover…. things… along the way; I personally prefer to call it SD-lite, a term that I think portrays to the potential puzzler a partial picture that properly predicts appropriate expectations.
“Sequential Discovery” is not technically a puzzle genre and does not appear in the Slocum or Dalgety puzzle classification systems (an excellent classification comparison chart is available on Rob’s Puzzle Page); SD was usually used to describe aspects of some take-apart puzzles that featured multiple challenges, tools, etc. “SD-lite” might be a better fit for an interlocking disassembly puzzle that integrates SD elements into its design. This is not to detract from VQ – quite the opposite: VQ is an adaptation of a classic puzzle genre that represents something unique. (I would similarly describe Jerry McFarland’s Fidget Burr and Burrlephant 3 as SD-lite, interlocking disassembly puzzles; while they are really nothing like VQ, they nonetheless share this unique approach to puzzle design).
VQ is a relatively normal-sized cube of approximately 3″, with a single, one-voxel square hole on each of 4 sides, a three-voxel wide rectangle on a 5th, and two elliptical holes less than one voxel in width on the 6th. The instructions declare that a vortex has come, bringing forth a “visitor from another dimension who wants to be your friend.”
As if I was not already hooked, the instructions include my favorite guidelines, telling us that “No hitting, shaking, force or spinning is needed to solve the puzzle. Except what it is provided with the puzzle, no external tools are allowed.”
VQ’s goals are fourfold:
Unlock the vortex.
Manage the visitor through the space warp and release him from the vortex (using only straight moves).
The visitor had a gift for you, but he lost it somewhere during the travel. Find the gift.
Return the gift and the visitor at their places of origin.
The tricky part of talking about a puzzle like this is that the first rule of talking about a puzzle like this is to “not talk about a puzzle like this.” As always, I will do my best to be careful and to only share specifics that are easily and readily discernible from a casual inspection of the puzzle, as well as a general sense of the puzzling experience.
A labeled plastic box contains the puzzle as well as instructions and a laminated strip featuring the name of the puzzle along with some neat, spacy graphics. When you first pick it up, you can see that there are a number of interlocking 3D polyominoes within the frame that are loose enough to make a bit of noise when shaken (lightly) but do not seem to be able to move any further: whatever the “vortex” may be, it is not readily apparent. Peering into the holes, you can see in its center a bright neon green something, seemingly inside some kind of clear casing: the visitor perhaps? Hard to say until we have successfully found the solution to the first challenge and unlocked the vortex in which the figure is initially trapped.
This first step confounded me: I got swept up, trying a series of moves that I thought would for sure lead to some measure of success; this is one of those puzzles that I picked up briefly, after the house was quiet: my wife and son asleep, the dogs tucked away. I did not intend on spending more than a few minutes with it, having looked forward to it since it arrived in the middle of a rather busy afternoon. As with many a fun puzzle, those few minutes grew closer to an hour before I realized that sleep might be a good idea – regardless, I realized that I might need clarification on something before I could expect any success. Frederic responded quickly, his answer waiting in my inbox the next morning (as he is in Japan, it was mid-day for him when I sent the email). As you may have guessed, all of my assumptions about the puzzle were pretty much completely incorrect and what I thought I needed to do was pretty much nothing like what I actually needed to do. Learning I was wrong only made me more intrigued by the puzzle. I had to step back and let go of my assumptions to find something I had missed; once found, I had to open my mind to think critically about what this might mean and what could be done with it. The aha moment that eventually came was probably more satisfying than that which I had previously expected, prompting laughing, some mental finger-wagging, and several repetitions of the newly discovered move(s).
The multiple challenges were well-planned: after working my way through the third goal, the puzzle was probably about as far from its initial state as is possible. This segued perfectly into the fourth and final goal as the puzzle was so jumbled that resetting the puzzle to its initial state took some thought; my spatial reasoning and short-term memory are faulty enough that successfully navigating the pieces back to the beginning was a (fun) puzzle in itself.
I asked Frederic if I could share this puzzle with my imaginary fives of readers, largely as I am advocating for someone to take up the mantle of producing additional copies for public consumption, a prospect that he has said he would welcome. Frederic seems to prefer designing new puzzles rather than producing large quantities of existing ones and I hope that VQ is simple enough that it could be reproduced without too much difficulty by someone with the appropriate skills – of course, it could well be more complicated to produce than I realize. I shared it with someone who is vastly better equipped to determine this and so maybe we will get lucky and see some additional copies down the road. I actually just received word that Frederic will be making more copies in early 2021, so good news! (ed. Great news! Not only did Frederic make a few more copies available, but Eric Fuller hasdecided to produce a run! They may be available with the March 1 update, although this is of course subject to change – you can check for updates on its production here).
If I am being totally honest, owning a really rare puzzle feels good… but what would make me happier is if more people got the chance to try the puzzle as I really think others would enjoy it. It may be true (in some ways) that it is not overly complex, but what really matters is that it is fun. Fun enough to inspire me to write what turned out to be a heckuva lot of words. Sometimes simple puzzles are so fun that I might prefer them to others that will end up sitting on my shelf for months as I struggle (sometimes seemingly in vain) to find the solution; VQ combines sneaky tricks with entertaining movements to create something unique, resulting in an interlocking disassembly puzzle that would be good without such deviousness and is even better with it.