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)

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