Get Lost: FastMaze by Dan Fast

FastMaze 1

Designed by Dan Fast
Produced by CubicDissection
Aluminum & Brass, 3″ x 1″

I got the chance to try an early copy of one of FastMaze 1 (designed by Dan Fast and produced by CubicDissection), and “fast” is not one of the words I would use to describe it: smooth, yes; fun, certainly; challenging, absolutely; but fast? Nope. Not for me anyway.

Dan has designed many a high level burr, including the relatively recent Stir the Coffee produced by Pelikan; PWBP shows more than 100 puzzles designed by him, a level of prolificacy shared by few others, including the rather iconic Superman and Batman burrs (also produced by Pelikan). FastMaze 1 is one of a series of three new puzzles being produced by the excellent craftspeople at CubicDissection, whose recent equipment expansion allows them to create more affordable challenges that still meet Eric’s extremely high quality demands (perhaps the hallmark of CD creations).

FastMazes 1 – 3 are three-level square mazes in which you must navigate pins in each of the four corners to a hole that will allow them to be removed one at a time; of course, this hole is in a totally different spot on each of the three levels so getting them to line up is no small feat. FastMaze 1 is the “easiest” of the three – I say this with my tongue firmly set into my cheek as its 137 moves is far from easy. Not only is that a lot of moves total, but once you have removed the first piece you still have another 83 moves to go for complete disassembly (the full solution is 54.28.24.28). FastMazes 2 and 3 are levels 160 and 196 respectively (#3 requires 121 moves just for the first piece!). This may sound intimidating but while it is most definitely a challenge, it is by no means unapproachable.

CD has produced the series of 3 puzzles in metal, with super smooth aluminum mazes navigated by four brass pins. The puzzles have been designed to easily come apart, allowing for a simple reset that makes the puzzle much less terrifying. The quality is apparent from the moment you pick it up: the metal is smooth to the touch, the pieces gliding over one another softly and easily. Notches marking the edition of the puzzle have been built into the center of each side, a nice aesthetic detail that helps you maintain control over the puzzle, especially once the levels start getting spread out as you progress through the solution. This happens quickly as the paths block one another unless you are able to have all pins situated such that the maze levels can shift. After a little while, it becomes possible to rotate one or more levels, something that I am still not sure whether it helped or hindered my progress. Apparently, the second of the three designs requires rotations, which I plan on confirming once they all become available. Regardless, the rotations are similarly smooth and, importantly, feel controlled – this is not like a burr that has become unmanageable with pieces rotating against your will. Its size fits perfectly into two hands (or your pocket for easy transport), allowing for easy control even as the pieces spread apart into its various contortionist configurations.

At first, I simply appreciated the construction and fit, the pins refusing to move until sliding smoothly and freely once a path becomes available. I began playing with it just to get to know its movements, finding it has a fun fidget friendly factor as an added bonus (it was also oddly satisfying to pinch one of the pins and swing the puzzle back and forth….. maybe that’s just me lol). It quickly became clear that such an approach was not going to afford me much progress: I was going to have to apply some brain power if I wanted to get anywhere as random fiddling isn’t going to get this little guy apart on its own (eventually, I suppose, but there might be a monkey Shakespeare by the time you get there). The exposed top and bottom levels allow you to work out a lot of where you need to go, but the center layer is largely hidden, confused by the paths above and below it through which you can try to make it out. As you work through the solution, of course, more of this layer is revealed and you must adjust your intentions and goals accordingly. Solving multiple mazes simultaneously with multiple moving restrictions is much more than the sum of its parts: dead ends exist in most any maze but here you must sometimes take advantage of these, working pins somewhere just so you can allow another to move elsewhere before backtracking once again. This makes for a great balance of experimentation and logic in working towards the solution, which will sometimes seem so close only to slide away once more. After finally releasing the first pin, I thought things would open up and become easy but in fact there was still plenty of puzzling left, the logic somewhat simplified but still significant in the strategy required to solve it.

FastMazes 1 -3 were released today, August 29th, 2022, available individually or as a set of three. I found that as soon as I had solved mine I wished I could reach for another, so I will definitely be picking up at least one more (who am I kidding, like my compulsive completionism will allow me to have just 2 of 3…). These are a fun challenge at an affordable price point with no sacrifice of quality (as we expect from our friends at CD), bringing excellent puzzling value to whatever puzzle shelves it will soon grace. You can find FastMaze 1 here and the others here.


Bananas is bananas.

Bananas

Jon Keegan, 8.5 x 8.5 x 11.5cm, 1.45kg

I was trying to explain to my wife how puzzling can be a mindful experience (she’s a therapist… I’m just cool like that ;-P ) as you may spend an hour or more in near silence, focused on every sound or perceived resistance or reaction to determine just what in the heck is going on, divining patterns from some series of stimuli, some so subtle as to cause concern that it’s just me doing something wrong or hearing or feeling something that isn’t there. But when finally this intense focus bears fruit and you get that aha! midnfulness is out the window with the dopamine hit you’re getting, earned with the eye strain and aching back from contorting yourself to try and look down some tiny hole or shaft.

And what fruit hath been bear-ed? I’m sure you didn’t click on this write-up to read me ramble vaguely about puzzling in general but rather to read me ramble vaguely about Bananas, the new puzzle by Jon Keegan (his follow-up to Jewel Thief). And if the paragraph above ap-peals to you, then your interest in Bananas is anything but bananas (because you see: Bananas is bananas).

Bananas arrives wonderfully: super safely packed with a wooden shipping crate straight off the boat to Skull Island, ready to pack away something wild and dangerous. Cue a cute lego monkey caged by Keegan for our puzzling pleasure. Inside we find the puzzle, along with a metal objectives / story card, an envelope with pics of the internal mechanisms to decipher post-solve and a kindly supplied towel to protect the puzzle (and whatever surface you will be working on.

And as for the puzzle itself: Bananas is trapped in a cage set into the corner of a pretty massive block of metal replete with holes and knobbies and squares and circles to poke and prod and wonder at. Everything does something, of course, although nothing does anything just yet. The ticket in isn’t easy in itself (but you will get to understand it eventually); I struggled there for a bit and passed through with a bit of luck before too long, going on to make good progress before finding myself with a whole bunch of stuff and things to do with no clear path. Examining the puzzle does give you a sense of what is going on, at least in some areas, so I thought I know where I was shooting for, for the moment anyhow.

What follows would be a montage set to an uplifting light rock ballad about overcoming struggles as I proceeded to do what I started this post with, trying to find some magical combination of moves that would see me through to the next section. And eventually: aha! of course, and aha! again, with ever more aha!s big and small throughout the entire puzzle. There are some really great discoveries to be made before you free Bananas… and that’s the really crazy thing because you’ve only just started! The instructions tell you to solve the puzzle in 4 parts:

Bananarama!

I had done 1 and 2 but…. wtf.

So I kept going and going, through multiple additional sections, each with several variously moving bits to contend with. Eventually I sat back with pride, Banana’s snack in hand, admiring the mess of metal that had amassed around me, amidst my super-cool puzzle headgear and pleather dice trays. Such puzzling pride passes quickly though, and it’s time to reset.

The reset is tricky and challenging but not frustrating or overly confusing; I had some concerns about whether I’d be able to piece it all together after having taken a couple weeks to solve it but while it took fully understanding all that had happened to make it all ready to go again, this was not so difficult in reverse. In my typical genius fashion I had to solve and reset multiple sections multiple times due to having reset some part before some other part… I’d say I did it purposely, to better master the puzzle, but really I just do it all the time because I’m a dumbass  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Such dumbassery does have its benefits though: I feel now that I truly get what was happening throughout the puzzle when at first I couldn’t imagine how I ever could. What else can you ask from a puzzle? There is a fair amount of blind struggle but careful and close observation and experimentation will give you guidance, along with some subtle clues to make sense of as you go.

Bananas was released in a limited run of 225 by Jon Keegan and were all claimed (as is fairly typical with a good puzzle) long before this was written – in typical voracious puzzle fashion, we all politely and (seemingly) patiently waited with occasional but regular updates on Jon’s progress and puzzle maturation. I have to admit that I have not actually solved any other puzzle by him! My zealous overuse of multiple emails led to a snafu in which I missed my chance at a Jewel Thief… (meh, whatcha gonna do – from what I’ve heard, while it seems to be an amazing puzzle I’m pretty sure I would still be struggling with the first step lol). I did get a Scarf prototype but want to wait for the updated version coming out down the road (which just means that I haven’t been able to solve it 😉 But Bananas… the more I let it sit after finally solving and resetting I come to appreciate it more and more… quite simply, Bananas is bananas.


Sun Dial’s Art of Puzzling (UPDATED: Now with more puzzling!)

Sun Dial

Jesse Born & Rob Yarger
Ipe, Katalox & Brass
2.75 lbs, 7″ x 4″
Box 2 in the Voyager Series (Sea Chest, Sun Dial, Alien)
(Ed. A couple weeks after posting this, I discovered that there was still quite a bit of puzzling left after I had thought the puzzle had been solved! See below for more)

Well, the past several weeks have been busy here in the 5S household, getting in the way of my puzzling (much to my dismay). But the wonderfully unrelenting onslaught of new puzzles has only seemed to increase its pace, with several excellent puzzles arriving during this none-too-brief, unplanned hiatus. I realize that this break has not been difficult for you, but fear not: plenty a puzzle ramble awaits you!

And what better puzzle with which to break this devastating dearth of dear old me than Sun Dial, Jesse Born’s follow-up to 2020’s excellent Sea Chest (reviewed by me here); Sun is co-designed with Rob Yarger (a/k/a The Great and Wonderful Stickman) and mostly made by Jesse (Rob did some laminating on the curved side panels, which are constructed of multiple layers of hand-carved veneer crafted by Jesse). Sun Dial is a circular box (?!), painstakingly covered in some rather intricate etchings and distressed in a fashion similar to its elder sibling. Jesse has plans for a third and final entry in the Voyager Series that will presumably share in this aesthetic, crafted to create the impression of a discovered Alien artifact that must be opened to access its other-worldly treasure. What pirates were to Sea Chest, the ancient Aztecs are to Sun Dial, with myriad markings and hidden secrets that invoke this lost world in the psyche of the spelunking (s)puzzler.

Jesse is one of those designers whose puzzles I would happily buy sight unseen (his Secretum Cista is quite probably the coolest puzzle I own). Rob is (of course) another such designer , so when I heard that Rob was designing Sun Dial with Jesse, I began drooling more than Pavlov’s dog at a doorbell store. (Rob was a big big fan of Sea Chest, which is especially high praise from the creator of some of the most insanely awesome puzzles ever to reach us mere mortals). Jesse and Rob went back and forth over a period of months, trading ideas and CAD models as they refined the design that Jesse would ultimately craft (for a more in-depth look at the design process, check out Boxes & Booze’s excellent post).

At a relatively hefty 2 lbs, 12 oz, the 7″ x 4″ Sun Dial is no small box. As part of its intentionally distressed appearance, its aromatic woods appear to have been partially stained, a greenish tint furthering its lost artifact aesthetic. It is shaped something like a flattened donut, with a citrine gem nestled into a piece of wood bridging the top of its center shaft. The outer wall is broken into 6 sections, 4 of which are covered by inset panels that have a noticeable bit of give when reset. The top alludes to the circular calendar of the Aztec civilization, a series of concentric circles and layers surrounding a set of gears that promise to put the mechanical in mechanical puzzling.

Sun Dial vs. Aztec Calendar (12 ft./25 tons, discovered in Mexico City in 1790)

In its reset state, Sun allows for some quality mechanical playtime – I first spent several minutes just playing and giggling at the smoothly tactile movements possible in its initial state. Other than some admittedly puerile fun, this did not immediately lead me anywhere productive; it would take some keen and careful observation before that first aha moment, which soon led me into the puzzling depths that await within.

Over the next few weeks, I would progress in fits and starts; discovering things that must help (while unsure of exactly how) as I pieced together the path through its various compartments. Well-hidden, subtle clues abound, some more important than others in clearing the way forward. Venturing into the puzzle’s interior gave me a sense of adventure, akin to Indiana Jones-ing (Quartermaining?) my way into an ancient temple, replete with treasure and cool discoveries that could be decorative, essential, or both.

I knew I had to be reaching the end when I was surprised by the results of a particular step that I repeated a few times with a goofy grin. Some final details discovered, I held my prize in my hand, admiring how Jesse and Rob managed to bring things full circle, like the cyclical nature of time perceived by the Aztec culture.

(This paragraph was added a few weeks after posting this) OMG! Turns out not only was I not actually finished solving the puzzle, there was quite a bit of puzzling still left! There is one aha that is particularly satisfying and we are left with a sense that more is yet to come…… Once again, Jesse has brought us something great only to add some icing to make it excellent. I found this last section to bring back memories of Sea Chest, which also hid some final secrets that took me a few weeks to discover still laid in wait after I’d thought I had reached the end. Gotta love a puzzle that keeps on giving!

After resetting the puzzle and going through the solution once more (now a few more times!), I followed a QR code printed on the back of the Certificate of Authenticity (signed by both Jesse and Rob) to a short video in which Jesse walks us through the solution. I smiled at a few details whose significance had escaped me and ran back through the solve one more time, appreciating the puzzle’s rhythm and flow.

The puzzle’s mechanics do not rely on blind mechanisms, instead favoring discrete steps that must sometimes be worked out beforehand to properly progress – I suppose it could be possible to cluelessly solve certain sections through experimental trial & error but the design provides ample direction to see you through, if you can slow down and do some of that thinking stuff the kids are all talking about these days. Either way, the mechanics are clear and purposeful, laying out a meandering path to its final treasure.

Jesse decided to increase this run to 400 copies, a big jump from the 100 Sea Chests that had (officially) been produced (let alone the 30 copies of Secretum Cista). I imagine that all 400 will not have trouble finding a home: if a collaboration between two great puzzle box-makers wasn’t enough to convince you, the positive praise that has followed its premiere will probably do the trick. The larger run may help prevent the puzzle from immediately skyrocketing on the secondhand market but I don’t expect too many collectors will want to let this one escape anytime soon (there will always be solvers and flippers, of course, but hopefully the box will remain in the realm of relative reasonableness, for a while at least). While officially sold out, (at the time of writing) the boxes are still being produced in batches and there is a drop-off list for spots that might open up should puzzlers decide to give theirs up, so be sure to swing by Jesse’s site before they’re all gone.



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

PLOD

Jo Guarini

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uniquely Fun Puzzling Grade: Five Sinatras

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

Ahhhhh Snap! Snappy Burr (and Obscure Burr) by Jerry McFarland

Snappy Burr & Obscure Burr

Jerry McFarland, 3.25″ x 4″, Mahogany, Walnut, Cherry & Kingwood (Snappy)
3″ x 3.5″ (Obscure)

When Jerry asked if I would be interested in trying out a new puzzle, my fingers couldn’t hit reply fast enough – he is one of those designers whose puzzles I will gratefully buy sight (or even description) unseen. The fact that he is returning to the Magnetic Burr series with what is most likely the final design (after a brief semi-digression with Obscure Burr) should make even the most discerning of burr buyers be ready to buy (if bossible).

Snappy Burr & Obscure Burr

If you are not already on Jerry’s list(s), it may be sadly difficult to obtain a copy of Snappy; Jerry produces puzzles in small batches, and there are only a few more copies of this puzzle to come in the near future (all of which I believe have already been earmarked). As with all his puzzles, it is well worth the wait, even if it takes a couple of years (such is the nature of a good puzzle’s wait list, as I know all too well – my copy of Burrnova will hopefully be coming sometime this year after a 2-3 year wait and yet it seems like a blink of an eye when your time on a long waitlist comes up).

The Magnetic Burr series may not be an official name, but it captures the essence of the three (now four) cubic burrs: Fidget Burr (reviewed by me here), Burrlephant (also reviewed by me) and Burrnova 3d (I actually had the option to get a copy last month, but Jerry graciously asked to sell it to a certain mutual puzzling friend’s NPSO as a surprise gift and I was happy to play a small role in this friend’s holiday happiness). The burr cubes in the series all feature magnets (duh) and integrate some very cool and unique mechanisms into the designs; all of them feature some kind of surprise(s) or treasures, whether Fidget’s Pink Lady, Burrlephant’s sd mechanisms or Burrnova’s….. well, I guess I’m not sure if Burrnova follows suit but I’m going to go ahead and say that it does 😉


Obscure Burr

Obscure also uses magnets but isn’t really considered part of the series – the concept is something of an outlier, relying on a pretty esoteric idea that is sure to elude the majority of puzzlers (as it most certainly did me!). I was ultimately able to solve it by cheating, which still made for a cool puzzle, but understanding the concept behind the design gives it a considerably better pedigree. Jerry integrated a (likely needed but still rather obscure) hint into the design and later versions have it hidden under a magnetically attached block – I have not seen one of these copies in person but the pics make it look pretty cool; personally, I think the hint is a cool idea that is particularly appropriate here and is yet a feature that points to the puzzle’s difficulty and originality – I suspect there are very few puzzlers who will deduce the solution otherwise (even with the hint, few may deduce it).

Obscure was perhaps a bit controversial, the obscurity being even greater than perhaps many a puzzler expected. Regardless, it is a cool and extremely unique puzzle with a great fidget value that, I think, ensures its designation as a worthy puzzle to have in your collection. It highlights the idea of puzzles as art, being a physical manifestation of an idea that struck the maker and compelled him to find a way to produce it irl. If that ain’t art, I don’t know what is.


Snappy Burr

Snappy is a rectangular cube that consists of 28 pieces and 26 magnets(!). The goal is to “remove the snappy fidget toy inside the puzzle,” which is itself instantly intriguing. It shares an aesthetic with Jerry’s other burrs, a polished gleam highlighting the contrasting sticks of varying widths, woods and shapes, with curves at the edges that make it feel excellent in your hands. The corner pieces are set back a couple mm, creating an aesthetic that is reminiscent of columns surrounding a central core.

If you are familiar with some of Jerry’s other puzzles, you may have an idea how to initially approach the puzzle – and you may well be correct, finding yourself rewarded with the fidgety goodness you should expect. And then………… um……….. well, then I proceeded to do the same couple of things over and over and over (and over) wondering how in the heck this thing could do anything else. I really didn’t mind as its fidget friendly fun is fan-forking-tastic, possibly even beyond Fidget Burr; it has a 3-axis snappy main mechanism with a tactile sensation that is just oh so satisfying. The clickiness of it is truly awesome (perhaps not so much to my wife, who somehow tolerated it while I futzed with the puzzle over the course of a few evenings).

Eventually, I discovered…. something…. and knew I was moving in the right direction. It would still be quite a while before I was able to work out how to do what needed to be done and then, with a wonderful aha, I made actual progress, finally solving the main trick of the puzzle. From there, it was a fairly straightforward matter of disassembling the remaining pieces and removing the toy. Reassembly was both easy and very very tricky; as with his other puzzles, Jerry has helpfully included some internal initials to help identify what goes where, allowing you to appreciate the build rather than be frustrated by it, unlike many a burr cube that is likely to force you to rely on burrtools for the reassembly (or, in Jerry’s case, the pictures he provides to assist with reassembly). But when it came time to put together the main part of the mechanism it turned out to be as challenging as when I disassembled it; a certain aspect of the design had the effect of distracting me during the initial solve, so that I didn’t fully grok some of what I had done.

Finally, I was able to reverse engineer my aha and I found that what seemed like an impossible assembly that had to rely on force and inappropriate angles was actually an elegantly perfect fit. I can now do this main bit with ease, having found the sweet spot permitting it. And I gotta say it is darn satisfying to do – the puzzle earns its name, not just with its early fidgetiness but here at the core of its build.

Another well-known puzzler was also offered the chance to buy an early copy for testing, so be sure to look out for his thoughts on his excellent OG puzzle blog, PuzzleMad. Otherwise, if you aren’t able to get a copy, be sure to find me at the next puzzle party as it will definitely be accompanying me on the trip. Until then: keep puzzling and may excessive force not be with you.


Playability Grade: Five Sinatras
(click here for more information on the Sinatra Scaling System)

Paradise at the Puzzle Palace: In Xanadu, did fivesinatras a stately pleasure dome decree…

For a while now, I’d seen posts from Roxanne taking about the work she and George had been putting into what is one of the grandest puzzle projects yet: turning a house down the street from their own home (known as the Puzzle Palace) into a public (by-invitation) puzzle paradise, collecting what is technically referred to as a “crap-ton” of absolutely amazing puzzles spanning both the globe and a whole lot of decades (I believe there are some things from as far back as the late 19th Century!). I was kindly invited to the first Boca Bash, a puzzle party that shall hopefully continue to be held every couple of years far into the future (the Palace & Palace Museum are also welcoming private visits from puzzlers throughout the year).

The fact that Roxanne and George welcomed me into their home despite barely knowing me at the time just shows their openness and generosity and highlights the purpose of this project: to collect, protect, and share as many mechanical puzzles as they can possibly can, making it possible for puzzlers to solve the rarest of the rare of all types and genres. This is not just a collection – this is a public service to the puzzling world, one that they intend to outlast them (which will hopefully not be an issue for a very, very long time); they have even brought on a very cool puzzling couple (Tevin & Morgan) to act as caretakers, helping with cataloguing, protecting, and hosting solvers able to make the journey.

While my friend, Tanner (known for his excellent YouTube puzzle channel, WDIGMI), was able to spend several days there, I was only able to be there for a relatively brief 48 hrs, which was totally worth it but went by in the blink of an eye – you could spend weeks there and still only solve a fraction of what they’ve got. WDIGMI has an excellent video tour of the palace, which is good as I neglected to take many pictures while I was there (likely a testament to how good the puzzling is….. documenting the trip was not on my mind!). So be sure to check his vid out to get a visual sense of the puzzle nirvana that awaits…..

I got there pretty late following a few flight delays and was nonetheless welcomed by Roxanne and Tanner, as well as a few of our friendly, neighborhood Discord puzzlers – once we realized we had all inter-met one another, we had an especially grand ole time. After a bit of camaraderie at the Palace, a couple of us made our way down the street to the Palace Museum: at this point it was well after midnight, which most certainly did not stop Tanner and I from heading directly to the box room, where he was in the midst of solving a large Trevor Wood temple. After picking my jaw up off the floor, I walked past the enormous Thibodeau chest to where my long lost love lay waiting for me: an actual, irl Apothecary Chest! Fast forward a few hours and a few boxes later and we realized that the sun would soon be spoiling our fun, reluctantly deciding to make our way to our respective rooms.

Katie Koala guarding just a few of the Palace’s boxes

The next day, I got to meet more of the puzzlers who were there for the weekend and got a slower tour of the Museum (I’d seen a bit the night before but the siren song of the box room was too strong to spend much time elsewhere at first). Later that evening, George took me on a full tour of their house; both properties are absolutely filled top to bottom with puzzles, as well as a helluva lot of material and tools for designing and making new ones.

The craziest thing about being there is coming across unicorns hiding in plain sight, just sitting there as if it wouldn’t cause PuzzleParadise to explode were they to make it on there: is that Rob Yarger’s Checkmate Box on that shelf down there? Oh look, there’s a dozen or so Ninomiya boxes surrounded by dozens and dozens of other Karakuri from the floor to well over my head and deep into the shadows of the shelves. I think I saw Eric Fuller’s 51 Pound Box back there somewhere. There’s a bathroom with all four walls covered in puzzle locks – amongst them you will find some treasures such as Popplocks and even Gary Foshee’s Transparent Lock. Walking up the stairs of the Palace, past almost every Berrocal there is, I found myself in a large, open room whose curved walls contained shelf upon shelf of IPP puzzles, going back a decade or two (or three?), replete with yet more unicorns amidst unknown (to me) treasures and lots of puzzles that have never been reproduced: Sandfield dovetails, Brian Young SD’s, Lensch trickery, McDaniels and Malcolmson and Louage and dozens, if not hundreds, more. Across the room is a bedroom covered in metal puzzles by designers such as Gillen, Foshee, Roger D, and Strijbos. There is a room covered in Twisty’s, disentanglements hanging from the walls and ceiling, a towering wall of puzzle vessels, a room stacked with burrs and packing puzzles and more from the likes of Eric Fuller, Juno, Jerry McFarland, and on and on (and on).

This is just half of the IPP room
Some random pics from the IPP room of the Palace:
… and some random pics from the metal bedroom:

I got to pick up and try dozens of puzzles I have been lusting after for years, while discovering a whole bunch of stuff I’d never heard of (while trying to avoid a few things I may soon acquire, such as Jerry McFarland’s Burrnova – after patiently waiting a couple years for my name to come up, it is worth waiting a few more months until I can try my own copy 😀 ). And so many surprises, such as a room of chess puzzles that made me realize I had no idea there were so many chess puzzles! I could have spent the entire time in any one room and been more than happy for making the trip.

And, all the while, hanging and chatting with fellow puzzle-lovers: I spent some time with George putting together some cool furniture burrs from a small shop overseas and sat around with Roxanne and the gang hearing stories of puzzling days past, all the while passing around little known nuggets of preferred puzzling perfection – with puzzling in public having been impossible for the last year or two, it was great to connect with genuinely kind and cool puzzlers: some I’ve known from MPD, some whose names I’ve seen on IPP exchange puzzles or whose puzzles I’ve enjoyed (including the talented Mat Nedeljko, whose work I enjoy almost as much as his company), and some who were new to me (and just as great to meet) – new friends that I hope to puzzle with again before too long.

The only negative was that my squirrel-brain could hardly focus – there simply wasn’t enough time to actually solve most of the puzzles I picked up; if I couldn’t make progress for 15 or 20 minutes (whether getting started or getting stuck), I tended to reset whatever I was working on and put it back so I could try something else (otherwise I may have spent the whole time without trying anything other than Katie Koala and maybe a box or three from Kagen Sound, Stickman, and Michael Toulouzas, if I was lucky…. which still would have been worth the trip). Some puzzles we worked on collaboratively, allowing us to fully solve and reset a tough puzzle like Ned Kelly that I may otherwise have not managed to see the end of.

Eventually, it was time to go – as if their hospitality was not already more than enough Roxanne and George made sure I went home with a couple gifts (as did Tanner, who has been teaching himself woodworking and gifted me a lovely copy of Ichiro’s Three Cubes Puzzle that he had made). George does quite a bit of puzzle prototyping and had a trunk full of Hanamayas he helped bring to life; another trunk sits by the door for departing visitors. I even got a shirt! (fed, housed, and clothed?!)

The Puzzle Palace & Palace Museum contains an ever-growing collection and should eventually have its catalog (that’s “catalogue” to some of you) available online, making it easier to donate puzzles to help continue to grow the collection. Remember: these puzzles are there as a service to the puzzling world and, to some extent, this is going to have to be a collaborative effort long-term: spearheaded (of course) by Roxanne and George but ultimately supported and given life by the puzzling world at large – we puzzlers should help them in growing their collection, whether by donating or by assisting them in their hunt for puzzles they don’t yet have, all to give hands-on access to the puzzlers of the future. I suppose it is possible that the Museum may one day need to become a more formal institution (to protect the collection, if for no other reason); for now, it feels more like an extended family, with cousins stopping by randomly to play with the many many wooden, metal, and plastic children that live there…

Needless to say: I’ll be back as soon as I can (if they’ll have me) – until then, I can rest easy knowing it’s there, safe and sound and growing fast.


Palace Grade: The Rarely Seen, Ever-Sought Presley

(click here for more information on the Sinatra Scaling System, (c) John Maynard Keynes, 1944)
Tiger Man Elvis:
the Best of all the Elvises


All’s Well that Solves Well: Abraham’s Well by Brian Young

Abraham’s Well

Brian Young (Mr Puzzle), 4.75″ x 3.3″ x 3.1″, .93 lbs,

Brian Young of Mr Puzzle has designed some of the best, most sought-after take-apart puzzles out there: sd classics like Three Wise Bolts (reviewed by me :-), Ages, Louvre, Big Ben (with John Moore and Juno), Katie Koala…… just like the beat, the list goes on. So when he announced sometime last year that he had a new design forthcoming, puzzlers planet-wide perked up like Pavlov’s pup post-bell. Brian made the particular choice to pump up production, promising the most puzzlers possible the opportunity to purchase the piece without putting precious puzzle money towards potentially prohibitive prices. TL: he is making 500 copies so prices won’t get bonkers overnight (enough that there are still some available at Mr Puzzle at the time of this writing). Abe’s Well (AW) has led to a mass of creativity and shared discovery that I find to be as fascinating as it is unique and makes this one the most interesting puzzles I’ve seen in a while.

AW is a smallish but heavy (almost 1lb) wooden well, with a brass bucket frame atop it (idk if that is what it is called, but some brief googling didn’t give me anything, so I’m going with that). You can see a metal rod passing through the top of the frame (which spins freely) and a string hangs down into the well itself, which is made of a closed cylinder of brass set into the wooden box. There are also four pointy metal bits (nails?) poking up out of the wooden box at its four corners.

Brian tells us in the original description that the puzzle can be separated into 23 separate parts(!), which is more than a little intriguing to your typical sd fan. “No bashing… and no brute strength are needed,” so figuring out what can be a tool and how to use it will be a major part of the puzzle.

Of course, you cannot simply take the puzzle apart into these individual pieces; at the start, there doesn’t seem to be much to do. I tried a number of things that either did nothing or did a bit of something that didn’t help me, until I found something that might. I realized that there was some good puzzling to be done early on, as I worked to get things where they needed to go and get my toolbox (aka pile of bits) sorted.

This phase is fun and tricky: the separate elements are combined into something fairly novel, although perhaps not mindblowingly original (that comes later) – it makes a great appetizer to the main course. After a while, I was able to work my way through to where I believed I knew what I needed to do next and had a whole bunch of stuff to do it with… but no idea how! And this is where the awesomeness really kicks in.

There is a unique openness to this middle phase of the design that has led to a diversity of approaches (and diverging opinions over what follows the rules and what deviates from them), prompting discussion and the discovery and development of diverse designs that delight an open puzzled mind (and may dismay those puzzlers who prefer a more strict design) – all in a way that I believe has never been done before (and may have surprised its designer as much as anyone). ‘That step’ ensures that AW stands out as something truly new and will assuredly go down in puzzle history, even if some puzzlers take issue with it.

While my take on the matter is perhaps clear, I do not mean to deride those puzzlers who didn’t particularly enjoy ‘that step’ (wrong though they may be 😉 ) I absolutely appreciate a puzzle with a singularly defined approach to each step and believe that there is also plenty of room to appreciate the type of puzzle sandbox AW creates.

But lets not get too caught up in philosophical discussions of design modalities and keep in mind that although ‘that step’ does constitute a substantial part of the puzzle experience, it is but one step in a larger journey. If the puzzle’s novelty was the only thing that really impressed me about it, I wouldn’t be compelled to do a write-up of it, let alone enjoy it on my own as much as I did. The simple truth is that not only is ‘that step’ unique, it is pretty darn challenging – I don’t want it to sound like there are so many ways to accomplish this step that it is easy to do…. not at all: I struggled for quite a while to find something that worked… and then longer to find something that I felt wasn’t cheating at least a little… and then even longer to admit myself that I was sorta still cheating and that I may as well give into temptation (a skill I’ve honed over the years) and start perusing the several spoiler-tagged pics of creative approaches other puzzlers have come up with.

Needless to say, they were pretty much all much cooler (and more consistent with the rules) than what I had done – rather than be disappointed in my failure as a puzzler and as a human being (another skill I’ve honed over the years), I enjoyed the experience of trying out some of the other methods that had been shared. I was impressed and amused by some pretty wacky approaches, some similar or small variations upon mine or others, and some really out there…

While playing around with ‘that step,’ I had also been looking around for what might come next; the description tells us that the ultimate goal is to find a pewter token that is “uniquely Australian,” and I not only hadn’t found anything, but didn’t really see where anything could be hiding. I did notice a few things that had yet to reach their full potential (according to their parents, at least), and it was now time to move on in earnest (knowhutimean?).

Oddly enough, I think I got stuck at this point more than at any other point in the puzzle! I hobbited there and back and around again before finally requesting some pretty specific nudges (possibly more like shoves) in the direction of what I needed, only to realize that in all my wandering about (walkabouting?), I’d passed right by it numerous times. After admiring my own stupidity (yet another skill I’ve honed over time), I found what I needed and knew just what to do. The result surprised me and got a good laugh, a final aha that was a great cherry on top of an excellent puzzle sundae.

The description leaves the true significance of the token as a bit of a puzzle on its own; the object itself is recognizably Aussie but it took a bit of googling to understand its specific connection to the puzzle, a fascinating story that conceptually ties them together nicely and is just plain interesting (I found a great article about it and confirmed its relevance with Brian, if you’re curious to know more and your google button is broken).

Abraham’s Well is as challenging as it is original, and is a unique sd puzzle experience well worth your time. This is perhaps the first (and only) puzzle, that had me continuing to explore a step after having “solved” it, seeking a better approach and exploring those developed by others. While it may not meet everyone’s expectations, I would assert that perhaps it is only because it challenges them; this wonderfully exemplifies the idea that puzzle design is art, as the viewer finds meaning beyond the intent of the creator (who humbly states that claiming he foresaw the creativity ‘that step’ would engender would be “giving [him] way too much credit for thinking that far ahead”).

So solve it the best you can and then try to do better; and when you’re done, seek out some other puzzlers’ solutions to try; if you need to, challenge yourself to reconsider some assumptions over how a puzzle might be experienced. Remember: we’re here to have fun.


Originality / Fun Grade: Five Sinatras
(click here for more information on the Sinatra Scaling System, (c) John Maynard Keynes, 1944)

Deux ex Cista: Spirit Box by Dee Dixon

Spirit Box

Dee Dixon of DEDwood Crafts, 3″ x 4″ x 2″, European Beech and Granadillo

Not too long ago, Dee surprised me with a box of Boxes: I knew a puzzle was coming, perhaps even two, but when I saw a third box buried within the bubble wrap, my traditional happy dance of delivery soon became the rarely seen joyful leaping of surprised arrival (followed soon thereafter by the ritual mockery of adolescence, performed accurately by my son).

This cardboard box begat three smaller boxes: the smallest was the Spirit, the first batch of which has already been released on his site; the largest was an oversized untitled red box, which I believe is the first puzzle box he ever made, one that I must reluctantly return to Dee due to its sentimental value; and last was a prototype of an untitled box with two knobs, sized similarly to most of his boxes. Intending to give only a preliminary inspection, what was intended to be just a few minutes grew closer to an hour as I tilted and pressed and pulled at each in turn, finding some things but solving none until I had to go to reluctantly go and do some of that life stuff.

To avoid further delay, I will go ahead and end this post now and write about the other two of Dee’s boxes that I received later, lest this post continue to languish unfinished, as with the still-early preview version of my puzzle parody of Baby Got Back, my barely begun novel, my composition for the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and the actualization of my inner self.

Ok, enough with the pre-ramble…

Spirit Box

Spirit Box is a bit smaller than most of Dee’s boxes at 3″ x 4″ x 2″ and something about its size and appearance just makes you want to pick it up. As with all of Dee’s work, it is beautifully made, with a European beech body speckled with a natural grain that creates an impression of texture in stark contrast to its slippery smooth feel. The bottom features a short granadillo layer, the seam so perfectly hidden from sight and touch as to seem like the wood naturally becomes dark at the bottom, with a slight curve to the edges that softens the contrasting aesthetic. At its top is a floating granadillo panel that you quickly realize is delightfully springy. Aside from a bit of noise from within, you can find nothing else that would seem to provide a clue as to its solution.

I managed to make a bit of progress before too long, at which point I became stuck for quite some time. Honestly, if it wasn’t so darn fun to play with, I may have made additional progress more quickly (maybe). It got to the point where I thought perhaps I had solved it and, you know, there was maybe something wrong with the box (shocking, I know). Dee assured me this was not the case (he was correct) and with a nice Aha!, I proceeded to solve the puzzle, discovering a surprise that elicited the Bark of Laughter; as much as I love Dee’s boxes and the Aha moments they create, I’ve not been as amused by one of his boxes since finding the surprise that was hidden inside early copies of Where’s My Hammer? While different, the surprise similarly shows Dee’s strong sense of humor and adds to the playful feel of the puzzle.

I love a puzzle that rewards you with a look at its mechanisms, and this one gives you the Full Monty (as opposed to the pasties teasingly worn inside some of his other boxes). The mechanism is uniquely executed, although perhaps not necessarily completely new; there is also a small design element that I found to be subtly elegant and a good example of Dee’s attention to detail, as it contributes greatly to the fun tactile feel of the solve.

Spirit is not Dee’s simplest puzzle, but neither is it as complex as most of his other boxes (something that I think is fairly reflected by the lower price point). However, I did find it to be one of the most fun and one of the prettiest, and certainly the most fidget-friendly: I’ve spent a good amount of time running through the solution or just absent-mindedly playing with it, simply because it feels nice to do.

Dee is releasing Spirit Box in batches via his website; as is the case with his other boxes, he has not specified a number that will be made, but they will assuredly not be made forever (what with the sun dying and all). While early on there were small batches and one-offs of WMH and Blinded II being sold concurrently, this may be the first time two of his boxes are generally available at the same time, as I believe that CubicDissection will soon be selling additional copies of his most recent box, Portal.

(to be continued in Parts 2 and 3)

Extended Family Portrait
Clockwise from top: Untitled Large Box, Untitled Box w/Two Knobs, Space Case (unique woods), custom Space Case (Metallica logo), Space Case prototype (unique woods), Spirit Box, Where’s My Hammer? (early version), Blinded II (early version), Portal (late prototype), Slideways (one of the original 8)

Fun Grade: Five Sinatras

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

Rabbit Season! Duck Season! Rabbit Season! Duck Season!… Dagnabbit Dabbits Done Did Invaded

Dabbit Invasion

Tye Stahly and Haym Hirsh, Nothing Yet Designs, 20 x 16 x 12mm (inc. jail), Acrylic,

We knew it was coming. We knew it would be big and heavy and made of acrylic. We knew it would involve dabbits (invading). We knew it would be a big, complicated take-apart sd puzzle box-like thing that would involve a packing design by Haym Hirsch – the end result is even bigger and complicateder than I’d anticipated.

Dabbit Invasion is the newest puzzle by Tye Stahly of Nothing Yet Designs (with Haym Hirsh providing the design for the final packing puzzle). Tye came on the puzzling scene with a strong start, his Pair O’ Dice receiving properly positive praise for its entertaining sd trickery. He kept busy over the ensuing months, bringing us some great designs that were otherwise far too difficult to get: unique packing puzzles from Haym and Frederic Boucher, among others.

If you don’t know what a dabbit is, you will when you see one. Neither duck nor rabbit and yet both at the same time, the optical illusion dates back to the 19th century; I learned this from the puzzle’s backstory, which also warns us that the dabbits have already invaded, sneakily spreading out while we foolishly did nothing. We are tasked with finding and jailing all ten dabbits and their two eggs before resetting the puzzle.

Duck + Rabbit = Dabbit

I was lucky enough to have the chance to buy an early copy and was kindly offered the chance to choose my titular colors (future copies will use set colors) and I chose red and yellow to match my copy of POD (which was designed to best match the dice from Catan, because I’m cool like that). The puzzle’s name is prominently displayed in a font and style reminiscent of Mars Attacks and 50’s B-film fare (just so you don’t confuse it with another giant acrylic puzzle box with a removable cage trapped in a frame by a combination lock).

It came packaged extremely well and is heavy, feeling dense and solid. The jail is in a locked frame attached to the top with magnets and there is a piece of laser cut wood with the story and instructions engraved onto both sides, setting the stage and giving us our favorite rules (no banging, spinning or excessive force, etc). Tye graciously gives us a bit of a head start with a single dabbit already jailed; otherwise, there is no clear indication of how or where to begin. There are a couple things that seem like they will probably do something at some point, but a cursory examination of the puzzle did not give me any immediate ideas of how to proceed.

I began coming up with theories (which were mostly wrong) and proceeded to go down a pretty deep and mostly fruitless rabbit hole (dabbit hole?). I sought a nudge from Tye (obviously this was only because I wanted to be able to provide feedback as an early tester…. obviously… ahem), and this gave me an idea, which gave me an aha, which had me laughing and kicking myself as it hit me: things fell into place, and I was able to make some progress, doing and finding things for a bit until I hit another wall, and then another, and another, and so on.

Tye has clearly put a lot of thought into carefully walking the line between keeping things hidden but not buried, challenging but not impossible. Dabbit has a great rhythm: there are plenty of stops and starts, allowing you to make good progress and multiple discoveries as you work your way through a number of varied and interconnected puzzle genres and mechanisms. Very little of it came easily, and all of it felt totally fair. It is the kind of puzzle that surely has something for everyone, and keeps things flowing between sections; the disparate puzzles are linked, meshing well and smoothly, and in such a way as to keep the puzzler hooked, even when stuck.

By spreading the dabbits and eggs throughout the puzzle, it keeps you engaged in the story throughout the solve, reminding you that your progress is building towards something and keeping you in the story by sprinkling the thematic rewards for your successes along the way in preparation for the final puzzle.

The multiple puzzle types had me smiling and scowling, concentrating and contemplating, discovering some great aha’s, needing to think and plan or unearthing tricks through exploration and experimentation as my pile of dabbits grew. I got stuck several times, needing to step back and rethink some assumptions, or to try various random things in the hopes of figuring out what was next. This is most definitely a puzzle that delights in the joy of discovery, which may not always follow a clear path.

Eventually, I knew I had completely solved the box as I had collected all ten dabbits and the two rectangular eggs – the last of these was particularly tricky for me and led to a strong, final aha: a fun finale to an excellent puzzle box. My glorious revelry was soon cut short when I remembered that I was by no means done solving the puzzle. As I moved on to the culminating packing puzzle, I quickly realized that packing them into the jail was, in the words of Hannibal as he and his elephant stared at the mountains before them: “freakin’ hard.”

If you’ve done some of Haym’s many designs, you’re aware that he knows how to design a fun packing challenge: Dabbit’s packing puzzle is a particularly difficult design. Before even attempting to pack them into the jail, I spent a few mostly fruitless hours trying (and failing) to find the correct build outside the cage, getting soooo close to finding the right configuration (but always a voxel or two off). I probably would have ended up stuck at this stage for an embarrassingly long period of time but I really did want to give Tye some feedback (and, perhaps more importantly, I wanted to jail those darn dabbits before it was too late). So Tye provided a partial burrtools image to assist (don’t judge: people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones… or anything really… then again, people who live near people in glass houses should really try and respect their privacy instead of judging them for what they do at home).

Eventually, I found a workable build and set about trying to solve the puzzle; I found that I benefited more from some logical thinking rather than just random packing and pokery (always a sign of a good packing puzzle). After some examination, I figured out the basics of how to approach it, did some of that thinking stuff, planned my approach, and eventually got there. Success! Glory! Happy Dance!

But the puzzling doesn’t stop there! We have been told that to truly solve this, one must reset it completely. Oftentimes, this “just” means going through the solve backwards – yes, this can sometimes be quite tricky (POD comes to mind), but you usually won’t find puzzling that is unique to the reset. I was therefore pleased to find that even after solving the puzzle, I had to figure some things out that I’d not realized would require such figuring-outness; there are a few mini-puzzles and steps that come only as you go about getting back to the puzzle’s original state, steps that are only tricky in reverse. Eventually everything was all nice and reset, the dabbits once more frozen in invasion formation, awaiting the Return of the Puzzler.

I ran back through the solution and reset (“ran” is an exaggeration, I “slowly progressed” is probably more accurate) while writing out some feedback for Tye, and marveled at how much fun he has packed in. He clearly spent a lot of time planning and tweaking this puzzle, which feels like nothing less than a labor of love from someone who excels at executing an excellent idea into existence, whether his own or someone else’s.

I’m not sure how many of these will be made, so be sure to keep an eye out; Tye will likely release a few batches of them and is unlikely to return to such a complicated, time-intensive design.

I definitely recommend fighting off the Invasion, but if you somehow don’t like sequential discovery puzzling involving a variety of distinct puzzle types brought together into an interconnected, cohesive puzzle box with a unique reset, there is the possibility that he may one day release the packing puzzle as a standalone (likely with the fun theme removed). It may not be as rewarding as when you earned the right to pack by working to get there, but you’ll still find solid ahas and a cool packing puzzle. And at least you’ll have cheated your way there even more than I did 😉

Grade: Five Sinatras

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

Twisted: Box of the Celts by Matt M.

Box of the Celts

Matt M., Numbskull Puzzles, 5″ x 5″, PLA

Matt M. (FroodLoops on Discord & Reddit) teased an sd puzzle box on discord about a year ago – I’d been fortunate enough to see it right away (ok, “obsessive enough” might be more accurate) and politely began harassing him with the occasional friendly poke to make sure I was still on the list (yes, I may have forgotten whether I’d asked – in my defense, I believe that the design changed significantly at some point along the way and pretty much became an entirely new puzzle).

Anyhoo, a few weeks ago I got word that the puzzles would soon start rolling out; a couple weeks later and there it was: bigger and heavier than expected at about 18 oz. (Matt had forewarned of some significant puzzling being inbound, and I was nonetheless pleasantly surprised and more than a little impressed). Big and green, Box of the Celts is a cylindrical printed sd puzzle box that integrates a number of different puzzling types in ways that are, I believe, wholly unique. It managed to expand some of my puzzling horizons while posing a significant challenge, not to mention a helluva lot of fun and puzzling value.

This is the type of puzzle that just begs to be finished – it took me several hours over the course of a few days to make it through (with perhaps a nudge or three along the way). It has a great rhythm: several puzzling phases, each with distinct and varied puzzle mechanics that link and overlap through the transitions, all posing multiple challenges with legit aha’s to be discovered in order to progress.

These are a few of my favorite rules…

As I mentioned, this is a plastic print of a puzzle and I want to be clear that it is a quality plastic print of a puzzle. The print does not skimp in any way, with high density and layer height. I am sure this means a lot of time in the build process but it pays off (the biggest piece alone apparently takes about 36 hrs to print!).

Not only is there a lot going on in there, but there are some elements that were downright impressive in Matt’s ability to safely produce the needed parts in plastic: strong enough to comfortably withstand what needs to be done, sometimes to my surprise as the nature of some aspects would seem to pose a significant challenge to the maker – at no point did I actually need to worry as the print is dense and feels more than solid, and even the parts that seemed like they might be flimsy due to their comparatively slight appearance turned out to be quite strong.

At many points along the way I was also impressed by some of the nuanced design elements that were included – honestly, there are some small but signifcant choices that I found to be pretty sophisticated, especially considering this is his first design (afaik). I know some came as a result of play-testing, but still…. some small additions ensured that even the most challenging parts kept from ever feeling unfair or annoying (assuming you’re paying attention – I definitely spent some time hitting walls before realizing I’d missed a clue).

The first phase could easily be a standalone puzzle in itself and helped me to appreciate a type of puzzling I don’t have much experience with; I got lost on this early part for quite some time, thinking I’d be making progress only to end up in the same place (or backwards). It took a bit of thought and planning to make it out and was super satisfying along the way – lots of little ahas just in this first section of the puzzle.

Having made it through this section, I futzed around through a transition to the next: each phase has its own challenge(s), with at least one or two really great steps in each that lead to quality ahas. It feels like he started with a few broad ideas and kept falling onto more comparatively smaller ideas and found ways to integrate them organically. It packs in a lot of puzzling without ever feeling like there are any extraneous steps that are there just to stick something in (which I think is something that even a lot of really good puzzles may sometimes have).

The next phase proved to give me a LOT of trouble, to some extent physically but mostly because it is just really tricky. Eventually, I found a few things that helped as I struggled to find my way through this challenging section, oftentimes progressing and exposing more information, only to realize I would need to regroup and backtrack in order to go forward. Some is due to the mechanism itself and some due to the way information is provided bit by bit, cycling through trial & error and observable data.

Finally, I got through this section and could just feel that the puzzle was almost over: while the most difficult parts were behind me, the last section still proved tricky, the puzzle playing with some assumptions that required more thought and observation to recognize and overcome, with the puzzle once again including some subtle design elements that give you just enough info to avoid blindly flailing about. Finally, I discovered something that clearly told me I had reached the end of the twisted, puzzling journey and I basked in the glory of my brilliance 😉

After some moments of satisfied appreciation, I began the process of rebuilding and resetting the puzzle. By now, I had accrued quite a lot of plastic bits and bobs and the puzzle was more than a little lighter than when I had first begun. However, it was clear what went where, despite several days having passed since I had started working on it. This is not to say that it was always easy to go back – some parts were basically just as challenging in reverse, although having made it through once I was able to make comparatively short work of it (key word: comparatively). To me, this just speaks to the substantial puzzling value afforded by this novel creation, as the reset proved almost as satisfying as the solve.

Overall, the puzzle has phases that can be done while watching tv with an npso, fidgeting and wandering about, but then some parts must be done with full focus and close observation, the puzzle goggles having made several appearances to keep progressing.

So, yeah, Box of the Celts: get ’em while (when) you can. I am not sure how many there will be, so if you like what you read, I’d suggest reaching out sooner rather than later – as a great(?) puzzle parody songwriter once wrote: “the list is long, I want on, cyber-stalking you, now it’s on.”

For now I think a discord or Reddit DM is the primary way to find him: FroodLoops, you can also now email him: numbskullpuzzles at gmail.


Grade: Five Sinatras

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