Kagen Sound, 2022; 55 copies; Ziricote, Pacific Maple Burl, Curly English Sycamore, Hard Maple; 6.2″ x 5.4″ x 2.8″
At the close of 2022, Kagen Sound announced the release of Hex Flex, a new box that sounded entirely too intense to pass on (not like it is ever easy with the beautiful boxes he creates): the description states that it has “the most unusual opening” of any box he has ever made! Um……. I am but human.
A few weeks later and an absolutely gorgeous box arrived: dark Ziricote contrasting with Pacific Maple Burl and Curly English Sycamore, the burl wood’s tones shifting between light brown and pink, and a slight trim to the lids that is a subtle nod to his skills. This is a box to drool over (as with many of his creations). Its size is similar to Plus Box, smaller than the Lotus/Caterpillar/Butterfly boxes; a perfect fit for two hands. The sides feel like butter and the box has an overall feel of solidity that helps with what comes next, for Kagen warns us that we “will need to take a leap of faith and overcome [our] worst fear about the box.”
Settling into the solve, I was able to manipulate a few things on the box, which allowed me to reason out what it seems like it should maaaaybe do…. but…. no way, that’s crazy…. it can’t…. should I? Kagen’s warning/advice is helpful as I try something no box should do and it works! Beautifully and perfectly! Wow…. but the box is not yet open. I needed to continue stepping out over the puzzle abyss, my faith in Kagen’s work taking me even further from what my cautious collector’s conscience is commonly comfortable with.
Having worked another bit of logic, I find my way to the finale and realize that Kagen has made a box that manages to do something truly amazing, executing a concept that most woodworkers would surely run from and doing it in a way that the solver realizes that it’s ok, there’s nothing to worry about. Kagen accomplishes what he set out to do, creating something stunning and shocking for us to enjoy.
Solving and re-solving it multiple times, I have to shake my head in awe at the craftsmanship and ingenuity represented by the work. Kagen continues to astound and push the boundaries of the craft… it may not be a singing desk but it is still one of the best boxes I’ve had the pleasure to solve, not to mention one of the prettiest, and quite certainly the most daring.
And in the last few weeks I had the good fortune to try two new Dee Boxes: Bad Moon & Apeiron Box! Hells to the yeah!
One of Dee’s two recent releases is a lovely and rather !large half-circle, sort of like a half eaten cookie with a creamy puzzle filling, the light tones of the center offsetting the darker top and bottom beautifully. This is perhaps Dee’s most beautiful box yet – it’s size (at a rather impressive 10″ x 2.5″) and distinctive shape allow it to stand out, and it is as soft and buttery as any a Dee box can be. So loathe to scratch this new addition to my Dee collection was I that I was amply pleased to find three circular feet on the bottom of the puzzle, perfect for protecting my pretty pretty precious. The only other obvious things at first are a rectangle and square on the front face, both grabbing my attention as likely targets for puzzling without giving any indication as to how to begin.
Dee doesn’t make it too difficult to get started, however, and before long I had made some progress. Bad Moon has some truly delightful mechanics and an oh so smooth series of movements overall that make opening it a delight. While it is not always clear how to proceed, you mostly know where to focus; and yet, I found myself stuck more than once as I navigated myself through the numerous, discrete steps to the end.
At one point, I found I had perhaps partly progressed through a section with at least a bit of luck – I backtracked to be sure I understood and was duly impressed by the mechanism at hand. Dee has focused this design on fun; while it is by no means easy, nor will you be banging your head against the wall in frustration as you find your way through (that said, I did notice that some well-seasoned puzzlers at a recent puzzle party struggled mightily with the puzzle, so it is most definitely not simple…). Dee tends to give you notice that you have reached the end and it is very clear when you have reached the end – even if there were no logo to find, the culmination of steps into the finale is well executed and kinda sums up the overall flow.
And the reset! This is one of those rare puzzles that contains puzzling steps that are unique to the reset (I’m looking at you, Dabbit Invasion). While resetting most boxes is simply a matter of reversing the order of the solution, I found myself needing to logic out one part of the reset after discovering something that is only put to use after having solved the puzzle (of course, no box is fully solved until it has been reset but the presence of unique puzzling makes me particularly appreciative of this puzzle). With a combination of experimentation and some of that thinking stuff, I managed to work my way through the reset, to where it flowed easily back to the starting point.
Dee’s Bad Moon is an excellent addition to an already excellent collection of boxes – I am not one to question a Dee box but, if I were, this would make it onto my list of “must-haves” (which, admittedly, I would have a hard time whittling down – not liking puzzle boxes is not my strong suit).
The second of Dee’s new puzzle boxes, Apeiron, presents a substantially different challenge – forgoing the sequential discovery chops of Bad Moon (and others), Dee turns back to some of the more blind mechanisms he has wonderfully created in the past – as someone who doesn’t generally prefer blind solves, I can say that Dee manages to walk the line between frustrating and fun extremely well – put another way, if I enjoy solving a demanding box like Space Case, whose mechanisms are hidden behind subtle cues and clues, then most any puzzler may as well.
Apeiron is not as hard as Space Case but is much trickier than Spirit – I spent a good hour or two just going in circles, which the design and name would seem to anticipate (Apeiron resembles an infinity sign (or perhaps a peanut) and its name means as much). This is how long it took for me to explore and understand all the subtle clues and feedback available, which is more than enough to develop working theories on the box’s mechanism(s). Its 6″ x 2.5″ size allows it to fit perfectly in two hands, the smooth curves begging to be explored and handled.
I took a break for a day or two and let my subconscious go to work (my brain surprises me sometimes – WMH had me stuck for weeks until I woke up one morning with a clear and correct understanding of what I was missing). Returning to the box, I found that I had developed sufficient context such that experimenting with the box now led to success: with a great aha! the box came open, allowing me to examine the inner mech as with most of Dee’s boxes (a trait which is just another reason why I love his work).
Having solved it, I opened and closed the box for a while, enjoying my newfound knowledge and hard-earned understanding and appreciating Dee’s ability to develop an idea into an entertaining reality. Dee’s skills as a puzzle designer continues to develop, his penchant for tricky but doable puzzles boxes leading to the creation of yet another box of devious trickery whose mastery had me smiling. Apeiron does not rely on random fiddling or dextrous fickleness – its solution is easily executed once understood but getting there may not be so simple (as some readers may know, my passion for puzzles sometimes outstrips my ability with them but I would not expect Apeiron to open for you without some degree of difficulty).
Bad Moon and Apeiron share an aesthetic to some extent, and look wonderful paired together amidst whatever other of Dee’s boxes you’ve had the good fortune or forethought to obtain. Both boxes should have additional releases in the near future, so keep an eye on Dee’s website for updates.
Some months ago, MW puzzles appeared on the scene with 3 the Peg, a smallish black metal cube with enough holes and protrusions to tempt most puzzlers. I didn’t know anything about the maker but when has that stopped me from trying a new puzzle…
Peg and its two siblings make for a trilogy of puzzles that share an aesthetic, making for an extremely collectible group – I do love puzzles in a series that manage to have a consistent style at the same time as containing distinct mechanisms. The black metal cubes have slightly varied dimensions (more or less 2″) and the distinct protrusions and holes across their faces send a clear signal that these are wholly different from one another. The amount of puzzling contained within these relatively small footprints (particularly in the second and third in the series) reminds me of the trio of printed puzzles by Alan Lunsford (aka Layer by Layer on Etsy): Unsafe Deposit, Bolt Action & Mighty Pin, all of which offer absolutely excellent puzzling at a particularly good value. A good designer can fit a lot of puzzling into a small frame and MW’s use of metal makes for a very high quality example of this puzzling axiom.
3 the Peg
When 3 the Peg arrived, I was first taken with the overall quality of the build – there is some serious machining skills on display, with every piece placed perfectly in prime puzzle position such that pretty much any puzzler can appreciate the sleek appearance and solid feel of the puzzle.
3 the Peg is the first and the simplest of the three puzzles released by MW – this is not to subtract from the elegance of the solve which relies on a well-hidden trick that could certainly keep a puzzler stuck. I managed to solve it fairly quickly but this could at least partly be due to luck (one of my early guesses proved correct), although I would venture to guess that more experienced solvers may have a similar experience. Having found the main trick, it was not terribly difficult for me to work out the remainder of the solve. I think this is a particularly great puzzle to hand to non-puzzlers as it it not too long a solve and can show how one’s basic assumptions about the workings of a puzzle must be discarded; further, the extremely well made parts will show any non-puzzler the level of craftsmanship we tend to expect from our makers.
I missed out on buying this one on release and gratefully solved a loaner copy from a fellow Discord puzzler- and I am glad I did! This one really steps things up in terms of complexity and difficulty, with a pretty long and involved series of steps and discrete mechanisms to get through before the titular penny is released. Luck will not get you very far and even experimentation is somewhat limited as I needed to have a good sense of what I was trying to do to avoid going in circles. PP is a bit crazier looking, with plastic rings on two of its faces, almost resembling camera lenses. These bits help to create the impression that there is a lot to work with, helping to lead me down some rabbit holes at more than one point in the puzzle; one early section in particular had me smiling once I fully grokked how it works. Construction of the puzzle is still quite good, although I did have an issue with a couple bits falling off (easily fixed) but the instructions tell us that these don’t do anything, which was good to know.
Several legit aha! moments await you as you get through the sd solve, more than one of which is likely to earn a guffaw or two. While Penny may not be the prettiest of the three puzzles, it may be my favorite: the mechanisms are smart and tricky, making for a fun and satisfying challenge that rivals the next puzzle in this MW trilogy.
Lib Orb Rate
Lib Orb Rate is the newest of the three puzzles they have released and it really is a darn fine puzzle. They once again pack a lot of puzzling into a small footprint, for a multi-phase sd solve that poses a solid challenge and works smoothly. I hit a wall early on and got nudged in the right direction – I was sure that there was some blind muckery about and my own assumptions and faulty deductions were tempting frustration … until I realized everything I needed was there for me to work with. They don’t hold up a sign to focus on what that might be but the information is mostly available after some close observation and trial & error to see what’s what making it sometimes semi-blind (but totally fair).
Passing through this first phase, I moved on through the puzzle in a pretty clear, but not at all simple, progression: I never felt lost even when stuck and I eventually worked my way through the rest all by myself (golly gee). Stupidly, I forgot that the name of the puzzle tells you what you’re trying to do and briefly believed I may have solved it – it would have been an ok puzzle if it stopped at that point and I was pleased to find that it continues on to a cool mechanism that is executed quite well, with some small details that must be precisely followed, particularly on the reset. While this final section was perhaps not necessarily 100% new to me, the other puzzle that shares a somewhat similar section is rare enough that many if not most puzzlers playing today may well have missed out. Regardless, it is executed differently (and perhaps more reliably, if I’m being totally honest) and is as worthy an aha! as in that other solve, particularly as it adds additional subtle trickery. All in all, Lib is another great puzzle from MW with a solid challenge and satisfying solve.
These three quality builds from MW Puzzles has me eagerly anticipating whatever follow up they might have in store – they are a welcome designer to the puzzling world and well worth watching for whatever they will come up with next. According to the designer, it may be a while before these three are re-released, if at all but, perhaps more importantly, there will be a smaller “key ring puzzle” in time for the holidays and a major release coming in the New Year – I am looking forward to it!
Recently, we all lost someone truly special when the puzzling world was rocked by the unexpected and untimely passing of Eric Fuller, puzzle designer and maker and the person behind CubicDissection. Eric was much too young to leave us and his passing leaves a hole that is unlikely to ever be filled.
I was not personally close friends with Eric: we spoke on the phone a few times and chatted online here and there over the years. I wish I had known him better – I always hoped that I would have the chance to meet him at a puzzle party down the road; sadly this will never happen (Boxes & Booze wrote a wonderfully moving tribute to Eric that tells us more about his life beyond puzzling). His work includes many of my favorite puzzles and he is, by pretty far, the single most represented maker in my collection (the only source of puzzles that represents more of my collection than CubicDissection is from the various makers of the Karakuri Group). A few of these are boxes that I have been unable to solve despite owning them for years.
I had been prepared to post a write-up of the excellent trilogy produced by MW Puzzles when I heard the news. I did not feel comfortable posting it at the time and could not see how I could allow my site to move on without addressing this tragic loss.
I thought I would review something by Eric that is an example of his genius as a puzzle designer and his talent as a puzzle maker. And what better puzzle than one that sums up how I first felt after hearing the news last week: Nope Box. I just couldn’t picture a puzzling world without Eric’s work in it; it was my first reaction to hearing the news and seemed apropos.
Eric: I hope that whatever you find on the other side answers the big puzzles of life. We will all miss your humor, generosity and puzzling deviousness. You accomplished great things in much too short a time. My heart goes to out to Eric’s family and close friends – know that he was loved and respected by many many people all over the world. We all lost something with his passing.
Nope was originally released in 2019 as part of the Small Box series with a slightly updated version released in 2021. It is still one of my favorite puzzles and a go-to to show how a good designer can pack great puzzling into a small footprint.
Nope is a diminutive 2″ cube that had me stumped for quite a while. At first, you are able to press the center up and down a few mm within the frame, with it snapping back when released. It has a surprising amount of sd-lite puzzling for something so small – it would be a satisfying puzzle at any size and keeping it small just makes it that much cooler. Each step gives you a great aha! moment and I hit a wall each time I made progress, getting that rush that only a great puzzle can give when I finally managed to move on. The final steps had me especially stumped and the newly formed Discord group brought me the help I needed to get through it.
It is also simply a lovely little box: the original release was made with a Leopard/Lacewood frame and Walnut top and bottom, woods that give a beautiful contrast between color and grain. The newer version went with a somewhat different look, with a dark Chechen or Morado frame against a light quartersawn sycamore top and bottom.
As some may know, the original version had a design element that made it possible to damage the puzzle – this might make some people question why I would use it as an example of Eric’s work but it highlights another aspect of Eric’s personality: a strong sense of fairness and a need to “make it right.” Eric began shipping out parts to remedy the situation, just in case (I was, unsurprisingly, one of the people to break their copy and receiving this unprompted was one of the early examples of Eric’s character I saw – anyone who has had the rare issue with a CD puzzle knows that he could not allow a “wrong” to go unaddressed). This possible design issue was smartly addressed in the re-release (along with one other minor tweak).
Nope Box highlights Eric’s excellent skill at designing fun and challenging puzzles, as well as his high standards in production and business. Eric is known for creating assumptions so that he might exploit them, misdirecting you in unexpected ways. He is also someone who always strove to find ways to get more puzzles into more hands, always working to keep costs low despite the fact that his work routinely went for much higher on the secondary markets (Nope is also a good example of this; the small box series was an attempt to create quality boxes at a reasonable price point – not an easy feat to achieve). He was also just a cool, funny and interesting person to know, even if only a little.
Designed by Will Strijbos PETG/PLA Version Produced by Gerard of Bayou Puzzles
One of the many (many) wonderful things about the Mechanical Puzzle Discord (MPD) Group is its puzzle library: members are able to borrow some truly amazing puzzles for just the cost of postage (subject to some MPD terms). Puzzlers have generously donated some excellent puzzles to the library, including a printed version of many a puzzler’s unicorn: Angel Box by Wil Strijbos. (Do not confuse this with my recent post on the Red Herring Box, which is not a part of the MPD library despite similarly traveling the puzzling world).
Gerard of Bayou Puzzles, designer and producer of the wonderful sd puzzle, Turtle Trip, was granted permission by Wil to produce two copies of a fully accurate 3D printed PETG / PLA version of Angel Box – I say two copies as one is for the North American MPD library and one for the ROW library (it is worth noting that he also got permission from Juno to produce and sell copies of a printed Slammed Car).
Angel is so true to the original design that it even features the eponymous cherub whose imprisoned state can be viewed through an acrylic window at the front of the box, as in the original. There have been some delays since its release into the puzzling wild due to some needed repairs but, after patiently waiting for a couple years, I finally got my turn.
Angel Baby Atop Puzzle Hamster: A Perfectly Puzzled Picture
All of Wil’s puzzles are quality designs, his sd puzzles perhaps most of all: Lotus and First Box have been known to be responsible for many a nascent puzzler’s initial descent into puzzledom and the 2020 re-release of Pachinko and Revenge Lock released waves of relief amongst the many of us who had been hoping for a chance to obtain copies. Alongside Butterfly, Pachinko, and Revenge Lock, the original Angel Box is a sizable hunk of metal, somewhat imposing in size. The PETG/PLA version is presumably a bit more wieldy but no less of a puzzle for it.
I found that it offers some excellent puzzling without being so difficult as to leave me stuck for weeks on end (as happened with Pachinko and Revenge, for example), favoring elegance over anguish. After solving Butterfly at the former Puzzle Palace a few months back, this is, I think, the last of Wil’s sd/boxes for me to solve (and, weirdly enough, the first for me to write about!). And while it may not have had me laughing at my own brilliance it was nonetheless a darn fun solve at that!
As this was a loaner from the library, I intended on solving it as quickly as possible so that it might get back on the road (ironically the next person in line is the same puzzler who recently sent me Red Herring! It really is a small puzzling world…). I was able to solve it in two focused sittings with a great balance of challenge and fun as I worked my way through the substantial aha! moments sprinkled throughout the solve. There is a great rhythm and flow that gives class to this classic puzzle. A few steps did smack me up against a nice, solid wall, but overcome them I did, albeit with perhaps the grace of a tiny, fat baby with vestigial wings. I will admit that I may have cheated a bit on the starting lock, picking it rather than taking the time to tease out the riddle (I figure I can retroactively solve this without creating delays for the remaining puzzlers on the library list); otherwise, I stayed true to the design, conquering it relatively quickly so that it might get back on the road.
The solution follows a clear logic, with discrete steps that make sense once discovered; I worried at first that the accumulated bits and pieces might pose a problem for the reset, but the mechanisms, once understood, make it easy to know how and where such pieces must reside. Before dropping it off at USPS for a short trip east, I ran through the solution a second time just to appreciate the flow of steps; there is a reason that this is design is considered a classic and I am grateful to have the chance to experience it!
And so, Angel heads back out on the road today, back once more to unicorn status for this grateful puzzler.
Making its way around the world is a puzzle box by Doog from DoogalooGames, a puzzle-maker (and super yacht engineer, which is also way cool) whose puzzles have been popping up on Instagram and elsewhere over the last few months (such as the Precision Box, seen on Mr. Puzzle). One of my oldest MPD friends, Josh, asked me if I wanted to try a box that Doog had given to the community to share and solve… as if he had to ask!
(Ironically, although I’ve spoken and DM’ed with Doog a few times, I had not heard about the puzzle until Josh let me know, much to Doog and my amusement – it really is a small puzzling world!)
The idea is to have the box go from puzzler to puzzler, asking solvers to add their initials/name to the bottom of the box and take a pic in their city or town before sending it off to its next puzzling location.
Not since Amelie‘s gnome has an inanimate object’s world travels been as compelling and interesting, already making it from France to the southern parts of the US (soon to travel West, if memory serves).
There are a couple neat little surprises inside that I won’t ruin, suffice it to say that I absolutely love the whole thing! It generously brings puzzlers together into a shared puzzle experience for nothing more than the cost of shipping it on to whoever is next in line. (There’s no specific way to get in line, each person is just sort of asking whomever is next… I know the next two stops have been determined but beyond that…. this is a slow, friendly travel from stop to stop – if you do get it, make sure to solve it quickly and pass it on!) If you’re hoping to be a stop on its world tour, I’d suggest popping onto the various puzzling social media vortices from time to time and asking around – I suspect we will see and hear more of its travels as time goes on.
But what of the puzzle? The concept is cool but if the puzzle isn’t…. well, fortunately this is not an issue as the box is rife with misdirection and trickery, including a mechanism that I have simply never seen before! I set aside other puzzles (and responsibilities, ahem) to focus on the aptly named Red Herring Box. Sturdy and simple in its sizable appearance (and weight at 3.75 lbs), there are numerous screws of various sizes adorning 5 sides (yay)just calling to be harassed. Thus begins the process of poking and prodding and pushing and pulling and sliding and staring and sneaking up on it, hoping to catch it unaware.
I made some progress before hitting a few walls, proceedings in starts and stops along the way until I had several bits and pieces to play with. And that is where I stayed for a few hours before I asked Josh a few clarification questions to climb out of some rabbit holes down which I had begun to descend. I find that sometimes the best help is just to talk through what I am doing: by sharing and describing what I have done, it may show me what I have not, revealing something by verbalizing the thinking process.
One aha! in particular was a darn fine puzzling moment, getting me past a wall through which I had previously seen no way. The puzzle manages to be really sneaky in a way that shows Doog is a maker to watch. Far from unfair, the box exploits our assumptions in the best way possible – I had begun to think things that were so far from correct, imagining complicated blind whatevers that surely must be there, otherwise I would have solved it already! Nope! Elegant in its simplicity, Red Herring deceives and distracts you before giving up its secrets and treasures.
I took a few pics and sent it back on the road.
(My only sadness: had I realized I was the fourth solver, I’d have asked Josh to send it to one more person before me…. y’know, because of the whole 5 thing. You know what I’m sayin’…)
Red Herring Comes to Nashville (note: one of these images is photo-shopped)
Kagen Sound Figured Koa, Mahogany, Holly, and Gabon Ebony (Exterior) English Sycamore, Tamo, Walnut, Hard Maple, Cocobolo and Baltic Birch Plywood (Interior) 2021, 14 Copies
When a fellow discordian (discordant?) puzzler asks me if I want to borrow a Kagen Sound puzzle, the answer is always a resounding yes! I must overcome my fear of damaging another puzzler’s puzzle when said puzzle is difficult to get your hands on, as with most all of Kagen’s boxes.
Last year Kagen sent out an email about a new puzzle box: Plus Box (you can find Kagen’s description here). Unsurprisingly, due to the limited quantities (only 14 copies made!) and high demand, the boxes went to lottery to determine what lucky few would be able to get a copy. It says something about the appetite of the typical puzzler for Kagen’s work (not to mention the wonderful quality of everything Kagen makes) that a box at a pretty high price point would nonetheless end up with too many puzzlers hoping to get one. Sadly, I was not among the lucky few and watched as the boxes made their way across the world into the hands of 14 lucky puzzlers. (You can also check out my write-up of his Butterfly Box and Tornado Box, the latter made in collaboration with Akio Kamei).
Getting my hands on this beautiful box was a delight – Kagen is a master craftsman (the only non-Japanese Karakuri member, which says a lot) and the quality is readily apparent in the smooth, silky yosegi and seams that are nearly impossible to detect. The box just feels so great, with small details that exemplify the high level of quality, such as the raised lip that offsets the thin ebony line separating the sides of the box from the top yosegi, which is itself made out of more than 1,700 tiny pieces of wood carefully shaved in the traditional manner (apparently this is a variation on typically yosegi called yosegi-zaiku, the added width of the shaving presenting an added challenge for Kagen to master).
And such woods! The outside is mostly made of highly figured koa that smoothly shimmers with fine grain patterns. The top and bottom mix mahogany, holly, and Gabon ebony and inside you will find English sycamore, tamo, walnut, hard maple, cocobolo and Baltic birch plywood. Just…….. gorgeous.
Starting out, it took me a bit to find anything that did anything, the quality of the woodworking hiding its secrets as well as any Karakuri. Eventually I found my way into the solution and I discovered that Kagen designed the box to integrate amazingly satisfying haptic feedback into the main mechanism using “a twist on traditional methods” used in Japanese himitsu-baku (the classic Japanese puzzle box). Needless to say (as if that would stop me), I happily played for an extended period before attempting to progress further. The feel and sound also helps to guide the puzzler through the solution, marking some points of progress with a gratifying click.
The puzzle provides a good challenge but the initial solution was perhaps not too difficult – fun and satisfying, I was able to open it in one extended session. However, this is not the end of the puzzle! There is another challenge after you have opened the box that awaits, which I found to be decidedly more difficult; it takes some critical thinking to deduce what this goal might be, followed by perhaps as much puzzling as for the main goal. Having reached this second solution, I learned that Kagen has made it possible to completely disassemble the box and reassemble in two different configurations for two additional distinct challenges.
As the box is not mine, I did not take advantage of these extra challenges, preferring to carefully reset the puzzle and return it to its bubble-wrapped state (after taking a few pics, of course). Regardless, the fact that Kagen has designed the box in this way again highlights the level of quality of his work – the fact that it is even possible to disassemble, the elegant joints he uses are so precise that you really need not worry about the puzzle suffering as a result – while my shaky hands mean I wouldn’t do it to someone else’s puzzle, I really would not have worried had it been mine. If you have the chance to try the alternate challenges, I’d love to hear about it!
Plus Box is about as pretty as a box can get, with an immensely satisfying mechanism that makes solving it extra fun. Thanks to the kind puzzler that let me borrow it for a bit!
Akio Kamei & Kagen Sound Walnut, English Sycamore & Cherry 10cm x 10cm x 10cm
Amazing Puzzle Collaborations: Episode II – Get Back in your Homes (because there’s a tornado coming… not because it sort of rhymes with “Attack of the Clones”)
Hundreds of days ago, in the puzzling days of yore (i.e. 2021), Karakuri announced that they would be releasing a limited run of a new box co-designed/made by Akio Kamei and Kagen Sound. This collaboration was enough to make many a puzzle go bonkers: Kamei is The Godfather of the KCG, its oldest living member and all-around awesome designer & craftsman; Kagen is the only non-Japanese member of the Karakuri Creation Group (KCG) and also an all-around awesome designer & craftsman. Therefore, according to Puzzle Algebra: X + X = 5S, where X is an all-around awesome designer & craftsman and 5S is… well, hopefully you know what that is if you’re reading this.
Tornado Box is a beautifully smooth cube, broken along the center by a carefully crafted imperfect line. It is silky smooth to the touch, its beautiful walnut grain offsetting the two-tone interiors. It is quite a bit lighter than I had expected, particularly for a decent-sized 4″ cube. These two master craftsman collaborated on the design, as the two halves must work together to open both sides.
Kagen crafted the lovely walnut box along with the lighter, sycamore interior, sending it to Kamei to add in the cherry interior on the other side (for more information on the puzzle’s background, check out Boxes & Booze). It is important to note that separating the two halves does not require any puzzling, so showing the interior faces is not a spoiler (it is shown on the original KCG description, which FYI does have a bit of a spoiler in the written description).
Unlike most Karakuri boxes, this was announced as a limited run (other boxes could conceivably be remade at any time, although the majority, of course, are not). Despite a hefty price tag, it unsurprisingly still received more interest than there were boxes, pushing it to a member lottery, which I sadly did not win. I watched from afar as the boxes began arriving in the homes of fellow collectors, a single tear slowly slipping from my eye…
Until, out of the bottomless void that is the interweb, there ascended the kind and caring Vonsch (from the MP Discord), offering to loan it to me! I am constantly amazed by the level of trust and generosity of the MPD and the puzzling community at large. Needless to say, this was a bad idea that earned me one free puzzle box! I hope this can be a good lesson for Vonsch in the future.
Buuuuuuut seriously, I was taken aback by this kind and unsolicited offer, gratefully accepting and asking what I might have to loan in exchange (not that there was a presumed quid pro quo, I just hoped I could return the favor). Soon, there arrived the tell-tale blue box containing a Kamei Karakuri creation and I set to work. If you read these write-ups, you may have noticed that my enthusiasm for puzzles oftentimes surpasses my skill: Tornado, like oh so many others, would take me a pretty darn long time to solve. In my defense, I was even more cautious and obsessively careful than usual – this may have hindered some early progress as I kept asking Vonsch if I could do this or try that. Vonsch took it all in stride, possibly enjoying my ignorant flailing about as I went through idea after idea.
Eventually…. aha! Once more crowned the smartest person in the world, I managed to move small bits of wood that I previously could not move! I stood and shouted at this mere block of wood: “Son of Jor-El, kneel before Zod!” before remembering that not only had I not just escaped from the Phantom Zone, but I had only solved the first half of the puzzle, its solution beautifully hidden, an elegant mechanism that is probably even harder to craft than I realize.
I knew that the solution to the other half of the puzzle somehow relied on having solved the first but I nonetheless would struggle to discover it, continuing to bug Vonsch with my paranoid, high maintenance ruminations. I had some ideas (it happens every now and then) and narrowed them down until developing a fairly clear picture of (more or less) what needed to be done. And so……. aha! I found yet another graceful movement that can likely only be achieved by craftspeople of this caliber. Despite repeating the solution a few more times, I am still not exactly sure how one half works – I mean, I know what to do, I’m just not sure why it works! A nice mystery to think on, sure to be a future conversation that will leave me a little bit smarter (clearly I can use it). In the meantime, Tornado will soon be back with its rightful owner and I will return to failing to solve something else.
Following up on last year’s post about the 2020 Karakuri holiday boxes, I figured I’d make a thing of it and do it again for 2021. (If you don’t know about the Karakuri holiday boxes and membership, you can learn more here).
Getting my box of boxes in mid-December was a cause for bittersweet celebration; I knew it was destined to sit unopened for a couple more weeks until X-Mas, when I would see each of the 7 boxes for the first time. Having not yet learned my lesson, I hoped that it might spark the teeniest bit of interest in my 15 year-old son (it did not); it did, however, continue to develop the interest of my 81 year-old Cuban mother-in-law lol (she thinks they’re super cool, which of course they are).
If you did not sign up for one or more of the boxes, maybe this will help you decide which are worth going after this year – as always, they will pop up here and there on the puzzle auctions, typically growing in value the further from December we get until, seemingly suddenly several seasons hence, they sometimes start selling for obscene sums. And for good reason: if you have yet to learn this life lesson, Karakuri boxes are cool… I know I will be getting another round of 7 come Xmas 2022.
And now: on to the show (in alphabetical order by maker’s first name):
Akio Kamei – Pile of Disks 3
Unofficially known as the Egg McMuffin, Kamei’s newest creation consists of 5 circular layers of maple, zelkova and rosewood, laid out symmetrically. As the third in a series, this Pile of Disks is leaner than its siblings at 80mm x 30mm, his hanko displayed in the center of one side. Surprisingly, this ended up being one of the last two I wiould manage to solve – I had thought that the solution was somewhat obvious but it nonetheless took me an embarrassing amount of time over several days of fidgeting with it in front of the tv, growing increasingly certain that there was “something wrong with it.” As is typical when such a thought comes to the mind of a puzzler, there was not, I am just an idiot (probably not a surprise to anyone who reads these rambles). While the basic mechanisms were what I had thought, there was a small but essential nuance that had to yet to slap me in the head. I had begun to think that the solution was annoyingly precise but, in fact, it is quite elegant, with a final touch that gave me a welcome smile after how hard a time it had given me. Having opened it, I did it several more times, shaking my head at my own ineptitude and smiling at the subtle design choices that are the difference between trivial and tricky.
Hideaki Kawashima – Moonlit Night
Following up on 2020’s Moon, Kawashima continues his lunar legacy in honor of the two lunar eclipses seen in Japan (and elsewhere) in 2021 (there is a circle on each side of the box). Its size of 72mm x 75mm, along with the colors of the magnolia, walnut and zelkova, lets it sit well with some of his other!similar boxes, most particularly its predecessor. While I did not have too much difficulty with this box, I did manage to go in circles for a bit before an aha let me find what I’d been missing. The maker’s hanko is hidden in one of its two compartments (presumably one for each eclipse). Despite not being too hard, I like the theme and idea: it is cool to be able to see what the maker was thinking and feel the connection he was going for. Holiday boxes arrive without names or descriptions, which have only recently been shipped out to participating members; these gave me a better appreciation for this box in particular, with an aesthetic that captures the concept rather brilliantly.
Hiroshi Iwahara – Fluctuation Box
One of the cooler looking boxes of this year’s holiday haul, Fluctuation has a springy, tactile feel that makes it fidget friendly and rather fun to solve. Somewhat unique in the nature of its trickiness, the box may take a bit of practice to master. The alternating layers of maple and chanchin look great inside the contrasting top and bottom of walnut and (something? – I may have confused some of these but I think I have it correct) and a little knob adorns the top.
At 160mm x 170mm x 66mm, it is the largest of this year’s boxes and is a development of Iwahara’s 2006 holiday box, Covered Chimney, with which it shares a similar aesthetic.
Osamu Kasho – Little Shark
Little Shark might be my favorite of the year, both adorable and the most difficult for me to solve! Its diminutive size of 80mm x 115mm x 45mm did not stop it from taking me weeks of picking it up and trying the same couple of things over and over before I finally did something a bit differently than (I think) I had tried before, earning me the biggest aha of the holiday. It is always a pleasure to get the kind of laugh-out-loud Karakuri moment that compels me to share my glee with my not-particularly-interested wife (who allows for a quick “that’s nice, babe” before turning back to whatever show was trying to distract me from my puzzling).
Knowing the solution, I can fully appreciate the excellent craftsmanship that hides it (one of the main reasons I absolutely love the KCG. It is also adorable, the walnut, magnolia and dogwood maintaining a consistency with Kasho’s Whale boxes: Whale, Baby Whale and Whale Type I, but with evil shark eyes contrasting cutely with the friendly, rounded eyes of the whales.
Shou Sugimoto – Reversible Box
Sugimoto’s box is another of this year’s personal (and probably public) favorites, with a unique solution that sees the box becoming more beautiful as you progress, an interesting design choice that demands repeat play. These changes are surprising and have me tempted to leave the box in mid-solve for display (my spoiler sensitivities are of course too strong to permit this, allowing for a resistance to temptation rarely exhibited by my life choices).
It is a bit smaller than most Karakuri boxes at 59mm x 97mm and compensates with a beautiful use of maple, chanchin, magnolia, wenge and Japanese torreya, some of which you may notice is not visible in its reset state. When first working on it, there was an initial worry that the solution was just painfully obvious, with early progress that turned out to be a bit misleading, functioning instead as a segue into a beautiful sequence that leads into the final steps (the last of which eluded me for a bit, partly due to my desire to repeat the middle steps and partly as it is well-hidden). The final step shows the precision with which KCG boxes are pretty much always made. His hanko is inside and is one of the cooler marks used by KCG members, a more stylized use of Japanese characters.
Yasuaki Kikuchi – Well, well, well, Where has buddy gone?!
Winning this year’s “Oddly Long and Confusing Title” Award, Kikuchi has made something that is pretty much as hilarious a Karakuri box as I have ever seen. The solution is not short but neither is it particularly difficult; the real awesome-sauciness of this box comes after it has been opened, where you find something whose purpose is not immediately apparent until you step back and look at the opened box with new eyes. I soon saw the purpose of this discovered trinket and full-on guffawed at the result of its use. I don’t mean to be so cagey about this but it would of course be a massive spoiler to say anything further.
The holiday theme is once again on full display, with Santa’s sled leading you deeper into the Christmas canon in a comically consistent manner. It is an adorably sized 61mm x 110mm x 68 and, as with Sugimoto’s box, some of the woods used are not immediately apparent; its cherry (?) outside hiding some dogwood and walnut once solved.
Yoh Kakuda – Boxing Kangaroo
What kind of Karakuri Christmas could it be be without a cute Kakuda creation like Kangaroo? It is adorable and amusing, with a design that is sure to make you smile. Despite perhaps being a bit predictable, I enjoyed the solve and felt compelled to repeat one particular step several times as Kakuda once again does a great job of integrating thematic elements into the box. Kangaroo is a good-sized 63mm x 110mm x 121mm, with padauk boxing gloves contrasting nicely with the cherry used for the majority of the puzzle (with an adorable magnolia nose). I noticed that the maker’s mark has changed a bit, with added english letters that stand apart from the more traditional hankos used by most other KCG members (and is pretty cool imo). Now I’ve just got to see how it fares against a Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robot.
(I unfortunately traded my copies of Wombat & Tunnel Maker from 2019 & 2020, so no comparison pic)
And that’s 2021!
I’m already looking forward to whatever boxes KCG will produce in 2022 – time to renew my membership!
Dee posted a teaser pic of the Angry Walter prototype on Discord some months back, causing my puzzlie sense to begin tingling. His 7th puzzle box (not including a couple one-off designs), AW is an aesthetic departure for Dee and is a move that has paid off: there is something about it that is just really freakin’ cool from the moment you set eyes on it, the concept is fun and there are plenty of potentially puzzle-able parts that will cause most puzzlers to crave the opportunity to try and poke at them.
I was fortunate enough to get an early copy, with puzzling that is identical to later batches while featuring some woods/details that differ a bit from the final version’s roasted curly maple, peruvian walnut, cherry and padauk. At Dee’s request, I conferred with the puzzle gods and learned of Walter’s future history, the story behind his anger. I shared what I learned with Dee and felt compelled to include the less-abridged version above. As I write this, I realize that this makes Dee’s puzzles the most written about on this site, alongside Space Case, Portal, Spirit Box and an early maze box and Blinded III prototype that turned out to be quite different from the final puzzle. (Gee – that makes this #5! How fitting 😉
AW is about 4.75″ square (not counting his g-ears) and half that in depth (including his nose). His eyes, g-ears and nose all protrude and both the eyes and mouth appear likely to be removable. It is most definitely sd, with multiple compartments and bits and bobs to discover and use as you work your way through the solution. It is probably the longest of Dee’s puzzles in terms of discrete steps, with WMH not too far behind (I haven’t written a solution to WMH yet, despite being asked very nicely (sorry Dee, I really am gonna do it) but I am pretty sure AW comes out ahead).
It is pretty straightforward to begin the puzzle but I hit a wall immediately after. There was quite a bit of poking and prodding before an idea struck me with a slap to the head, allowing me to make a (very) little bit of progress before hitting another, larger wall. Eventually, I had a great a-ha and found my way through several more steps to what I thought was the solution. One of the best surprises’ a puzzler can get is to learn that the end of a good puzzle is not actually the end. So I went back to it, finding some things that should have been enough for me to know better and that led me into a sequence of several more steps before finally reaching the clear conclusion. In the end, there had still been a good amount of puzzling to be done; what I thought was a good puzzle turned out to be a great puzzle with a fun and fairly lengthy solve.
AW has several challenges big enough that puzzlers could be stumped for a while by any one of them, although there are always some who manage to breeze through mechanisms the rest of us stare blankly at as the puzzle gets comfortable sitting semi-solved in our backlog. AW didn’t have to wait too long for me as it is the kind of puzzle that just begs to be solved, with a difficulty and rhythm right where I like it: slap your head aha’s as opposed to sidelong glances of meh or eye rolls of ugh. To my puzzled mind, AW doesn’t have any of the latter two and has plenty of the first.
AW is challenging but not annoying and, most importantly, it is legit puzzling fun – perhaps the story and appearance have something to do with its success but the puzzling most definitely does. I guess I am not the only puzzler to be lured in by Mr. Walter’s strained grimace and asymmetrical appearance; from what I’ve heard, the other puzzlers that got early copies have said equally good things about it and the recent general release of the first batch apparently sold out in seconds. If you want to help protect us from Walter’s ire, I know Dee has at least one more batch planned on his site but I’m not sure if or how many more will come after that; there may yet be hope for Walter’s dreams of world domination and destruction, so keep an eye out if you want to help us puzzle our way out of it.