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 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 is 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 house, a couple of us made our way down the street to the Palace: 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 Palace (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 their house, 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:
… 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 is 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 Palace 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

Puzzle Reaction Vid: Watch Me Watch CR Solve Slammed Car

Slammed Car

Originally by Junichi Yananose (Juno) of
3D Printed Version by Gerard of

I was watching a reaction vid of a guitar teacher seeing/hearing Ween for the first time and it occurred to me that this relatively recent rash of reaction recording really haven’t made it into the puzzling world (afaik). This could perhaps be because reaction vids are rather silly but I had fun watching it and thought I’d give it a try.

Keep in mind that this video will SPOIL the puzzle (starting a couple minutes in) – it is a solution vid, so once I’ve introduced the vid and the CR introduces his, he moves on to the solve (at 3:30).

There are a couple cringe-worthy moments in there…

Chris Ramsay (yt puzzle solver with a few million subscribers) is the obvious subject of such a video – the vid is not made in bad faith and is really just meant to be fun. CR has helped bring a lot of new puzzlers into the puzzling world – at the same time, there are a number of puzzlers that are not the biggest fans as it isn’t uncommon to see puzzles treated rather harshly (see his Sea Chest vid…) or for credit to not be given to makers/designers. As a public figure of this size (and as I do not know him personally as I do many other puzzle vloggers), it seems that it would be fair game and I thought there might be some puzzlers out there who might enjoy it. (I will also admit to some reasonable envy over someone managing to seemingly make a solid living solving puzzles – nice to see except when he happens to be bidding against me at auction).

I am reviewing his Slammed Car solution vid – obviously it is rife with spoilers. I chose the vid as it is recent and is a puzzle I own; it also happens to be the first review I wrote and it is nice to come full circle.

The tech I used is far from perfect – this is kind of a proof concept: if folks enjoy it, I can beef up the methods used to create it and spend a bit more time on production value, etc. While I am not really a vlogger (do people still use that word?), I did get my BS degree in film production (we actually worked with physical 16mm film, which may give you an idea of my age).

Please note that US copyright law has explicitly been found to protect reaction vids under the fair use exception (a bit of googling will confirm this, although I also went to law school and worked in the copyright section of the IP Clinic).

Workin’ It

13 Office-Themed Puzzles (and one Puzzle Adjacent item)

Chin, Coolen, Iwahara, Kakuda, Kamei, Kawashima, Ninomiya, Oka, Sheckels, Townsend & Walker

“Puzzles and Productivity Don’t Mix”

Puzzle Partnership for a Work-Free World

After receiving thousands of imaginary requests to identify the puzzles featured in my pic on the “Get to Know a Puzzler” series from Beats & Pieces, I felt like I owed it to nobody to share my office-themed puzzles; and thus, this post was born.

And now, the puzzles, presented in alphabetical order (by designer name):

Ze Super Stylus Pen by Stephen Chin

14.5 x 1.25cm

Stephen Chin is an amazing craftsman and puzzle designer, known for his sense of humor and seeming inability to waste wood; ordering puzzles from him pretty much guarantees that you will receive some nice napkin rings or a fun flippe top or something. He has made a number of cool take-aparts, like Ze Genie Bottle, La Boomba and Ze Tomago, as well as interlocking and coordinate motion puzzles like Ze Chinnyhedron, and the awesome Humpty Egg, an elliptical version(!) of Lee Krasnow’s Barcode Burr (with a face); all of his work displays his excellent skill as a craftsman, as well as his legit puzzling chops.

Stephen also makes some lovely wooden stylus pens that hide a very surprising secret: in addition to being a functioning pen (and stylus), it is also a legit sd take-apart puzzle. He manages to fit a multi-step puzzle in which you must discover and use tools in order to find a hidden treasure – perhaps the most amazing thing is that it is actually a good puzzle, not just because it is contained within a beautiful, working pen, but simply because it is well-designed and presents a solid challenge; that he achieves this using very limited space and resources makes it just that much more impressive a puzzle. And it is also a really nice pen (that can be used as a stylus).

Baffling Bolted Book by Louis Coolen, Adan Townsend & Allard Walker

18.2 x 12 x 3.8 cm, plywood, canvas, acrylic

One of four puzzle books in the picture, this is the product of a collaboration between three puzzlers made for IPP34 (“produced” by Allard Walker as his exchange puzzle, with most of the work apparently done by Louis Coolen of Coolen Lock fame). They made multiple versions of the fake book, all featuring the same puzzle inside with one of a few designs on the canvas wrap outside. The mechanisms are solid, typical of Louis’s work, and the book displays well, looking like a book except for a few intriguing bolts that can be seen along its “pages” (hence the name).

The puzzle consists of several sequential discovery steps to solve, opening a bit midway through and displaying a sneaky, subtle reference to the puzzle party as you search for the remaining steps needed to fully open the book. It has multiple interacting locks with some neat tricks used in their mechanisms. I was able to solve it in a single sitting, but it was by no means simple.

Once open, you are rewarded with an additional puzzle: a 2d packing, line symmetrical puzzle using three unique pieces that must fit into the parallelogram frame attached to the inside cover of the book. This probably took me as long as it took me to open the book, with a solid aha moment when the solution was finally found.

Pencil Stand 2 by Hiroshi Iwahara

9.6 x 9.6 x 14cm; Rosewood, Keyaki(Zelkova), Rengas, Zebrawood, Mizuki(Dogwood); RF-21-2; 2009

The first of several Karakuri puzzles on this list, I had been after this one for a while; of the various office Karakuri out there, this was among those I most wanted (although none as much as Ninomiya’s Desk Diary). It appears to be a lovely pencil holder, featuring four square towers of identical width and differing height, each featuring a different wood, the colors working together wonderfully.

When I initially got this puzzle, I had thought there was only a single compartment; I eventually learned from a passing comment from another puzzler that there had been a second version released, featuring an additional one. I had found the first pretty quickly upon first receiving the puzzle; this of course is the nature of some Karakuri boxes and did not take away from my fanboy appreciation of it (especially as the solve is fun to do). When I later learned of a possible second compartment, I set about the search to determine which version I had; after a bit of further exploration, I had to laugh as I found a sneaky second space – learning that more puzzling awaits you after reaching what you believed to be the full solution is a rare and surprising pleasure. I have found myself solving this one fairly often – there is something satisfying about the smooth movements that I find enjoyable, as with many Karakuri boxes. It is so very tempting to use it as an actual pen holder, but I am not, in fact, a crazy person.

Adhesive Tape by Yoh Kakuda

15.9 x 12.5 x 5.8 cm; Walnut & Burswood; KY-5; 2008

Like other Karakuri that resemble real world items, this oversize tape dispenser integrates a common aspect of the thing it represents into the puzzle mechanism. As always, it looks great and feels even better in your hands: solid and with a smooth, semi-loose tape wheel. While not difficult, the recreation of an everyday experience that is universal to the tape-wielding world is fun, and may not be quite as straightforward as you think. The real pleasure, however, comes when you find the compartment, which contains a delightful (and atypically useful) surprise. This was one of the rare boxes that led me to feel the need to share it with my wife, who reflected its uniqueness with an “oh, neat” (a big step up from the “that’s nice, babe” most boxes receive).

Coffee Cup by Akio Kamei

16 x 16 x 8.5 cm; Teak, Rosewood & Maple; P-12; 1985 (originally)

Coffee Cup is a Karakuri classic: the ubiquitousness of the actual coffee cup makes for an instantly recognizable work and its original release early in the Karakuri Club’s life helps to lend it the classic status it rightfully deserves. The two-toned, striped design is elegant and the darker wood inside the cup emulates a still cup of black coffee. It is rather oversized as compared to the typical cup of coffee, and comes with a separate spoon and sugar cubes, sized to sit alongside the cup on the lip of its saucer. Picking it up by the handle of the cup, you find that the saucer comes right along with it. The real pleasure of this puzzle comes from realizing that it is not just what you do to solve it but how you do it that really lends satisfaction to its solution (happy to explain what I mean if you ask); the end result is a puzzle that is not only fun to re-solve just for the fun of it, but is one of my go-to puzzles to share with an unsuspecting houseguest.

Safe by Akio Kamei

11.2 x 8.2 x 6.2 cm; Cherry; P-56; 2020

While not as common to an office as the rest of the puzzles here, I felt it was close enough to a practical piece of professional productivity as to justify its inclusion (somewhat to the back of the rest in recognition of this questionable pedigree). Safe is Kamei’s 2020 Holiday box and was one of the trickiest of the year (read my review of all of the 2020 holiday boxes for a bit more detail). It features the hash marks of a safe dial, as well two small triangular markers on the dial’s outside. The dial spins freely, making the impulse to attempt some form of safe-cracking pretty much a non-starter. Despite having been correct about a significant aspect of the solution, I nonetheless struggled for a while to successfully open it; having done so, it took even longer for me to work out how it worked, such that I could repeat it reliably.

I go into a bit more detail in the original post

Stapler by Akio Kamei

14 x 5.3 x 7 cm; Karin & Oak; P-43; 2008

The smooth, rounded edges of this puzzle’s dark wood make this as satisfying to be held as it is pretty to behold (…….sorry). Looking closely, you can see two wooden pins emerging like teeth from the stapler’s mouth (or whatever you call the place the staples come out of). It also comes with a flat piece of wood that proudly displays its name in both English and Japanese. You can click the stapler as one can any stapler, complete with a fidget-worthy click as your (sole) reward. The solution brings forth a surprise that is in some ways similar to that of Kakuda’s Tape (above), and is equally rewarding and amusing.

The Folder by Hideaki Kawashima

12 x 8.5 x 5 cm (folder), 8.7 x 5.6 x 3 cm (cursor); Japanese Torreya, Walnut & Maple; CO-4-2; 2012; Idea by Seiji Masuike

Created for the 4th Karakuri Idea Contest, this puzzle consists of two separate pieces modeled after everyday symbols found on computer screens the world over: the file folder and the mouse cursor. The use of opposing colors is striking and helps the cursor appear somewhat two-dimensional, as if the underside should fade into the shadows and be overlooked. The cursor’s build causes you to automatically want to hold and move it like a mouse; the underside has a protrusion that not only allows the piece to slide smoothly but to press down with a springy softness, furthering capturing the feel of a computer mouse. The puzzle is consistently thematic: the way it opens is unique and the space inside brought forth a good giggle when first discovered – this is another Karakuri I enjoy re-solving for the heck of it.

Yosegi Bookmarks by Yoshiyuki Ninomiya

12.5 x 4.5cm & 10.5 x 2.5cm

While not puzzles, these were crafted by the former Karakuri craftsman, Ninomiya, whose works are as hard to come by as they are pricey when found. The bookmarks are actually thin slices of yosegi, being the traditional form of Japanese marquetry for which he is well-known. At the age of 92 at the time of this writing, he has retired from work for the most part; I was happily surprised when I learned that he was releasing some new bookmarks, which I promptly purchased to complement the older one I had obtained some time before.

It is hard to fully explain how lovely these are: while they appear to be pretty simple in most pics, they feel and look amazing in real life. His work, as always, is exquisite, using patterns that are unique and complex; the tactile sensation when held is hard to describe: they feel delicate but sturdy, the differing woods a perfect blend of smooth and textured. The backs all feature his hanko, in case you couldn’t tell from holding them that they are the work of a master.

Memo Pad by Hiroyuki Oka

10 x 8.7 x 5.3 cm; Walnut, Mizuki/Dogwood & Purpleheart; H-10; 2008

Oka is also former member of the Karakuri Club, now focusing on crafting traditional himitsu-baku, the historic predecessor of the Karakuri trick boxes. His work is excellent, and if you are in the market for such puzzle boxes, he sells them via his Etsy store as well as directly through his website.

When the opportunity to get Memo Pad arose, I was quick to jump on it; not only is it a wonderful office-themed Karakuri box (which, if you haven’t noticed, I like), but it is the only one of his Karakuri creations that I have managed to obtain thus far. Memo Pad looks like, well, a pad of papers for taking down memos but much much prettier. There is a (fake) wooden pen with a (non-removable) pen cap, that can rest, standing up, in a small hole made for that purpose. The “paper” is made with the lighter of the woods, the grains resembling pages, similar to Bill Sheckels’ Book Boxes. The solution has a neat trick to it, that probably took me longer to find then it should have, and is fun to repeat.

Art Deco Clock and three Book Boxes by Bill Scheckels

If you watched the Beats & Pieces interview, you will have seen that my Art Deco Puzzle Clock contains a tilt sensor to open the “secret” door to my puzzle room (also shamefully known as my home office). While you may think it will now be easy to break in, please know that I did not disclose the secrets of the many many booby traps built into the threshold, enough to make One-Eyed Willy and Doctor Jones nervous; nor will it help you survive the vicious attack dogs in the room leading to it (they may look small, but they’re as fierce as sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads or a giant octopus destined to be cut in post-production).

Anyway, I wrote about these four beautiful puzzles in a previous post, so I’ll just include some pics below:

I wrote about these four puzzles in a previous post and even my inefficient rambling knows some limits

And that, dear puzzling friends, is the extent of my present pool of procrastinatory, pretend-professional puzzle pieces for your perusal.

Real-Life Work Grade: One Bishop

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

Pretend-Work Puzzle Grade: Five Sinatras

Butter’d and Fly’d: Butterfly Box by Kagen Sound

Butterfly Box

Kagen Sound, 98 copies, 23cm x 8cm
Bastogne Walnut, Quilted Pacific Maple, Madone, Wenge, Baltic Birch, Cocobolo, Paulowina, Alaskan and Western Red Cedar

It isn’t long before most tyro puzzle box aficionados will hear the name Kagen Sound. It will likely be much longer before said boxer can get their hands on one; the box abecedarian may then be an octogenarian but will nonetheless reach their arthritic hands towards their new acquisition with gleeful gratitude.

Overly (and unnecessarily) multi-syllabic ruminations aside, when I got an email from Kagen saying that my name had made it to the top of his list for the newly released Butterfly Box, this quadragenarian was more than happy to take a copy off his hands.

Butterfly Box is the third and final entry in his Lotus Trilogy, following the Caterpillar and Lotus Boxes some years prior. The series is an evolution of earlier puzzle projects and took him nine years to complete. All three boxes have certain similarities: each has eight concentric rings atop a hexagonal box, the narrow rings featuring a number of lines cross-crossing this way and that, a chaotic tease of its potential symmetries. Turning the various rings, you create and abandon all sorts of pretty shapes and patterns, searching for those that will offer you access to the four compartments contained within its base.

I had wondered how much of a challenge this could really be, and was happily surprised to learn that the answer is: a whole heckuva lot (to put it science-y); in fact, I still haven’t opened all of the compartments!

Each of the earlier entries in the series culminated in a final drawer that contained a partial hint to this final puzzle; these hints combhine to provide the Butterfly puzzler with some much-needed guidance in getting started. Kagen kindly includes a quality booklet that includes a pic of the combined hint from the previous boxes. The hint was most certainly welcome, as it seems as though the potential patterns presented atop this beautiful box is bordering on a crap-ton (I should really start using lay terms here).

This is a large source of my surprise: I had foolishly thought that finding the right patterns would be cake; it is instead bananas. With eight concentric rings containing numerous and varied lines going this way and that, it only take a few degrees in either direction for one or more rings to create entirely new patterns, some subtly and some significantly different, the majority of which will permit no progress.

Significant and Subtle differences allow for a LOT of variation: some patterns are immediately recognizable as being extremely distinct, others (such as those above) are more nuanced

Finding the correct ring placements isn’t quite all you need to do; some subtle requirements throughout the solution add another level of complexity to this Search for the Elusive Pattern(s). Kagen comes once more to the rescue with hints to be discovered as you progress, some well-hidden, others more obvious, but all crafted in unique ways that further highlight Kagen’s skills as a craftsman. And there are other surprises hidden with, reserved for those watchful puzzlers able to find their way through to the end.

Instead of being a beautiful breeze, blowing briefly by, Butterfly had become a devilishly deep and drawn out dive into an undoubtedly deep design – all brought together in an absolutely beautiful hex-box, perfect for collectors and solvers alike. Of course, in addition to its aesthetic attraction, its substantial size of 23cm x 8cm presents it as a perfectly prominent piece of any puzzle collection.

And surpassing this surprisingly challenging series of discoveries is the look and feel of the box, which is just freakin’ awesome sauce (scientificaliciously speaking, once again). All three boxes in the series are made of different types of walnut and maple, showing off the aesthetic range these woods offer, with an array of woods that have such different tones and figuring as to seem to be wholly different species: Butterfly pairs Bastogne Walnut with a lovely Quilted Maple, for elegantly contrasting woods with a buttery feel. And the patterns themselves are skillfully comprised of four layers of thin veneer made of Wenge and Madrone inset into each of the concentric rings, with Baltic Birch in between. Such a high level of skill is what earned Kagen the honor of being the only non-Japanese crasftperson to be a member of the Karakuri Creation Group.

An interesting note about Bastogne Walnut: this is an “accidental” tree that occurs in about 1% of walnut trees, resulting from a cross-pollination of European and US species. Bastogne trees are sterile, which contributes to their rarity as they cannot reproduce.

Butterfly Box puts Kagen’s fantastic skills as both a craftsman and a puzzle designer on full display, using subtle differences in woods to maximum effect and relying on expert methods to produce a box that is deceptively complex in multiple and unexpected ways and beautiful in all the right ones.

Excellence Grade: Five Sinatras

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

Stuck on Stickman: One Hand Puzzlebox (#35)

One Hand Puzzlebox (Stickman #35)

Robert Yarger, walnut & various exotic woods, 6″ x 3″ x 3″ (160 copies)

One of the best things to happen to a puzzler is to open an email from a great designer and unexpectedly learn that not only have they produced a new puzzle, but that you can get a copy! I knew Rob was working on a new puzzle (pretty sure this is pretty much always the case), but had not known the what or the when. And so it was with a hearty “yes please!” that the box was ordered. Within a week, it arrived at my door: work was cast aside, chores forgotten (which I guess isn’t really all that unique), dogs and cat ignored (I don’t think the cat noticed), mail cast aside, wife…… politely informed that I would like a few minutes, if that’s ok, and so the box was opened and the villagers rejoiced (yayyy).

But you likely care little for my inner life (rude) and instead want to know about the dang puzzle.

(note: all the information below is limited to what is included in the puzzle’s original description and instructions, including the shapes of the pieces which was shown in the accompanying photo; the rest is my personal puzzling experience and is very unlikely to spoil the experience for others)

One Hand Puzzlebox is is based on a concept by puzzler Asher Simon, and is Robert Yarger’s “tribute to the genera of packing puzzles.” Burrtools is unlikely to be of much use, however, as the pieces are oddly shaped, magnets strewn about, seemingly haphazardly but of course we know that is not the case.

The box is 6″ x 3″ x 3″ and is made of a walnut that feels and looks great (which is not surprising, considering its pedigree); my pics really do not do it justice. The lid will only slide in one direction (I might prefer it to slide NKOTB-style, but hey, I don’t judge); sliding it back, you find a compartment approximately half the length of the box before the lid stops, unable to move any further. Exotic woods of various shapes and sizes fill the cubed space (albeit with some gaps present, if i remember correctly – I have yet to find the original configuration ;-). In the center, a piece shaped sort of like a Mayan temple pops up, begging to be pulled. Rob refers to this as a “grenade pin,” which is a pretty accurate description considering what happens next.

As Rob wrote in his description, the pieces will “flip around like a transformer robot” upon being removed; the mini-explosion of pieces that have been straining for release is super satisfying and more than a little intimidating. These are not the typical voxels of a packing puzzle and the apparent randomness of the shapes indicates the difficulty of getting them back in.

The puzzle’s name stems from the recommended method of using one hand to place the pieces “back into the compartment, one at a time, and in a particular order.” The description goes on to say that “combined pieces [will] have to slide around with a satisfying ‘snap into place feel’ to fit the others in.” A minimum of 18 steps later (if you can do it in 18 steps your first time you shall be exalted and known throughout the puzzling world for your giant brain), you will have re-inserted the pieces, thereby unlocking the second compartment (neat!).

Rob rates the puzzle as “‘very difficult’ to solve correctly” and from the hours I have spent on it thus far, I’d say that is a conservative description, if anything. I will readily admit that I am not so great at packing puzzles: my spatial reasoning falls far short of my ability think critically (which is itself eclipsed by my ability to ramble far beyond what is necessary or likely even desired).

I have spent a good amount of time on this puzzle already, and have not lost interest – even really great puzzles that pose a challenge big enough to require multiple sessions generally tend to join the rest of my “in progress” (read: unsolved) puzzles well before this point. This only goes to show the extent to which the struggle to solve is legitimately fun. I can burn out on some packing puzzles after a while, feeling like I am going in circles and need to set it aside to later return with fresh eyes; but One Hand offers so many new and interesting and strange and unlikely combinations and configurations that I find myself stuck in a Civilization feedback loop (named after one of my first all-night gaming sessions from grade school, the lure of “just one more turn” causing hours to go by before we noticed the sun coming up). I have found partial assemblies that I think must be correct, only to be cast aside as I see no way that the rest can fit; attractions and repulsions of magnets alternately helping and hurting my progression, as I wonder whether they are there to help or to mislead (or, more likely, both).

Suffice it to say, when (if) I do eventually find the perfect positioning of pieces that puts me on track to unlocking the box’s second compartment, the happiest of happy dances will undoubtedly ensue as I try to follow Rob’s intended method, using one hand to place them in piece by piece, until I can slide that lid back all the way, allowing me to proudly share my achievement with my not particularly interested wife (“look! look! I moved this piece of wood a couple inches that way!!!”), and bask in the glory of my success. And the villagers shall once more rejoice (yayy).

…and then I will remember that I need to find the original combination to reset the box.

The puzzling value on this one is quite high and is already filled with smaller aha moments as I find my way closer to that final Aha! moment (hopefully, eventually…. maybe); I will also admit that I have spent more than a little time attempting to construct a robot – the pieces just demand to be experimented and played with, the time spent helping me to get to know the pieces and see how they might eventually combine in that one, perfect arrangement.

Grade: Five Sinatras

Egg-xactly What We Love in a Puzzle: Triple Yolk

Triple Yolk

Lewis Evans


@loderman & the MPD

There is something about egg-shaped puzzles that is just fun: Unstable Eggs by CoreMods (reviewed by me here), several eggs by Stephen Chin (including the very cool take-apart puzzle, Ze Tomago), Akio Kamei’s Egg, Rik van Grol’s Egg Balance series, and the many, many, many other egg-shaped puzzles out there (ok, that may be most of them, but those are some fun puzzles).

And now, the ultimate egg (and all-around great) puzzle: Triple Yolk (TY) by Lewis Evans. TY is a sequential discovery take-apart puzzle that relies on a good amount of sequential movement to accomplish its goals (this is how I would categorize it anyway). Amazingly, this complex, challenging, and well-crafted puzzle is his first to be brought to the puzzling public! His skills as a professional product prototyper are on full display: the puzzle is plastic, but this is not the filament of 3d prints. Rather, you will find that it is smooth to the touch, with none of the inconsistencies in even the best PLA prints. At approximately 3″ at its widest point and 3.5″ tall, this is more akin to an ostrich egg than your typical chicken-based puzzle eggs.

TY’s goal is to remove the three yolks – of course, we initially have no way to know what exactly this means, but it is ever so obvious once they have been found. First impressions are very positive: his attention to detail is evident in the professional packaging with a perfectly molded rubbery plasticy base surrounding the puzzle inside the box. Picking it up, its weight belies the internal complexities of the design; you find yourself able to freely rotate the uppermost sections (not a spoiler – it’s readily apparent when picking it up). The movements are wonderfully smooth – neither loose nor tight and sliding around easily and intentionally. TY makes a bit of noise, giving you an early idea of some of the internal mechanisms that will only make sense upon further close observation.

The first yolk is discovered fairly quickly; an early win that gives you no sense of the legitimately difficult challenges that follow. This is by no means an easy puzzle, and will require your full attention if you hope to solve it. There are some really neat things that happen as you move through the solution, and plenty to discover and experiment with as you struggle to determine what’s what. A fair amount of the process is semi-blind, requiring close observation to make sense of what is happening; there is ample feedback to allow you to slowly develop an understanding of what is going on inside, in addition to the well-planned glimpses inside that help develop this mental map (again, this is apparent from looking at it, so no spoilers).

I hit a big wall towards the end of the puzzle – from what I can tell, this is not an uncommon experience. As with any good puzzle, when that aha finally hit, it was a major puzzle rush. There were plenty of aha moments that preceded these final discoveries, and the final steps are especially satisfying.

Once open, you are given a nice reward – happily, another (small but welcome) present awaits you post-solve, which is just a really nice touch and yet another example of Lewis’s attention to detail (and the way you find it is sure to put a grin on many a puzzler’s face.

Suffice it to say, this is a great puzzle. Lewis takes every opportunity to display his commitment to puzzlers’ enjoyment, happy to help should you get stuck or encounter any issues (it was discovered that fully re-inserting the second yolk could lead to a bit of an issue and Lewis responded quickly and thoroughly, mailing out aesthetically-consistent, pro-grade cards with a nice warning, following up on his email to all those who has obtained a copy – I personally fell prey to this genius move and Lewis even mailed out a tool that I could use to get myself back on track – a seriously considerate and generous act).

There are only 50 copies of Triple Yolk (mine is #8) and the price was reasonably set at a place that reflects the complexity of the design and its production; it wasn’t cheap by any means but it was completely worth every penny and I haven’t heard any complaints from any of the other puzzlers who landed a copy.

Now we must eagerly await Lewis’s eventual follow-up: no pressure 😉

Grade: Five Sinatras

Gateway to Puzzledom: Dee’s Portal to SD Fun


Dee Dixon, Mahogany body, Peruvian Walnut top, Cherry knobs with Wenge Center, 3″ x 6.25″ x 5.5″

Dee done doggone did it again, with the upcoming release of his fifth puzzle box to much anticipated fanfare and excitement (check out my reviews of his earlier boxes here). I had the good fortune to be a tester, receiving a copy that represents a (likely) final prototype of its puzzle mechanisms, although some changes may yet be in store (including a possible fourth knob of unknown purpose). Dee has had a bit of trouble settling on a name, prompting me to suggest the name “Indecisive” (get it? In-Dee-Cisive? Cue the ensuing of hilarity.) However, in the end the puzzle’s aesthetic earned it the probably more appropriate name “Portal.”

Dee has an excellent track record of puzzles that look great while presenting a solid, fun challenge. Space Case was perhaps his most difficult release, and this newest creation moves away from some of Space’s more blind aspects, providing ample direction and feedback from start to finish while preserving some of the best aspects of such semi-hidden mechanisms. The box’s aesthetic shares some similarities with Space Case, featuring shapes on its sides whose possible purpose must be determined. However, its puzzling is quite different and, I think, more playful, even if perhaps posing somewhat less of a challenge (than Space) – this is not at all to say the puzzle is easy, especially when just getting started may confound the average puzzle aspirant. While Where’s My Hammer? will always win warm fuzzies and a special place in my puzzled soul, Portal features some really cool design details that had me smiling appreciatively after I reached the end and realized the nature of the path he takes us on; the puzzle gives WMH a run for its money in the opinion of this humble puzzler, landing in the middle of his puzzles in terms of difficulty and towards the top for fun.

The box starts with a wall that can take quite a while to overcome; it took me longer than I may care to admit to find that first step (other testers I’ve spoken with had similar experiences), and when I did, I had an excellent aha moment: that kind of slap yourself in the head while laughing at the designer’s deviousness that makes me want to repeat a step a few times before moving on. The box does a great job of funneling you through the puzzle’s mostly logical progression through to the end. The puzzling rewards both exploration and careful consideration and is fun from start to finish; it feels like more of a return to the discrete steps of WMH in some ways, while evolving aspects of Space Case with a clear sense of progress and direction as you proceed through a mix of sd trickery and internal obstacles.

Looking closely, you will notice that the puzzle introduces a touch of color, with a bit of blue acrylic peeking out of the small hole at its front; Dee has said the final puzzles may feature different color options. The final version will feature different woods: a Maple body with a Cherry top and Cherry knobs with a Wenge center; it will also be a bit narrower, at about 3″ x 6″ x 4″. Some prototypes featured differing knob layouts, and the final version may well feature a layout somewhat different from mine, including the aforementioned fourth knob.

After solving and resetting the puzzle a couple times, I realized just how fun and unique the path Dee laid out really is – while I can’t say too much without spoiling anything, I could see Dee laughing at us poor puzzling folk as he makes us travel a meandering path to its end; opening the box reveals some rather unexpected mechanisms and resetting the puzzle made it clear to me that this puzzle comes with a sense of humor, betraying our expectations in a delightful and fun way that I think most puzzlers will appreciate.

Portal is both tricky and fun and is an excellent addition to Dee’s already excellent oeuvre – Portal should be available on CubicDissection sometime in its April 2021 release.

Grade: Four and a Half Sinatras


fivesinatras’ (Possibly) First Annual Puzzle Hunt Walkthrough

Find the original Hunt pdf here to try the Hunt!

Congratulations to the Hunt Winners and everyone who made it to the end!

I am so sincerely happy that the puzzle hunt went well! People played and I tried to give nudges here and there since some intended connections may have been a bit far – ultimately, several people made it to the end and I think there was some amount of fun to be had. I am grateful to each of you who tried it and appreciate all the feedback I have received. There were a few bumps early on that are great lessons for the future, as I ironed out some website issues and fixed a typo in the Hunt itself. For the most part, the Hunt went very well – while writing it, I learned that it is easy to make a Hunt that no one can solve, and much harder to make one people will be challenged by while being able to actually solve it (and hopefully have some amount of fun). I know that my reliance on US pop culture may have somewhat favored US-icans, but, well, we write what we know  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I wrote it so that hopefully anyone would be able to track the answers down, once you had an idea what you were looking for.

Growing up, I got to participate in some of the city-wide Puzzle Hunts in Miami (the Tropic Hunt has been an annual puzzle hunt originally written by Dave Barry – in the 80s, my family did some of the early, county-wide Hunts as well as neighborhood-focused ones that came after – more info about the Tropic Hunt here). In recent years, I have struggled to solve some excellent Hunts (usually in teams with others more capable than me), attempting to take on MIT and other excellent hunts! There is a Discord group dedicated to such Hunts, so if you are interested in joining, let me know and I can send you an invite if you need.

This year, I created a pseudonymous account for Discord, super-sneakily asserting that I was “Not an Old Member of this Group.” Somehow, many people saw through this sophisticated ruse. I posted the Hunt (in the form of a pdf) on the Discord Mechanical Puzzle group and the aforementioned Puzzle Hunt group, claiming I had found it online (mostly facetiously as it was pretty clear I had not); if you would like to give it a shot before reading the walkthrough you can find the content of that pdf here.

The Hunt consisted of the pdf, which contained clues that led you to a “hidden” page on my website; this contained further clues to help people deduce the puzzle and codeword needed to win. Throughout, there were clues as to when and where to contact me with the solution. I thought it might be cool to provide a walkthrough of the hunt, in the event that someone might care to take a look:

Puzzle Hunt Sheet:

On November 28, 1989, a future Judge and her furry friend were trapped in a car, tuned to Song of the South; making the best of a colorful situation, they created a Hokey Pokey for the modern era whose title could help clarify parts of the story below. They stepped forward and back and wondered: How many and when?

Paragraph 1 of the Hunt Sheet

Para 1: This refers to the song Opposites Attract by Paula Abdul and MC Skat Kat: Paula has been a Judge on American Idol or the Voice (or something like that); Song of the South is a Disney movie that mixed live action and animation, as in the music video for Opposites Attract; and, Hokey Pokey / “forward and back” because the song’s dance is vaguely reminiscent (e.g. “2 steps forward, 2 steps back”). “Parts” is in italics to help indicate that you will want to find the opposite of the italicized parts of the story (3rd paragraph of the Hunt). The last sentence of this paragraph is to help you know what to do once you have deciphered the meaning of the story (we will come back to this).

Meanwhile, in the 21st Century, a blogger kept having visions of yet another musician, this one a crooner from a bygone era; the blogger’s sight blurred as he struggled to focus, ten blinking blue eyes staring back into his. He wondered where they were, doubting they would come and follow him home. Pack-ed into the baritone was the following story – I hope you can make better sense of it than I:  

Paragraph 2 of the Hunt Sheet

Para 2: This is primarily referring to me (crooner, ten blue eyes (Frank was known as Ol’ Blue Eyes), baritone) – the hunt was posted by me under a different name so the connection to me was not immediately apparent. You will notice that some letters are bolded: www dot com; it also says that they should “follow me home.” This means that once you have figured out solution to the story, you will have something to enter as part of my blog’s address:——–. 

Story: The story consists of five sentences; each sentence gives you a different movie franchise. “How many and when” + the hunt’s name (Mr, Mrs, etc = title & “order”) means that you will need to know how many movies in each series and then order them based on which came first. I will include each clue as well the explanation.

  • Story Clue 1: On the day after the saddest night on tv, an athletic killer stalked the halls of a hotel’s most popular floor.
    • Friday the 13th (12 movies, 1980):
      • The opposite of saddest night is “happiest day,” referring you to the tv show Happy Days, whose theme song tells you that Saturday is, in fact, the aforementioned happiest day. “After” is in italics, directing you to its opposite (“before”) and so: Friday.
      • Many hotels (in the US anyway) skip the 13th floor due to superstition.
  • Story Clue 2: Down in the steam tunnels, a killer who reminded me of a topiary gardener I like to call Edward Burton, his face wrinkled with fear, pointed with every finger on his right hand at the teens who spent their day dreaming
    • Nightmare on Elm Street (9 movies, 1984):
      • Freddy lived in the steam tunnels with a burned (wrinkled) face, and knives (points) on the fingers of his right hand, focusing his ire on teens.
      • Edward Burton the topiary gardener refers to Edward Scissorhands by Tim Burton (whose hands were also tipped with blades). 
      • “Day dreaming” is in italics, its opposite leading you to “nightmare.”
  • Story Clue 3: Meanwhile, it was either a wild-eyed scientist, or a kid, that showed up asking about that book, the one called something like Nothing Loud off the Eastern…. well, I suppose by now the moment has passed.
    • Back to the Future (3 movies, 1985):
      • The start of this sentence contains a direct quote from the second movie (“it was either a wild-eyed scientist……… asking about that book”).
      • The opposite of Nothing Loud off the Eastern…. refers to the book All Quiet on the Western Front; the opposite of the missing word, “Front,” is “Back”.
      • Opposite of “passed” (pronounced “past”) is “future.”
  • Story Clue 4: Later that night, a tall hearse driver dropped his poking ball when there appeared before him something real and tangible.
    • Phantasm (5 movies, 1979):
      • The killer in the Phantasm movies is known as the Tall Man; he drives a hearse and kills with flying balls from which blades emerge.
      • “Something real and tangible” would be the opposite of a “phantasm.”
  • Story Clue 5: It must have been Christmas, because my friend was once again trapped inside, building kids’ toys, held hostage but feeling grateful that, all in all, the way he got to live was pretty easy.
    • Die Hard (5 movies, 1988):
      • This may be the easiest one, but it is probably my favorite clue in the story:
        • The first two movies take place on Christmas.
        • “Trapped inside, building….. held hostage” refers to the plot of the first movie.
        • “Live” and “easy” are in italics = “die” and “hard.”

When you arrange the number of movies in each franchise into chronological order (based on the year the first movie was released) you get: 512935. Go to and you get to the Hunt page. Unfortunately, WordPress automatically added the page to my site’s menu and so it could be found with a bit of sleuthing during the first few days. I also heard that the address might autofill on some browsers (but at least you would need to know how it began). Good lessons for me.

Hunt Sheet Poem (scroll down for solution)

Solve the hunt to know where to go,

And in that place a clue will be shown.

Decipher the code and then let me know,

it does matter where and when people might, though.


Come find me in the hostile place we’re all known,

And on the right day (no matter time zone),

Come and say the secrets you’ve been shown,

For a chance at the prize wrapped up in a bow.


I’ve already told you the where, and so:

La Navidad no es la única festividad dentro 

de una semana de Año Nuevo.

Poem at the bottom of the Hunt sheet

Poem: The poem at the bottom of the Hunt Sheet tells you what to do once you have solved the puzzle. First you must decipher the codeword on the website and let me know via DM/PM (these letters are bolded). “Hostile place” is a hint for discord, where you can find me (@fivesinatras). Finally, the last sentence tells you that there is a holiday within one week of New Year’s. The sentence is in Spanish because Three Kings’ Day is a holiday commonly celebrated in Spain (and Cuba, among other Spanish countries); it is on January 6, which is when you were meant to tell me the codeword and the puzzle via Discord DM (I accepted anyone who let me know the date, word, and puzzle regardless of when they let me know, although most of them still followed up on the 6th, which is awesome).

Webpage (this is where you are directed upon solving the Hunt Sheet Story

Puzzle: Having found the webpage you will find a picture of the puzzle that must be identified; there is a second photo of the back of the puzzle at the bottom of the page. I added a second prize but this did not need to be identified. There are also a few hints in the poem itself: “Dam” instead of “damn,” “Klass” instead of “class,” “sea, birds” as the puzzle was made by Pelikan, and “having fun” because it is named “Party.” The puzzle is: Party, designed by Klass Jan Damstra and produced by Jakub Dvorak of Pelikan Puzzles.

Webpage Poem (scroll down for solution)

Give Tommy’s friend Jenny 7 pieces of pie;

but make sure it’s spotless before you try.

Add what is left to Her Majesty’s most famous spy,

and make sure he stands backwards (I hope you know why).

It now needs the birthday with greetings and wine,

from four bug’s military band that sneezes and cries.


The answer can’t be whatever you please,

so replace the first part with what some say at sea.

All of the answers to clues such as these,

are just so you’ll know my favorite ______.

One more thing to do for the holiday lottery,

in addition to the codeword, I need you to remind me,

so go ahead and look at the pics:

I keep Dam forgetting… which puzzle it is?

I know it likes the sea, birds and having fun,

so share with the klass before this is won.

Follow the rules and you might be the one!


The instructions have told you what to do now,

and where and when and why and how.

Poem from the Hunt Webpage

Poem: The poem is intended to lead you to four numbers, which must be added/subtracted to give you a final number:

  • “Tommy’s friend Jenny” refers to the song “Jenny” by Tommy Tutone, which famously gives us Jenny’s phone number: 867-5309.
  • “7 pieces of pie” refers to the first 7 digits of pi; “spotless” as you need to remove the decimal: 3141592.
  • The spy is James Bond (007), who stands backwards to become: 700.
  • The last bit refers to the song When I’m Sixty-Four, from the Beatles album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band:
    • “Birthday greetings and wine” is a quote from the song;
    • Four bugs = the Beatles
    • Military Band (Sgt.) that sneezes (Pepper) and cries (Lonely).
  • It says to “give” the pieces of pie, so you are subtracting this from Jenny’s number. You then add the backwards spy and the beatles: 
    • 8675309 – 3141592 + 700 + 64 = 5534481
    • You now use a basic substitution cypher (A1B2) to get: EECDDHA
  • The poem then tells you to replace the “first part” (the letter “E”) with “what some say at sea” (a pirate’s favorite letter is…..?) = RECDDHA
    • The letters can now rearrange to: CHEDDAR. 
      • The rhyme scheme is also a clue (“sea” and “these” rhyme with “cheese”). Also, the Hunt’s title refers to a snack (“Comidita”).


  • DM me on January 6 on Discord
  • Codeword: cheddar
  • Party by Klass Jan Damstra

The winners were entered into a lottery to win Party. I also added a second prize, an approved print of Rob Yarger’s Snowflake by Pyrigan Puzzles (which comes disassembled, as figuring out how to build the puzzle box is especially fun), partially as I felt bad for the couple of issues early on and also because I had earmarked it for Secret Santa before figuring out that the intended recipient already had a copy (I guess that is a hint for my Santee).

Again, I am so happy folks had fun with this – any questions or feedback are more than welcome!

It’s a Karakuri Miracle! Holiday Boxes 2020

Karakuri Holiday Boxes 2020

It’s that time of year again: families gathering around blahblahblah……. we know what really matters: Karakuri Holiday Boxes! (If you don’t know about how the holiday boxes work, you can learn more here).

Back Row (Left to Right): Kawashima, Kamei, Kikuchi, Iwahara, Kasho; Front Row: Sugimoto, Kakuda

At the end of a strange year, I felt like Jimmy Stewart at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life when a big box of smaller boxes containing my new puzzle boxes arrived sometime in mid-December: “Merry Christmas Movie House! Merry Christmas you wonderful Building & Loan!” Merry Christmas Karakuri Puzzle Boxes! Now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now Prancer and Vixen! Now Kamei! Now Iwahara, Kawashima and Kakuda!

Over the course of the last year, I added more and more of the craftspeople at the KCG until I was on the list for 7 of the 8 boxes (sorry Fumio, I really did mean to add yours as well……). As in the past, I chose to resist the temptation of opening the boxes upon arrival, opting instead to hold out for Christmas morning. My mother-in-law always gets a kick out of seeing them, and it is one of the rare times when I can get my teenage son to look at something I like for a moment or two. Most importantly, the anticipation is fun and this year’s boxes did not disappoint! As is to be expected, all puzzles reflect the brilliant standards of Karakuri puzzles, working smoothly and looking even more striking upon close examination.

Pics of the boxes have been making the rounds on social media, and I wanted to break my too-long blogging hiatus with a review of (most of) this year’s boxes. For those who are not aware, the names of most of the boxes have not yet been released and can be expected in January.

Akio Kamei

Kamei’s box resembles a classic safe (3.5″ x 3″ x 4.5″): four tiny legs beneath an upright, rectangle, complete with notched dial that seems to spin freely. Picking it up, you can hear one or more somethings moving around inside. Kamei’s hanko is on the back of the box; it is pretty clear when you have solved the box and seeing the hanko on its outside helps to confirm that you are not missing anything once it is open. Finding the right approach took a bit of creative cat burgling – of all the boxes, this is the one that gave me the most trouble. I was pretty sure I knew what to do at the outset, at least to some extent, and while it turned out to be correct, executing it still takes a bit of focus. I’ve heard from other puzzles who are similarly confounded by how specifically it works, in some ways feeling similar to other boxes of Kamei’s that rely on mechanisms that make little sense, until they make total sense – while you may yet continue to struggle to understand how the concept is realized, you can at least understand what is happening. Of this year’s boxes, this is the one whose internal layout most confounds me.

Hideaki Kawashima

Kawashima’s box was one of my personal favorites (even if I do feel like there is one small change that could have made it even better in my mind). It is the only puzzle this year to resemble a classic box (albeit a small one at slightly less than 3″). One panel is light colored, calling your attention to what will presumably be your goal. Kawashima may be guiding us a bit here, as it is pretty simple to make initial success, leading you through a few productive steps until you hit a wall hiding a couple added tricks that block you from further progress. Kawashima’s hanko awaits you when you reach the final compartment, after a nice, progressive solution. The box displays well with Iwahara’s 2019 holiday gift: Aquarius Box, which is slightly larger but features a similar aesthetic.

Hiroshi Iwahara

Iwahara’s Drawer (3.5″ x 3.5″ x 2.5″) is the box that offers the most puzzling, with an appearance that resembles this year’s Drawer with a Tree but features puzzling that is quite different. The hanko is important with this puzzle, as I briefly thought I had solved it after finding a fun series of steps to open and close it, before realizing I had not yet seen his mark. Some further exploration led to a happy, second aha as the fun-to-do mechanism is expressed in yet another step. The concept is well-executed, and it is the type of mechanism that I find fun to pick up and solve here and there; I have little doubt that this box will join the ranks of other fidget-friendly karakuri boxes that currently sit on my shelves. The puzzle has the added bonus of smelling particularly good, only increasing its re-solve value.

Osamu Kasho

Kasho’s box features a UFO that spins elliptically above the whimsical crop circles adorning a flattened cube (approx. 2.5″ x 3″). At first glance, I thought it was a safari hat atop a button, which made decidedly less sense. It is pretty clear what to do at first, and opening the box is rather straightforward. However, the brilliance of this puzzle really takes a bit of imagination – this is the box that has perhaps grown on me the most, as I have stepped back to observe the solution and the kind of scene the craftsman was perhaps imagining. Basically, I have come to see that the entire experience encapsulates a story and I hope this is something that has occurred to other puzzlers, because, to me, it is what really makes this unique (happy to share this with anyone who wants to know, but I don’t want to give any spoilers here). There is one particular design detail that I especially like, and which perfectly finished the concept at play in the puzzle’s solution. I had high expectations for his box this year as his was my favorite of 2019; to be honest, I was a bit let down at first but, as I said, this is the puzzle that has most grown on me as I have (I think) gotten into the maker’s head a bit more, discovering the story the puzzle is (I think) intended to tell.

Kasho’s 2020 and 2019 Holiday Boxes

Shou Sugimoto

Once again, I had some wildly incorrect initial impressions, thinking this was an odd-looking snake-train thing (4″ x 1.5″ x 2.25″) whose tongue had fallen out. I don’t know where my mind is sometimes but once I was able to break through my dumbassery, I realized what was what and actually laughed out loud (rolling on the floor with a puzzle seems foolhardy and excessive). Realizing what it is, the way forward is pretty clear while being no less enjoyable for it. This is another fidget-friendly box that should not be overlooked; I think it requires some precise craftsmanship that may bely its playful appearance.

Yasuaki Kikuchi

Kikuchi’s is the only box to directly reference the Christmas season; last year’s box featured a Christmas tree and this year’s box is a stocking (3.25″ x 1.75″ x 4.25″) stuffed full of presents! It is decidedly adorable and has a multi-step solution that is simple but fun and, once again, quite fidget-friendly. Kikuchi is the least prolific of the KCG members and this is the first puzzle of his to make its way into my collection. I didn’t realize it, but he has the most punk of the KCG hankos, eschewing traditional Japanese characters for a more stylized signature.

This could well be upside-down and/or sideways but is pretty cool from any angle.

Yoh Kakuda

Yoh delivers on our animalistic expectations, with an adorable Wombat (3″ x 4″ x 1.75″) that is not only entertaining, but educational! I don’t want to give anything away, but after a couple straightforward steps, you are rewarded with a funny (and perhaps questionably desirable) reward. A conversation about the puzzle led me to google a particular fact about the Wombat, which has led me to be surprised that no other designer (to my knowledge) has taken advantage of this fun mammalian fact. Yoh’s hanko is displayed on the bottom of the puzzle, which led to a bit of confusion in more than one puzzler, as I heard a few folks may have thought they had solved the puzzle prematurely (which is pretty cool, as it features fair more fun than one first figured). Kakuda’s Wombat is adorable and smart, and packs an excellent punchline.

Overall Grade for Holiday Puzzles: Five Sinatras

Now that 2020 is done, we can start gearing up for next year (Fumio, I won’t forget you this time):

Happy New Year my tens of imaginary friends and readers! Thank you for reading and believing my opinion is worth a damn!

2020 was a weird year but oddly enough, it was an excellent year for puzzles – so many new releases from great designers, and great puzzles from new ones. I finally got rid of all those paper things that were cluttering up my puzzle shelves and installed a secret door leading to my puzzle room (well, home office, but you know where my priorities lie).

May 2021 be better generally, that puzzle parties might once more resume (and other social stuff as well…. I guess…. I mostly just care about the puzzle parties).

2020 Grade: A Bishop and a Lawrence (ugh)

It’s Electric! Boogie Woogie Woogie: Detective Box by Joe Guarini

Detective Box

Joe Guarini, 2020

Just a few days ago, some fellow puzzlers and I were discussing how there are not many puzzles that truly integrate electronics into their puzzling; there are a few great puzzles that feature electronics (I’m looking at you Turtle Trip and Snack Brake), but not necessarily as a part of the solution itself. This, however, is no longer the case: Detective Box wonderfully integrates electronic elements into the puzzling, creating a imaginatively unique and fun experience that I think of as an SD escape-room-in-a-puzzle-box.

Detective Box is a seemingly unassuming 3″ x 3″ x 1.5″ metal lock box with a four number dial-lock on its face. The back shows four small holes, one of which belies its electrical nature by giving you a peek at some red wires that can be seen inside. Along with the box, there is an instruction sheet which includes our favorite rules, “no banging” and “no spinning”, along with “no gravity required” and a surprising early indicator of the puzzle’s distinctive nature, “no external tools except….” The instructions go on to explain that our goal is, essentially, to open the box and then “???…” Opening the box, we are told, requires that we “follow the clue” written on an accompanying letter and “find the box’s signal” (?!). Ultimately, the solution is not just to open the box, but to solve what is inside it (the aforementioned “???”).

After reading these instructions, I was extremely intrigued: its strange goals and reference to “a computer for your detective research” had me wholly hooked.

There is also a letter accompanying the puzzle, which gets you started (as per the instructions) and helps set the stage for the puzzle’s theme (which carefully and vaguely alludes, more or less indirectly, but probably not in any right-infringing way, to a certain flying-mammal-loving detective). The letter features a clue that will lead you to your computer (this is stated in the instructions, so no spoiler) – and, at that point, I was pretty clueless. The site does…. things…. but what could that have to do with the box? After spinning my computer availed me nothing (oddly enough), so began the electro-mechanical puzzling! After a couple cool aha moments, I managed to find the code needed to open the box. But this is by no means the end of the puzzle! Not at all – it is just the beginning.

I want to be careful not to give away too much: this really is a puzzling experience like no other I have ever had and one which I would not want to ruin. Suffice it to say that inside the box are some more electrical components that must somehow be used to solve a cypher, which will then lead you to the ultimate solution. Along the way, you will find a few more great aha moments, before you reach the puzzle’s end.

Joe clearly has some skills that are being put on display here – the functionality of its various electrical components must require a working knowledge of….. stuff….. that he is putting to good use. Although it was not necessarily an overly difficult box (for me, anyway), it is, even more importantly, a really really fun one. Sometimes puzzles seem to forego a full focus on facilitating fun in favor of bang-your-head-against-the-wall levels of difficulty (which can also be fun, of course, but sort of scratches a different itch than this novel, entertaining experience).

I am quite happy to have had the opportunity to try this puzzle out – Joe will be making them available for sale relatively soon and will likely be selling them directly, so keep an eye out on your favorite online puzzling haunt (i.e. Discord and Reddit). If you’re on Discord, he is @JHoag – you may want to hit him up with ye old LIST!!! emoji.

Originality Grade: 5 Sinatras

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