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.
For a while now, I’d seen posts from Roxanne taking about the work she and George had been putting into what is one of the grandest puzzle projects yet: turning a house down the street from their own home (known as the Puzzle Palace) into a public (by-invitation) puzzle paradise, collecting what is technically referred to as a “crap-ton” of absolutely amazing puzzles spanning both the globe and a whole lot of decades (I believe there are some things from as far back as the late 19th Century!). I was kindly invited to the first Boca Bash, a puzzle party that shall hopefully continue to be held every couple of years far into the future (the Palace & Palace Museum are also welcoming private visits from puzzlers throughout the year).
The fact that Roxanne and George welcomed me into their home despite barely knowing me at the time just shows their openness and generosity and highlights the purpose of this project: to collect, protect, and share as many mechanical puzzles as they can possibly can, making it possible for puzzlers to solve the rarest of the rare of all types and genres. This is not just a collection – this is a public service to the puzzling world, one that they intend to outlast them (which will hopefully not be an issue for a very, very long time); they have even brought on a very cool puzzling couple (Tevin & Morgan) to act as caretakers, helping with cataloguing, protecting, and hosting solvers able to make the journey.
While my friend, Tanner (known for his excellent YouTube puzzle channel, WDIGMI), was able to spend several days there, I was only able to be there for a relatively brief 48 hrs, which was totally worth it but went by in the blink of an eye – you could spend weeks there and still only solve a fraction of what they’ve got. WDIGMI has an excellent video tour of the palace, which is good as I neglected to take many pictures while I was there (likely a testament to how good the puzzling is….. documenting the trip was not on my mind!). So be sure to check his vid out to get a visual sense of the puzzle nirvana that awaits…..
I got there pretty late following a few flight delays and was nonetheless welcomed by Roxanne and Tanner, as well as a few of our friendly, neighborhood Discord puzzlers – once we realized we had all inter-met one another, we had an especially grand ole time. After a bit of camaraderie at the Palace, a couple of us made our way down the street to the Palace Museum: at this point it was well after midnight, which most certainly did not stop Tanner and I from heading directly to the box room, where he was in the midst of solving a large Trevor Wood temple. After picking my jaw up off the floor, I walked past the enormous Thibodeau chest to where my long lost love lay waiting for me: an actual, irl Apothecary Chest! Fast forward a few hours and a few boxes later and we realized that the sun would soon be spoiling our fun, reluctantly deciding to make our way to our respective rooms.
The next day, I got to meet more of the puzzlers who were there for the weekend and got a slower tour of the Museum (I’d seen a bit the night before but the siren song of the box room was too strong to spend much time elsewhere at first). Later that evening, George took me on a full tour of their house; both properties are absolutely filled top to bottom with puzzles, as well as a helluva lot of material and tools for designing and making new ones.
The craziest thing about being there is coming across unicorns hiding in plain sight, just sitting there as if it wouldn’t cause PuzzleParadise to explode were they to make it on there: is that Rob Yarger’s Checkmate Box on that shelf down there? Oh look, there’s a dozen or so Ninomiya boxes surrounded by dozens and dozens of other Karakuri from the floor to well over my head and deep into the shadows of the shelves. I think I saw Eric Fuller’s 51 Pound Box back there somewhere. There’s a bathroom with all four walls covered in puzzle locks – amongst them you will find some treasures such as Popplocks and even Gary Foshee’s Transparent Lock. Walking up the stairs of the Palace, past almost every Berrocal there is, I found myself in a large, open room whose curved walls contained shelf upon shelf of IPP puzzles, going back a decade or two (or three?), replete with yet more unicorns amidst unknown (to me) treasures and lots of puzzles that have never been reproduced: Sandfield dovetails, Brian Young SD’s, Lensch trickery, McDaniels and Malcolmson and Louage and dozens, if not hundreds, more. Across the room is a bedroom covered in metal puzzles by designers such as Gillen, Foshee, Roger D, and Strijbos. There is a room covered in Twisty’s, disentanglements hanging from the walls and ceiling, a towering wall of puzzle vessels, a room stacked with burrs and packing puzzles and more from the likes of Eric Fuller, Juno, Jerry McFarland, and on and on (and on).
Some random pics from the IPP room of the Palace:
… and some random pics from the metal bedroom:
I got to pick up and try dozens of puzzles I have been lusting after for years, while discovering a whole bunch of stuff I’d never heard of (while trying to avoid a few things I may soon acquire, such as Jerry McFarland’s Burrnova – after patiently waiting a couple years for my name to come up, it is worth waiting a few more months until I can try my own copy 😀 ). And so many surprises, such as a room of chess puzzles that made me realize I had no idea there were so many chess puzzles! I could have spent the entire time in any one room and been more than happy for making the trip.
And, all the while, hanging and chatting with fellow puzzle-lovers: I spent some time with George putting together some cool furniture burrs from a small shop overseas and sat around with Roxanne and the gang hearing stories of puzzling days past, all the while passing around little known nuggets of preferred puzzling perfection – with puzzling in public having been impossible for the last year or two, it was great to connect with genuinely kind and cool puzzlers: some I’ve known from MPD, some whose names I’ve seen on IPP exchange puzzles or whose puzzles I’ve enjoyed (including the talented Mat Nedeljko, whose work I enjoy almost as much as his company), and some who were new to me (and just as great to meet) – new friends that I hope to puzzle with again before too long.
The only negative was that my squirrel-brain could hardly focus – there simply wasn’t enough time to actually solve most of the puzzles I picked up; if I couldn’t make progress for 15 or 20 minutes (whether getting started or getting stuck), I tended to reset whatever I was working on and put it back so I could try something else (otherwise I may have spent the whole time without trying anything other than Katie Koala and maybe a box or three from Kagen Sound, Stickman, and Michael Toulouzas, if I was lucky…. which still would have been worth the trip). Some puzzles we worked on collaboratively, allowing us to fully solve and reset a tough puzzle like Ned Kelly that I may otherwise have not managed to see the end of.
Eventually, it was time to go – as if their hospitality was not already more than enough Roxanne and George made sure I went home with a couple gifts (as did Tanner, who has been teaching himself woodworking and gifted me a lovely copy of Ichiro’s Three Cubes Puzzle that he had made). George does quite a bit of puzzle prototyping and had a trunk full of Hanamayas he helped bring to life; another trunk sits by the door for departing visitors. I even got a shirt! (fed, housed, and clothed?!)
The Puzzle Palace & Palace Museum contains an ever-growing collection and should eventually have its catalog (that’s “catalogue” to some of you) available online, making it easier to donate puzzles to help continue to grow the collection. Remember: these puzzles are there as a service to the puzzling world and, to some extent, this is going to have to be a collaborative effort long-term: spearheaded (of course) by Roxanne and George but ultimately supported and given life by the puzzling world at large – we puzzlers should help them in growing their collection, whether by donating or by assisting them in their hunt for puzzles they don’t yet have, all to give hands-on access to the puzzlers of the future. I suppose it is possible that the Museum may one day need to become a more formal institution (to protect the collection, if for no other reason); for now, it feels more like an extended family, with cousins stopping by randomly to play with the many many wooden, metal, and plastic children that live there…
Needless to say: I’ll be back as soon as I can (if they’ll have me) – until then, I can rest easy knowing it’s there, safe and sound and growing fast.
Palace Grade: The Rarely Seen, Ever-Sought Presley
Originally by Junichi Yananose (Juno) of Pluredro.com 3D Printed Version by Gerard of BayouPuzzles.com
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).
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).
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 😉