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 Angry Walter is no small thing: it has received consistently positive praise from puzzle box enthusiasts new and old (here is my post on that beaut of a box). And yet Dee has managed to keep putting out beautiful, challenging boxes since WMH appeared just a few, long years ago. So it should not surprise anyone to hear that his newest box once again succeeds at bringing us a fun in a pretty package.
Menace uses a single wood to create a clean, sleek aesthetic that may be his prettiest box since the totally different, asymmetrically complex style of WMH. I first got a prototype in Shedua that is just gorgeous in its apparent simplicity: no protrusions, buttons or panels… just a locked lid inset into the top with a small hole to one side. Picking it up, there is no clear indication as to how one can begin to open it and I spent quite a bit of time searching for whatever first step Dee had designed.
I began developing some assumptions (quite likely as Dee intended) that would (unsurprisingly) prove incorrect, something that I would repeat a few more times before I would discover the box’s final secret. After discovering a well-hidden aha, Dee teases you with the idea that you may have already solved the puzzle; of course, this turns out to be well before the puzzle has actually been solved (which you would know if you had actually read the brief instructions….. duh). The puzzle’s length is more or less consistent with the majority of his boxes but fell into the trap of thinking I had reached the end before realizing I had not: the instructions tell us that we must find some sort of prize and, since no such prize had been found, clearly I was not yet done.
Experimentation will only get you so far with this one – I had to take a step back and rethink what I was doing and what I was trying to do, questioning my assumptions and trying to look at the box in a new way to see what else I might be able to do. With a good aha, I realized something and began following that trail to eventual success. The final compartment is pretty ingenious and most definitely sneaky – not what I had been expecting, which is always a welcome finale to any puzzle.
The prototype’s “prize” was not really all that much of a prize lol (perhaps more of a placeholder) – not that I needed the added incentive, but this did help me to justify my “need” for a copy of the final puzzle (in a different wood, of course – I’m not (totally) crazy). I had been out of town for a while and had not solved the box in long enough that I already found I had forgotten which of my many assumptions had proven incorrect! I know that I don’t generally make claims to brilliance on (or off) these virtual pages but this was a bit ridiculous (and perhaps not the greatest thing for my on-again, off-again relationship with confidence). Fortunately, it did mean that I got to repeat an aha or two, albeit it with more a sense of relief at not being a complete idiot than at the typical puzzle-solving feeling that I was the greatest mind of all time for having made a piece of wood move a few inches that way.
The prototype and final are mostly identical – Dee did tweak one thing that makes the solution’s finale a bit more difficult to do. In doing so, some of my methods worked against me – I found that the slight change makes that last bit require a better understanding of what I am trying to do, forcing me to approach the puzzle more carefully, looking back at some hints I had previously missed before I would get that final aha (enough reworking that I did indeed feel a brief bit of brilliance before coming back to reality.
The final surprise legitimately made me laugh out loud – Dee has given us another taste of his humor as in some previous boxes (Spirit and the original run of WMH, in particular). I re-solved the box several more times to marvel both at my mastery and the design…. not to mention to grin a few more times at that last laugh.
Menace will be available July 2, 2022, on the DEDwood Crafts site. It may not last long but I suspect Dee may do another run or two before moving on to whatever the next bit of fun he has planned for us.
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.
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).
Originally designed as part of an ultimately cancelled tie-in to the movie Tomb Raider, Mayan Box calls to the booby-trap-loving, One-Eyed-Willy-following, rolling-boulder-evading, puzzle-spelunking spirit responsible for a significant amount of this particular puzzler’s passion for puzzles.
It took some time but eventually a very large box of precisely laser cut wood stained a lovely reddish color and covered with Mayan engravings arrived at my door. Layered panels and little protrusions laced proportionately along plenty of its lines and edges teased me with indications of what might eventually do something, but initially seem mostly to do nothing.
With so many possible points of entry, I struggled to get started, more than a little distracted by how cool the box looks. I knew that the box had 42 steps to solve and I had wondered whether this would include a lot of blind mechanisms; with so many knobs and panels and such, it is no surprise that very little of the puzzle is blind – picking it up, you can hear something that hints at some semi-blind steps long the way but the vast majority of the puzzle is figuring out what to do when and where and what then…… planning and memory must follow careful inspection and close observation if you hope to dig your way into the heart of this puzzle box.
As much as I hate letting go of my puzzle boxes, I have a need to make some space (and puzzle money) and Mayan was among those that lost the coin toss; it is especially hard to let go of a puzzle that I had lusted after for so long, and writing this is not helping me grow comfortable with this commitment – with some amount of self-aware forethought, I had waited until after it was listed to write about it (knowing that doing so would otherwise be all to likely to make me change my mind, coin toss be darned!).
Solving this box took me many months of starting and stopping: one wall in particular held me up, but the other dozens of steps had me getting lost more than once as I fought my way through the overgrown jungle that kept these ancient secrets locked up tight. Benno has a few extra surprises hidden within, including multiple compartments to discover and something that had me smiling, separate from the many ahas awaiting me along the way. There is a logic to be discovered, and most everything you need to know can be seen from the start, but the sheer complexity and breadth of the design had me going backwards or in circles, or sometimes simply staring at a steep wall, at least as often as it had me making actual progress.
Eventually, I did manage to fully excavate the path to the solution, emerging through the canopy of the puzzle jungle to enjoy the expansive view that awaits the patient, dedicated puzzler. Happy dances and self-congratulations done, resetting the box was no small feat (and I will admit to looking up bits of the solution once or thrice to confirm I wasn’t lost (or rather to confirm that I was, in fact, lost, and to help get me back on track).
Dee Dixon of DEDwood Crafts, 3″ x 4″ x 2″, European Beech and Granadillo
Not too long ago, Dee surprised me with a box of Boxes: I knew a puzzle was coming, perhaps even two, but when I saw a third box buried within the bubble wrap, my traditional happy dance of delivery soon became the rarely seen joyful leaping of surprised arrival (followed soon thereafter by the ritual mockery of adolescence, performed accurately by my son).
This cardboard box begat three smaller boxes: the smallest was the Spirit, the first batch of which has already been released on his site; the largest was an oversized untitled red box, which I believe is the first puzzle box he ever made, one that I must reluctantly return to Dee due to its sentimental value; and last was a prototype of an untitled box with two knobs, sized similarly to most of his boxes. Intending to give only a preliminary inspection, what was intended to be just a few minutes grew closer to an hour as I tilted and pressed and pulled at each in turn, finding some things but solving none until I had to go to reluctantly go and do some of that life stuff.
Spirit Box is a bit smaller than most of Dee’s boxes at 3″ x 4″ x 2″ and something about its size and appearance just makes you want to pick it up. As with all of Dee’s work, it is beautifully made, with a European beech body speckled with a natural grain that creates an impression of texture in stark contrast to its slippery smooth feel. The bottom features a short granadillo layer, the seam so perfectly hidden from sight and touch as to seem like the wood naturally becomes dark at the bottom, with a slight curve to the edges that softens the contrasting aesthetic. At its top is a floating granadillo panel that you quickly realize is delightfully springy. Aside from a bit of noise from within, you can find nothing else that would seem to provide a clue as to its solution.
I managed to make a bit of progress before too long, at which point I became stuck for quite some time. Honestly, if it wasn’t so darn fun to play with, I may have made additional progress more quickly (maybe). It got to the point where I thought perhaps I had solved it and, you know, there was maybe something wrong with the box (shocking, I know). Dee assured me this was not the case (he was correct) and with a nice Aha!, I proceeded to solve the puzzle, discovering a surprise that elicited the Bark of Laughter; as much as I love Dee’s boxes and the Aha moments they create, I’ve not been as amused by one of his boxes since finding the surprise that was hidden inside early copies of Where’s My Hammer? While different, the surprise similarly shows Dee’s strong sense of humor and adds to the playful feel of the puzzle.
I love a puzzle that rewards you with a look at its mechanisms, and this one gives you the Full Monty (as opposed to the pasties teasingly worn inside some of his other boxes). The mechanism is uniquely executed, although perhaps not necessarily completely new; there is also a small design element that I found to be subtly elegant and a good example of Dee’s attention to detail, as it contributes greatly to the fun tactile feel of the solve.
Spirit is not Dee’s simplest puzzle, but neither is it as complex as most of his other boxes (something that I think is fairly reflected by the lower price point). However, I did find it to be one of the most fun and one of the prettiest, and certainly the most fidget-friendly: I’ve spent a good amount of time running through the solution or just absent-mindedly playing with it, simply because it feels nice to do.
Dee is releasing Spirit Box in batches via his website; as is the case with his other boxes, he has not specified a number that will be made, but they will assuredly not be made forever (what with the sun dying and all). While early on there were small batches and one-offs of WMH and Blinded II being sold concurrently, this may be the first time two of his boxes are generally available at the same time, as I believe that CubicDissection will soon be selling additional copies of his most recent box, Portal.
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).
Ryan Hughbanks, Maple, Walnut, Purpleheart, Padauk, Cherry, Oak, Alder, & Poplar (!), 10.5″ x 7.5″ x 6.5″
The ketchup lessons of yore are true: good things come to those who wait…
Ryan Hughbanks popped up on Facebook (the puzzling pages at least) a little over a year ago; thanks to some puzzle friends (Merci!), I was able to start my process of polite harassment and cyber-stalking early. This gave me the opportunity to get to know Ryan a bit over the last year, and to recently be offered the 7th copy of his sd puzzle box, Side Swiper. Obviously I jumped at the chance (this post would be rather pointless had I not) and soon a !large box arrived with a slightly less large (and decidedly more interesting) box inside: Smooth and buttery like a Kagen Sound box, with the colorful playfulness of a Kel Snache, and the generous puzzle proportions of a Juno, Ryan has created an excellent puzzle with numerous nooks and crannies to be discovered, using clues, sequential discovery, exploration, and general puzzle-boxery.
Almost a foot (27 cm) long, SS stands out in any collection (it’s pretty enough that it would anyway). The reason for its name is pretty clear: three bars are situated on either side of the box, set into channels running most of the box’s widths with a few vertical lines of various woods spaced along its length. The box has four drawers and a hinged door visible as well. Atop the box are two striped pieces of wood, which we are warned are NOT handles, as well as three more wooden lines set into its surface.
The box features a number of decorative touches that really make it stand out, using a grand total of eight (!) different woods. Thin strips of wood are perfectly integrated into its surface in many places an the edges and corners are covered in a Walnut frame (with protruding semi-spheres) that contrasts wonderfully with the maple that is the box’s base color. The bottom is made with as much care, despite being featureless: we are told that it is not “active” (which makes sense considering the box’s dimensions and weight).
The instructions confirm what casual inspection may lead you to suspect (and the instructions more or less confirm): at least some of the solve will rely on discovering some kind of clues to do some kind of something. He instructs us not to pick any locks (not if you want to do it the right way!) and assures us that “There is an answer for everything.” This admonition of impending fun is also comforting for those of us lost in a perpetual state of existential dread.
The clue-based mechanisms featured in the solution seem straightforward enough in some respects that they may mislead you in others. While some amount of escape-room-in-a-box puzzling plays a significant role in the box, it is really just one comparatively small (yet significant) aspect of the solution as a whole; it is a great balance, as the sequential discovery / take-apart aspects of the puzzle form the majority of the mechanisms that must be discovered and understood.
This is the kind of puzzle that keeps on puzzling: even after you think, “once I figure out how to do this, it must be the end,” nope, there’s probably another step or three to be solved before you will find the signed piece that lets you know you’ve reached the end. (As a semi-digression, I have come to increasingly appreciate such a touch – it’s happened more than few times that I’ve looked at a puzzle wondering if I’d finished it or had put it away thinking it was done, only to learn that there was a bit more puzzling to be done (a further digression: in some rare cases this is actually pretty awesome – there is one specific puzzle (one which I reviewed previously) to have come out in the last year that infamously “finishes” with several more “hidden” steps that continue past the official solution provided (in this case, I’d found something that I knew had to do something and asked my npso to check the solution: nothing in there about it, but an amused and somewhat cryptic response from the designer confirmed my suspicions – it is worth noting that I still haven’t figured this part out lol!)).
Side Swiper is definitely tricky, hiding multiple ahas in its sizable frame, although I wouldn’t necessarily say that it is crazy hard – it is not necessarily the kind of puzzle that will spend months sullenly sitting in some semi-solved state, staring at my sad-a$$ self and is instead the type that you will want to run back through the solution just for the fun of it (like a good Juno sd).
SS is just plain fun and extremely satisfying. The preponderance of compartments positively predicts puzzlers’ impending pleasure at progressing through its plentiful parts. Asinine alliteration aside, the sense of discovery is strong with this one as you are rewarded with access to spaces that are clear from casual inspection, as well as suspected and secret ones.
And, as has been said and deserves being said again, it’s just so darn purty that I’d be surprised if many puzzlers actually turned one down, should they have the opportunity to get one. When his initial fb posts were discovered and shortly thereafter shared on discord, he was inundated with messages and requests; I think he was surprised but I most certainly was not because (one more time!) it looks awesome!
Ryan has been busy this past year; his obvious talent as a woodworker and the compelling nature of the box has led him to meet and get to know some of the best puzzle box makers out there. He already had a couple designs (copies of which were also shown in that early post) and has since been working on a couple more – and lo, the cyber-stalking of puzzles past would continue on, its vigor renewed and spirit unbroken.