It’s a(nother) Karakuri Miracle Again! Holiday Boxes 2022

Karakuri Holiday Boxes 2022

It’s that time of year!

2022 Karakuri Holiday Boxes!
The puzzles sit silently, awaiting new friends 
when a big box of boxes arrives once again. 
A set of seven secrets from the masters of wood,
it's hard to wait but I know that I should: 
Each year they arrive,
so my collection can thrive,
once they've been opened on this holiday.
It's worth every penny,
for the boxes they send me,
give plenty of rambling for this puzzler to say.

Following on the last two years of comprehensive Karakuri holiday box ramblings (see 2020 & 2021), I will once more focus on the most important aspect of the holiday season: family? no! joyful gift-giving? no! Elvis?…… well, there’s always Elvis, watching over us all from high atop Santa’s sleigh: Ho, ho, thank ya very much. But no! Not even Elvis… ’tis the season for Karakuri Holiday Boxes!

But first, a brief word on the wonderful Discord Secret Santa gift I received! A custom (five) Sinatra puzzle that is not what it seems!!! I am told that may be an even nicer version forthcoming but this was more than enough to have me laughing under the tree, much to the amusement of my teenage son. Using a fedora-shaped tray with restricted entry, there are five (yay!!!) Sinatras that must be placed within. Despite being rather terrible at tray-packing, I was able to solve this once I discovered something very cool (hells yeah Santa!); it helped that I was determined to solve the puzzle that sings out my namesake. Thank you thank you to my wonderfully generous and inventive Santa!

Not your ordinary packing puzzle!

And now…. onto the show!

Akio Kamei – Sliding Panels

Kamei’s 2022 offering is a somewhat traditional-looking 3.25″ x 2″ box with two panels on the top and bottom. The aesthetic is one of the simpler of this year’s releases, with a trick that has grown on me since my first solve, which didn’t take me that long.

As always, the craftsmanship is superb (despite a somewhat nit-picky issue I have with it), with a smooth opening that highlights the box’s precise tolerances; it has that air displacement that signifies the craftsmanship we love about KCG. While I find the mechanism satisfying, Kamei’s box is outshone by some of the other boxes released, in my sometimes humble opinion. I do like the simple aesthetic, however, and appreciate the bit of misdirection it holds.

Kamei Holiday Boxes 2017, 2019 – 2022

Hideaki Kawashima – Origin Regression Cube

Ok this one had me stumped for quite a while! We are instructed to “find the stamp” (the maker’s hanko) within a rather classic looking cube with double lines wrapping around its faces. I managed to get through the first section of the puzzle pretty much right away and made what I was sure was clear progress through the second before I smacked into a wall it would take me weeks to overcome. I tried all sorts of things and yet nothing bore fruit until…. aha! A quite devious trick had prevented me from finding the hanko, something somehow both obvious and well-hidden (as some of the best tricks are).

This is the most “classic” looking box of the year (perhaps a bit smaller at 2.5″) and stands out with one part in particular that seems somehow to never have been done before. Going back and solving it again, I gotta say this one has grown on me more and more – the mechanism really is devious and ever-so-sneaky, making for an enjoyable tricky solve.

Iwahara Holiday Boxes 2019 – 2022

Hiroshi Iwahara – Karakuri Joint 2

Iwahara’s box looks similar to his Karakuri Joint box released earlier this year; it appears to be a miniature version at 3.75″ x 2″ (plus 1″ for the protrusions). However, do not expect to be able rely on the steps taken to solve the larger puzzle as it will not get you much of anywhere: despite having solved the larger one, I struggled with this, my brain insisting that the other’s solution must play a role. Moving past that and trying some less fun things I eventually stumbled across that elusive aha! and opened the box. While not amongst my favorites of the year, it does look quite nice next to its bigger sibling.

Osamu Kasho – Angry Lion

Kasho has once again brought us an adorable 2.75″ x 1.75″ animal box, following on last year’s deceptively difficult Little Shark. Angry Lion is similarly difficult, with an initial step that is as obvious as the next is subtle. This one would also take me an embarrassingly long few weeks picking it up and fiddling before hitting on the aha! that had eluded me. Despite its relative simplicity, or perhaps because of it, Lion is very satisfying and will be a fun puzzle to share, not to mention pick up and solve here and there (it makes me smile)

Kasho Holiday Boxes 2019 – 2022

Shou Sugimoto – Kusha Box

Sugimoto’s box is once again one of my favorites for the year, with a relatively simple mechanism that is elegant and just plain fun. Last year’s box was one of the best-looking and this year’s I found to be one of the most enjoyable, with an aha! that had me smiling.

I was able to solve it without too much trouble (although by no means right away) but then spent even more time re-solving it for kicks. This is likely to join the ranks of boxes that I like to pick up and fiddle with as its solve is just so darn satisfying! The aesthetic is simple but nice, cute at a rather diminutive 2.25″. It’s aesthetic allows it to sit well alongside puzzles like the Fluctuation and Reversible Boxes from last year.

Kasho Holiday Boxes 2020 – 2022

Yasuaki Kikuchi – Sensitive Santa

Sticking with the Christmas theme of the last three years, Kikuchi brings us Santa’s (beardless) head, somehow smiling merrily despite his unfortunate decapitation. The largest of this year’s boxes at 5.25″ x 2.25″, there is something rolling around inside to work with (or be distracted by). I found this to be somewhat tricky, making early progress before getting stuck going in circles, eventually discovering that logic would provide me with the aha! I needed to open it. A fun if a bit simple solve that keeps up with Kikuchi’s holiday tradition of Christmas-themed boxes.

Kikuchi Holiday Boxes 2020 – 2022

Yoh Kakuda – Cat & Cardboard Box

Yoh’s adorable box is another favorite, with a delightfully surprising solution that is sure to elicit a smile. This box has a solution that is sure to get re-solved numerous times. I had initially believed it was solved despite not reaching a somewhat obvious resolution in retrospect;. I do enjoy a puzzle that keeps giving after I’d thought it solved and I was happy to find there was a bit more to discover.

The box comes with some semi-shredded cardboard inside, hence the name, although such cardboard’s purpose is less clear (but hey, it’s thematic so whatevs). It is perhaps included for the cat atop of the box to play with and support the overall theme. Its size of 3″ x 2.5″ it smallish but not tiny, with a rather teeny yet cute widdle bitty kitty-cat. This was not the hardest or most original of this year’s puzzles but it is one of the most fun and is sure to be a must-have for cat-loving puzzlers. It was certainly the one to elicit the best response from my (cat-loving) NPSO, who found it adorably fun.

And that’s this year’s roundup of Karakuri Holiday boxes! If you didn’t get the ones you wanted, keep an eye out on Puzzle Paradise as we are sure to see them popping up in the coming months.

Sound’s Flex: Hex Flex by Kagen Sound

Hex Flex

Kagen Sound, 2022; 55 copies;
Ziricote, Pacific Maple Burl, Curly English Sycamore, Hard Maple;
6.2″ x 5.4″ x 2.8″

At the close of 2022, Kagen Sound announced the release of Hex Flex, a new box that sounded entirely too intense to pass on (not like it is ever easy with the beautiful boxes he creates): the description states that it has “the most unusual opening” of any box he has ever made! Um……. I am but human.

A few weeks later and an absolutely gorgeous box arrived: dark Ziricote contrasting with Pacific Maple Burl and Curly English Sycamore, the burl wood’s tones shifting between light brown and pink, and a slight trim to the lids that is a subtle nod to his skills. This is a box to drool over (as with many of his creations). Its size is similar to Plus Box, smaller than the Lotus/Caterpillar/Butterfly boxes; a perfect fit for two hands. The sides feel like butter and the box has an overall feel of solidity that helps with what comes next, for Kagen warns us that we “will need to take a leap of faith and overcome [our] worst fear about the box.”

Settling into the solve, I was able to manipulate a few things on the box, which allowed me to reason out what it seems like it should maaaaybe do…. but…. no way, that’s crazy…. it can’t…. should I? Kagen’s warning/advice is helpful as I try something no box should do and it works! Beautifully and perfectly! Wow…. but the box is not yet open. I needed to continue stepping out over the puzzle abyss, my faith in Kagen’s work taking me even further from what my cautious collector’s conscience is commonly comfortable with.

Having worked another bit of logic, I find my way to the finale and realize that Kagen has made a box that manages to do something truly amazing, executing a concept that most woodworkers would surely run from and doing it in a way that the solver realizes that it’s ok, there’s nothing to worry about. Kagen accomplishes what he set out to do, creating something stunning and shocking for us to enjoy.

Shades of pink

Solving and re-solving it multiple times, I have to shake my head in awe at the craftsmanship and ingenuity represented by the work. Kagen continues to astound and push the boundaries of the craft… it may not be a singing desk but it is still one of the best boxes I’ve had the pleasure to solve, not to mention one of the prettiest, and quite certainly the most daring.

Left to Right: Clutch Box, Butterfly Box, Hex Flex, Dark Fairy Door

Rising to the Endless Occasion: Bad Moon & Apeiron Box by Dee Dixon

Bad Moon & Apeiron Box

Dee Dixon

You may have noticed by now that I am a fan of puzzle boxes by Dee Dixon… with six separate previous posts (plus an apocalyptic video), I have had the pleasure to write about the majority of the puzzles he has released (Space Case & WMH, Portal, Spirit, his first box as well as a Blinded III prototype, Angry Walter, and Menace, in case you were wondering and don’t mind a little self-promotist synergictivism).

And in the last few weeks I had the good fortune to try two new Dee Boxes: Bad Moon & Apeiron Box! Hells to the yeah!

Bad Moon

One of Dee’s two recent releases is a lovely and rather !large half-circle, sort of like a half eaten cookie with a creamy puzzle filling, the light tones of the center offsetting the darker top and bottom beautifully. This is perhaps Dee’s most beautiful box yet – it’s size (at a rather impressive 10″ x 2.5″) and distinctive shape allow it to stand out, and it is as soft and buttery as any a Dee box can be. So loathe to scratch this new addition to my Dee collection was I that I was amply pleased to find three circular feet on the bottom of the puzzle, perfect for protecting my pretty pretty precious. The only other obvious things at first are a rectangle and square on the front face, both grabbing my attention as likely targets for puzzling without giving any indication as to how to begin.

Dee doesn’t make it too difficult to get started, however, and before long I had made some progress. Bad Moon has some truly delightful mechanics and an oh so smooth series of movements overall that make opening it a delight. While it is not always clear how to proceed, you mostly know where to focus; and yet, I found myself stuck more than once as I navigated myself through the numerous, discrete steps to the end.

At one point, I found I had perhaps partly progressed through a section with at least a bit of luck – I backtracked to be sure I understood and was duly impressed by the mechanism at hand. Dee has focused this design on fun; while it is by no means easy, nor will you be banging your head against the wall in frustration as you find your way through (that said, I did notice that some well-seasoned puzzlers at a recent puzzle party struggled mightily with the puzzle, so it is most definitely not simple…). Dee tends to give you notice that you have reached the end and it is very clear when you have reached the end – even if there were no logo to find, the culmination of steps into the finale is well executed and kinda sums up the overall flow.

And the reset! This is one of those rare puzzles that contains puzzling steps that are unique to the reset (I’m looking at you, Dabbit Invasion). While resetting most boxes is simply a matter of reversing the order of the solution, I found myself needing to logic out one part of the reset after discovering something that is only put to use after having solved the puzzle (of course, no box is fully solved until it has been reset but the presence of unique puzzling makes me particularly appreciative of this puzzle). With a combination of experimentation and some of that thinking stuff, I managed to work my way through the reset, to where it flowed easily back to the starting point.

Dee’s Bad Moon is an excellent addition to an already excellent collection of boxes – I am not one to question a Dee box but, if I were, this would make it onto my list of “must-haves” (which, admittedly, I would have a hard time whittling down – not liking puzzle boxes is not my strong suit).

Apeiron Box

The second of Dee’s new puzzle boxes, Apeiron, presents a substantially different challenge – forgoing the sequential discovery chops of Bad Moon (and others), Dee turns back to some of the more blind mechanisms he has wonderfully created in the past – as someone who doesn’t generally prefer blind solves, I can say that Dee manages to walk the line between frustrating and fun extremely well – put another way, if I enjoy solving a demanding box like Space Case, whose mechanisms are hidden behind subtle cues and clues, then most any puzzler may as well.

Apeiron is not as hard as Space Case but is much trickier than Spirit – I spent a good hour or two just going in circles, which the design and name would seem to anticipate (Apeiron resembles an infinity sign (or perhaps a peanut) and its name means as much). This is how long it took for me to explore and understand all the subtle clues and feedback available, which is more than enough to develop working theories on the box’s mechanism(s). Its 6″ x 2.5″ size allows it to fit perfectly in two hands, the smooth curves begging to be explored and handled.

I took a break for a day or two and let my subconscious go to work (my brain surprises me sometimes – WMH had me stuck for weeks until I woke up one morning with a clear and correct understanding of what I was missing). Returning to the box, I found that I had developed sufficient context such that experimenting with the box now led to success: with a great aha! the box came open, allowing me to examine the inner mech as with most of Dee’s boxes (a trait which is just another reason why I love his work).

Having solved it, I opened and closed the box for a while, enjoying my newfound knowledge and hard-earned understanding and appreciating Dee’s ability to develop an idea into an entertaining reality. Dee’s skills as a puzzle designer continues to develop, his penchant for tricky but doable puzzles boxes leading to the creation of yet another box of devious trickery whose mastery had me smiling. Apeiron does not rely on random fiddling or dextrous fickleness – its solution is easily executed once understood but getting there may not be so simple (as some readers may know, my passion for puzzles sometimes outstrips my ability with them but I would not expect Apeiron to open for you without some degree of difficulty).

Bad Moon and Apeiron share an aesthetic to some extent, and look wonderful paired together amidst whatever other of Dee’s boxes you’ve had the good fortune or forethought to obtain. Both boxes should have additional releases in the near future, so keep an eye on Dee’s website for updates.


Another Brick in the Wall: aMAZEing Puzzle Box by QuizBrix (and other Lego Puzzle Creations)

aMAZEing Puzzle Box

QuizBrix

Having just solved the aMAZEing PuzzleBox from QuizBrix (reviewed below), I have been reflecting back on the first Lego puzzle boxes I saw a few years ago, the excellently complex and large designs such as Cake Box and Gift Box designed by Legolamaniac. At the time, I jumped on these new puzzling temptations, buying the designs on Rebrickable and tracking down all the various bits and pieces to build it myself (their designs are available to build here or pre-built copies can be purchased from the designer). Amazingly, the build process did not take away much from the solve, which remained a fun and unique sd challenge. I still plan on one day building their Zelda Sword box but haven’t found the time to take on the project (these are no small task!). I also built the similarly large Grandma’s Gramophone by Andrew Parr, currently available pre-built from the designer.

These large, complex designs allow for some fun experimentation – Legolamaniac’s designs get increasingly wild, with their newest treasure hunt design existing as a pretty major temptation for me (and likely inevitable buy). Their designs are solid and reliable; the Gramophone was a bit more fiddly but this is perhaps the result of me building it – even with Lego’s my thumb-filled hands likely led to a somewhat less-than-perfect build (but oh so fun to do nonetheless) Gramophone has one section in particular that had me laughing delightedly at the ingenious use of rather obscure Legos, akin to Gift Box in these rather daring mechanisms.

I was recently contacted by QuizBrix, a newer Lego puzzle designer who has released their first design, the aMAZEing PuzzleBox (available here); they offered to send a copy to me to solve, which I was of course happy to do (in case you haven’t noticed, I like puzzles). The box is a double handful of securely built Lego puzzling that offers quite a lot of puzzling in a reasonably sized footprint. I am impressed by their ability to fit as much puzzling into it as they did and found the solution to be both challenging and fun, with no problems or fiddly bits getting in the way of an sd solve hiding multiple aha! moments.

Starting out, there appears to be very little to do, despite the existence of numerous holes of various sizes and shapes. It took me a bit to find that first step and then off I went!…. until I couldn’t. I hit a number of walls that took me back and forth and around again, experimenting my way through its discrete steps and progressing in fits and starts. At some points, I found myself taking a leap of faith, marveling at some of the puzzling sections that worked perfectly despite my fear – one section in particular rewarded some seemingly risky trial and error with a series of seemingly semi-blind steps that would ultimately rely on a logical deconstruction of how things might work (in fact, there is even more guidance for this section that I had initially realized!). This was true for most of the puzzle – trial and error and experimentation are of course essential, but some sections really needed some thought and understanding to determine what I was trying to do and how it might work.

While some of the solve is somewhat similar to other Lego puzzles (there are some basic movements and design elements that will make up much of any Lego puzzle solve, in my experience), there were aha! moments that took me by surprise and showed ingenuity on the part of the designer. So much so that I “may” have needed a nudge from my NPSO, relying on the welcome solve video available via QR code (along with a reset video that was extremely helpful!). QuizBrix’s puzzle stands comfortably alongside these other great Lego puzzle designs – if you have not tried a Lego puzzle box, this is a great starting point – if you have some preconceptions causing you to hesitate, I can assure you that a good design such as this will not have you trying to do things you shouldn’t – it is clear what you can do and what you can’t and I did not find any trouble distinguishing one from the other.

Lego puzzles offer something tempting – while they can theoretically be built by anyone with hands, the designs are just on another level, using the finite (but broad) pieces available in seemingly limitless patterns. To manage to map out ways to get lego bits to interact in ways that avoid inadvertently disassembling rather than solving is just awe-inspiring, as devious and genius as any puzzle, simply using a different medium to express the designer’s vision.

Having enjoyed this first puzzle from QuizBrix, I look forward to seeing what other creations they will come up with – this release shows that they have a good sense of what puzzlers want and the ability to realize this in a fun and challenging way.

A Tragedy in the Puzzling World

Recently, we all lost someone truly special when the puzzling world was rocked by the unexpected and untimely passing of Eric Fuller, puzzle designer and maker and the person behind CubicDissection. Eric was much too young to leave us and his passing leaves a hole that is unlikely to ever be filled.

I was not personally close friends with Eric: we spoke on the phone a few times and chatted online here and there over the years. I wish I had known him better – I always hoped that I would have the chance to meet him at a puzzle party down the road; sadly this will never happen (Boxes & Booze wrote a wonderfully moving tribute to Eric that tells us more about his life beyond puzzling). His work includes many of my favorite puzzles and he is, by pretty far, the single most represented maker in my collection (the only source of puzzles that represents more of my collection than CubicDissection is from the various makers of the Karakuri Group). A few of these are boxes that I have been unable to solve despite owning them for years.

I had been prepared to post a write-up of the excellent trilogy produced by MW Puzzles when I heard the news. I did not feel comfortable posting it at the time and could not see how I could allow my site to move on without addressing this tragic loss.

I thought I would review something by Eric that is an example of his genius as a puzzle designer and his talent as a puzzle maker. And what better puzzle than one that sums up how I first felt after hearing the news last week: Nope Box. I just couldn’t picture a puzzling world without Eric’s work in it; it was my first reaction to hearing the news and seemed apropos.

Eric: I hope that whatever you find on the other side answers the big puzzles of life. We will all miss your humor, generosity and puzzling deviousness. You accomplished great things in much too short a time. My heart goes to out to Eric’s family and close friends – know that he was loved and respected by many many people all over the world. We all lost something with his passing.

Nope Box

Nope was originally released in 2019 as part of the Small Box series with a slightly updated version released in 2021. It is still one of my favorite puzzles and a go-to to show how a good designer can pack great puzzling into a small footprint.

Nope is a diminutive 2″ cube that had me stumped for quite a while. At first, you are able to press the center up and down a few mm within the frame, with it snapping back when released. It has a surprising amount of sd-lite puzzling for something so small – it would be a satisfying puzzle at any size and keeping it small just makes it that much cooler. Each step gives you a great aha! moment and I hit a wall each time I made progress, getting that rush that only a great puzzle can give when I finally managed to move on. The final steps had me especially stumped and the newly formed Discord group brought me the help I needed to get through it.

It is also simply a lovely little box: the original release was made with a Leopard/Lacewood frame and Walnut top and bottom, woods that give a beautiful contrast between color and grain. The newer version went with a somewhat different look, with a dark Chechen or Morado frame against a light quartersawn sycamore top and bottom.

As some may know, the original version had a design element that made it possible to damage the puzzle – this might make some people question why I would use it as an example of Eric’s work but it highlights another aspect of Eric’s personality: a strong sense of fairness and a need to “make it right.” Eric began shipping out parts to remedy the situation, just in case (I was, unsurprisingly, one of the people to break their copy and receiving this unprompted was one of the early examples of Eric’s character I saw – anyone who has had the rare issue with a CD puzzle knows that he could not allow a “wrong” to go unaddressed). This possible design issue was smartly addressed in the re-release (along with one other minor tweak).

Nope Box highlights Eric’s excellent skill at designing fun and challenging puzzles, as well as his high standards in production and business. Eric is known for creating assumptions so that he might exploit them, misdirecting you in unexpected ways. He is also someone who always strove to find ways to get more puzzles into more hands, always working to keep costs low despite the fact that his work routinely went for much higher on the secondary markets (Nope is also a good example of this; the small box series was an attempt to create quality boxes at a reasonable price point – not an easy feat to achieve). He was also just a cool, funny and interesting person to know, even if only a little.

Rest In Peace Eric – we miss you.


Falling to Me: Angel Box by Wil Strijbos

Angel Box

Designed by Will Strijbos
PETG/PLA Version Produced by Gerard of Bayou Puzzles

One of the many (many) wonderful things about the Mechanical Puzzle Discord (MPD) Group is its puzzle library: members are able to borrow some truly amazing puzzles for just the cost of postage (subject to some MPD terms). Puzzlers have generously donated some excellent puzzles to the library, including a printed version of many a puzzler’s unicorn: Angel Box by Wil Strijbos. (Do not confuse this with my recent post on the Red Herring Box, which is not a part of the MPD library despite similarly traveling the puzzling world).

Gerard of Bayou Puzzles, designer and producer of the wonderful sd puzzle, Turtle Trip, was granted permission by Wil to produce two copies of a fully accurate 3D printed PETG / PLA version of Angel Box – I say two copies as one is for the North American MPD library and one for the ROW library (it is worth noting that he also got permission from Juno to produce and sell copies of a printed Slammed Car).

Angel is so true to the original design that it even features the eponymous cherub whose imprisoned state can be viewed through an acrylic window at the front of the box, as in the original. There have been some delays since its release into the puzzling wild due to some needed repairs but, after patiently waiting for a couple years, I finally got my turn.

Angel Baby Atop Puzzle Hamster: A Perfectly Puzzled Picture

All of Wil’s puzzles are quality designs, his sd puzzles perhaps most of all: Lotus and First Box have been known to be responsible for many a nascent puzzler’s initial descent into puzzledom and the 2020 re-release of Pachinko and Revenge Lock released waves of relief amongst the many of us who had been hoping for a chance to obtain copies. Alongside Butterfly, Pachinko, and Revenge Lock, the original Angel Box is a sizable hunk of metal, somewhat imposing in size. The PETG/PLA version is presumably a bit more wieldy but no less of a puzzle for it.

I found that it offers some excellent puzzling without being so difficult as to leave me stuck for weeks on end (as happened with Pachinko and Revenge, for example), favoring elegance over anguish. After solving Butterfly at the former Puzzle Palace a few months back, this is, I think, the last of Wil’s sd/boxes for me to solve (and, weirdly enough, the first for me to write about!). And while it may not have had me laughing at my own brilliance it was nonetheless a darn fun solve at that!

As this was a loaner from the library, I intended on solving it as quickly as possible so that it might get back on the road (ironically the next person in line is the same puzzler who recently sent me Red Herring! It really is a small puzzling world…). I was able to solve it in two focused sittings with a great balance of challenge and fun as I worked my way through the substantial aha! moments sprinkled throughout the solve. There is a great rhythm and flow that gives class to this classic puzzle. A few steps did smack me up against a nice, solid wall, but overcome them I did, albeit with perhaps the grace of a tiny, fat baby with vestigial wings. I will admit that I may have cheated a bit on the starting lock, picking it rather than taking the time to tease out the riddle (I figure I can retroactively solve this without creating delays for the remaining puzzlers on the library list); otherwise, I stayed true to the design, conquering it relatively quickly so that it might get back on the road.

The solution follows a clear logic, with discrete steps that make sense once discovered; I worried at first that the accumulated bits and pieces might pose a problem for the reset, but the mechanisms, once understood, make it easy to know how and where such pieces must reside. Before dropping it off at USPS for a short trip east, I ran through the solution a second time just to appreciate the flow of steps; there is a reason that this is design is considered a classic and I am grateful to have the chance to experience it!

And so, Angel heads back out on the road today, back once more to unicorn status for this grateful puzzler.


Lost All Over: Red Herring Box by Doog

Red Herring Box

Doog from DoogalooGames, 8.5″ x 6.5″, 3.75 lbs.

Making its way around the world is a puzzle box by Doog from DoogalooGames, a puzzle-maker (and super yacht engineer, which is also way cool) whose puzzles have been popping up on Instagram and elsewhere over the last few months (such as the Precision Box, seen on Mr. Puzzle). One of my oldest MPD friends, Josh, asked me if I wanted to try a box that Doog had given to the community to share and solve… as if he had to ask!

(Ironically, although I’ve spoken and DM’ed with Doog a few times, I had not heard about the puzzle until Josh let me know, much to Doog and my amusement – it really is a small puzzling world!)

The idea is to have the box go from puzzler to puzzler, asking solvers to add their initials/name to the bottom of the box and take a pic in their city or town before sending it off to its next puzzling location.

Not since Amelie‘s gnome has an inanimate object’s world travels been as compelling and interesting, already making it from France to the southern parts of the US (soon to travel West, if memory serves).

There are a couple neat little surprises inside that I won’t ruin, suffice it to say that I absolutely love the whole thing! It generously brings puzzlers together into a shared puzzle experience for nothing more than the cost of shipping it on to whoever is next in line. (There’s no specific way to get in line, each person is just sort of asking whomever is next… I know the next two stops have been determined but beyond that…. this is a slow, friendly travel from stop to stop – if you do get it, make sure to solve it quickly and pass it on!) If you’re hoping to be a stop on its world tour, I’d suggest popping onto the various puzzling social media vortices from time to time and asking around – I suspect we will see and hear more of its travels as time goes on.

But what of the puzzle? The concept is cool but if the puzzle isn’t…. well, fortunately this is not an issue as the box is rife with misdirection and trickery, including a mechanism that I have simply never seen before! I set aside other puzzles (and responsibilities, ahem) to focus on the aptly named Red Herring Box. Sturdy and simple in its sizable appearance (and weight at 3.75 lbs), there are numerous screws of various sizes adorning 5 sides (yay)just calling to be harassed. Thus begins the process of poking and prodding and pushing and pulling and sliding and staring and sneaking up on it, hoping to catch it unaware.

I made some progress before hitting a few walls, proceedings in starts and stops along the way until I had several bits and pieces to play with. And that is where I stayed for a few hours before I asked Josh a few clarification questions to climb out of some rabbit holes down which I had begun to descend. I find that sometimes the best help is just to talk through what I am doing: by sharing and describing what I have done, it may show me what I have not, revealing something by verbalizing the thinking process.

One aha! in particular was a darn fine puzzling moment, getting me past a wall through which I had previously seen no way. The puzzle manages to be really sneaky in a way that shows Doog is a maker to watch. Far from unfair, the box exploits our assumptions in the best way possible – I had begun to think things that were so far from correct, imagining complicated blind whatevers that surely must be there, otherwise I would have solved it already! Nope! Elegant in its simplicity, Red Herring deceives and distracts you before giving up its secrets and treasures.

I took a few pics and sent it back on the road.

(My only sadness: had I realized I was the fourth solver, I’d have asked Josh to send it to one more person before me…. y’know, because of the whole 5 thing. You know what I’m sayin’…)

Red Herring Comes to Nashville (note: one of these images is photo-shopped)


Add It Up: Plus Box by Kagen Sound

Plus Box

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!


Keep on Puzzlin’ w/ Stickman’s Keep Locked

Keep Locked (Stickman #36)

Rob Yarger, 52 copies, 7″ x 6″ x 6″

Dude. I seriously love this puzzle.

You probably know of Rob Yarger a/k/a Stickman and if you don’t, head over to the Google and do the Googling because you are missing out (check out one of my go-to videos to show non-puzzlers the coolness of puzzling: the amazing Wisteria Cabinet he made with Craig Thibodeau). Rob is a master woodworker and a downright deviously cool puzzle-maker. I have a few of his boxes and have been fortunate enough to try (and even solve in the case of one or two) some of his puzzles at the Puzzle Palace (while it was still in FL). However, most of his puzzles sit at the top of my unicorn list (something in which I am hardly unique): Checkmate, Lighthouse, Burl Tile…. the list goes on and on. And his (comparatively) more easily obtained puzzles such as One-Hand and Chopsticks are still totally badass bonkers (he also helped Jesse Born create the wonderful Sun Dial).

I was fortunate enough to have the chance to get Keep Locked and gratefully responded: “yes please.” Fast forward several weeks and it arrived! Keep Locked is essentially a castle with locks attached to the four towers of the battlement; each lock uses different woods, focusing on one primary species with several others integrated for smaller details – I believe that they are Leopardwood, Maple, Purpleheart, & Yellowheart. One features the Stickman logo, which is also displayed on the back of the castle, opposite from the metal lion above a portcullis and door on the front. The roof of each tower matches the neighboring lock. The castle is itself constructed of several more woods (I am not sure how many different woods are used, but it has to be around ten by my layperson’s count). As with any of Rob’s puzzles, it is wonderfully made, the quality readily apparent from afar but even more so when you start with the puzzling.

And as pretty as it is, the puzzling is better. While the ultimate goal is unclear (as it is a puzzlebox there must be some hidden compartment but we are not told where… although I had my suspicions I’ve learned to be careful. Starting out, it seems pretty clear that each of the four locks must be removed and, man, there is enough puzzling there to sate my puzzle thirst, sequential discovery abounds and one must question every assumption as Rob is able to hide mechanisms in plain sight almost as easily as he can hide them. If you have solved the lock he used on his Pirate Wallet (and reproduced on its own by Eric Fuller of CubicDissection), you have an idea as to how much puzzling he can fit into a 2″ by 3.5″ lock.

After finding nothing more than a few small things, I knew this siege might well be a war of attrition, therefore staring intently at the box while assuring it that I would deprive it of food and water until it gave up its secrets. The castle seemed indifferent to such threats and I therefore constructed a catapult with which to launch a Trojan Hamster until realizing that this was insane and went back to the staring. This proved equally ineffective and I returned to my poking and prodding until I began finding…. things that did things! Huzzah! The townspeople rejoiced! After an hour or two of puzzling, I had managed to remove some locks and determine that I had no idea what to do next.

I will admit that I asked my wife to confirm a couple things in the solution for me, nudging me in the right direction (the copies are only just rolling out, so hints from other puzzlers were still pretty sparse). The nudge having been nudged, I got through some more sections of the puzzle before, you guessed it, hitting another wall. I simply could not see what else I needed to do and left the box for a couple days to allow my subconscious to go to work. Lo and behold, I had an idea, realizing I hadn’t tried something and, huzzah once more! Further rejoicing by the imaginary townspeople! I had found…. things that did other things! All this occurred in little fits and starts over the course of a week or so, interminable wall after wall confounding me in between as I explored the significant extent of puzzling hidden within.

The certainty of my brilliance faded as I realized that I, once again, had no idea what to do. Fast forward a few more days of staring and, wait a sec, is that…? OMG of course! More progress ensued until, finally, I was pretty sure I was at the end but…. wtf dude. There must be something wrong. This is obviously supposed to do this and it’s not. Another wife check and she confirmed something she learned long ago in the 17 years we have been together: I am an idiot. Rob’s subtle sneakiness had worked its magic and a small nudge afforded me the aha! I needed. Uh…. no it didn’t. Yes, I had found a cool thing but, no, I was not done. I found my way to this last step after a bit longer and happily discovered the compartment that had eluded me. I basked in my glory and reversed course to reset everything. By this time my horrible memory had allowed to forget a few details, giving me a bit more fun re-solving the locks that I’d reset previously for safe-keeping.

Keep Locked is one of the best puzzles I have tried in a while, which is saying a lot considering how many great puzzles have been rolling out this year. It will most definitely not be going anywhere – I will consume the rest of my puzzles and pets (not necessarily in that order) before admitting defeat in any war of attrition levied at me (and the townspeople were happy).


Quoth the Puzzle, “Ever-poor” – Rav’n by Ken Snache (w/art by Janice Bell)

Rav’n

Kel Snache (w/artist Janice Bell), 15 copies, 10″ x 13″ x 6″

The line between art and puzzle is oftentimes vague: many a Karakuri’s craftsmanship outweighs its complexity as a puzzle, while challenging, original puzzles may not always be the prettiest. Kel Snache runs the gamut: repurposed tea boxes are fun but a bit rough (which really is part of the charm), whereas EWE UFO and Puzzleduck Pastures are as pretty as they come.

Cue one of his newest releases, Rav’n, a collaboration with artist Janice Bell (who is also contributing to the Dragos boxes). As soon as I saw a pic, my puzzlie senses began tingling: a unique trick-opening puzzle reminiscent of an Edgar Allen Poe story?! Um, yes please.

Several weeks later and a big box arrived, containing the sizable wooden bird affixed atop three beautifully made wooden books. Bigger than I expected at more than a foot from beak to tail and almost as tall, the bird is a gorgeous black with shimmering purple and blue detailing on its head, eyes, neck and wings and feather carvings throughout; the bird stands one-legged upon the smallest of the three books, their spines crafted with yosegi-like details and “pages” that exploit the wood grain for a fitting look, akin to Bill Sheckel’s book boxes.

The goal of the puzzle is quite unique: open the wings! This originality was almost as enticing as the aesthetic (almost). While not insanely difficult, with around a dozen sd-lite steps it still proved to be a fun challenge for me. Further, the inner spaces behind the wings are adorable in typical Kel fashion. Similarly, the three knobs on the pages of the bottom book are classic Kel and fit wonderfully with the woods used elsewhere.

After ooh’ing and ahh’ing my way around the piece, I showed it off to my wife who was actually impressed, earning it an “oh! that’s really cool” rather than the typical “that’s nice, babe” that the majority of puzzles receive. Admittedly, she is even more of a Poe fan than me, which may contribute to the response, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is just so damn pretty a puzzle!

It was a solid challenge for me, as I managed to solve it in three dedicated sessions; there are some fun mechanisms that, in typical Kel fashion, are at least as aesthetically pleasing as they are tricky. Needless to say, this piece of puzzle art (art puzzle?) earned its place Downstairs, where many of the prettiest and coolest of my collection lurk. It is a great puzzle to show to non-puzzling passersby, who invariably had assumed it could not be a part of that odd collection of wood and metal things this weirdo rather obsessively collects (but hey, who’s judging!).

Kel continues to work his way through the Dragos boxes; check back in a year or so and perhaps I will be able to share my Lovecraftian dragon box with you 😉 Rav’n is, I believe, fully claimed, so obtaining one may be difficult; hopefully these pics will tide you over until you have a chance to visit one being held in captivity for our puzzling pleasure.

Part of my Kel collection: (from left to right) Puzzleduck Pastures, EWE UFO, Rav’n, There Goes Bill & Flor Fina 2