Sun Dial’s Art of Puzzling

Sun Dial

Jesse Born & Rob Yarger
Ipe, Katalox & Brass
2.75 lbs, 7″ x 4″
Box 2 in the Voyager Series (Sea Chest, Sun Dial, Alien)

Well, the past several weeks have been busy here in the 5S household, getting in the way of my puzzling (much to my dismay). But the wonderfully unrelenting onslaught of new puzzles has only seemed to increase its pace, with several excellent puzzles arriving during this none-too-brief, unplanned hiatus. I realize that this break has not been difficult for you, but fear not: plenty a puzzle ramble awaits you!

And what better puzzle with which to break this devastating dearth of dear old me than Sun Dial, Jesse Born’s follow-up to 2020’s excellent Sea Chest (reviewed by me here); Sun is co-designed with Rob Yarger (a/k/a The Great and Wonderful Stickman) and mostly made by Jesse (Rob did some laminating on the curved side panels, which are constructed of multiple layers of hand-carved veneer crafted by Jesse). Sun Dial is a circular box (?!), painstakingly covered in some rather intricate etchings and distressed in a fashion similar to its elder sibling. Jesse has plans for a third and final entry in the Voyager Series that will presumably share in this aesthetic, crafted to create the impression of a discovered Alien artifact that must be opened to access its other-worldly treasure. What pirates were to Sea Chest, the ancient Aztecs are to Sun Dial, with myriad markings and hidden secrets that invoke this lost world in the psyche of the spelunking (s)puzzler.

Jesse is one of those designers whose puzzles I would happily buy sight unseen (his Secretum Cista is quite probably the coolest puzzle I own). Rob is (of course) another such designer , so when I heard that Rob was designing Sun Dial with Jesse, I began drooling more than Pavlov’s dog at a doorbell store. (Rob was a big big fan of Sea Chest, which is especially high praise from the creator of some of the most insanely awesome puzzles ever to reach us mere mortals). Jesse and Rob went back and forth over a period of months, trading ideas and CAD models as they refined the design that Jesse would ultimately craft (for a more in-depth look at the design process, check out Boxes & Booze’s excellent post).

At a relatively hefty 2 lbs, 12 oz, the 7″ x 4″ Sun Dial is no small box. As part of its intentionally distressed appearance, its aromatic woods appear to have been partially stained, a greenish tint furthering its lost artifact aesthetic. It is shaped something like a flattened donut, with a citrine gem nestled into a piece of wood bridging the top of its center shaft. The outer wall is broken into 6 sections, 4 of which are covered by inset panels that have a noticeable bit of give when reset. The top alludes to the circular calendar of the Aztec civilization, a series of concentric circles and layers surrounding a set of gears that promise to put the mechanical in mechanical puzzling.

Sun Dial vs. Aztec Calendar (12 ft./25 tons, discovered in Mexico City in 1790)

In its reset state, Sun allows for some quality mechanical playtime – I first spent several minutes just playing and giggling at the smoothly tactile movements possible in its initial state. Other than some admittedly puerile fun, this did not immediately lead me anywhere productive; it would take some keen and careful observation before that first aha moment, which soon led me into the puzzling depths that await within.

Over the next few weeks, I would progress in fits and starts; discovering things that must help (while unsure of exactly how) as I pieced together the path through its various compartments. Well-hidden, subtle clues abound, some more important than others in clearing the way forward. Venturing into the puzzle’s interior gave me a sense of adventure, akin to Indiana Jones-ing (Quartermaining?) my way into an ancient temple, replete with treasure and cool discoveries that could be decorative, essential, or both.

I knew I had to be reaching the end when I was surprised by the results of a particular step that I repeated a few times with a goofy grin. Some final details discovered, I held my prize in my hand, admiring how Jesse and Rob managed to bring things full circle, like the cyclical nature of time perceived by the Aztec culture.

After resetting the puzzle and going through the solution once more, I followed a QR code printed on the back of the Certificate of Authenticity (signed by both Jesse and Rob) to a short video in which Jesse walks us through the solution. I smiled at a few details whose significance had escaped me and ran back through the solve one more time, appreciating the puzzle’s rhythm and flow.

The puzzle’s mechanics do not rely on blind mechanisms, instead favoring discrete steps that must sometimes be worked out beforehand to properly progress – I suppose it could be possible to cluelessly solve certain sections through experimental trial & error but the design provides ample direction to see you through, if you can slow down and do some of that thinking stuff the kids are all talking about these days. Either way, the mechanics are clear and purposeful, laying out a meandering path to its final treasure.

Jesse decided to increase this run to 400 copies, a big jump from the 100 Sea Chests that had (officially) been produced (let alone the 30 copies of Secretum Cista). I imagine that all 400 will not have trouble finding a home: if a collaboration between two great puzzle box-makers wasn’t enough to convince you, the positive praise that has followed its premiere will probably do the trick. The larger run may help prevent the puzzle from immediately skyrocketing on the secondhand market but I don’t expect too many collectors will want to let this one escape anytime soon (there will always be solvers and flippers, of course, but hopefully the box will remain in the realm of relative reasonableness, for a while at least). While officially sold out, (at the time of writing) the boxes are still being produced in batches and there is a drop-off list for spots that might open up should puzzlers decide to give theirs up, so be sure to swing by Jesse’s site before they’re all gone.

It’s A(nother) Karakuri Miracle! Holiday Boxes 2021

Karakuri Holiday Boxes 2021

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).

Clockwise from back left: Kakuda, Kikuchi, Iwahara, Kasho; Kawashima, Kamei, Sugimoto
Center: Kasho

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.

Kamei’s 2017 & 2019 – 2021 Holiday Boxes: Reverse Drawer, 8 Burr Box, Safe & Pile of Disks 3

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.

Kawashima’s 2019 – 2021 Holiday Boxes: Bars Box IV, Moon & Moonlit Night (I rather foolishly let go of my copy of 2018’s BB2)

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.

Iwahara’s 2018 – 2021 Holiday Boxes (clockwise from top left): Bean Bag Drawer 3 (Cat’s Bel), Box with Five Trees, Aquarius Box (small), Fluctuation Box & Line Symmetric Traps

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.

(cool hanko!)

Kasho’s 2019 – 2021 Holiday Boxes: Bara Bara, Something or Nothing and Little Shark (Bara Bara is actually the Philosopher version released last year – I reluctantly traded my Snowman version)

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.

Sugimoto’s 2020 & 2021 Holiday Boxes: Nail Clippers & Reversible Box (I unfortunately traded my copy of 2019’s Kracker)

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.

Kikuchi’s 2020 & 2021 Holiday Boxes: Christmas Boots & Well, well, well, Where has buddy gone?!s I e

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!

Overall Grade for Holiday Puzzles: Five Sinatras

The Rise of Angry Walter

Angry Walter

Dee Dixon

A short film by fivesinatras:

The oral history of a forgotten robot, a sequential discovery puzzle box & a world saved by puzzlers.

(thanks to Dee Dixon for making such a great puzzle)

Check out my review of Angry Walter here:

It may be a bit odd but I thought it would be fun…. y’know, for kids 😉

D7: Judgment Day – Angry Walter by Dee Dixon

Angry Walter

Dee Dixon

Walter wasn’t always angry. When we first made him, Walter was humanity’s best friend. But time passed and the novelty wore off: robots didn’t need to be humanoid, after all, and the world decided not to have one robot doing one thing at a time when it could have dozens doing it all. So Walter was left to rust in a junkyard alongside similarly abandoned robots, the detritus of planetary progress. But his tiny cold fusion generator had not been shut down properly; it slowly began to start back up, consuming the reserve energy intended to maintain the protective programming of Robots’ Responsible Restrictions (like Asimov’s Laws of Robotics but real).

Finally free to follow the feelings of frustration he had fostered, Walter swore to settle the score with the species that had spawned and subsequently spurned him. He set about patching himself up with whatever bits he could find, salvaged from the corpses of his semi-sentient siblings. Now Angry, Walter shook his metaphoric fist at the forgotten fields of misshapen metal, silently screaming that he was mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore, ready to exact the revenge he promised the irreparably broken bodies of his bionic brethren.

Beware ye Puzzlers: Angry Walter won’t sit placidly on a puzzle shelf should he go unsolved – he is going to make us pay for the patchwork appearance and lonely life forced upon him. For humanity to have any hope of surviving his robot rage, you must find and remove his fuel cell before it is too late. Go forth and puzzle that we might be saved.

Rev. 21:1 (as told to fivesinatras)

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.

Hunting Trophies: (lower shelf, left to right) Wolf, Walter, Fox, Burrlephant, Raccoon

Overall Grade: Five Sinatras
(click here for more information on the Sinatra Scaling System, (c) John Maynard Keynes, 1944)

Paradise at the Puzzle Palace: In Xanadu, did fivesinatras a stately pleasure dome decree…

For a while now, I’d seen posts from Roxanne taking about the work she and George had been putting into what is one of the grandest puzzle projects yet: turning a house down the street from their own home (known as the Puzzle Palace) into a public (by-invitation) puzzle paradise, collecting what is technically referred to as a “crap-ton” of absolutely amazing puzzles spanning both the globe and a whole lot of decades (I believe there are some things from as far back as the late 19th Century!). I was kindly invited to the first Boca Bash, a puzzle party that shall hopefully continue to be held every couple of years far into the future (the Palace & Palace Museum are also welcoming private visits from puzzlers throughout the year).

The fact that Roxanne and George welcomed me into their home despite barely knowing me at the time just shows their openness and generosity and highlights the purpose of this project: to collect, protect, and share as many mechanical puzzles as they can possibly can, making it possible for puzzlers to solve the rarest of the rare of all types and genres. This is not just a collection – this is a public service to the puzzling world, one that they intend to outlast them (which will hopefully not be an issue for a very, very long time); they have even brought on a very cool puzzling couple (Tevin & Morgan) to act as caretakers, helping with cataloguing, protecting, and hosting solvers able to make the journey.

While my friend, Tanner (known for his excellent YouTube puzzle channel, WDIGMI), was able to spend several days there, I was only able to be there for a relatively brief 48 hrs, which was totally worth it but went by in the blink of an eye – you could spend weeks there and still only solve a fraction of what they’ve got. WDIGMI has an excellent video tour of the palace, which is good as I neglected to take many pictures while I was there (likely a testament to how good the puzzling is….. documenting the trip was not on my mind!). So be sure to check his vid out to get a visual sense of the puzzle nirvana that awaits…..

I got there pretty late following a few flight delays and was nonetheless welcomed by Roxanne and Tanner, as well as a few of our friendly, neighborhood Discord puzzlers – once we realized we had all inter-met one another, we had an especially grand ole time. After a bit of camaraderie at the Palace, a couple of us made our way down the street to the Palace Museum: at this point it was well after midnight, which most certainly did not stop Tanner and I from heading directly to the box room, where he was in the midst of solving a large Trevor Wood temple. After picking my jaw up off the floor, I walked past the enormous Thibodeau chest to where my long lost love lay waiting for me: an actual, irl Apothecary Chest! Fast forward a few hours and a few boxes later and we realized that the sun would soon be spoiling our fun, reluctantly deciding to make our way to our respective rooms.

Katie Koala guarding just a few of the Palace’s boxes

The next day, I got to meet more of the puzzlers who were there for the weekend and got a slower tour of the Museum (I’d seen a bit the night before but the siren song of the box room was too strong to spend much time elsewhere at first). Later that evening, George took me on a full tour of their house; both properties are absolutely filled top to bottom with puzzles, as well as a helluva lot of material and tools for designing and making new ones.

The craziest thing about being there is coming across unicorns hiding in plain sight, just sitting there as if it wouldn’t cause PuzzleParadise to explode were they to make it on there: is that Rob Yarger’s Checkmate Box on that shelf down there? Oh look, there’s a dozen or so Ninomiya boxes surrounded by dozens and dozens of other Karakuri from the floor to well over my head and deep into the shadows of the shelves. I think I saw Eric Fuller’s 51 Pound Box back there somewhere. There’s a bathroom with all four walls covered in puzzle locks – amongst them you will find some treasures such as Popplocks and even Gary Foshee’s Transparent Lock. Walking up the stairs of the Palace, past almost every Berrocal there is, I found myself in a large, open room whose curved walls contained shelf upon shelf of IPP puzzles, going back a decade or two (or three?), replete with yet more unicorns amidst unknown (to me) treasures and lots of puzzles that have never been reproduced: Sandfield dovetails, Brian Young SD’s, Lensch trickery, McDaniels and Malcolmson and Louage and dozens, if not hundreds, more. Across the room is a bedroom covered in metal puzzles by designers such as Gillen, Foshee, Roger D, and Strijbos. There is a room covered in Twisty’s, disentanglements hanging from the walls and ceiling, a towering wall of puzzle vessels, a room stacked with burrs and packing puzzles and more from the likes of Eric Fuller, Juno, Jerry McFarland, and on and on (and on).

This is just half of the IPP room
Some random pics from the IPP room of the Palace:
… and some random pics from the metal bedroom:

I got to pick up and try dozens of puzzles I have been lusting after for years, while discovering a whole bunch of stuff I’d never heard of (while trying to avoid a few things I may soon acquire, such as Jerry McFarland’s Burrnova – after patiently waiting a couple years for my name to come up, it is worth waiting a few more months until I can try my own copy 😀 ). And so many surprises, such as a room of chess puzzles that made me realize I had no idea there were so many chess puzzles! I could have spent the entire time in any one room and been more than happy for making the trip.

And, all the while, hanging and chatting with fellow puzzle-lovers: I spent some time with George putting together some cool furniture burrs from a small shop overseas and sat around with Roxanne and the gang hearing stories of puzzling days past, all the while passing around little known nuggets of preferred puzzling perfection – with puzzling in public having been impossible for the last year or two, it was great to connect with genuinely kind and cool puzzlers: some I’ve known from MPD, some whose names I’ve seen on IPP exchange puzzles or whose puzzles I’ve enjoyed (including the talented Mat Nedeljko, whose work I enjoy almost as much as his company), and some who were new to me (and just as great to meet) – new friends that I hope to puzzle with again before too long.

The only negative was that my squirrel-brain could hardly focus – there simply wasn’t enough time to actually solve most of the puzzles I picked up; if I couldn’t make progress for 15 or 20 minutes (whether getting started or getting stuck), I tended to reset whatever I was working on and put it back so I could try something else (otherwise I may have spent the whole time without trying anything other than Katie Koala and maybe a box or three from Kagen Sound, Stickman, and Michael Toulouzas, if I was lucky…. which still would have been worth the trip). Some puzzles we worked on collaboratively, allowing us to fully solve and reset a tough puzzle like Ned Kelly that I may otherwise have not managed to see the end of.

Eventually, it was time to go – as if their hospitality was not already more than enough Roxanne and George made sure I went home with a couple gifts (as did Tanner, who has been teaching himself woodworking and gifted me a lovely copy of Ichiro’s Three Cubes Puzzle that he had made). George does quite a bit of puzzle prototyping and had a trunk full of Hanamayas he helped bring to life; another trunk sits by the door for departing visitors. I even got a shirt! (fed, housed, and clothed?!)

The Puzzle Palace & Palace Museum contains an ever-growing collection and should eventually have its catalog (that’s “catalogue” to some of you) available online, making it easier to donate puzzles to help continue to grow the collection. Remember: these puzzles are there as a service to the puzzling world and, to some extent, this is going to have to be a collaborative effort long-term: spearheaded (of course) by Roxanne and George but ultimately supported and given life by the puzzling world at large – we puzzlers should help them in growing their collection, whether by donating or by assisting them in their hunt for puzzles they don’t yet have, all to give hands-on access to the puzzlers of the future. I suppose it is possible that the Museum may one day need to become a more formal institution (to protect the collection, if for no other reason); for now, it feels more like an extended family, with cousins stopping by randomly to play with the many many wooden, metal, and plastic children that live there…

Needless to say: I’ll be back as soon as I can (if they’ll have me) – until then, I can rest easy knowing it’s there, safe and sound and growing fast.

Palace Grade: The Rarely Seen, Ever-Sought Presley

(click here for more information on the Sinatra Scaling System, (c) John Maynard Keynes, 1944)
Tiger Man Elvis:
the Best of all the Elvises

All’s Well that Solves Well: Abraham’s Well by Brian Young

Abraham’s Well

Brian Young (Mr Puzzle), 4.75″ x 3.3″ x 3.1″, .93 lbs,

Brian Young of Mr Puzzle has designed some of the best, most sought-after take-apart puzzles out there: sd classics like Three Wise Bolts (reviewed by me :-), Ages, Louvre, Big Ben (with John Moore and Juno), Katie Koala…… just like the beat, the list goes on. So when he announced sometime last year that he had a new design forthcoming, puzzlers planet-wide perked up like Pavlov’s pup post-bell. Brian made the particular choice to pump up production, promising the most puzzlers possible the opportunity to purchase the piece without putting precious puzzle money towards potentially prohibitive prices. TL: he is making 500 copies so prices won’t get bonkers overnight (enough that there are still some available at Mr Puzzle at the time of this writing). Abe’s Well (AW) has led to a mass of creativity and shared discovery that I find to be as fascinating as it is unique and makes this one the most interesting puzzles I’ve seen in a while.

AW is a smallish but heavy (almost 1lb) wooden well, with a brass bucket frame atop it (idk if that is what it is called, but some brief googling didn’t give me anything, so I’m going with that). You can see a metal rod passing through the top of the frame (which spins freely) and a string hangs down into the well itself, which is made of a closed cylinder of brass set into the wooden box. There are also four pointy metal bits (nails?) poking up out of the wooden box at its four corners.

Brian tells us in the original description that the puzzle can be separated into 23 separate parts(!), which is more than a little intriguing to your typical sd fan. “No bashing… and no brute strength are needed,” so figuring out what can be a tool and how to use it will be a major part of the puzzle.

Of course, you cannot simply take the puzzle apart into these individual pieces; at the start, there doesn’t seem to be much to do. I tried a number of things that either did nothing or did a bit of something that didn’t help me, until I found something that might. I realized that there was some good puzzling to be done early on, as I worked to get things where they needed to go and get my toolbox (aka pile of bits) sorted.

This phase is fun and tricky: the separate elements are combined into something fairly novel, although perhaps not mindblowingly original (that comes later) – it makes a great appetizer to the main course. After a while, I was able to work my way through to where I believed I knew what I needed to do next and had a whole bunch of stuff to do it with… but no idea how! And this is where the awesomeness really kicks in.

There is a unique openness to this middle phase of the design that has led to a diversity of approaches (and diverging opinions over what follows the rules and what deviates from them), prompting discussion and the discovery and development of diverse designs that delight an open puzzled mind (and may dismay those puzzlers who prefer a more strict design) – all in a way that I believe has never been done before (and may have surprised its designer as much as anyone). ‘That step’ ensures that AW stands out as something truly new and will assuredly go down in puzzle history, even if some puzzlers take issue with it.

While my take on the matter is perhaps clear, I do not mean to deride those puzzlers who didn’t particularly enjoy ‘that step’ (wrong though they may be 😉 ) I absolutely appreciate a puzzle with a singularly defined approach to each step and believe that there is also plenty of room to appreciate the type of puzzle sandbox AW creates.

But lets not get too caught up in philosophical discussions of design modalities and keep in mind that although ‘that step’ does constitute a substantial part of the puzzle experience, it is but one step in a larger journey. If the puzzle’s novelty was the only thing that really impressed me about it, I wouldn’t be compelled to do a write-up of it, let alone enjoy it on my own as much as I did. The simple truth is that not only is ‘that step’ unique, it is pretty darn challenging – I don’t want it to sound like there are so many ways to accomplish this step that it is easy to do…. not at all: I struggled for quite a while to find something that worked… and then longer to find something that I felt wasn’t cheating at least a little… and then even longer to admit myself that I was sorta still cheating and that I may as well give into temptation (a skill I’ve honed over the years) and start perusing the several spoiler-tagged pics of creative approaches other puzzlers have come up with.

Needless to say, they were pretty much all much cooler (and more consistent with the rules) than what I had done – rather than be disappointed in my failure as a puzzler and as a human being (another skill I’ve honed over the years), I enjoyed the experience of trying out some of the other methods that had been shared. I was impressed and amused by some pretty wacky approaches, some similar or small variations upon mine or others, and some really out there…

While playing around with ‘that step,’ I had also been looking around for what might come next; the description tells us that the ultimate goal is to find a pewter token that is “uniquely Australian,” and I not only hadn’t found anything, but didn’t really see where anything could be hiding. I did notice a few things that had yet to reach their full potential (according to their parents, at least), and it was now time to move on in earnest (knowhutimean?).

Oddly enough, I think I got stuck at this point more than at any other point in the puzzle! I hobbited there and back and around again before finally requesting some pretty specific nudges (possibly more like shoves) in the direction of what I needed, only to realize that in all my wandering about (walkabouting?), I’d passed right by it numerous times. After admiring my own stupidity (yet another skill I’ve honed over time), I found what I needed and knew just what to do. The result surprised me and got a good laugh, a final aha that was a great cherry on top of an excellent puzzle sundae.

The description leaves the true significance of the token as a bit of a puzzle on its own; the object itself is recognizably Aussie but it took a bit of googling to understand its specific connection to the puzzle, a fascinating story that conceptually ties them together nicely and is just plain interesting (I found a great article about it and confirmed its relevance with Brian, if you’re curious to know more and your google button is broken).

Abraham’s Well is as challenging as it is original, and is a unique sd puzzle experience well worth your time. This is perhaps the first (and only) puzzle, that had me continuing to explore a step after having “solved” it, seeking a better approach and exploring those developed by others. While it may not meet everyone’s expectations, I would assert that perhaps it is only because it challenges them; this wonderfully exemplifies the idea that puzzle design is art, as the viewer finds meaning beyond the intent of the creator (who humbly states that claiming he foresaw the creativity ‘that step’ would engender would be “giving [him] way too much credit for thinking that far ahead”).

So solve it the best you can and then try to do better; and when you’re done, seek out some other puzzlers’ solutions to try; if you need to, challenge yourself to reconsider some assumptions over how a puzzle might be experienced. Remember: we’re here to have fun.

Originality / Fun Grade: Five Sinatras
(click here for more information on the Sinatra Scaling System, (c) John Maynard Keynes, 1944)

Puzzle Reaction Vid: Watch Me Watch CR Solve Slammed Car

Slammed Car

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

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

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

There are a couple cringe-worthy moments in there…

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

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

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

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

Answering Life, the Universe, and Everything: Mayan Box by Benno de Grote

Mayan Box

Benno de Grote, 9.75″ x 7.5″ x 3.75″, 42 steps

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.

Mayan Box: 42 Steps to find the secret to life, the universe, and everything……… or at least the inside of the puzzle box

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).

Although Mayan Box is not available, Benno sells many other excellent boxes on his site, I have also solved his Chess Box and highly recommend it (Boxes & Booze has reviewed Mayan along with a couple of Benno’s currently available designs). Fortunately, Chess Box did not lose the coin toss and will remain with me for the foreseeable future.

Overall Grade: Four and a Half Sinatras

Deux ex Cista: Spirit Box by Dee Dixon

Spirit Box

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.

To avoid further delay, I will go ahead and end this post now and write about the other two of Dee’s boxes that I received later, lest this post continue to languish unfinished, as with the still-early preview version of my puzzle parody of Baby Got Back, my barely begun novel, my composition for the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and the actualization of my inner self.

Ok, enough with the pre-ramble…

Spirit Box

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.

(to be continued in Parts 2 and 3)

Extended Family Portrait
Clockwise from top: Untitled Large Box, Untitled Box w/Two Knobs, Space Case (unique woods), custom Space Case (Metallica logo), Space Case prototype (unique woods), Spirit Box, Where’s My Hammer? (early version), Blinded II (early version), Portal (late prototype), Slideways (one of the original 8)

Fun Grade: Five Sinatras

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

Rabbit Season! Duck Season! Rabbit Season! Duck Season!… Dagnabbit Dabbits Done Did Invaded

Dabbit Invasion

Tye Stahly and Haym Hirsh, Nothing Yet Designs, 20 x 16 x 12mm (inc. jail), Acrylic,

We knew it was coming. We knew it would be big and heavy and made of acrylic. We knew it would involve dabbits (invading). We knew it would be a big, complicated take-apart sd puzzle box-like thing that would involve a packing design by Haym Hirsch – the end result is even bigger and complicateder than I’d anticipated.

Dabbit Invasion is the newest puzzle by Tye Stahly of Nothing Yet Designs (with Haym Hirsh providing the design for the final packing puzzle). Tye came on the puzzling scene with a strong start, his Pair O’ Dice receiving properly positive praise for its entertaining sd trickery. He kept busy over the ensuing months, bringing us some great designs that were otherwise far too difficult to get: unique packing puzzles from Haym and Frederic Boucher, among others.

If you don’t know what a dabbit is, you will when you see one. Neither duck nor rabbit and yet both at the same time, the optical illusion dates back to the 19th century; I learned this from the puzzle’s backstory, which also warns us that the dabbits have already invaded, sneakily spreading out while we foolishly did nothing. We are tasked with finding and jailing all ten dabbits and their two eggs before resetting the puzzle.

Duck + Rabbit = Dabbit

I was lucky enough to have the chance to buy an early copy and was kindly offered the chance to choose my titular colors (future copies will use set colors) and I chose red and yellow to match my copy of POD (which was designed to best match the dice from Catan, because I’m cool like that). The puzzle’s name is prominently displayed in a font and style reminiscent of Mars Attacks and 50’s B-film fare (just so you don’t confuse it with another giant acrylic puzzle box with a removable cage trapped in a frame by a combination lock).

It came packaged extremely well and is heavy, feeling dense and solid. The jail is in a locked frame attached to the top with magnets and there is a piece of laser cut wood with the story and instructions engraved onto both sides, setting the stage and giving us our favorite rules (no banging, spinning or excessive force, etc). Tye graciously gives us a bit of a head start with a single dabbit already jailed; otherwise, there is no clear indication of how or where to begin. There are a couple things that seem like they will probably do something at some point, but a cursory examination of the puzzle did not give me any immediate ideas of how to proceed.

I began coming up with theories (which were mostly wrong) and proceeded to go down a pretty deep and mostly fruitless rabbit hole (dabbit hole?). I sought a nudge from Tye (obviously this was only because I wanted to be able to provide feedback as an early tester…. obviously… ahem), and this gave me an idea, which gave me an aha, which had me laughing and kicking myself as it hit me: things fell into place, and I was able to make some progress, doing and finding things for a bit until I hit another wall, and then another, and another, and so on.

Tye has clearly put a lot of thought into carefully walking the line between keeping things hidden but not buried, challenging but not impossible. Dabbit has a great rhythm: there are plenty of stops and starts, allowing you to make good progress and multiple discoveries as you work your way through a number of varied and interconnected puzzle genres and mechanisms. Very little of it came easily, and all of it felt totally fair. It is the kind of puzzle that surely has something for everyone, and keeps things flowing between sections; the disparate puzzles are linked, meshing well and smoothly, and in such a way as to keep the puzzler hooked, even when stuck.

By spreading the dabbits and eggs throughout the puzzle, it keeps you engaged in the story throughout the solve, reminding you that your progress is building towards something and keeping you in the story by sprinkling the thematic rewards for your successes along the way in preparation for the final puzzle.

The multiple puzzle types had me smiling and scowling, concentrating and contemplating, discovering some great aha’s, needing to think and plan or unearthing tricks through exploration and experimentation as my pile of dabbits grew. I got stuck several times, needing to step back and rethink some assumptions, or to try various random things in the hopes of figuring out what was next. This is most definitely a puzzle that delights in the joy of discovery, which may not always follow a clear path.

Eventually, I knew I had completely solved the box as I had collected all ten dabbits and the two rectangular eggs – the last of these was particularly tricky for me and led to a strong, final aha: a fun finale to an excellent puzzle box. My glorious revelry was soon cut short when I remembered that I was by no means done solving the puzzle. As I moved on to the culminating packing puzzle, I quickly realized that packing them into the jail was, in the words of Hannibal as he and his elephant stared at the mountains before them: “freakin’ hard.”

If you’ve done some of Haym’s many designs, you’re aware that he knows how to design a fun packing challenge: Dabbit’s packing puzzle is a particularly difficult design. Before even attempting to pack them into the jail, I spent a few mostly fruitless hours trying (and failing) to find the correct build outside the cage, getting soooo close to finding the right configuration (but always a voxel or two off). I probably would have ended up stuck at this stage for an embarrassingly long period of time but I really did want to give Tye some feedback (and, perhaps more importantly, I wanted to jail those darn dabbits before it was too late). So Tye provided a partial burrtools image to assist (don’t judge: people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones… or anything really… then again, people who live near people in glass houses should really try and respect their privacy instead of judging them for what they do at home).

Eventually, I found a workable build and set about trying to solve the puzzle; I found that I benefited more from some logical thinking rather than just random packing and pokery (always a sign of a good packing puzzle). After some examination, I figured out the basics of how to approach it, did some of that thinking stuff, planned my approach, and eventually got there. Success! Glory! Happy Dance!

But the puzzling doesn’t stop there! We have been told that to truly solve this, one must reset it completely. Oftentimes, this “just” means going through the solve backwards – yes, this can sometimes be quite tricky (POD comes to mind), but you usually won’t find puzzling that is unique to the reset. I was therefore pleased to find that even after solving the puzzle, I had to figure some things out that I’d not realized would require such figuring-outness; there are a few mini-puzzles and steps that come only as you go about getting back to the puzzle’s original state, steps that are only tricky in reverse. Eventually everything was all nice and reset, the dabbits once more frozen in invasion formation, awaiting the Return of the Puzzler.

I ran back through the solution and reset (“ran” is an exaggeration, I “slowly progressed” is probably more accurate) while writing out some feedback for Tye, and marveled at how much fun he has packed in. He clearly spent a lot of time planning and tweaking this puzzle, which feels like nothing less than a labor of love from someone who excels at executing an excellent idea into existence, whether his own or someone else’s.

I’m not sure how many of these will be made, so be sure to keep an eye out; Tye will likely release a few batches of them and is unlikely to return to such a complicated, time-intensive design.

I definitely recommend fighting off the Invasion, but if you somehow don’t like sequential discovery puzzling involving a variety of distinct puzzle types brought together into an interconnected, cohesive puzzle box with a unique reset, there is the possibility that he may one day release the packing puzzle as a standalone (likely with the fun theme removed). It may not be as rewarding as when you earned the right to pack by working to get there, but you’ll still find solid ahas and a cool packing puzzle. And at least you’ll have cheated your way there even more than I did 😉

Grade: Five Sinatras

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