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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
Some months ago, MW puzzles appeared on the scene with 3 the Peg, a smallish black metal cube with enough holes and protrusions to tempt most puzzlers. I didn’t know anything about the maker but when has that stopped me from trying a new puzzle…
Peg and its two siblings make for a trilogy of puzzles that share an aesthetic, making for an extremely collectible group – I do love puzzles in a series that manage to have a consistent style at the same time as containing distinct mechanisms. The black metal cubes have slightly varied dimensions (more or less 2″) and the distinct protrusions and holes across their faces send a clear signal that these are wholly different from one another. The amount of puzzling contained within these relatively small footprints (particularly in the second and third in the series) reminds me of the trio of printed puzzles by Alan Lunsford (aka Layer by Layer on Etsy): Unsafe Deposit, Bolt Action & Mighty Pin, all of which offer absolutely excellent puzzling at a particularly good value. A good designer can fit a lot of puzzling into a small frame and MW’s use of metal makes for a very high quality example of this puzzling axiom.
3 the Peg
When 3 the Peg arrived, I was first taken with the overall quality of the build – there is some serious machining skills on display, with every piece placed perfectly in prime puzzle position such that pretty much any puzzler can appreciate the sleek appearance and solid feel of the puzzle.
3 the Peg is the first and the simplest of the three puzzles released by MW – this is not to subtract from the elegance of the solve which relies on a well-hidden trick that could certainly keep a puzzler stuck. I managed to solve it fairly quickly but this could at least partly be due to luck (one of my early guesses proved correct), although I would venture to guess that more experienced solvers may have a similar experience. Having found the main trick, it was not terribly difficult for me to work out the remainder of the solve. I think this is a particularly great puzzle to hand to non-puzzlers as it it not too long a solve and can show how one’s basic assumptions about the workings of a puzzle must be discarded; further, the extremely well made parts will show any non-puzzler the level of craftsmanship we tend to expect from our makers.
I missed out on buying this one on release and gratefully solved a loaner copy from a fellow Discord puzzler- and I am glad I did! This one really steps things up in terms of complexity and difficulty, with a pretty long and involved series of steps and discrete mechanisms to get through before the titular penny is released. Luck will not get you very far and even experimentation is somewhat limited as I needed to have a good sense of what I was trying to do to avoid going in circles. PP is a bit crazier looking, with plastic rings on two of its faces, almost resembling camera lenses. These bits help to create the impression that there is a lot to work with, helping to lead me down some rabbit holes at more than one point in the puzzle; one early section in particular had me smiling once I fully grokked how it works. Construction of the puzzle is still quite good, although I did have an issue with a couple bits falling off (easily fixed) but the instructions tell us that these don’t do anything, which was good to know.
Several legit aha! moments await you as you get through the sd solve, more than one of which is likely to earn a guffaw or two. While Penny may not be the prettiest of the three puzzles, it may be my favorite: the mechanisms are smart and tricky, making for a fun and satisfying challenge that rivals the next puzzle in this MW trilogy.
Lib Orb Rate
Lib Orb Rate is the newest of the three puzzles they have released and it really is a darn fine puzzle. They once again pack a lot of puzzling into a small footprint, for a multi-phase sd solve that poses a solid challenge and works smoothly. I hit a wall early on and got nudged in the right direction – I was sure that there was some blind muckery about and my own assumptions and faulty deductions were tempting frustration … until I realized everything I needed was there for me to work with. They don’t hold up a sign to focus on what that might be but the information is mostly available after some close observation and trial & error to see what’s what making it sometimes semi-blind (but totally fair).
Passing through this first phase, I moved on through the puzzle in a pretty clear, but not at all simple, progression: I never felt lost even when stuck and I eventually worked my way through the rest all by myself (golly gee). Stupidly, I forgot that the name of the puzzle tells you what you’re trying to do and briefly believed I may have solved it – it would have been an ok puzzle if it stopped at that point and I was pleased to find that it continues on to a cool mechanism that is executed quite well, with some small details that must be precisely followed, particularly on the reset. While this final section was perhaps not necessarily 100% new to me, the other puzzle that shares a somewhat similar section is rare enough that many if not most puzzlers playing today may well have missed out. Regardless, it is executed differently (and perhaps more reliably, if I’m being totally honest) and is as worthy an aha! as in that other solve, particularly as it adds additional subtle trickery. All in all, Lib is another great puzzle from MW with a solid challenge and satisfying solve.
These three quality builds from MW Puzzles has me eagerly anticipating whatever follow up they might have in store – they are a welcome designer to the puzzling world and well worth watching for whatever they will come up with next. According to the designer, it may be a while before these three are re-released, if at all but, perhaps more importantly, there will be a smaller “key ring puzzle” in time for the holidays and a major release coming in the New Year – I am looking forward to it!
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)
Designed by Dan Fast Produced by CubicDissection Aluminum & Brass, 3″ x 1″
I got the chance to try an early copy of one of FastMaze 1 (designed by Dan Fast and produced by CubicDissection), and “fast” is not one of the words I would use to describe it: smooth, yes; fun, certainly; challenging, absolutely; but fast? Nope. Not for me anyway.
Dan has designed many a high level burr, including the relatively recent Stir the Coffee produced by Pelikan; PWBP shows more than 100 puzzles designed by him, a level of prolificacy shared by few others, including the rather iconic Superman and Batman burrs (also produced by Pelikan). FastMaze 1 is one of a series of three new puzzles being produced by the excellent craftspeople at CubicDissection, whose recent equipment expansion allows them to create more affordable challenges that still meet Eric’s extremely high quality demands (perhaps the hallmark of CD creations).
FastMazes 1 – 3 are three-level square mazes in which you must navigate pins in each of the four corners to a hole that will allow them to be removed one at a time; of course, this hole is in a totally different spot on each of the three levels so getting them to line up is no small feat. FastMaze 1 is the “easiest” of the three – I say this with my tongue firmly set into my cheek as its 137 moves is far from easy. Not only is that a lot of moves total, but once you have removed the first piece you still have another 83 moves to go for complete disassembly (the full solution is 126.96.36.199). FastMazes 2 and 3 are levels 160 and 196 respectively (#3 requires 121 moves just for the first piece!). This may sound intimidating but while it is most definitely a challenge, it is by no means unapproachable.
CD has produced the series of 3 puzzles in metal, with super smooth aluminum mazes navigated by four brass pins. The puzzles have been designed to easily come apart, allowing for a simple reset that makes the puzzle much less terrifying. The quality is apparent from the moment you pick it up: the metal is smooth to the touch, the pieces gliding over one another softly and easily. Notches marking the edition of the puzzle have been built into the center of each side, a nice aesthetic detail that helps you maintain control over the puzzle, especially once the levels start getting spread out as you progress through the solution. This happens quickly as the paths block one another unless you are able to have all pins situated such that the maze levels can shift. After a little while, it becomes possible to rotate one or more levels, something that I am still not sure whether it helped or hindered my progress. Apparently, the second of the three designs requires rotations, which I plan on confirming once they all become available. Regardless, the rotations are similarly smooth and, importantly, feel controlled – this is not like a burr that has become unmanageable with pieces rotating against your will. Its size fits perfectly into two hands (or your pocket for easy transport), allowing for easy control even as the pieces spread apart into its various contortionist configurations.
At first, I simply appreciated the construction and fit, the pins refusing to move until sliding smoothly and freely once a path becomes available. I began playing with it just to get to know its movements, finding it has a fun fidget friendly factor as an added bonus (it was also oddly satisfying to pinch one of the pins and swing the puzzle back and forth….. maybe that’s just me lol). It quickly became clear that such an approach was not going to afford me much progress: I was going to have to apply some brain power if I wanted to get anywhere as random fiddling isn’t going to get this little guy apart on its own (eventually, I suppose, but there might be a monkey Shakespeare by the time you get there). The exposed top and bottom levels allow you to work out a lot of where you need to go, but the center layer is largely hidden, confused by the paths above and below it through which you can try to make it out. As you work through the solution, of course, more of this layer is revealed and you must adjust your intentions and goals accordingly. Solving multiple mazes simultaneously with multiple moving restrictions is much more than the sum of its parts: dead ends exist in most any maze but here you must sometimes take advantage of these, working pins somewhere just so you can allow another to move elsewhere before backtracking once again. This makes for a great balance of experimentation and logic in working towards the solution, which will sometimes seem so close only to slide away once more. After finally releasing the first pin, I thought things would open up and become easy but in fact there was still plenty of puzzling left, the logic somewhat simplified but still significant in the strategy required to solve it.
FastMazes 1 -3 were released today, August 29th, 2022, available individually or as a set of three. I found that as soon as I had solved mine I wished I could reach for another, so I will definitely be picking up at least one more (who am I kidding, like my compulsive completionism will allow me to have just 2 of 3…). These are a fun challenge at an affordable price point with no sacrifice of quality (as we expect from our friends at CD), bringing excellent puzzling value to whatever puzzle shelves it will soon grace. You can find FastMaze 1 here and the others here.
I was trying to explain to my wife how puzzling can be a mindful experience (she’s a therapist… I’m just cool like that ;-P ) as you may spend an hour or more in near silence, focused on every sound or perceived resistance or reaction to determine just what in the heck is going on, divining patterns from some series of stimuli, some so subtle as to cause concern that it’s just me doing something wrong or hearing or feeling something that isn’t there. But when finally this intense focus bears fruit and you get that aha! midnfulness is out the window with the dopamine hit you’re getting, earned with the eye strain and aching back from contorting yourself to try and look down some tiny hole or shaft.
And what fruit hath been bear-ed? I’m sure you didn’t click on this write-up to read me ramble vaguely about puzzling in general but rather to read me ramble vaguely about Bananas, the new puzzle by Jon Keegan (his follow-up to Jewel Thief). And if the paragraph above ap-peals to you, then your interest in Bananas is anything but bananas (because you see: Bananas is bananas).
Bananas arrives wonderfully: super safely packed with a wooden shipping crate straight off the boat to Skull Island, ready to pack away something wild and dangerous. Cue a cute lego monkey caged by Keegan for our puzzling pleasure. Inside we find the puzzle, along with a metal objectives / story card, an envelope with pics of the internal mechanisms to decipher post-solve and a kindly supplied towel to protect the puzzle (and whatever surface you will be working on.
And as for the puzzle itself: Bananas is trapped in a cage set into the corner of a pretty massive block of metal replete with holes and knobbies and squares and circles to poke and prod and wonder at. Everything does something, of course, although nothing does anything just yet. The ticket in isn’t easy in itself (but you will get to understand it eventually); I struggled there for a bit and passed through with a bit of luck before too long, going on to make good progress before finding myself with a whole bunch of stuff and things to do with no clear path. Examining the puzzle does give you a sense of what is going on, at least in some areas, so I thought I know where I was shooting for, for the moment anyhow.
What follows would be a montage set to an uplifting light rock ballad about overcoming struggles as I proceeded to do what I started this post with, trying to find some magical combination of moves that would see me through to the next section. And eventually: aha! of course, and aha! again, with ever more aha!s big and small throughout the entire puzzle. There are some really great discoveries to be made before you free Bananas… and that’s the really crazy thing because you’ve only just started! The instructions tell you to solve the puzzle in 4 parts:
I had done 1 and 2 but…. wtf.
So I kept going and going, through multiple additional sections, each with several variously moving bits to contend with. Eventually I sat back with pride, Banana’s snack in hand, admiring the mess of metal that had amassed around me, amidst my super-cool puzzle headgear and pleather dice trays. Such puzzling pride passes quickly though, and it’s time to reset.
The reset is tricky and challenging but not frustrating or overly confusing; I had some concerns about whether I’d be able to piece it all together after having taken a couple weeks to solve it but while it took fully understanding all that had happened to make it all ready to go again, this was not so difficult in reverse. In my typical genius fashion I had to solve and reset multiple sections multiple times due to having reset some part before some other part… I’d say I did it purposely, to better master the puzzle, but really I just do it all the time because I’m a dumbass ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Such dumbassery does have its benefits though: I feel now that I truly get what was happening throughout the puzzle when at first I couldn’t imagine how I ever could. What else can you ask from a puzzle? There is a fair amount of blind struggle but careful and close observation and experimentation will give you guidance, along with some subtle clues to make sense of as you go.
Bananas was released in a limited run of 225 by Jon Keegan and were all claimed (as is fairly typical with a good puzzle) long before this was written – in typical voracious puzzle fashion, we all politely and (seemingly) patiently waited with occasional but regular updates on Jon’s progress and puzzle maturation. I have to admit that I have not actually solved any other puzzle by him! My zealous overuse of multiple emails led to a snafu in which I missed my chance at a Jewel Thief… (meh, whatcha gonna do – from what I’ve heard, while it seems to be an amazing puzzle I’m pretty sure I would still be struggling with the first step lol). I did get a Scarf prototype but want to wait for the updated version coming out down the road (which just means that I haven’t been able to solve it 😉 But Bananas… the more I let it sit after finally solving and resetting I come to appreciate it more and more… quite simply, Bananas is bananas.
Jesse Born & Rob Yarger Ipe, Katalox & Brass 2.75 lbs, 7″ x 4″ Box 2 in the Voyager Series (Sea Chest, Sun Dial, Alien)
(Ed. A couple weeks after posting this, I discovered that there was still quite a bit of puzzling left after I had thought the puzzle had been solved! See below for more)
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.
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.
(This paragraph was added a few weeks after posting this) OMG! Turns out not only was I not actually finished solving the puzzle, there was quite a bit of puzzling still left! There is one aha that is particularly satisfying and we are left with a sense that more is yet to come…… Once again, Jesse has brought us something great only to add some icing to make it excellent. I found this last section to bring back memories of Sea Chest, which also hid some final secrets that took me a few weeks to discover still laid in wait after I’d thought I had reached the end. Gotta love a puzzle that keeps on giving!
After resetting the puzzle and going through the solution once more (now a few more times!), 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.
Jerry McFarland, 3.25″ x 4″, Mahogany, Walnut, Cherry & Kingwood (Snappy) 3″ x 3.5″ (Obscure)
When Jerry asked if I would be interested in trying out a new puzzle, my fingers couldn’t hit reply fast enough – he is one of those designers whose puzzles I will gratefully buy sight (or even description) unseen. The fact that he is returning to the Magnetic Burr series with what is most likely the final design (after a brief semi-digression with Obscure Burr) should make even the most discerning of burr buyers be ready to buy (if bossible).
If you are not already on Jerry’s list(s), it may be sadly difficult to obtain a copy of Snappy; Jerry produces puzzles in small batches, and there are only a few more copies of this puzzle to come in the near future (all of which I believe have already been earmarked). As with all his puzzles, it is well worth the wait, even if it takes a couple of years (such is the nature of a good puzzle’s wait list, as I know all too well – my copy of Burrnova will hopefully be coming sometime this year after a 2-3 year wait and yet it seems like a blink of an eye when your time on a long waitlist comes up).
The Magnetic Burr series may not be an official name, but it captures the essence of the three (now four) cubic burrs: Fidget Burr (reviewed by me here), Burrlephant (also reviewed by me) and Burrnova 3d (I actually had the option to get a copy last month, but Jerry graciously asked to sell it to a certain mutual puzzling friend’s NPSO as a surprise gift and I was happy to play a small role in this friend’s holiday happiness). The burr cubes in the series all feature magnets (duh) and integrate some very cool and unique mechanisms into the designs; all of them feature some kind of surprise(s) or treasures, whether Fidget’s Pink Lady, Burrlephant’s sd mechanisms or Burrnova’s….. well, I guess I’m not sure if Burrnova follows suit but I’m going to go ahead and say that it does 😉
Obscure also uses magnets but isn’t really considered part of the series – the concept is something of an outlier, relying on a pretty esoteric idea that is sure to elude the majority of puzzlers (as it most certainly did me!). I was ultimately able to solve it by cheating, which still made for a cool puzzle, but understanding the concept behind the design gives it a considerably better pedigree. Jerry integrated a (likely needed but still rather obscure) hint into the design and later versions have it hidden under a magnetically attached block – I have not seen one of these copies in person but the pics make it look pretty cool; personally, I think the hint is a cool idea that is particularly appropriate here and is yet a feature that points to the puzzle’s difficulty and originality – I suspect there are very few puzzlers who will deduce the solution otherwise (even with the hint, few may deduce it).
Obscure was perhaps a bit controversial, the obscurity being even greater than perhaps many a puzzler expected. Regardless, it is a cool and extremely unique puzzle with a great fidget value that, I think, ensures its designation as a worthy puzzle to have in your collection. It highlights the idea of puzzles as art, being a physical manifestation of an idea that struck the maker and compelled him to find a way to produce it irl. If that ain’t art, I don’t know what is.
Snappy is a rectangular cube that consists of 28 pieces and 26 magnets(!). The goal is to “remove the snappy fidget toy inside the puzzle,” which is itself instantly intriguing. It shares an aesthetic with Jerry’s other burrs, a polished gleam highlighting the contrasting sticks of varying widths, woods and shapes, with curves at the edges that make it feel excellent in your hands. The corner pieces are set back a couple mm, creating an aesthetic that is reminiscent of columns surrounding a central core.
If you are familiar with some of Jerry’s other puzzles, you may have an idea how to initially approach the puzzle – and you may well be correct, finding yourself rewarded with the fidgety goodness you should expect. And then………… um……….. well, then I proceeded to do the same couple of things over and over and over (and over) wondering how in the heck this thing could do anything else. I really didn’t mind as its fidget friendly fun is fan-forking-tastic, possibly even beyond Fidget Burr; it has a 3-axis snappy main mechanism with a tactile sensation that is just oh so satisfying. The clickiness of it is truly awesome (perhaps not so much to my wife, who somehow tolerated it while I futzed with the puzzle over the course of a few evenings).
Eventually, I discovered…. something…. and knew I was moving in the right direction. It would still be quite a while before I was able to work out how to do what needed to be done and then, with a wonderful aha, I made actual progress, finally solving the main trick of the puzzle. From there, it was a fairly straightforward matter of disassembling the remaining pieces and removing the toy. Reassembly was both easy and very very tricky; as with his other puzzles, Jerry has helpfully included some internal initials to help identify what goes where, allowing you to appreciate the build rather than be frustrated by it, unlike many a burr cube that is likely to force you to rely on burrtools for the reassembly (or, in Jerry’s case, the pictures he provides to assist with reassembly). But when it came time to put together the main part of the mechanism it turned out to be as challenging as when I disassembled it; a certain aspect of the design had the effect of distracting me during the initial solve, so that I didn’t fully grok some of what I had done.
Finally, I was able to reverse engineer my aha and I found that what seemed like an impossible assembly that had to rely on force and inappropriate angles was actually an elegantly perfect fit. I can now do this main bit with ease, having found the sweet spot permitting it. And I gotta say it is darn satisfying to do – the puzzle earns its name, not just with its early fidgetiness but here at the core of its build.
Another well-known puzzler was also offered the chance to buy an early copy for testing, so be sure to look out for his thoughts on his excellent OG puzzle blog, PuzzleMad. Otherwise, if you aren’t able to get a copy, be sure to find me at the next puzzle party as it will definitely be accompanying me on the trip. Until then: keep puzzling and may excessive force not be with you.
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.