Up, Damned Spot; Up, I say! PLOD by Joe Guarini

PLOD

Jo Guarini

A few months back, I was offered the chance to try a new puzzle by Joe Guarini (@jhoag), designer of Detective Box (and co-designer of some forthcoming designs from PI Puzzles, his puzzle partnership with Ross Feinstein, who is also known as our friendly discord-neighborhood @cryptosutra – they’ve got Bricked Lock coming soon, a 15 step puzzle lock that looks very cool). Obviously, I was happy for the opportunity (this post would otherwise be rather short and pointless, one of which might be strange for this blog) and I soon received a 3.25″ acrylic cube with a black rubber ball roughly the size of a racquetball ball (I debated whether that was redundant before going for it). At the bottom of said ball was a white dot, which must somehow be made to be stably pointing up for the puzzle to be solved.

Picking it up, it was immediately clear that this ball did not want to flip over for longer than a second or two; no matter what I did, the ball would just roll itself back, white dot down. And I did a great many things: I had a whole lot of ideas to try, one of which I thought must lead to a solution (it didn’t). I found myself caught in a feedback loop – that sense of “just one more try” had me staring intently at the uncooperative ball for quite some time, Happy Gilmore-ing that little b@$t@rd as if I could intimidate it into compliance.

The beauty of this puzzle is that it really lends itself to some of that thinking stuff I hear puzzlers talk about. After handling the ball for a while, I had developed some ideas of how it might work. Joe and I were chatting throughout the process, his initial curiosity turning into amusement (and perhaps, I imagine, a bit of pity) as I threw out increasingly strange ideas as to what was going on inside the thing. A few of those ideas might make for a decent puzzle, but none made the puzzle I was holding.

There were a few other puzzlers that had been given a copy to try (at least two of which I know managed to solve it) and Joe had decided that it made sense to use a smaller acrylic cube to contain the ball, and he generously (and sympathetically) sent out another version: same sized ball nestled in a cozier cubic compartment of 2″, same cruel and unyielding white dot laughing at me from below. Aha!, I thought, surely this was a clue as to what tricks could work in this smaller space, surely this would make the solution a bit more in reach for this dim-witted puzzler. Alas, while the first thought might be true, the second was not true enough to allow me to actually solve it unassisted.

As days turned into weeks turned into months (my puzzle passion generally outpaces my skill) and my ideas grew increasingly bizarre, I finally began asking Joe for some rather straightforward guidance; I would like to say that I truly figured it out on my own with just the help of his hints, but in all honesty I think he pretty much had to eventually spoon-feed it to me lol. Regardless, I was finally able to master that damn dot, which now stares upward, the laugher having become the laughee (sure, I stand there laughing maniacally in triumph at my defeated puzzles, so what? I don’t come into your house and judge what you do, do I? After all, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones…. people in glass houses probably shouldn’t throw much of anything, I guess… then again, people who live near people who live in glass houses should maybe try minding their own damn business…).

I turned a ball upside down! Glad I am finally putting all those student loans to good use…

The trick hidden within this seemingly simple puzzle, this ball in a box, is quite ingenious. I can imagine Joe getting the idea and laughing at its devious originality; it is not something that I think would occur to most people as it employs (as far as I know) a truly unique mechanism. Knowing the solution, I was able to solve the puzzle, which is one of its strongest features: a solution that is quite elegant and relatively easily repeated, yet elusive enough that it poses a challenge (to me, at least). The puzzle is so original, in fact, that categorizing it seems like a circularly fruitless enterprise, one that would likely lead to a questionably accurate spoiler, at best, while still being arguably incomplete, if not straight-up wrong.

Joe is still producing these, so find him on Discord if you are interested in trying one (@jhoag). And if you are able to solve it more easily than I, good on you – no need to share such information with me: please remember what I said about glass houses (which is to say, go live in a glass house and throw stones, jerk).

Uniquely Fun Puzzling Grade: Five Sinatras

(click here for more information on the Sinatra Scaling System, (c) John Maynard Keynes, 1944)
It’s oddly addictive

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


2021 fivesinatras Giveaway Results!

Congrats to XJamez and Neal N Stacy for winning the “fivesinatras was Too Busy to Write a 2021 Puzzle Hunt and Decided to Just Give Away a Bunch of Puzzles Instead” Giveaway!

42 puzzlers entered and these two will get half of the more than 2 dozen puzzles included – I will semi-randomly split them, roughly trying to balance value and variety.

Scroll down to see a video of the random drawing – thanks to everyone for participating!

Close to 30 puzzles to be split between two puzzlers.

Watch the random drawing to ensure its randomness – weirdly, the two winners’ names were separated by only one entry  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Puzzle Giveaway: The “fivesinatras was Too Busy to Write a 2021 Puzzle Hunt and Decided to Just Give Away a Bunch of Puzzles Instead” Giveaway!

(Thanks to Crazy Eddie for the inspiration behind this video – scroll down if you have no idea who that is)

This is mostly intended to reach relatively new collectors / solvers and includes a number of puzzles from different genres and styles.

Please enter if you:

  • Have less than 100 puzzles in your collection, or,
  • Have been habitually / addictively solving puzzles for less than 6 months, or,
  • Generally feel like you are still kind of new or inexperienced regardless of the above, or,
  • Don’t meet the above but intend on giving these away once you have solved them.

US domestic shipping will be free – international shipping may be split between the winner and fivesinatras.

Please enter by sending me a DM on Discord, using the contact form below, or by emailing quantifiedcool at fivesinatras dot com.

Enter NOW – entries will be cut off at 11:59 pm CST on Saturday, December 11, 2021.

Included puzzles may change depending on condition and whim

Thanks to Nothing Yet Designs for gifting me a copy of Alfons Eyckmans’ 9 Rivers set earlier this year (included in this giveaway).

All puzzles are as-is and will not be exchanged but if you’re not satisfied for any reason, I am happy to refund your money (not including shipping)!

Merry Thanks-mas-uka-dan-ivus and a Puzzling New Year!


(If you’re not from North America or Gen X, you may have no idea what the hell that video was about – see below for the classic inspiration for such insanity)


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


Egg-xactly What We Love in a Puzzle: Triple Yolk

Triple Yolk

Lewis Evans

EGG!!!

@loderman & the MPD

There is something about egg-shaped puzzles that is just fun: Unstable Eggs by CoreMods (reviewed by me here), several eggs by Stephen Chin (including the very cool take-apart puzzle, Ze Tomago), Akio Kamei’s Egg, Rik van Grol’s Egg Balance series, and the many, many, many other egg-shaped puzzles out there (ok, that may be most of them, but those are some fun puzzles).

And now, the ultimate egg (and all-around great) puzzle: Triple Yolk (TY) by Lewis Evans. TY is a sequential discovery take-apart puzzle that relies on a good amount of sequential movement to accomplish its goals (this is how I would categorize it anyway). Amazingly, this complex, challenging, and well-crafted puzzle is his first to be brought to the puzzling public! His skills as a professional product prototyper are on full display: the puzzle is plastic, but this is not the filament of 3d prints. Rather, you will find that it is smooth to the touch, with none of the inconsistencies in even the best PLA prints. At approximately 3″ at its widest point and 3.5″ tall, this is more akin to an ostrich egg than your typical chicken-based puzzle eggs.

TY’s goal is to remove the three yolks – of course, we initially have no way to know what exactly this means, but it is ever so obvious once they have been found. First impressions are very positive: his attention to detail is evident in the professional packaging with a perfectly molded rubbery plasticy base surrounding the puzzle inside the box. Picking it up, its weight belies the internal complexities of the design; you find yourself able to freely rotate the uppermost sections (not a spoiler – it’s readily apparent when picking it up). The movements are wonderfully smooth – neither loose nor tight and sliding around easily and intentionally. TY makes a bit of noise, giving you an early idea of some of the internal mechanisms that will only make sense upon further close observation.

The first yolk is discovered fairly quickly; an early win that gives you no sense of the legitimately difficult challenges that follow. This is by no means an easy puzzle, and will require your full attention if you hope to solve it. There are some really neat things that happen as you move through the solution, and plenty to discover and experiment with as you struggle to determine what’s what. A fair amount of the process is semi-blind, requiring close observation to make sense of what is happening; there is ample feedback to allow you to slowly develop an understanding of what is going on inside, in addition to the well-planned glimpses inside that help develop this mental map (again, this is apparent from looking at it, so no spoilers).

I hit a big wall towards the end of the puzzle – from what I can tell, this is not an uncommon experience. As with any good puzzle, when that aha finally hit, it was a major puzzle rush. There were plenty of aha moments that preceded these final discoveries, and the final steps are especially satisfying.

Once open, you are given a nice reward – happily, another (small but welcome) present awaits you post-solve, which is just a really nice touch and yet another example of Lewis’s attention to detail (and the way you find it is sure to put a grin on many a puzzler’s face.

Suffice it to say, this is a great puzzle. Lewis takes every opportunity to display his commitment to puzzlers’ enjoyment, happy to help should you get stuck or encounter any issues (it was discovered that fully re-inserting the second yolk could lead to a bit of an issue and Lewis responded quickly and thoroughly, mailing out aesthetically-consistent, pro-grade cards with a nice warning, following up on his email to all those who has obtained a copy – I personally fell prey to this genius move and Lewis even mailed out a tool that I could use to get myself back on track – a seriously considerate and generous act).

There are only 50 copies of Triple Yolk (mine is #8) and the price was reasonably set at a place that reflects the complexity of the design and its production; it wasn’t cheap by any means but it was completely worth every penny and I haven’t heard any complaints from any of the other puzzlers who landed a copy.

Now we must eagerly await Lewis’s eventual follow-up: no pressure 😉


Grade: Five Sinatras


It’s a Karakuri Miracle! Holiday Boxes 2020

Karakuri Holiday Boxes 2020

It’s that time of year again: families gathering around blahblahblah……. we know what really matters: Karakuri Holiday Boxes! (If you don’t know about how the holiday boxes work, you can learn more here).

Back Row (Left to Right): Kawashima, Kamei, Kikuchi, Iwahara, Kasho; Front Row: Sugimoto, Kakuda

At the end of a strange year, I felt like Jimmy Stewart at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life when a big box of smaller boxes containing my new puzzle boxes arrived sometime in mid-December: “Merry Christmas Movie House! Merry Christmas you wonderful Building & Loan!” Merry Christmas Karakuri Puzzle Boxes! Now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now Prancer and Vixen! Now Kamei! Now Iwahara, Kawashima and Kakuda!

Over the course of the last year, I added more and more of the craftspeople at the KCG until I was on the list for 7 of the 8 boxes (sorry Fumio, I really did mean to add yours as well……). As in the past, I chose to resist the temptation of opening the boxes upon arrival, opting instead to hold out for Christmas morning. My mother-in-law always gets a kick out of seeing them, and it is one of the rare times when I can get my teenage son to look at something I like for a moment or two. Most importantly, the anticipation is fun and this year’s boxes did not disappoint! As is to be expected, all puzzles reflect the brilliant standards of Karakuri puzzles, working smoothly and looking even more striking upon close examination.

Pics of the boxes have been making the rounds on social media, and I wanted to break my too-long blogging hiatus with a review of (most of) this year’s boxes. For those who are not aware, the names of most of the boxes have not yet been released and can be expected in January.

Akio Kamei

Kamei’s box resembles a classic safe (3.5″ x 3″ x 4.5″): four tiny legs beneath an upright, rectangle, complete with notched dial that seems to spin freely. Picking it up, you can hear one or more somethings moving around inside. Kamei’s hanko is on the back of the box; it is pretty clear when you have solved the box and seeing the hanko on its outside helps to confirm that you are not missing anything once it is open. Finding the right approach took a bit of creative cat burgling – of all the boxes, this is the one that gave me the most trouble. I was pretty sure I knew what to do at the outset, at least to some extent, and while it turned out to be correct, executing it still takes a bit of focus. I’ve heard from other puzzles who are similarly confounded by how specifically it works, in some ways feeling similar to other boxes of Kamei’s that rely on mechanisms that make little sense, until they make total sense – while you may yet continue to struggle to understand how the concept is realized, you can at least understand what is happening. Of this year’s boxes, this is the one whose internal layout most confounds me.


Hideaki Kawashima

Kawashima’s box was one of my personal favorites (even if I do feel like there is one small change that could have made it even better in my mind). It is the only puzzle this year to resemble a classic box (albeit a small one at slightly less than 3″). One panel is light colored, calling your attention to what will presumably be your goal. Kawashima may be guiding us a bit here, as it is pretty simple to make initial success, leading you through a few productive steps until you hit a wall hiding a couple added tricks that block you from further progress. Kawashima’s hanko awaits you when you reach the final compartment, after a nice, progressive solution. The box displays well with Iwahara’s 2019 holiday gift: Aquarius Box, which is slightly larger but features a similar aesthetic.


Hiroshi Iwahara

Iwahara’s Drawer (3.5″ x 3.5″ x 2.5″) is the box that offers the most puzzling, with an appearance that resembles this year’s Drawer with a Tree but features puzzling that is quite different. The hanko is important with this puzzle, as I briefly thought I had solved it after finding a fun series of steps to open and close it, before realizing I had not yet seen his mark. Some further exploration led to a happy, second aha as the fun-to-do mechanism is expressed in yet another step. The concept is well-executed, and it is the type of mechanism that I find fun to pick up and solve here and there; I have little doubt that this box will join the ranks of other fidget-friendly karakuri boxes that currently sit on my shelves. The puzzle has the added bonus of smelling particularly good, only increasing its re-solve value.


Osamu Kasho

Kasho’s box features a UFO that spins elliptically above the whimsical crop circles adorning a flattened cube (approx. 2.5″ x 3″). At first glance, I thought it was a safari hat atop a button, which made decidedly less sense. It is pretty clear what to do at first, and opening the box is rather straightforward. However, the brilliance of this puzzle really takes a bit of imagination – this is the box that has perhaps grown on me the most, as I have stepped back to observe the solution and the kind of scene the craftsman was perhaps imagining. Basically, I have come to see that the entire experience encapsulates a story and I hope this is something that has occurred to other puzzlers, because, to me, it is what really makes this unique (happy to share this with anyone who wants to know, but I don’t want to give any spoilers here). There is one particular design detail that I especially like, and which perfectly finished the concept at play in the puzzle’s solution. I had high expectations for his box this year as his was my favorite of 2019; to be honest, I was a bit let down at first but, as I said, this is the puzzle that has most grown on me as I have (I think) gotten into the maker’s head a bit more, discovering the story the puzzle is (I think) intended to tell.

Kasho’s 2020 and 2019 Holiday Boxes

Shou Sugimoto

Once again, I had some wildly incorrect initial impressions, thinking this was an odd-looking snake-train thing (4″ x 1.5″ x 2.25″) whose tongue had fallen out. I don’t know where my mind is sometimes but once I was able to break through my dumbassery, I realized what was what and actually laughed out loud (rolling on the floor with a puzzle seems foolhardy and excessive). Realizing what it is, the way forward is pretty clear while being no less enjoyable for it. This is another fidget-friendly box that should not be overlooked; I think it requires some precise craftsmanship that may bely its playful appearance.


Yasuaki Kikuchi

Kikuchi’s is the only box to directly reference the Christmas season; last year’s box featured a Christmas tree and this year’s box is a stocking (3.25″ x 1.75″ x 4.25″) stuffed full of presents! It is decidedly adorable and has a multi-step solution that is simple but fun and, once again, quite fidget-friendly. Kikuchi is the least prolific of the KCG members and this is the first puzzle of his to make its way into my collection. I didn’t realize it, but he has the most punk of the KCG hankos, eschewing traditional Japanese characters for a more stylized signature.

This could well be upside-down and/or sideways but is pretty cool from any angle.

Yoh Kakuda

Yoh delivers on our animalistic expectations, with an adorable Wombat (3″ x 4″ x 1.75″) that is not only entertaining, but educational! I don’t want to give anything away, but after a couple straightforward steps, you are rewarded with a funny (and perhaps questionably desirable) reward. A conversation about the puzzle led me to google a particular fact about the Wombat, which has led me to be surprised that no other designer (to my knowledge) has taken advantage of this fun mammalian fact. Yoh’s hanko is displayed on the bottom of the puzzle, which led to a bit of confusion in more than one puzzler, as I heard a few folks may have thought they had solved the puzzle prematurely (which is pretty cool, as it features fair more fun than one first figured). Kakuda’s Wombat is adorable and smart, and packs an excellent punchline.


Overall Grade for Holiday Puzzles: Five Sinatras


Now that 2020 is done, we can start gearing up for next year (Fumio, I won’t forget you this time):

Happy New Year my tens of imaginary friends and readers! Thank you for reading and believing my opinion is worth a damn!

2020 was a weird year but oddly enough, it was an excellent year for puzzles – so many new releases from great designers, and great puzzles from new ones. I finally got rid of all those paper things that were cluttering up my puzzle shelves and installed a secret door leading to my puzzle room (well, home office, but you know where my priorities lie).

May 2021 be better generally, that puzzle parties might once more resume (and other social stuff as well…. I guess…. I mostly just care about the puzzle parties).

2020 Grade: A Bishop and a Lawrence (ugh)

“I want to say one word to you, just one word: Plastics”

Tree Box, Cocktail, and Football Match

Diniar Namdarian

After seeing some of his puzzles floating around the net, I reached out to Diniar Namdarian and, some weeks later, a box arrived, bringing me plenty of plastic puzzling. Even better, Diniar included a few extra pocket puzzles for some extra fun.

I was not sure what to expect, but the sheer variety of puzzles, some classic, some surprisingly unique, has given me hours and hours of entertainment, ranging from fidgety fun that didn’t need too much dedicated attention, and as much frustrated focus as any puzzle can offer.


Tree Box

Tree Box is a combination slider / take-apart box, consisting of a pretty brown and black bonsai design atop a yellow box. Unlike some sliders, this starts in its proper arrangement; the challenge, of course, is to first open the box and to then reset the tree (the latter part containing the hardest part of the challenge).

The pieces have a tongue and groove on its edges, keeping them firmly in place (except one piece, which Diniar made the excellent design decision of keeping as the same color rather than an empty spacer). It is no trick to find this piece, and once you do you set about finding your way clear to get the pieces out, granting you access to the box beneath.

Of course, the tongue and groove edges keep you locked in and you must start messing up that pretty tree to find a way to properly remove a piece. The build is excellent – the pieces are not going anywhere until and unless you find the intended way of doing so.

I highly recommend mixing the pieces up once you’ve removed them; I let it sit for a day to allow my terrible memory to work for me, and came back to it clueless as to how I ever got them out.

It is NOT a trivial matter to get these pieces back in, at least not in a way that will then allow you to get the tree back in its original condition. The shapes and sizes of the pieces brilliantly prevent you from getting all pieces in just anywhere; it takes some thought to find the seemingly single arrangement of pieces that will allow you to successfully replace and rebuild.

This was an excellent and very unique challenge. Not a good place to hide anything you may need quick access to, but the box is plenty big if you wanted to hide a surprise for someone. It’s also confusing enough that you could certainly replay it, but don’t expect multiple challenges as with many of Diniar’s puzzles.


Cocktail

Cocktail is another wonderfully unique puzzle. I think of it as a reverse hedgehog: you must get a single ice cube into your drink by finding the correct orientation of three turning panels with partially overlapping polygons cut into their centers. The ice cube, as one would expect, is cut in seemingly random and certainly complex angles that make this a challenging task.

Trial and error may afford you success, and the fantastic fidget factor will allow you to be entertained while doing so, but without some luck it is unlikely to be anytime soon. Instead, it is beneficial to spend a bit of time examining your options to decide which orientations of the cube are most likely to afford you success.

Once again, the design feels intentional – these angles are not haphazard but made so as to minimize the window of success – I suspect there is only one possible way of getting the cube in, and, once found, force is unnecessary.

As with any good hedgehog, finding that one perfect angle is so satisfying. Here it is even more satisfying as you had to find multiple, overlapping angles of perfection before the cube slides right in.

The cage comes apart easily, allowing you to examine what worked and appreciate the solution, before resetting the puzzle for another go. An excellent twist that made me enjoy a type of puzzle that’s generally not at the top of my list.


Football Match

The last puzzle from Mr. Namdarian that I will share is more of a classic slider, but it carries a few novel additions that make it particularly enjoyable. I am currently about halfway through the 22 challenges, which range from 50 to 100+ move solutions, and I am still enjoying myself.

The puzzle is not overly large, about 18 voxels, including 2 spacer squares. The goal (sorry, couldn’t resist), is to get the “ball,” a white half-sphere disc, to go from one goal to the other, each located on either side of a narrow rectangle.

Interestingly, you do not just slide the ball through, as in a maze, Instead, there is one piece with a cutout on the right that must grab the ball and then “pass” it to a single piece with a cutout on its left, that can then carry it to the other goal.

For added difficulty, the cutouts are not centered, causing you to need to find a way to have your players pass by the goal vertically, before they can catch or release the ball.

The challenges definitely range in difficulty and ramp up quite well (except for one of the early ones, that I still cannot find my way through); the minimum required moves steadily increasing as you work your way through the challenges.

Once again, Diniar has taken a classic puzzle and made it especially interesting by adding his unique take on the medium. As an added benefit, as with most of his sliders, it comes with a top, allowing you to bring this one on the go and try and make it through one more challenge.


Grade: Four Sinatras

It’s Electric! Boogie Woogie Woogie: Detective Box by Joe Guarini

Detective Box

Joe Guarini, 2020

Just a few days ago, some fellow puzzlers and I were discussing how there are not many puzzles that truly integrate electronics into their puzzling; there are a few great puzzles that feature electronics (I’m looking at you Turtle Trip and Snack Brake), but not necessarily as a part of the solution itself. This, however, is no longer the case: Detective Box wonderfully integrates electronic elements into the puzzling, creating a imaginatively unique and fun experience that I think of as an SD escape-room-in-a-puzzle-box.

Detective Box is a seemingly unassuming 3″ x 3″ x 1.5″ metal lock box with a four number dial-lock on its face. The back shows four small holes, one of which belies its electrical nature by giving you a peek at some red wires that can be seen inside. Along with the box, there is an instruction sheet which includes our favorite rules, “no banging” and “no spinning”, along with “no gravity required” and a surprising early indicator of the puzzle’s distinctive nature, “no external tools except….” The instructions go on to explain that our goal is, essentially, to open the box and then “???…” Opening the box, we are told, requires that we “follow the clue” written on an accompanying letter and “find the box’s signal” (?!). Ultimately, the solution is not just to open the box, but to solve what is inside it (the aforementioned “???”).

After reading these instructions, I was extremely intrigued: its strange goals and reference to “a computer for your detective research” had me wholly hooked.

There is also a letter accompanying the puzzle, which gets you started (as per the instructions) and helps set the stage for the puzzle’s theme (which carefully and vaguely alludes, more or less indirectly, but probably not in any right-infringing way, to a certain flying-mammal-loving detective). The letter features a clue that will lead you to your computer (this is stated in the instructions, so no spoiler) – and, at that point, I was pretty clueless. The site does…. things…. but what could that have to do with the box? After spinning my computer availed me nothing (oddly enough), so began the electro-mechanical puzzling! After a couple cool aha moments, I managed to find the code needed to open the box. But this is by no means the end of the puzzle! Not at all – it is just the beginning.

I want to be careful not to give away too much: this really is a puzzling experience like no other I have ever had and one which I would not want to ruin. Suffice it to say that inside the box are some more electrical components that must somehow be used to solve a cypher, which will then lead you to the ultimate solution. Along the way, you will find a few more great aha moments, before you reach the puzzle’s end.

Joe clearly has some skills that are being put on display here – the functionality of its various electrical components must require a working knowledge of….. stuff….. that he is putting to good use. Although it was not necessarily an overly difficult box (for me, anyway), it is, even more importantly, a really really fun one. Sometimes puzzles seem to forego a full focus on facilitating fun in favor of bang-your-head-against-the-wall levels of difficulty (which can also be fun, of course, but sort of scratches a different itch than this novel, entertaining experience).

I am quite happy to have had the opportunity to try this puzzle out – Joe will be making them available for sale relatively soon and will likely be selling them directly, so keep an eye out on your favorite online puzzling haunt (i.e. Discord and Reddit). If you’re on Discord, he is @JHoag – you may want to hit him up with ye old LIST!!! emoji.

Originality Grade: 5 Sinatras

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


Puzzle Parrrrrr-ty: Sea Chest by Jesse Born

Sea Chest

Jesse Born, 2020,
Wenge, Holly, Katalox, Bocote, Mahogany, Bloodwood and Copper

Avast ye mine puzzlers, thar be fine puzzlin’ on the horizon for those that be wantin’ of it… Dragons there may be, but the risk be worth takin’ for such a fine piece o’ work as this here box!

Captain Woodbeard of the Puzzler’s Revenge

A few days ago I got notice from Jesse that my copy of Sea Chest was ready – as one of the first to be lucky enough to get on the list, I soon received what is number 6 of an overall release of 100 copies. Sea Chest is the first in the three-box “Voyager” series; the next (named SunDial) has apparently been mostly designed (in collaboration with a certain other amazing puzzle designer), and I expect we shall learn more in a few months, once the other 94 Sea Chests have all made it to their various X-marks-the-spots. The third and final box in the series is named Alien and is fittingly otherwise unidentified.

Here There Be Puzzlin’

My copy arrived quickly, as is typically the case when crossing the state or two between me and Jesse’s workshop. I dug through the brown wrapping paper as I unearthed my newest acquisition. The box is a great size: about 8″ x 4.5″ x 3.5″ and somewhere between Slammed Car and SDBBM (or First Box and Pachinko) in weight, making it feel good and solid in your hands.

The box is both meticulously detailed and delightfully distressed: the top is a precise carving of two ships at sea, while the back features a medallion that rotates in a frame that appears to have been worn down in its time buried underground. Copper handles are affixed to the sides and a copper compass rose adorns its front. On either side of the compass/medallion, there are a total of 4 wooden pistons that pass through the body of the box. These are quite amazing when examined closely: the red wood moving in and out of the darker frame as they are pushed and pulled, held together with wooden pins at their base. There’s an unexpected feature to the bar that connects the pistons passing through the box, with gilded numbers appearing and disappearing as the pistons are moved.

Every aspect of the box is thematically consistent, down to the ample serifs used to make the numbers recognizable to the puzzle pirate inside all of us. Numerous details adorn the design, some surely there to serve as clues, implying that perhaps this puzzle is both treasure map and chest in one (as I’ve not yet solved it, this may well not be the case – just speculating here, so no spoilers my seafaring friend). It even comes with a folded sheet of “parchment”, with a wax seal identifying it as the solution.

The overall look is pretty awesome – the pistons remind me of the rows of oars of an ancient ship, emerging from port and starboard as your crew struggles to make your way to your final destination. While I do not think we will see sirens or cyclops on this journey, the Argonauts on board may yet be waiting a while to reach dryland as the solution is most definitely not obvious (to me, anyway).

Which leads us to why we are really on this journey: the puzzling. First off, it is not entirely clear what our destination will be – I know the puzzle will open, but my initial assumptions on where and how may well be incorrect. I have already had a great aha moment and have made additional discoveries that tell me what likely needs to happen, without showing me how how to actually do it. This is that type of box where the journey is at least as good as the destination, allowing me to be in no great hurry to get there. I couldn’t wait to solve this before sharing it, as it is just too darn pretty.

Captain SPH Sits Atop His Treasure

Jesse has once again produced a puzzle that is both striking and fun: Sea Chest has a thematically distressed aesthetic that seamlessly blends potential clues and red herrings with meticulously designed details, hiding whatever puzzling intricacies lay buried within.

(Past reviews of Jesse’s Jack in the Box and Secretum Cista)
Sealed Solution Sheet and Certificate of Authenticity

Captain’s Grade: Ye Olde 5 Sinatras


Check out Jesse’s Website and his Facebook page!