Three Little Puzzle Cubes Are We: MW Puzzles

3 the Peg, Penny Pincher and Lib Orb Rate

MW Puzzles, Approx. 2″

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.

Penny Pincher

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!


Falling to Me: Angel Box by Wil Strijbos

Angel Box

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

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

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

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

Angel Baby Atop Puzzle Hamster: A Perfectly Puzzled Picture

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

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

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

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

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


Lost All Over: Red Herring Box by Doog

Red Herring Box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“Glamour & Glitter, Fashion & Fame” – Jammed Gem by Eric Fuller & Frederic Boucher

Jammed Gem

Eric Fuller & Frederic Boucher
3.4″ x 2.7″, Sapele & Black Palm box w/Ebony pieces

The awesomeness that is ResQ (based on the almost as awesome, wholly unique VisitorQ) must have helped bring two amazing puzzle-designers back for another team-up: Eric Fuller has once again taken a characteristically awesome packing puzzle by Frederic Boucher (Minima XIV, the latest in his Minima series) and turned it into a characteristically awesome SD puzzle from CubicDissection. Anytime two of my favorite makers co-design a puzzle, I am going to be mashing that Buy button upon release. And such enthusiasm is well-deserved: Jammed Gem is unique, challenging, pretty and fun.

Frederic is a prolific designer, putting out great (and truly hard) designs so fast they sometimes fly under the radar; some get brought back to a more mainstream audience via CD or Osho but many just find their way into the hands of too few puzzlers (case in point: how many of the first 13 Minima puzzles have you tried? Not enough.) Such is the puzzling life – too many puzzles, not enough money or time. Our friend at Nothing Yet Designs has helped fill the gap, putting out some of Frederic’s difficult 2D packing puzzles (which I can almost never solve) in affordable and slick acrylic and, more recently, wood. Eric is, well, if you are not familiar with CubicDissection then what are you doing reading this? Get over there and do some rabbit hole diving – you will be happy you did.

Minima 8, Jammed Gem & Minima XIII (made by Frederic – check out the wild angles on those pieces!)

Enough background and fluffery (yeah yeah, we get it, Eric and Frederic are awesome, blah blah blah….. does this fivesinatras guy ever stop with the effusive praise? No, no I do not).

The Minima series are 3D packing puzzles that involve seriously tricky rotations, the box designed carefully to allow just enough movement in the right places, holes placed in various spots to allow fingers or pieces (or both) to get through. Jammed Gem takes this and flips it, making it a disassembly puzzle in which the puzzler must remove the pieces and find the gem (duh). This would be much easier than packing a Minima frame (for me, anyway) but Eric swoops in and integrates his sneakiness throughout, the two genres interweaving wonderfully. And of course this is all with the precise and perfect production we get from CubicDissection. This allows for some subtle design elements that could easily go unnoticed but are essential to the smooth functioning of the puzzle in classic Fuller fashion.

And what of these sequential discovery steps that have been integrated into the design? Well, Eric does what Eric does best: create and exploit assumptions for the best kind of challenging fun. I spent quite a long time over a couple weeks trying everything I could to get started (or so I thought) and making little to no progress. I had to take a step back (with some help from a fellow Discordian) before…. aha! Aaaaaand I was stuck again, although for not as long, before…. aha! again. Completely hooked, I worked my way slowly through the rest of the solution. Frederic’s movements are just as fun as a disassembly and Eric complicates things in a good balance, making for a great puzzling experience that demands both critical and spatial reasoning.

The reset was tricky – if you are anything like me, you can quickly forget what you were just doing or have done……………. (uh, what was I saying?…); this may give you an added challenge with the puzzle, if you need to re-discover the movements in reverse. Fortunately, everything follows some kind of logic, and (with perhaps a bit of help) I was able to get everything back to where they needed to be (unlike ResQ, which is still sitting here sadly disassembled…. I suspect I may need to seek out some assistance to put it back together (I got the ebony version which is beautiful but that much harder to reset)). In resetting Gem, I did manage to make one fatal mistake (“communism is just a red herring”) that caused a teeny bit of a dent to one piece but I managed to survive the ensuing dismay nonetheless.

I am hoping that this is not the last collaboration between these two that we will see – I happen to know that Frederic has co-designed another SD 3D packing puzzle with a puzzler who is decidedly less of an established designer (and is also a complete dork…. ahem); they are currently looking for someone to help prototype/produce (anyone? Bueller?). Hopefully we will see some progress on this soon (in the meantime there is an SD 2D packing puzzle co-designed by these same two that is aaaaalmost ready for public consumption via Nothing Yet Designs 🙂

Regardless of these nascent designs, there is plenty of puzzling to be done – more copies of Jammed Gem will be available from CD in their October 2022 release so get that page refreshed 😉


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

Rav’n

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bananas is bananas.

Bananas

Jon Keegan, 8.5 x 8.5 x 11.5cm, 1.45kg

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:

Bananarama!

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.


“Look Kids: Big Ben, Parliament,” Juno, Brian & John Had Me Stuck Going in Circles

Big Ben

Design by Brian Young, Junichi Yananose (Juno) & John Moore
Made by Brian Young
Presented by John Moore at the 2014 IPP Exchange
Winner Jury Grand Prize 2015
Papua New Guinean Rosewood, Western Australian Jarrah & Queensland Silver Ash
220mm x 55mm x 55mm

Amazing Puzzle Collaborations: Episode I – A Fan of Ben Is (a true puzzler)

Big Ben has been on my unicorn list for quite some time – years, in fact. When I finally obtained it as part of a rather elaborate trade, I couldn’t bring myself to start working on it right away. First, I just enjoyed seeing it there, ready to solve whenever I felt like it… Then I began to worry: what if all the hype has given me unrealistic expectations? I took it down off the shelf and began working on it… fast forward an hour or two and I had my answer: my expectations were spot on – Big Ben is bad ass.

Standing at about 8.6″, Big Ben towers over many a puzzle and is especially large and complex for an IPP exchange puzzle. From what I have heard, its complexity earned it an atypically high price for an exchange puzzle… a whopping $300! (If you have seen Big Ben sell at auction in the last few years you will understand the irony in this).

Its woods are wonderfully lovely although perhaps a bit rough around the edges, especially as mine had a few micro-scratches here and there. Not that it isn’t the work of a master craftsman… Brian’s work is as impeccable as always and Ben stands up against some of the best-looking puzzles in my collection. And anyway, this was an exchange puzzle, so going up against a Karakuri or another finely crafted puzzle box might not be the fairest comparison.

The goal is neatly engraved at the bottom of the puzzle, along with some well-deserved credits: “Remove Big Ben from the tower and along the way you’ll pick up Queen Elizabeth’s gold crown.” It is worth taking a moment to admire the accuracy of this statement, which overcomes the common misconception that the tower or the clock is itself Ben… but no, it is Elizabeth Tower that stands guard over all the Griswolds trapped beneath; Big Ben is the bell within said tower and we’ve gotta find it!

The clocks begin set at 9 – the final goal of the puzzle is to reset it so that all clocks show the ninth hour. According to what the instructions said, if the clocks are not so set it may not be fully reset, so maybe reset it instead before moving ahead (tbh I don’t know that it will really take away all that much from the solution… it made a great setup for some awesome alliteration though 🤓). I appreciate a puzzle that can quickly signify whether it is in its fully reset state. This is especially the case when there is this much going on under the hood, easily earning it a sequential discovery description atop its take-apart classification.

I also love a puzzle that can rope you in with some early successes only to run you smack into a wall. It sets up a great rhythm, which Ben keeps going throughout the relatively lengthy solve with different sections requiring quite different approaches. I found my way through the early steps mainly through trial & error before finding myself stuck going in circles for quite a while as I tried to make it through what comes next – I may not have become quite as insane as poor Clark, but it was a good and, more importantly, fun challenge. I could be wrong but I seemed to feel a lot of Juno’s influence in this part of the design but, truthfully, I’ve no idea who did what.

My favorite part of the solution comes in its final steps – this is where I believe that Brian’s design style really shines, crafting delightful aha’s into a tricky and satisfying resolution. The reset has its own challenges: reversing some steps is not necessarily such a simple matter. Finally setting the clocks back at 9 as instructed, I smiled at my newly conquered conquest and returned it to my Mr. Puzzle section, which is fittingly and coincidentally close to my Pluredro section.

If only Fay Wray or Jessica Lange were here…

Big Ben was well worth the price of admission, in my sometimes humble opinion. This is a puzzle that almost certainly will not be made again, so if you get a chance to try it, take it… perhaps at a puzzle party down the road 😉

A few landmark puzzles: Big Ben alongside Brian Young’s Louvre & Keith Winegar’s Capitol Politics

Loss, Blindness, Death, Anger…. and now Menace (the new Puzzle Box by Dee Dixon)

Menace

Dee Dixon, 5.25″ x 3.5″ x 2.5″ (available in Black Limba & Quarter or Flat Sawn Shedua)

It has been an eventful last few years: I lost my hammer, went blind, felt my way through the darkness of space, fell through a portal, went blind again, suffered being haunted, and survived the Walt-acalpyse……. all this only to have Dee send me something truly menacing. Needless to say (not that this ever stops me), I have gratefully enjoyed every moment of it as DEDwood Crafts has consistently produced some of the best puzzle boxes to grace my shelves.

Flat Sawn Shedua in the Front & Black Limba in the Back

Following up on Angry Walter is no small thing: it has received consistently positive praise from puzzle box enthusiasts new and old (here is my post on that beaut of a box). And yet Dee has managed to keep putting out beautiful, challenging boxes since WMH appeared just a few, long years ago. So it should not surprise anyone to hear that his newest box once again succeeds at bringing us a fun in a pretty package.

Menace uses a single wood to create a clean, sleek aesthetic that may be his prettiest box since the totally different, asymmetrically complex style of WMH. I first got a prototype in Shedua that is just gorgeous in its apparent simplicity: no protrusions, buttons or panels… just a locked lid inset into the top with a small hole to one side. Picking it up, there is no clear indication as to how one can begin to open it and I spent quite a bit of time searching for whatever first step Dee had designed.

I began developing some assumptions (quite likely as Dee intended) that would (unsurprisingly) prove incorrect, something that I would repeat a few more times before I would discover the box’s final secret. After discovering a well-hidden aha, Dee teases you with the idea that you may have already solved the puzzle; of course, this turns out to be well before the puzzle has actually been solved (which you would know if you had actually read the brief instructions….. duh). The puzzle’s length is more or less consistent with the majority of his boxes but fell into the trap of thinking I had reached the end before realizing I had not: the instructions tell us that we must find some sort of prize and, since no such prize had been found, clearly I was not yet done.

Experimentation will only get you so far with this one – I had to take a step back and rethink what I was doing and what I was trying to do, questioning my assumptions and trying to look at the box in a new way to see what else I might be able to do. With a good aha, I realized something and began following that trail to eventual success. The final compartment is pretty ingenious and most definitely sneaky – not what I had been expecting, which is always a welcome finale to any puzzle.

The prototype’s “prize” was not really all that much of a prize lol (perhaps more of a placeholder) – not that I needed the added incentive, but this did help me to justify my “need” for a copy of the final puzzle (in a different wood, of course – I’m not (totally) crazy). I had been out of town for a while and had not solved the box in long enough that I already found I had forgotten which of my many assumptions had proven incorrect! I know that I don’t generally make claims to brilliance on (or off) these virtual pages but this was a bit ridiculous (and perhaps not the greatest thing for my on-again, off-again relationship with confidence). Fortunately, it did mean that I got to repeat an aha or two, albeit it with more a sense of relief at not being a complete idiot than at the typical puzzle-solving feeling that I was the greatest mind of all time for having made a piece of wood move a few inches that way.

The prototype and final are mostly identical – Dee did tweak one thing that makes the solution’s finale a bit more difficult to do. In doing so, some of my methods worked against me – I found that the slight change makes that last bit require a better understanding of what I am trying to do, forcing me to approach the puzzle more carefully, looking back at some hints I had previously missed before I would get that final aha (enough reworking that I did indeed feel a brief bit of brilliance before coming back to reality.

The final surprise legitimately made me laugh out loud – Dee has given us another taste of his humor as in some previous boxes (Spirit and the original run of WMH, in particular). I re-solved the box several more times to marvel both at my mastery and the design…. not to mention to grin a few more times at that last laugh.

Menace will be available July 2, 2022, on the DEDwood Crafts site. It may not last long but I suspect Dee may do another run or two before moving on to whatever the next bit of fun he has planned for us.


Sun Dial’s Art of Puzzling (UPDATED: Now with more puzzling!)

Sun Dial

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

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

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

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

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

(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.



Changing It Up: Pennytentiary by Eric Fuller

Pennytentiary

Eric Fuller

Eric Fuller (of CubicDissection) has gone and got hisself a laser cutter machiney thing that can… cut… uhh…. lasers? (that doesn’t sound right…) Whatever the thing may do for mere mortals, in the hands of an adept puzzle designer like Eric, it means that we will soon be seeing some cool new challenges coming our way. I had the good luck to solve the first of these: Eric’s newest take-apart puzzle, Pennytentiary, a sequential discovery square of coin releasiness that had me smiling (once I finally stopped being stuck).

Consistent with Eric’s modus opuzzerandi, he makes laser-cut wood look good, with dark-grained panels adorning the top and bottom of the layered sides that are eye-catching and give the puzzle an added sense of class. Notches are spaced evenly around its perimeter, with a centered top “keyhole” in which a coin rests, trapped below 4 diagonal bars that slide easily back and forth with even casual movement. There is nothing else immediately visible, although close inspection may prove that to be a false assumption (a concept that crops up frequently in Eric’s designs). At about 3″ x 0.75″, it feels good in your hands; it isn’t overly heavy but neither is it light and its size is well-suited for most (human) hands. The final version will include a thin layer of acrlyic in one the middle layers, adding some strength and a mixed-medium aesthetic that I am sure will look cool.

When first looking at it, I felt compelled to attempt a pretty basic puzzle move that couldn’t help but come to mind; I assumed it wouldn’t do much of anything and (for once) my assumption proved correct, leaving me with a nice new puzzle that didn’t see to do much of anything (aside from having some potential as a maraca). Of course, this would prove to be not at all true – after a while spent exploring and experimenting, I found a well-designed aha that led me to some good initial progress, giving me plenty to work with while getting me no closer to actually solving the puzzle. I got stuck here for quite a while. And then a while more.

It took some trial & error and careful observation to make sense (cents?) of a short semi-blind sequence that stood between me and further progress; there is plenty of feedback and it is possible to deduce most of what needs to happen, assuming you paid attention during your initial explorations. I eventually got to where I thought I needed to go, foolishly thinking I might be nearing the end, only to figure something out that forced me to laugh at the puzzle’s deviousness. Following on that realization is a trick that I just think is super neat and lends a sense of magic to the solution.

I continued to make considerable progress, working my way through the kind of well-designed sd discoveries and hidden trickery that we associate with Eric’s work. I managed to get nice and stuck (again) towards the end – unsurprisingly, it turned out to largely be my idiocy that was keeping me from overcoming this last hurdle; I was fairly certain of what needed to happen and aware of some of the things that would help it happen, while apparently missing some other thing(s) that needed to happen so that it could happen. Pretty straightforward, no?

I back-and-forth-tracked for a while, thinking I would see something I had missed; the puzzle moves you along quite nicely as you solve it, and I kept looking to see if I had missed a turn. There is a lot to discover in a relatively small package and I had yet to find a purpose for every discovery; the puzzle does an excellent job of communicating where you need to go while simultaneously obfuscating how to get there. I got to be pretty certain of what and where and even how (or so I thought) – but, in classic Eric fashion, even though I was sure I knew the how, I still couldn’t find it…… there was a subtle twist that had me working against myself until I realized I had made an assumption so small I didn’t even realize it was an assumption and that last aha finally hit, allowing me to find the step that had been eluding me only to realize it was not the last aha after all! I thought for sure I would be removing the coin but it turns out there was still another sneaky sequence to suss out before the coin could be captured.

After gleefully removing the coin, I worked my way backwards through the reset – a couple sections still a bit tricky as I continued to develop my understanding of the puzzling at play. After re-solving and re-setting it a couple more times, I can confidently claim to completely comprehend the confounding cadre of coin release mechanisms nestling within this deceptively simple-seeming puzzle. And what a fun puzzle it is! It has an excellent rhythm as you work through several muti-step sequences that rely on discrete mechanisms and well-hidden sd discoveries: imagine if Rex’s best had a child with the Bolt Action series and then went on to marry Ansel and have a brief affair with Free Me 6. And if that doesn’t entice you, then I don’t know what you’re doing reading this post (unless you’re my Mom…. in which case: Hi Mom).

Pennytentiary will probably be the first of a series of coin release puzzles from CD, with ideas for other currency currently in the works. It was originally set for CD’s Feb 2022 release but due to the need to wait for some delayed hardware (and I think perhaps Eric’s admirable and ongoing quest for puzzle perfection) has been pushed to the March 21 release: it looks like this is going to be a pretty exciting drop, with a number of new and re-released puzzles to choose from. There is a chance that the relative efficiency afforded by the (sharkless) lasers may make it a design that will not need to suffer from the same level of scarcity that can sometimes affect other new CD designs – a great thing for newer puzzlers, in particular, who may be taken aback by the fervor that surrounds the typical CD release. Regardless, it is a puzzle you will not want to miss, so plan accordingly when you set your CD release alarm for next week.

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