Keep on Puzzlin’ w/ Stickman’s Keep Locked

Keep Locked (Stickman #36)

Rob Yarger, 52 copies, 7″ x 6″ x 6″

Dude. I seriously love this puzzle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Rav’n

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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

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)


D7: Judgment Day – Angry Walter by Dee Dixon

Angry Walter

Dee Dixon

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

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

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

Rev. 21:1 (as told to fivesinatras)

Dee posted a teaser pic of the Angry Walter prototype on Discord some months back, causing my puzzlie sense to begin tingling. His 7th puzzle box (not including a couple one-off designs), AW is an aesthetic departure for Dee and is a move that has paid off: there is something about it that is just really freakin’ cool from the moment you set eyes on it, the concept is fun and there are plenty of potentially puzzle-able parts that will cause most puzzlers to crave the opportunity to try and poke at them.

I was fortunate enough to get an early copy, with puzzling that is identical to later batches while featuring some woods/details that differ a bit from the final version’s roasted curly maple, peruvian walnut, cherry and padauk. At Dee’s request, I conferred with the puzzle gods and learned of Walter’s future history, the story behind his anger. I shared what I learned with Dee and felt compelled to include the less-abridged version above. As I write this, I realize that this makes Dee’s puzzles the most written about on this site, alongside Space Case, Portal, Spirit Box and an early maze box and Blinded III prototype that turned out to be quite different from the final puzzle. (Gee – that makes this #5! How fitting 😉

AW is about 4.75″ square (not counting his g-ears) and half that in depth (including his nose). His eyes, g-ears and nose all protrude and both the eyes and mouth appear likely to be removable. It is most definitely sd, with multiple compartments and bits and bobs to discover and use as you work your way through the solution. It is probably the longest of Dee’s puzzles in terms of discrete steps, with WMH not too far behind (I haven’t written a solution to WMH yet, despite being asked very nicely (sorry Dee, I really am gonna do it) but I am pretty sure AW comes out ahead).

It is pretty straightforward to begin the puzzle but I hit a wall immediately after. There was quite a bit of poking and prodding before an idea struck me with a slap to the head, allowing me to make a (very) little bit of progress before hitting another, larger wall. Eventually, I had a great a-ha and found my way through several more steps to what I thought was the solution. One of the best surprises’ a puzzler can get is to learn that the end of a good puzzle is not actually the end. So I went back to it, finding some things that should have been enough for me to know better and that led me into a sequence of several more steps before finally reaching the clear conclusion. In the end, there had still been a good amount of puzzling to be done; what I thought was a good puzzle turned out to be a great puzzle with a fun and fairly lengthy solve.

AW has several challenges big enough that puzzlers could be stumped for a while by any one of them, although there are always some who manage to breeze through mechanisms the rest of us stare blankly at as the puzzle gets comfortable sitting semi-solved in our backlog. AW didn’t have to wait too long for me as it is the kind of puzzle that just begs to be solved, with a difficulty and rhythm right where I like it: slap your head aha’s as opposed to sidelong glances of meh or eye rolls of ugh. To my puzzled mind, AW doesn’t have any of the latter two and has plenty of the first.

AW is challenging but not annoying and, most importantly, it is legit puzzling fun – perhaps the story and appearance have something to do with its success but the puzzling most definitely does. I guess I am not the only puzzler to be lured in by Mr. Walter’s strained grimace and asymmetrical appearance; from what I’ve heard, the other puzzlers that got early copies have said equally good things about it and the recent general release of the first batch apparently sold out in seconds. If you want to help protect us from Walter’s ire, I know Dee has at least one more batch planned on his site but I’m not sure if or how many more will come after that; there may yet be hope for Walter’s dreams of world domination and destruction, so keep an eye out if you want to help us puzzle our way out of it.

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

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

A Comprehensive Guide to the Coin Release and Sequential Discovery Puzzles of Rex Rossano Perez, being a treatise in 14 parts

Rizal, Aquinaldo, Barasoain, Kusing 25, Walang Galang, Katmon, Apolaki, Visayas, Mindanao, Sanib, Bella, Abrihi, Unluck #4, & Luzon

Rex Rossano Perez, Acrylic

Sometime in 2019, not too long before I would discover and join the mechanical puzzle discord group, I saw Visayas by Rex Rossano Perez pop up on PuzzleParadise; it was not so easy to find affordable sequential discovery (SD) puzzles at the time. This was a year or two before Alan from layerbylayerpuzzles would create Bolt Action and its brethren or PuzzledByPiker would create Free the Five or Tye from NothingYetDesigns would create Pair O’ Dice or Brandon from Puzzled Wolf would create Ansel… Puzzles seemed to come out much less often in the olden days of yore, pre-2019, before CR had garnered as substantial a puzzling audience and Covid sent people home to discover that there is great fun to be had with the right bits of wood, metal, and plastic.

As a puzzle with a particular affection for take-apart puzzles, it is not surprising that I find Coin Release to be an excellent sub-genre (after boxes, of course); whether relying on sequential movement (SM) or some kind of trick mechanism (or a mixture of both), I am always drawn to the mystery surrounding a goal with no clear path. Upon seeing Visayas available for pre-order, I was taken by the coin release-iness of it and quickly mashed the buy-out button to await the puzzle’s release.

(Rex tends to sell pre-orders for Buy-Out on PP (using a set price rather than an auction) and states in the listing that shipping will occur after a certain date; I am always happy to order when I can and receive whenever it’s ready – while some puzzlers may hesitate at the sight of a pre-order, there is really no need to do so with Rex: he is a legit and well-known puzzle-maker whose pre-orders are consistently fulfilled. PuzzleParadise is Rex’s main way to sell direct; a few of his puzzles have also been sold in the past by CubicDissection and you can usually find a few designs on PuzzleMaster at any given time – it has several at the time of this writing. I should also mention that Rex produces puzzles from other genres and designers as well – a bit more about this at the end of this post).

After paying the invoice, I did what I generally do upon finding a new puzzle or designer: I scoured the puzzle blogs for information, learning that there were a number of other, somewhat similar looking puzzles by Rex as well (you can check out some of these posts from PuzzleMad, Jerry’s/JL Puzzles, and GF’s Puzzle Collection).

Visayas was the first Rex Coin Release (RCR) that I received and it would take me long enough to solve that I would first end up buying and solving others in the series before finally getting a discord nudge that got me through the opening with a great and powerful “Aha!” Since then, Rex has continued to design new RCRs and other SD puzzles, while occasionally re-releasing older designs as well.

I figured this post might be useful to those who may be curious about Rex’s puzzles generally or any one in particular; selfishly, it was good excuse to re-solve (and open) each of the 14 existing RCRs and do a brief write-up of each. The goal of most of these puzzles (except when it isn’t) is to release the captive coin that can be seen through the circular window on the front the puzzle. The coins on Rex’s are generally Philippine piso or centavos but some later releases decided to forego the coin (likely, to some extent, due to some silly rules about shipping coins internationally…. which is obviously just NATO trying to protect Big Pharma’s fear of puzzle-based mental health support: 3 out of 4 nerds agree: “it’s more effective then (prescription) drugs!”). Some recent reproductions of earlier RCRs have included acrylic coins instead of real currency. Rex evolved and this became an opportunity to thematicize (themate?) RCRs by integrating small tokens into the design, making the acrylic “coins” into playful elements that tie into some other discoveries made along the way. Regardless of whether it is a coin, token, or another goal entirely, the series includes a diverse group of puzzles that vary widely in terms of mechanism, style, and difficulty.

Ok lets (finally) look at some puzzles!

Note on Potential Spoilers: I will not be describing any of the specific steps or mechanisms nor showing pictures of anything other than a puzzle in its reset state; however, Rex’s puzzles generally blend SM and SD mechanisms and I thought it would be helpful to say which type is favored in any individual puzzle. I do not consider this to be a spoiler but wanted to mention it nonetheless.

(Arranged in mostly chronological order of design/original availability)

Rizal

2.75″ x 2.25″ x 0.5″, Blue and Black, 5 Layers, 1 Piso

This is the first RCR (I believe) and is probably the least difficult of the bunch – even still, you may find some aha’s as you figure out whether you’re actually on the right track or not. At first, it seems simpler than it is; there are no apparent openings or protrusions on any of its sides and there only seems to be the one panel on the top and bottom. As you begin making some tangible progress through its SM mechanisms, you will realize that there is a bit more going on before this coin will be yours. Resetting the puzzle is essentially solving it in reverse and affords you the opportunity to clarify how you solved it; it can be easy to miss a detail or two that might complicate things in reverse, but it is mostly clear.


Aquinaldo

2.75″ x 2.25″ x .75″, Black and Yellow, 6 Layers, 5 Piso

Aquinaldo takes things a bit further, increasing the thickness of the puzzle to further develop the complexity of the SM mechanism. There is an obvious double-layered panel passing vertically through the puzzle, with a skinny bar passing perpendicularly through the bottom. This puzzle also features a second goal, to “find the hidden secret,” adding more puzzling to the experience. This added goal shows how Rex is looking at ways to maximize the square footage the puzzles’ footprints provide, giving the puzzler more to do sometimes even after the coin has been released; in this case, the additional goal extends the solution a bit and leads to a better understanding of the puzzle’s complexity. The reset is mostly the puzzle in reverse, although I found the second goal to give me a bit of trouble as I had to work out what had happened where; a bit of logic and observation and you can clarify things and get the puzzle back to its initial state. This all makes for a fun SM puzzle, although perhaps not overly difficult.


Barasoain

2.75″ x 2.5″ x 0.75″, Gray, Blue & Red, 6 Layers (5 full and two half layers), 10 Piso

Barasoain again steps up the overall complexity and begins to integrate some SD elements into its mechanisms. The appearance alone makes the added complexity (as compared to Rizal and Barasoain) clear, with multiple sections on the top and bottom that appear as though they may do something, as well as a small protrusion at the top and a hole on the back. If you have solved the previous two RCRs, you may make some relatively quick progress, leading to something that clearly does something else….. only, that something else doesn’t seem to be happening! This puzzle had me confused for longer than I’d care to admit, and was the first of Rex’s puzzles to make me wonder if there was something wrong with it (there wasn’t). Some close and careful observation, combined with a bit of trial & error (and perhaps a bit of that thinking thing), and you should find yourself past this wall, gaining access to the coin. Resetting is straightforward, just reverse the steps and it is ready for someone else (or for you to try again in a year or two when you’ve forgotten how it works….. not that this ever happens to me, of course).


Kusing 25

3.25″ x 3.25″ x 0.5″, Red & Black, 5 Layers, 1 Piso

Kusing 25 is a fan favorite – I considered it one of the top two or three RCRs until some recent releases surpassed it, which doesn’t make Kusing any less good: the difficulty ramps up significantly, with layers of complexity that go well beyond the previous entries in the series. It is significantly larger than previous RCRs, and is the first to feature holes and/or moving sections on all 6 sides, with a thick bar passing perpendicularly through the bottom. The SD elements are more significant, interacting with the SM mechanisms in dynamic ways that make for more possibilities than mere trial & error can comfortably account for – yes, this may be enough to luck you through, but pay close attention and think and you can intentionally work out the steps to solve it. This is a puzzle that I’ve heard many a puzzler say that they needed to re-solve multiple times before they could really understand it; the more time you spend with this one, the more you begin to realize just how much stuff is going on under the hood.

Speaking of which, this was the first RCR that I decided to completely disassemble (sorry, Johnny Five) to see exactly what is going on inside – I am glad I did as it is even more complicated than I had thought! It was very cool to see just how many little bits of acrylic are used and to check how closely my mental image matched the actual puzzle (I’d give myself a B-). I have since made a habit of disassembling his puzzles after solving them – figuring out how it all goes together can be a puzzle on its own, especially if you let it sit in pieces for a few weeks! Just be warned: there’s a lot of individual pieces in there, oftentimes more than you may realize (even in some of the simpler ones), so be sure to open it above a catch-all or dice tray (or whatever you tend to use). While the screws and such can be replaced, everything else is a custom piece and replacing those won’t be as easy.


Walang Galang

2.75″ x 3″ x 0.9″, Green, Blue & White, 7 Layers (6 normal and 2 thin), 5 Piso

Rex continues to impress with Walang Galang, yet another step up in complexity, difficulty, and fun-esstness resulting in a puzzle that also tends to be at one of many puzzlers favorite RCRs. Seemingly random holes are on three sides, with multiple panels that look like the may do something and a hole on the back. The puzzle again mixes in some SD (more than Kusing, I’d say) to give you a bit more control over some aspects of the puzzle, while also confusing things considerably. There is a lot to get through and after some fairly quick initial progress and a false sense that the path was clear, I quickly hit a big wall; despite having things to do, it was difficult to obtain a sense of progress as I chased my tail for quite some time before eventually figuring out what else needed to be done. There would still be several more walls to overcome before I could arrange everything I had discovered into something that made sense. There is enough feedback to work out much of the puzzle and you will benefit from some careful mapping; random poking and prodding and tilting really didn’t get me anywhere except confused. Even still, when I re-solved it and took it apart, I realized that I still hadn’t really understood a good third of what was going on; the amount of complications I discovered was more than I had deduced when working on it. Honestly, WG may have even been a bit too hard for me – I perhaps had more fun with Kusing – but WG earned me some serious self-satisfaction when I finally surmised the solution.


Apolaki

3.5″ x 3″ x 0.75″, Yellow & Gray, 7 Layers (2 double and 3 nornal), 1 Piso

Apolaki rolls back the difficulty from Kusing and WG, making for a more approachable puzzle that again combines SD and SM. There are holes on both the front and back, the coin in one and a narrow channel in the other. Symmetrical holes are on either side, with no clear indication of where to begin. While on the easier side of the RCRs, I may have had a bit more fun solving it than with some of the really difficult ones, relying more on out of the box thinking leading to a good aha moment as opposed to careful mapping. It also provides a real sense of progress, once you are able to work out the basic structure of its mechanisms. This was not a puzzle that had me randomly poking and tilting (well, not as much as some others, at least) and it feels, to some extent, like a departure from some of the other types of mechanisms used in other RCRs. Solving it gave me a good amount of clarity, causing its inner workings to closely match what I had pictured when solving it.


Visayas

2.5″ x 2.5″ x 0.75″, Black & White, 7 Layers, No Coin (Find the Star)

Although not technically an RCR as it has no coin, Visayas shares the same aethetic and nonetheless belongs in the series. Its goal is to “find the star,” the meaning of which is not readily apparent when looking at the puzzle (nor is it necessarily apparent later on; deducing the goal is itself a part of the puzzle). It is smaller than the last few RCRs and there is an empty hole on each side: one black and one white, both appearing to be fixed in place. A little piece of acrylic hangs out from the bottom, moving a bit in two dimensions without doing anything obvious. This was the first RCR I tried and is still one of my favorites, although perhaps general consensus goes both ways, with some people loving it and others not so much. I had a more difficult time getting started on this one than perhaps in any others (not just because it was my first RCR) and I needed a nudge before making that first aha and making some sense of what was going on and doing what needed to be done. Finally getting somewhere, I was able to progress fairly quickly until slamming smack into a wall that would take some seriously out of the box thinking to overcome. The puzzle features a bit of SD and has one particular aha moment that made me laugh out loud. Although one aspect can be a bit fiddly, there is another step that I find to be quite elegant. Visayas is a bit paradoxical: it is rather simple inside and yet the solution is tricky and wholly unique. It is still one of my favorite RCRs, although I suppose you always remember your first.


Mindanao

4″ x 3″ x 0.9″, Black, Reddish Brown & White, 7 Layers, No Coin (Find the Star)

Mindanao goes even further into unique territory, following up on Visayas to once again “find the star”. It is a puzzle that has been downright controversial: puzzlers seem to either love or hate it, responses that are even more extreme than with Visayas or Abraham’s Well. This is one of the largest puzzles in the series and is unique in that there is no circular hole on either the front or back; instead, there is a white hexagon on one side and small holes that form the broken outline of a circle on the back. The sides have no holes or panels and the top and bottom have a small hole with a single panel on top.

It is possible to make some good progress before too long; some of it comes without too much difficulty and then you must begin experimenting and paying close attention to start making sense of things, with the puzzle incorporating a bit of SD into the solution. I was able to figure out how pretty much of all of it worked before I hit a wall even higher than that on Visayas. This one took me quite a while and required some thinking that was way outside the box before an idea hit me that brought me to the solution (there may have been a nudge in there as well). Mindanao has an aha moment that I don’t believe I have seen in any other puzzle and which once again earned a laugh from me – whether you like it or not, this puzzle is original. So, if nothing else, come for the controversy and then stay for the fun.


Sanib

3″ x 3″ x 0.75″, Gray & White, 6 layers, Ghost Piece

It seems that Rex had been running into some customs issues shipping coins internationally, which helped lead to some creative alternatives. Rex takes a thematic turn with Sanib, which eschews the coin for an angry-looking ghost that must be freed from where it is stuck behind bars in the hole that would typically hold a coin. The back has a narrow hole in one corner and there are a number of holes and panels on all four sides, along with a small protrusion on the top.

Sanib is the first in the series to really rely heavily on SD even more so than SM. Some random poking and tilting may afford you some progress, but you will need to stop and think about what you are doing in order to free the ghost. It is most definitely one of my favorites RCRs, combining an amusing theme with logic-based SD puzzling that uses SM mechanisms that have plenty of feedback and simply make sense as you solve it. There is quite a bit going on and taking it apart was a fun way to see it all laid out; solving it requires enough thought that I had been able to work out pretty well what was going on and I could appreciate the design all the more by seeing it packed neatly into a relatively small space.


Bella

2.75″ x 3.75″ x 1″, White & Blue, 8 Layers, Dog Coin

Bella continues on the path Sanib began, further developing Rex’s SD skills and thematic design while increasing the difficulty considerably. Bella is the biggest RCR yet, with a large dog-faced coin trapped behind bars on the front, a protruding disc with a paw print on back, and a number of holes on all six sides: it is definitely not a simple puzzle.

I found there was quite a bit to do from the start; there is a mix of linear and non-linear progression that allowed for some entertainingly confusing options. I got stuck more than once before hitting a major wall towards the end of the puzzle; there were several things that seemed like they should do something and a few things I’d thought might work, but nothing actually did much of anything. I’d collected a few bits of this or that and had to really explore, experiment, and examine in order to come up with what led me to the solution. And man was it tricky! For the most part, this is not something that you will accidentally solve nor will luck be of much help: the solution requires intentional and discrete steps the majority of the time. This is my personal favorite of the series as it is both legitimately challenging and fun.


Unluck #4

5.25″ x 6″ x o.5″, Gray & Yellow, 4 Layers (3 normal and two thin), 5 Centavos

Unluck #4 brings us back to the use of coins while departing aesthetically from the rest of the RCR series; rather than the layered rectangles of the other RCRs, this looks like an oversized acrylic padlock, with the coin in the center and a panel passing horizontally through its body. The goal, of course, is to free the coin and open the shackle. The description on the original listing refers to the (semi)blind maze that is the majority of the mechanism but Rex has added some elements to complicate things. This is a SM puzzle, similar in some ways to a few of the earlier RCRs (and one in particular), but it is still unique to his puzzles, incorporating a new wrinkle that requires some thought to figure out. While not overly difficult, there is a good aha moment and it takes some time and planning to solve. The lock mechanism is fun and lends a sense of added satisfaction to the eventual solution. No need to take this one apart; once solved you will see most of what was going on and what you maybe can’t see, you’ll have already figured out. One of the great things about SM is that luck rarely plays much of a role in the solution, providing the solver with the sense of satisfaction that comes with earning your success.


Abrihi

3″ x 4″ x 0.3″. Orange & Blue, 5 Layers, No Coin

Abrihi isn’t a coin release nor does it look like any of the RCRs (other than Unluck #4) – still, I figured I would include it as it is another great SD puzzle from Rex. While it is somewhat similar in appearance to Unluck #4 (albeit considerably smaller), it is nothing like it: Abrihi is shaped like a lock and the goal is (obviously) to open the shackle but, in contrast to Unluck #4, Abrihi is mostly SD, with a good amount of trickery involved. This one eluded me for some time, with the final steps sitting high atop a wall for quite a while. Eventually, with a bit of a head smack, I had the final aha and solved it. I had a pretty good overall understanding of how it worked and yet, opening it up to look inside, I discovered a few things that were more complex than I’d realized . This is not a puzzle where you are likely to solve it by luck; as with his other puzzles that are primarily SD, you need to comprehend what is going on inside in order to reach the end, although a bit of luck can’t hurt.


Katmon

Green & Red, 7 Layers, 25 Centavos

Katmon is the only existing RCR that I do not actually have (and am unfortunately unlikely to get, much to the consternation of my inner completist collector). This was commissioned by a puzzler who sent me a couple pics to include here and told me a bit about its mechanism: the puzzle shares its basic aesthetic with most of the RCRs, adding a wide vertical panel and two small protrusions on one side. It is essentially an SM puzzle that is “N-Ary based”; interestingly, it requires a fairly high number of moves as compared to most of Rex’s other mostly-SM RCRs. Matt did offer to bring it with him the next time we have the good fortune to puzzle irl, so I hope to give it a try sometime down the road.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is kat-a.jpg
Name has been redacted for national security reasons under FOIA Order Section 3.3(b)(2)

Luzon

Black & Orange, 8 Layers, No Coin (Find the Blue Star)

Luzon is the newest in the series, currently on its way to a few lucky puzzlers (including me :-). It features an orange frame on its face, with some rune-like symbols inside. There are three holes on the face as well, including a diamond shaped hole in the center. The goal is to “find the blue star” and Rex has said that this is the final Find the Star puzzle in the series (along with Visayas and Mindanao). It is described as SD and I am looking forward to solving it (or trying to, at least). Rex also said that “if you are not a fan of the previous [find the star puzzles], then this is not for you.” As mentioned above, the two previous star puzzles in the series have been a bit contentious; I personally think that they are great puzzles with unique aspects and fun mechanisms, so I am looking forward to Luzon. (I will add in an update once I have had a chance to try it).

(pic taken from original PP listing)


Well – that’s it! Hopefully, some folks found this useful (and maybe a few even made it to the end!). I am a big fan of Rex’s RCRs and both his SM and SD designs: they can offer great puzzling value (especially if you manage to get them direct from Rex when listed on PuzzleParadise).

It is worth noting that these are not the only kind of puzzles that Rex produces and / or designs (some of which can be found on PWBP). He has excellent acrylic skills that he puts to great use, giving puzzlers the chance to try puzzles from a number of genres: Tray Packing, Restricted Entry, & Sliders, Interlocking Assembly & Disassembly, and 3D Packing & Apparent Cubes. The puzzles are from a diverse group of designers, including himself, Haym Hirsch, Goh Pit Khiam, Tamas Vanyo, Oleg Smol’yakov, Lucie Pauwels and Alexander Magyarics (quite probably others, as well). I have bought several of these over time and can confidently say that all are well-made and some are crazy hard (I am pretty sure that Oleg’s Slider, Around, is physically impossible), oftentimes for as little as $20-30. While I can’t keep up with every single puzzle he produces, I will always (always) buy any new RCR or SD puzzle he makes without hesitation, sight/description unseen. If you are more cautious with your puzzle money, hopefully this post can help you narrow down the ones you think might most delight and challenge your inner puzzler. In my opinion, you really can’t go wrong, although of course some may better hit your particular puzzling itch.

I will try and add to this post as future RCRs and SD puzzles are released by Rex; feel free to mock or shame me should I forget (not that the interweb needs anyone’s permission to do that).


Overall Grade: Five Sinatras



Does anyone else find this picture oddly disturbing? Like the out of focus puzzles in back are ghosts staring at their recently slain brethren? Or maybe they’re apathetic onlookers, having just seen too much to show surprise at what has befallen those before them?
………no? Just me, then?
Oh.
…..that’s probably not good.

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

Abraham’s Well

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Dabbit Invasion

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

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

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

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

Duck + Rabbit = Dabbit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grade: Five Sinatras

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

Twisted: Box of the Celts by Matt M.

Box of the Celts

Matt M., Numbskull Puzzles, 5″ x 5″, PLA

Matt M. (FroodLoops on Discord & Reddit) teased an sd puzzle box on discord about a year ago – I’d been fortunate enough to see it right away (ok, “obsessive enough” might be more accurate) and politely began harassing him with the occasional friendly poke to make sure I was still on the list (yes, I may have forgotten whether I’d asked – in my defense, I believe that the design changed significantly at some point along the way and pretty much became an entirely new puzzle).

Anyhoo, a few weeks ago I got word that the puzzles would soon start rolling out; a couple weeks later and there it was: bigger and heavier than expected at about 18 oz. (Matt had forewarned of some significant puzzling being inbound, and I was nonetheless pleasantly surprised and more than a little impressed). Big and green, Box of the Celts is a cylindrical printed sd puzzle box that integrates a number of different puzzling types in ways that are, I believe, wholly unique. It managed to expand some of my puzzling horizons while posing a significant challenge, not to mention a helluva lot of fun and puzzling value.

This is the type of puzzle that just begs to be finished – it took me several hours over the course of a few days to make it through (with perhaps a nudge or three along the way). It has a great rhythm: several puzzling phases, each with distinct and varied puzzle mechanics that link and overlap through the transitions, all posing multiple challenges with legit aha’s to be discovered in order to progress.

These are a few of my favorite rules…

As I mentioned, this is a plastic print of a puzzle and I want to be clear that it is a quality plastic print of a puzzle. The print does not skimp in any way, with high density and layer height. I am sure this means a lot of time in the build process but it pays off (the biggest piece alone apparently takes about 36 hrs to print!).

Not only is there a lot going on in there, but there are some elements that were downright impressive in Matt’s ability to safely produce the needed parts in plastic: strong enough to comfortably withstand what needs to be done, sometimes to my surprise as the nature of some aspects would seem to pose a significant challenge to the maker – at no point did I actually need to worry as the print is dense and feels more than solid, and even the parts that seemed like they might be flimsy due to their comparatively slight appearance turned out to be quite strong.

At many points along the way I was also impressed by some of the nuanced design elements that were included – honestly, there are some small but signifcant choices that I found to be pretty sophisticated, especially considering this is his first design (afaik). I know some came as a result of play-testing, but still…. some small additions ensured that even the most challenging parts kept from ever feeling unfair or annoying (assuming you’re paying attention – I definitely spent some time hitting walls before realizing I’d missed a clue).

The first phase could easily be a standalone puzzle in itself and helped me to appreciate a type of puzzling I don’t have much experience with; I got lost on this early part for quite some time, thinking I’d be making progress only to end up in the same place (or backwards). It took a bit of thought and planning to make it out and was super satisfying along the way – lots of little ahas just in this first section of the puzzle.

Having made it through this section, I futzed around through a transition to the next: each phase has its own challenge(s), with at least one or two really great steps in each that lead to quality ahas. It feels like he started with a few broad ideas and kept falling onto more comparatively smaller ideas and found ways to integrate them organically. It packs in a lot of puzzling without ever feeling like there are any extraneous steps that are there just to stick something in (which I think is something that even a lot of really good puzzles may sometimes have).

The next phase proved to give me a LOT of trouble, to some extent physically but mostly because it is just really tricky. Eventually, I found a few things that helped as I struggled to find my way through this challenging section, oftentimes progressing and exposing more information, only to realize I would need to regroup and backtrack in order to go forward. Some is due to the mechanism itself and some due to the way information is provided bit by bit, cycling through trial & error and observable data.

Finally, I got through this section and could just feel that the puzzle was almost over: while the most difficult parts were behind me, the last section still proved tricky, the puzzle playing with some assumptions that required more thought and observation to recognize and overcome, with the puzzle once again including some subtle design elements that give you just enough info to avoid blindly flailing about. Finally, I discovered something that clearly told me I had reached the end of the twisted, puzzling journey and I basked in the glory of my brilliance 😉

After some moments of satisfied appreciation, I began the process of rebuilding and resetting the puzzle. By now, I had accrued quite a lot of plastic bits and bobs and the puzzle was more than a little lighter than when I had first begun. However, it was clear what went where, despite several days having passed since I had started working on it. This is not to say that it was always easy to go back – some parts were basically just as challenging in reverse, although having made it through once I was able to make comparatively short work of it (key word: comparatively). To me, this just speaks to the substantial puzzling value afforded by this novel creation, as the reset proved almost as satisfying as the solve.

Overall, the puzzle has phases that can be done while watching tv with an npso, fidgeting and wandering about, but then some parts must be done with full focus and close observation, the puzzle goggles having made several appearances to keep progressing.

So, yeah, Box of the Celts: get ’em while (when) you can. I am not sure how many there will be, so if you like what you read, I’d suggest reaching out sooner rather than later – as a great(?) puzzle parody songwriter once wrote: “the list is long, I want on, cyber-stalking you, now it’s on.”

For now I think a discord or Reddit DM is the primary way to find him: FroodLoops, you can also now email him: numbskullpuzzles at gmail.


Grade: Five Sinatras

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

Waiting to Take You Away: The Tippenary Mystery Tour by Jack Krijnen

The Tippenary Mystery Tour

Jack Krijnen, 30 copies, 4.5″ x 5″ x 5.3″

Lalalalalalalalalalalaaaaaa…… The Tippenary Mystery Tour is coming to take you away… coming to take you away, take you awaaaaaaaaay!

I have been politely and patiently cyberstalking Jack Krijnen for some time now, particularly after learning that he had begun working on his second puzzle box; after some months of his newest creation being teased, I was happily surprised to get an email from him with the chance to get a copy of this new, limited box release of 30 copies. Needless to say, my answer was a resounding “yes, please!” and the package was soon on its way across land and sea and into my eager, puzzling hands.

TTMT is a truly fun and unique puzzling experience: the only negative is that it is so hard to talk about it without giving anything away as you are initially able to see only a very small portion of the puzzling the box ultimately contains. Jack described it by saying that it is “sequential (puzzle) discovery, it is riddle solving, it is n-ary, and in the end there is a challenge waiting.” This is, of course, all perfectly accurate, but the unique, genre-blending nature of its multi-tiered puzzle experience is hard to communicate; if only there were a puzzler capable of speaking at length without communicating much of anything at all.perhaps someone with a good (?) sense of humor and an arbitrary rating system….

The box is pretty sizable, and Jack puts the majority of its interior space to use. Looking at pics, you can discern how to first approach its initial puzzle, and such discernment is likely to yield results; however, the puzzle is going to subtly play with expectations before granting progress and this was true for me from the start. I’d soon descended deeper into the box, arriving at its next challenge, which is a really fun blend of riddling and multiple puzzle types that makes for a very original challenge.

There were several ways to approach this next section, and all of them were going to require some good, old-fashioned thinking (and more than a little note-taking) to make sense of it. Figuring out what means what and what needs to happen is only half the fun, as execution is at least as challenging. I’d found that while some of my puzzling had been correct, there were some things I had missed; going back to the drawing board, I’d found that I had been correct about one part, but for the wrong reason – it took more notes and thinking to make sense of this before I could re-execute a modified version of my puzzling plan and find I had successfully navigated through this next level of the puzzle. Some of my initial deductive leaps had paid off, but needed to be further corroborated by straight puzzling to break through this section.

The next section wasn’t too difficult for me, mostly as it is a puzzle type with which I have a decent amount of experience and knew how to tackle. Having passed through, I momentarily thought that I had completed the puzzle, having discovered….. something cool. However, after puzzling in circles for a time, I realized that the box is hiding even more interesting puzzle trickery! I spent quite a bit of time here, going around and around, wondering if I had missed anything and what it could have been, before semi-stumbling into a laugh out loud aha that had me figuring out yet another puzzling secret, which would lead me to yet another puzzling secret or two before I would finally have solved the box in its entirety. After several great puzzling moments, this finale was surprising and ensured that a really cool and original puzzle was something absolutely memorable and unique.

While the first rule of TTMT may well be to not talk about TTMT, I must say that it wonderfully manages to bring together so many different types of puzzles into one, cohesive whole: the various puzzles and challenges are distinct but interconnected and it almost feels like being taken on a tour of the various types of challenges mechanical puzzling can offer, wrapped up in a pretty box of maple and mahogany. The box connects well with some of Jack’s past work, which links past and present in a cool way; as someone who is still in his first decade of legit puzzling, this was a really nice feeling: he created the ability for us to connect to some puzzling history in a direct and tangible way that provides the box with a greater context, which I appreciated and enjoyed. Now if I could only get my hands on a Jack in the Box…….. 😉


Overall Grade: Five Sinatras