Lost in the Weeds

Plant Cycle

Designed and Built by Christian Cormier

Plant Cycle is a limited run of 50 puzzles, designed and built by Christian Cormier as a follow-up to his Father & Son Dueling Keys. Plant features three custom keys (as opposed to Father’s two), which are protruding evenly from a BIG piece of layered metal, notched discs centered in recesses at different heights outside of each key. The top of each key has a different image cut out: seeds, stem, and flower (from where we get the name). The goal is to remove all three keys.

The first thing that you will notice should you be fortunate enough to get your hands on one, is that this thing is heavy. Like drop-it-in-a-sock-and-fight-your-way-through-hordes-of-zombies heavy. It comes with a circular piece of astroturf to thematically protect your table and shelves from this metal hulk (did I mention it was heavy?), a card with instructions, and a thin reset tool, which is not required to reset the puzzle but can certainly help. The instructions tell you that there are no magnets inside and no tools allowed (including the reset tool, obviously).

I ordered this from Christian a few months ago, and it arrived quickly, packed well and with care. It feels solid in your hands and looks very cool. And so I began turning keys. Unsurprisingly, they do not just come out, but each one can be turned this way and that, hitting obstacles and dead ends, allowing you to lift each one up and down (to some extent), but not to actually remove them from the base. I did most of my work on it with it at rest on a table, occasionally picking it up to turn it around and peer confusedly into its three faces, wondering what in the heck is going on inside. It would end up taking me many hours over several weeks (and a couple nudges from him) to fully solve it.

It is not a spoiler to say that working on this puzzles feels akin, to a limited extent, to manipulating three Revomazes that share the same base. Whether or not it can be solved in the same way is not something I will say (and considering the fact that I have never actually solved either of my Revos, I suppose I am hardly one to do so). Suffice it to say that this aspect of the puzzle is clear as soon as you start getting lost in each key’s journey up and down and all around.

I will say that there is more to the puzzle than “just” wandering through the three keyholes – Christian included a few tricks that made this puzzle stand out and be truly enjoyable. The solution had to be worked out through deduction, with a bit of help from some clues provided by the puzzle itself, in combination with trial and error and general fiddling about (and perhaps a bit of mapping).

On several occasions while working on it, I felt that I was just about to “solve” one or more keys, only to find that Christian was just messing with me. But I never felt frustrated, only mystified. And when that first, big a-ha hit, I was genuinely pleased: it made total sense and let me know, to some extent, what I needed to do, without actually knowing how to do it. This was something I had to work out intellectually before I could apply it, which to me is a hallmark of a great puzzle. And this disconnect between understanding at least this one trick and knowing how to fully implement it affords the puzzler even more quality puzzling.

Having figured out this aspect of the solve, I proceeded to make good progress, but I would still need a few more hours to fully solve this behemoth, getting lost and trapped many times, creating the need to backtrack and rethink my approach as I progressed through to the end. As I indicated, this main a-ha is not the only one, and there were other hidden features that I had to discover before I was able to get any one key out. This elicited a squawk of success, startling my sickeningly supportive spouse as I set this single key down with satisfaction, somewhat certain that I could now solve this sucker. However, Christian again seems to have planned for this, as I was not able to easily go on to remove the second and third key, and actually had to (reluctantly) re-insert the key, seemingly having overlooked something or needing to take a few steps back before I could continue forward.

Nonetheless, I was now able to find my way clear to the removal of the second key without too much trouble. But the third would elude me for quite some time, requiring more painful thinking as I tried to see what I was missing. Finally, eventually, all three keys were out, and, after the requisite happy dance, I snapped some pics for posterity and allowed it to rest peacefully before I would go on to tackle the reset. I chose to tackle this without the use of the provided tool, although I did use it at the end to make absolutely sure that all three keys were fully reset back to their starting positions.

Plant Cycle is an excellent puzzle from a relatively new creator who I am certain will bring us some new and exciting puzzles in the future – it is a unique puzzle that incorporates some mechanisms that I have not previously encountered with a novel goal. I also love this puzzle from a philosophical perspective, which may sound somewhat pedantic, but had to be said as it is not something one will generally find in a puzzle. Plant took the lessons Christian learned from Father & Son and applied the same concepts to create this apparently more difficult puzzle that will most assuredly delight and confound any puzzler and I genuinely look forward to seeing what he will come up with next.

Grade: Four and a Half Sinatras


You Deserve a Brake Today…

Snack Brake from Daniel Alterman (DanielScottWoodworks on Etsy) hit the puzzling scene from out of nowhere. It helped that Chris Ramsay did a vid on it (you know, the guy who somehow manages to solve IMPOSSIBLE puzzles all the time – somewhat counter-intuitive, but I digress) – buy mostly, it is just a unique looking puzzle, with a fun design that just makes it stand out from the crowd.

First off, it’s fun to have a puzzle box (which I’d say this is, more than anything else, at least) with a bit of a story: it’s a vending machine, and you got to get your snack out, right? But alas no coin slot! What shall I do? Well, it took me quite a while to figure out how to get my wooden snacks to drop down to the vending slot. Even then, more surprises await, a welcome double solve!

Snack Brake is a pretty big piece – it weighs a good amount, and comes with a plastic viewing window on the front, behind which you can see your wooden snack, colorful tubes extending upwards; the panel is locked and you can see a key in a little vial on the same shelf as your snack.

The whole thing is pretty colorful, and has a good, nostalgic and playful feel to it; especially when you plug it in and use the handy remote to, that’s right, light up the back! Puzzle Party over heeere!

Like I said, the puzzle has some good challenges – the opening sequence of moves was something I’ve never seen before. I especially appreciated (eventually) getting a good look at the build, which was even more original than I’d thought.

It’s also rare to have a puzzle with some electronics built in, and it made for a nice aesthetic addition to my collection.

Finally, Dan is a super nice guy – easy to get in touch with, and happy to provide some direction or just chat about the experience. He has since released his Toasted puzzle, which also looks fun and keeps with the theme of eating one’s wooden puzzle solutions, and who doesn’t love the thematic consistency of tongue splinters!

Seriously though, I think Dan is someone to watch, as he brings something of an outsider mindset to his puzzles, leading to mechanisms and themes that are unexpected and deviate significantly from many other emerging works.

Make sure to follow his shop on Etsy as his puzzles seem to fly off the cyber shelf…. maybe I shouldn’t say that as it only means more competition, but he’s just that nice! Besides, Ramsay may have already driven one or two more people than this blog.

Packing It In 2: Pack Harder

While Gretel remained unsolved (the first time), I became aware of how many excellent packing puzzles there are out there – and, unsurprisingly, Cubic Dissection held several excellent examples of my newfound delight.

I decided to take a few steps back, opting for a couple “easier” packers; mostly, I think, so I could show myself that, yes, I am actually capable of putting things into something else.

Pin Block Case is wonderfully made, as one would expect from anything from CubicDissection, with perfect dimensions that allow its pieces to juuuuust fit. True, it is not perhaps as challenging as some of its noteworthy cousins, but it does not change the fact that the solution is elegant and satisfying. Designed by Hajime Katsumoto, CubicDissection had released it as a part of their (unfortunately discontinued) Artisan series.

It is a pretty straightforward puzzle: 4 blocks with small metal pins on one side and a slot running down another must fit into a cube with one corner open. This is made much more difficult by the fact that the slots do not run the length of the block; the perfect fit into the cube creates a challenge in fitting them in despite the pins’ best efforts to the contrary.

I think that this is an excellent introduction to packing puzzles, and to wood puzzling generally; it shows how something that seems simple is not necessarily easy. What’s more, trial and error may help you to see what not to do, but the solution is best found by stepping back and, well, thinking.

Suddenly, the necessary angles and orders became clear, and they slipped in perfectly and elegantly, as though I should have known all along that is how they were meant to go. And an excellent final detail: unlike many packing puzzles, Pin Block may be displayed and shared solved without spoiling anything – all one sees are 4, apparently plain, same-sized blocks resting comfortably behind the quarter cut hole. Removing them offers the same challenge in reverse, although it should of course first be approached unsolved, as with packing puzzles generally.

Not being the most difficult puzzle is an attribute of this lovely piece; the satisfaction of the graceful solve is not lost in such relative simplicity, quickly adding packing puzzles to my addiction while putting a happily stupid grin on my face.

Packing It In: Pack Hard

I’m sure they’ll all go right back in – yeah, sure they will….

First off, I’ve decided to dispense with some of the bells and whistles to my posts, as I’ve found it prevents me from sitting down and writing. And I know my one (imaginary) follower is just salivating for more of my puzzling narratives.

Recently I began exploring packing puzzles; as one who had come to puzzles with a fascination with boxes and locks, the elusive, hidden “trick” being the main attraction, packing initially seemed a bit…. meh.

Once again, I was quite wrong! I began with Baumegger’s Gretel, quickly becoming disappointed I had not also bought her brother at the same time. First off, it is a truly lovely puzzle. The various woods are smooth and the colors play wonderfully with one another. Perhaps my favorite detail is the tiny nub at the top that secures the clear, acrylic cover (assuming you can solve it of course).

Stephen was easy to contact and talk with, and the puzzle arrived soon. For such a small, straightforward task, this thing was HARD. Maybe it is the ancient Tetris player within, but I took to it immediately. Solving it would take much longer, and in the meantime I would go on to collect several more packing puzzles.

Eventually, it just…. worked. Such satisfaction. I gleefully showed my wife, who glanced briefly over (“that’s nice, babe”), before returning her attention to the show I’d forgotten we were way supposed to be watching. My focus was all on my perfectly packed puzzle, grinning proudly (me, not the puzzle). My little cover slipped on, perfectly held in place, and off she went to join my small collection of solved packing puzzles.

Fast forward a couple weeks, and I was taking a pic to show a fellow puzzler how pretty she is: hold on…. I can’t take the pic of it solved lest too much be revealed. I’ll just dump it out; surely I can repack it, no prob.

Yes, it remains unsolved. Yes, I swear it was packed. Yes, she got moved back to her evil, unfriendly and unsolved cousins. Maybe she’s mad I didnt get her brother? Well, guess I have no choice. What’s one more puzzle? Right, it’s just one. One never hurt…… Sigh……

Puzzle Box Train(ing)

Railroad Crossing, Karakuri Puzzle Box

Akio Kamei and Shou Sugimoto,
11th Annual Idea Contest Winner, June 2019
Designed by Ichiro Sato
Unboxing Puzzle Boxes with fivesinatras

The newest puzzle box from Karakuri master Akio Kamei and Shou Sugimoto is based on a winning design of the 11th Annual Karakuri Idea Contest from Ichiro Sato. This trick box is made of Oak and Magnolia, and is a whimsical take on waiting for a train to pass, and the secrets that lurk beneath the surface, a comment on the underlying depravity of urban life and the innate search for escape…. well, maybe not, but the wood and whimsy are correct.

Not the hardest puzzle box from the Karakuri Group, as some of the more fun creations tend to be, but it still requires some creative thinking to make the few steps required to open the compartment beneath the tracks. It is pretty big and heavy, a puzzle box with some mass and heft to it, and one that looks great on my shelf, amongst its wooden friends.

And how fun it must have been for my wife to see her grown husband sitting on the floor playing train! I may have even allowed a choo-choo or two to escape my lips as I tried and failed and tried again, before showing my wife with glee the solution, complete with an imagined scene for full effect (“picture yourself in your car, the bells ringing to warn of the approaching train, searching for the correct steps that will allow you to gain access to the safety of the hidden compartment beneath your feet…..” – super cool, I know).

If you manage to get your hands on one, enjoy its weight and the light-hearted fun it carries. And let yourself play for a minute.