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……

Eggs-celling at Eggs-cellence

Unstable Eggs

CoreMods, 2019 (Available on Etsy)

First, I would like to officially state that I solemnly swear not to make any more eggs-hausting puns (…starting now).

I think I should start by saying that these are the first 3D-printed puzzles I have bought; I think many of us assume that only wood and metal-workers can bring quality fun to us puzzlers, or at least I think maybe I did. However, I am far from disappointed with the colorful assortment of trickiness that arrived today, the noise of small things shaking around betraying its contents. In fact, I think the 3D print may be a benefit in this particular case (and not just in terms of helping to keep the cost within the bounds of reason).

My initial reaction was to smile; the whimsical font on the front of a half-dozen cardboard egg crate was a good start. Opening the box, there is a sticker warning me not to expose the eggs to magnets – a good precaution to know considering the plethora of magnets hiding within the puzzles on my shelves. Thanks for the heads up.

The eggs are all brightly colored and they bear the marks of their pedigree; CoreMods tells us on his Etsy page that we should expect the texture of 3D printed materials. Honestly, I can’t really see these being made any other way: I like the weight of them and the sound comes through clearly, essential should I have any hope of ever getting these bad boys to stand at attention. The movement of whatever mechanisms hide within can be felt and heard through the 3D mold. Further, it provides for a good texture with which to grip the eggs. Perhaps most significant is the fact that, in trying to solve them, they will definitely be rolling around, sliding, dancing, and generally making merry upon my desk; I would hate to watch a wooden puzzle of this ilk go spinning around my desk. The 3D print allows me not to worry about rocking and rolling and just generally experimenting with movements that may (and so far mostly don’t) work..

The purpose / goal of these eggs, if not already apparent, is to get the eggs to stand up. Unlike Weebles, these definitely wobble and fall down. I had been wondering how many different things one could put into an egg to make such a concept difficult, without them feeling repetitive or boring. The answer is at least 6. Judging from the fact that the sticker says this is Series 1, I suspect CoreMods knows of even more.

I had also been thinking of some obvious (to me) moves that might solve such a puzzle; I worried that I would get 6 centrifugal pieces of plastic with which I would be done in a moment. This is (thankfully) NOT what I got: of the 6, I was able to get 1 to stand up with any amount of ease (admittedly using one of the methods I expected to find, the rest of which have yet to bear any fruit… or yolk, perhaps – not a pun, mind you…).

Whatever is going on inside of these guys is unclear, but I can tell that they will all require different approaches; the noise and feel of each individual egg allows me to begin to develop an image of diverse mechanisms waiting to be solved.

And, at the end of the day, that is really what this is about: we want to find a puzzle we have never seen before, executed in a new way, which is uniquely solvable. I feel that this is what I got (and at a very reasonable price, I might add – another benefit of the 3D printed puzzle). Although this may not be true for everyone, I have not seen puzzles with this same goal (I may have heard of a couple, but this is certainly not a common puzzle-type). It is a combination of dexterity and the type of lateral thinking required to open a puzzle box, as one works to understand what is happening through trial and error (and error and error) and keen observation (again, this is where the 3D form comes in handy).

Suffice it to say that I am very happy with what I got – CoreMods has come up with a novel concept that displays with fun and humor, while requiring more than a little head-scratching to make progress. Which means I will be ordering his Screwball as soon as I have all my little eggs standing in a row (so it may be a while).

Update: a couple months later and…. I did it! I got them all to stand! Well. Not bronze, of course. I mean that ones impossible. But the others just began making sense to me, for the most part. I still not 100% clear what’s going on inside of purple, but if I can ever get bronze to stabilize, I’d told myself is crack open the included solution sheets that CoreMods has said contains images of what lies within. Maybe I’ll actually get to take a look one day and see how closely my understanding matches the reality.

Grade: Four Sinatras

Updated Update: Bronze! Wow. I’m genuinely surprised I got it lol. I immediately grabbed the solutions and, as suspected, I was still way off on purple (bronze is much more complicated and a very cool mechanism that I’d probably never have dreamed up). The other four were very close to what I pictured, having built up a mental model over weeks of light shaking, ear pressed to the teeny plastic eggs, mouth screwed up in concentration (I may have looked like a crazy person, but who cares? I got my eggs to stand!). It was very satisfying to compare this schematic to the reality, and even more satisfying to get these guys to stand. I didn’t dare touch my desk for a day for fear of falling, but now I’m able to get them all to reliably stand with a bit of practice. Well, maybe not bronze. Not yet, at least.