When EWE Need a Sheep Alternative to Puzzle Boxes

EWE UFO

Kel Snache, 5.5″ x 5.5″ x 5.5″, 2020

“In what can only be described as a freaky fluffy encounter of the 5th kind, an apparent rag tag group of crafty and clever ewe’s mellifluously stormed the gates of Area 51. Witnesses say they saw what must have been their larcenous leader take command of not one, but 17 super secret flying machines!

As [we] have come to understand things from [the Captain’s] view, they don’t all enjoy being shorn. So apparently a small group hell bent herbivores decided to tell the freaky farmer to ram it, and ran!

Somehow, whether it be the grindage grazing or the foreseeable fact that they don’t have pockets, but they lost any comprehensible clue as to what they were. [We are] afraid that you all will have to sort your way through their retrofitting of this ubiquitous UFO…”

– EWE UFO Back Story (excerpt)

Kel Snache has yet again made a puzzle that is not only challenging, but also wildly unique and fun. Last year’s Puzzleduck Pastures was awesome and he has further outdone himself with a puzzle that is even more complex and satisfyingly silly than was helping Lil’ Miss Fairy Pants unlock her door. Kel has created a backstory about four sheep determined to make a break for it (and one forced to come along): the intrepid Captain Fran, and her crew of Fern, Flo, Fanni and the sheep-napped Wee Fae. The story is told in facebook posts (reproduced in 13 pages alongside pictures of his progress taken over the course of several months): the “Fluffy Five” have built a ship and we have the rare opportunity to explore it, if we can find our way inside.

EWE UFO is not quite a puzzle box – as Kel says, it is “disguised to look like one [but] there is no internal space to store tiny objects de jour.” It would be more accurate to describe it as a sequential discovery take-apart puzzle, as it will ultimately break down into 23 separate pieces after successfully navigating 32 steps (plus an additional four steps to fully disassemble it), revealing tools and red herrings along the way. The craftsmanship is excellent, with a build quality that feels like it will stay strong over time and aesthetic details that add to the sense of wonder that the puzzle brings.

EWE is a cube made of a variety of woods that seems to float a few cm above whatever surface it is on, due to the placement of the escape hatch on the bottom. All four sides are identical, except for a little acrylic portholes giving us a view of the sheep crew as they cook pizza, take a bath, extinguish a fire, and look back at us with X-Ray glasses; all except for Wee Fae, desperately reaching up to us as we look down the fifth porthole on top of the ship. Our goal: “Be the noble hero and join the quest to remove Wee Fae from the top of the craft. She just wants to go home before the others resume their zoom into space.”

Some of the portholes spin freely, while others do not. Other than this, there appears to be no way in or out. As we work out way through “six sides of play,” we must navigate through (as it says in the instructions) “a Trap Door, A Guillotine and a Four Finger Force Field,” before we can do a bit of post-solution disassembly for a “full visual tour of the Inner Core.”

The instructions at the front of a 14-page packet, which also includes detailed solution steps with accompanying pictures), informs us that there is no need for tapping and no tricky magnets. You will instead enjoy a journey through diverse mehanical mechanisms that meanders along an otherwise linear path to success. Steps build upon one another; pieces removed may serve multiple purposes or none at all; things sometimes move only to confuse us; and our assumptions will be used against us.

Escape Hatch

Throughout the puzzle, we find pieces and mechanisms that are so instantly recognizable as being from Kel; while the puzzle is totally original and quite different from any other piece of his that I have had the pleasure of working on, it also manages to have an aesthetic and method that is uniquely his.

The rhythm is exactly what I love in a puzzle: I am pulled into the experience with some early success, which pays off with some tools and moving parts that provide unknown opportunities to do…. something (maybe). From there, I hit a series of walls as I proceed through the puzzle, steps discovered in fits and starts, forcing me to backtrack and explore and question what I’ve done and what I am trying to do. Things that seem like they must do something, actually do nothing (nothing useful anyway); other things that seem to fade into the background, end up being essential to my continued progress.

After a few hours spread out over several days, I manage to remove the top porthole, liberating Wee Fae from her wooden, spacefaring prison, and finding Kel’s snake mark burned into the piece. The open porthole, as indicated in the instructions, allows me to peer into the internal mechanisms at the core of the puzzle (with the aid of a flashlight). The “further disassembly” referred to earlier, essentially consists of removing the four brass nuts in the top corners of the puzzle, allowing me to lift it off, exposing the “Inner Core,” and showing the copy’s edition number (mine is #12/17).

At this point, I was able to slide the central cube out, allowing me to see how all the varied mechanisms fit together. While not exactly a fusion drive, there is a lot going on in there! Mostly wooden pieces (with a few metal parts) are stacked and organized, with sufficient room to allow for the movement necessary to solve it. I went through the steps again, watching the internal machinations of the puzzle and appreciating it all the more for it. Reassembly was mostly straightforward, a matter of following the steps backwards. I was proudly admiring my brilliance until I noticed a piece that I had somehow left out – so I was treated to another run through the majority of the puzzle, until I found where it should go, acting as another lock on an otherwise locked piece, yet another step along the way.

From the wacky story, to the beautiful craftsmanship and complex mechanisms, and, finally, to the eventual full disassembly and exposure of the puzzle’s inner workings, EWE UFO stands among the best puzzles I have had the pleasure of working on: it is playful without being easy, challenging without being impossible, tricky without being annoying, and very unique.

(SPOILERS: click here to see some pics of the puzzle totally disassembled, including the outside and inside of the inner core, where the majority of the puzzling occurs)
Overall Grade: 5 Sinatras

Packing it in 3: Pack Hard with a Vengeance

First, there was Packing It In: Pack Hard.

Then. there was Packing It In 2: Pack Harder.

Now, it’s time for Vengeance.


(The order of these posts do not indicate relative levels of difficulty. Please puzzle accordingly).

Squary Packs, Quadro, Snake Pit, Mushkila

Yavuz Demirhan (check out his Etsy store)

In case you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of puzzles out there. A lot. Within the various subgenres of mechanical puzzle-dom, therein lies nearly infinite possibilities – who would have thought that even “just” a 4×4 cube could contain so many possibilities as to continuously bring us more TICs and Somas and so on…

Squary Packs

Some puzzles push out into their own territory, their movements and solution sitting somewhere amidst or between those that already exist. Yavuz Demirhan’s Squary Pack series is a great example of such a design: they are 2D/3D packing sliders that require you to navigate four dual-leveled pieces through a restricted one-piece-size opening at the center of the space to cover the bottom of the square box. The pieces are all flat-bottomed, with various voxels of different dimensions further complicating the solution, requiring you to slide your pieces around as you attempt to find a way to insert whichever piece needs to go in last; some of the series are further encumbered by blocks affixed to the box. You need to get all pieces in with the blocks facing up and you will find varying degrees of difficulty identifying where and when in the dance of pieces you can insert the final pieces.

The result can be quite tricky and is most definitely fun. I initially got #2 and 4 (knowing as I did that I would almost certainly end up wishing I had just gotten them all – my recent delivery of #1, 5, 7, and 8 shows I was most definitely right in thinking I had been wrong). My first impression was that they are quite attractive looking puzzles: his work is always wonderful looking and these are no exception. Dark wenge boxes with a reddish sappeli for those with blocks attached, which cover one of the two levels and protrude above the acrylic top for half that height. The pieces match the boxes with the same wenge contrasted by light ash blocks atop them. On the bottom of the box he has his logo/initials engraved above the name and # of the puzzle. Interestingly, they range considerably in the square’s dimensions (while all sharing a height of 3.5 cm): 1 & 2 are 7.5 cm, 3-5 are 9.5 cm, 6 is 11.5 cm, and 7 & 8 are 13.5 cm (ranging in price for a reasonable $30 – $50 depending on size). I’m happy to say that Yavuz is designing additional Packs, extending the series to (at least, I believe) 15.

Sitting down with the Packs, it took a minute to orient myself to what exactly I needed to do – initially, I solved my first two incorrectly by placing one of the pieces upside down (which was itself a non-trivial solve). I later learned that this was not correct and proceeded to attempt to (re)solve them correctly. It is necessary to find a way to get three of the pieces into the Pack such that there remains room for the 4th to be inserted and slid into the existing space – oftentimes requiring that the remaining pieces dance around before this becomes possible. This is complicated further in those Packs that contain internal pieces blocking the way. Each solution is unique and while these puzzles share a pleasantly consistent aesthetic, they are quite diverse. They range in difficulty: all the feedback I have heard from our fellow puzzlers has been most definitely positive, although some have felt that a couple of them were a bit easy. Regardless, I found them all to be challenging, with some being quite difficult (particularly #2 & 4). The coming versions are apparently a further step up in difficulty, and I look forward to getting them once available.

Yavuz has been making puzzles for a while and has a LOT more interlocking and packing puzzle designs out there (he has a few hundred on PWBP); while he produces his own works from time to time, it is not at all uncommon to find his works included in the puzzle releases of others (including one design set to come out in this week’s CubicDissection release). While I have a few of his designs that were made by other puzzle-makers, I also have the pleasure of owning a few more that he made himself – also 3D packing puzzles with restricted openings. His work is all wonderfully precise, using quality woods that look and feel great.

Quadro

Quadro is a small-ish puzzle whose wooden box and acrylic top share an aesthetic with the Squary Packs (the puzzle’s name also etched into the bottom). It consists of 6 identical squares that must fill a rectangular box – while not interlocking, the solution will require a rather delicate dance to allow you the chance to drop that last block in with the satisfaction the comes with finally filling this up with those. This is one of those puzzles that is more complicated than it looks without being something insurmountable – I still managed to go in circles for quite a while, even asking other puzzlers if perhaps there was a “trick” that I was missing. Eventually I actually stopped and tried that thinking thing I’ve heard so much about, soon managing to find the right moves (leaving me wondering how I had managed to do everything but the one thing that would work).

Snake Pit

Snake Pit eschews the acrylic top for an attractive mix of light and dark woods with an opening that runs the length of the puzzle and is 1/2 as wide, leaving one voxel on either side. There are 4 pairs of mirrored pieces that must find their way inside for a fun solution that was just the right level of difficulty for me.

Mushkila

Mushkila is my newest acquisition, having received it along with my second order of Squary Packs. It uses a beautiful mix of woods with lovely grain patterns that play nicely with the mix of red and dark and light brown. Interestingly, the opening is not a regular shape: it runs the length of the box (similar to Snake Pit) to allow the single rectangular piece to go in and also adds a square cut-out to allow the five angled pieces to go in at any orientation. This gives it a bit of a deco look, which meshes well with his choice of woods. I have yet to solve it, but having spent a little bit of time on it, it is clearly a non-trivial solution that should provide a fun solve while looking great on my shelf.

All of these packing puzzles share a simplicity and elegance, both in terms of their aesthetic as well as their movement – I highly recommend following Yavuz’s Etsy page as I know that any time Yavuz has something available, I will happily say “yes, please” to whatever it is, sight unseen

Fun Grade: 5 Sinatras
Difficulty Grade: 3 to 4 Sinatras

Another Day, Not Just Another Drawer

Unlocked Drawer

Kathleen Malcolmson and Perry McDaniel, 2.5″ x 2.5″ x 1.6″

A few weeks ago, I reached out to a fellow puzzler on the social media site that shall not be named who, so I had heard, might be looking to let go of a few puzzles from his rather immense collection. After a bit of back and forth in which I listed out a number of names of makers and designers whose works are generally a bit difficult to find, he let me know that he did indeed have a couple boxes by none other than Kathleen Malcolmson. I have admired her boxes from afar but never before had the chance to get one (at least not for anything resembling a reasonable price). Not only was this a box made by her, but it was designed in collaboration with another hard-to-obtain designer, Perry McDaniel. The story goes that she had been working on the design for some years, unable to get it just right until Perry chimed in with a needed final touch that would allow her to produce it as envisioned.

Unlocked Drawer is a relatively small box, consisting of just a drawer in a frame. It is beautifully made of contrasting lacewood and primavera, an aesthetic that is pretty consistent across her creations, at least as far as I can tell. Upon receiving it, I quickly found that its secrets were well-hidden: other than a bit of noise to be heard when shaken (presumably the Texas quarter to be found inside), the seams visible from the front do not permit any movement and no other breaks could be seen.

And that’s it! Fabulously frustrating in its simplicity and elegance, it would take me quite a bit of poking prodding pushing and pulling over the course of several days before a genuine aha that startled me with its sudden appearance. I love a moment like this: it is the reason many of us puzzle and we spend quite a bit of time chasing the feeling which is well represented in this little box. Closing it, there remains no indication of the solution, which I of course had to repeat several times since solving solely to revel in its gracefully hidden presence. A close relative of the box (Three-Layered Dovetail) was recently available at a Haubrich Auction, and was claimed by a puzzling French friend of mine, with whom I would not wish to engage in a bidding war – hopefully, I will be able to find a copy of my own, and/or any other Malcolmson boxes (particularly perhaps its predecessor, Locked Drawer, designed by Robert Sandfield). It more than lived up to the hype in its beauty, craftsmanship, and deviousness.

Elegance Grade: 5 Sinatras
Difficulty Grade: 4.5 Sinatras

When is a Drawer not a Drawer? When it’s a Puzzle.

Surprising Drawer

Osamu Kasho, Keyaki (Zelkova), Magnolia, Wenge, 4.6″ x 4.6″ x 4.25″

Each year, the Karakuri Creation Group (KCG) has an Idea Contest, in which people (in Japan) are free to submit box ideas to the master craftspeople, who select a few to be produced and sold via lottery. Contest winners have a tendency to be comparatively simple, while telling a story or portraying something whimsical or odd. Some dork blogger (with a cool name) posted a video and review of last year’s He Can Not Get the Ball!, which backs this claim up (assuming he can be trusted).

This year, I was able to resist buying any of the Contest Winners; although some, including Osamu Kasho’s Surprising Drawers, certainly sounded intriguing, I did not initially succumb to temptation (shocking, I know – but 2020 is shaping up to be an especially expensive puzzling year and some lines must be drawn…. and redrawn…. and then moved back a bit). The KCG descriptions will sometimes contain clues to box solutions, at times to the point of giving too much away, but for Drawers it (mostly) just said: “I tried to express the joy of its movement more than the difficulty. This product might be one that you’ll want to open again and again.” This was a head-scratcher, for sure, but I somehow still managed to resist. On top of this, Kasho is fast becoming one of my preferred KCG members: his Bara Bara Box was my favorite of last year’s holiday gifts and my recently received Ripple Out turned out to be much much cooler than I had honestly thought it would be.

And so I waited. Patiently lurking about the puzzling fora, awaiting the imminent arrival of said boxes to the homes of unsuspecting collectors, whose opinion would soon be sought for the final determination of the satiation of my desire – which is to say, I waited until some people got theirs and asked what they thought of them to see if I should try to get some after all.

Haym H., puzzle designer, collector, and all around good guy, received his in short order and was especially taken by Surprising Drawers (or, at least, I was especially taken by what he said about them – he had good things to say about all the boxes, any of which is likely to be an excellent box). Due to my cyber-stalking of the KCG site, I was well aware that the boxes had not yet sold out (ed. although a couple other contest winners are still available at the time of this writing, all of which have also received praise, Drawers is now sold out), and jumped on it quickly. I had heard enough to know that the puzzle gods must be given their due, and I feared their wrath were they to be ignored (judging from the amount of unsolved puzzles around me, I may be feeling that wrath regardless).

As usual, the box arrived within a matter of days from Hakone. My first impression was that the box is bigger than I had expected. The Idea Contest winners I have had in the past have all been larger than most of their regular counterparts, but for some reason I had not expected this to be quite so massive. The craftsmanship is, as I expect from any KCG box, excellent – the wood feels satiny and solid and the drawers could easily pass as bedroom furniture for a very tiny person. There is a hole approximately the size of a quarter on the bottom of the box, through which a bit of magnolia can be seen and felt. The three drawers have handles made of wenge, whose darkness is a lovely contrast to the lighter Zelkova of which most of the box’s exterior is made. As one would expect from drawers, they all wiggle a bit, each moving independent of the others and feeling as though they should come right open. Of course, they do not….. as that would be, in the words of the Ancient Greeks, hella lame.

If you read any of my posts, you may come to the realization that my passion for puzzles far exceeds my skills with them – which is to say, wrath of the puzzle gods aside, I’m just not all that great at them sometimes. And while this box was said to not be difficult to open, I nonetheless struggled for longer than I should have, missing what now seems obvious and getting caught up in some misdirection stemming from my own assumptions. After wondering if it was broken for longer than I care to admit (a step that should be included in the solution of every good puzzle as surely as angrily resenting one’s decision to buy Ikea furniture should be included in the directions of every Skurpingdhenghenr nightstand sold), I soon found the first step, a relatively simple move that unlocks the solution, allowing me to…….. OMG!!!

I actually LOL’ed as it came open in a shockingly unexpected manner, looking around as if the ghosts of Christmas past might wish to share in my glee. I took the rare of step of demanding that my NPSO watch me open it (if she wanted to), and even she thought it was pretty cool. Closing the box took a little bit of thought as the solution seems, in more ways than one, to be physically impossible at first glance. After reflecting for a moment and observing how the pieces work together in such a simple and ingenious manner, designed so as to appear both obvious and impossible at the same time, it was clear how to reset the puzzle. At which point, I immediately opened it again. And then one more time. And several times since then…. and one more just now.

I am not exaggerating when I say that this has quickly become one of my favorite Karakuri and that I am grateful to Haym for sharing his impressions with me (and that there were still copies left!). I just opened it again and it still makes me smile! I may have to delve into the wondrous inner working of wordpress to discover how to write and post pics using spoiler tags; regardless, I will be sure to bring this box with me if and when our regular scheduled puzzle parties resume so that we might all bask in its puzzling glory together.

Originality Grade: 5 Sinatras

Locked Out

Lock Box

Eric Fuller, Figured Quartersawn Sapele 3″ x 4″ x 1.45″ Box, 2.45″ x 1.25″ x 0.75″ Key 133 Copies

I have a tendency to write about puzzles that may not be easy to obtain – I enjoy reading about such pieces, that I might live vicariously through the vague reminiscences of puzzlers more fortunate than I, adding to my ever-expanding list of unicorns and future lost auctions.

This is also due to the simple fact that great puzzles sell quickly. In a bout of good fortune, Eric Fuller’s Lock Box will again be available in limited quantities on CubicDissection.com in late July (2020). Personally, I need only hear Eric Fuller + Puzzle Box to anxiously wait to give him my money, but if you are unsure, my suggestion is: buy it. If you cannot afford it (at $450 it ain’t cheap), sell some other puzzles and then buy it. In the unlikely event you do not like it, there will be plenty of people happy to take it off your hands; I believe it is destined to be yet another unicorn with auction prices that get bonkers fast.

At first glance, we have a key and a box with a keyhole; so far we have more to go on than the T12 initially shows. Unsurprisingly, after dutifully inserting the key (because you’ve got to try, right?), you will find it will not get you very far. And that’s it.

Before too long, I had my first aha. Followed by a few more. Followed by a wall. And more wall. Then another aha. More wall. Aha. Wall. Wall. Think, plan, take notes. Wall. Aha? Hm, no: Wall……… and here I am: a pretty good understanding of the wall I am facing, with no idea how to get past it. I have made good progress, with the end somewhere in sight and I can confidently say this will be very satisfying when that final aha has been found.

The puzzle has so many of the things I love in a box (some of which I will not say): things that look they should work that don’t; a bit of progress that may not come right away, but before too long; a series of stops and gos, extending the pleasure of solving across a spread of mini-solves; the ability to make progress during my first, focused session; the inability to fully solve it during that same session; the need for both trial and error as well as actual thinking; pretty, pretty wood; and while it has some similarities with other great puzzles, it is mostly very unique.

Everything works well and consistently, which is always nice (and is not always the case even with some excellent puzzles). And did I say that it is pretty? The instructions do warn that this will not stand up to humidity well – we are advised to keep it between 40% and 60% lest it be ruined (!), so some folks may be facing a dilemma (I’m looking at you my Hawaiian puzzling friends).

I expect that the final step (or steps) will be something quite different from what has worked thus far: this is something many of Eric’s puzzles feature; were it not the case, I probably would have found it (them?) already, after all. It took me a while to determine how to get to my current stopping point reliably and with full comprehension but this final wall may be staring me in the face for some time.

But man, this reminds me of why I love puzzle boxes.

Originality: Five Sinatras

Difficulty: Four and a Half Sinatras (probably)

Puzzle Oddity

Anti-Gravity Box

Frederic Boucher, 3D Packing Puzzle, 2.25″ x 2.25″ x 1.5″

A few months ago, I wrote to Frederic in the hopes that he might happen to have a few puzzles that were seemingly unavailable. Most were, but he did happen to have a last copy of Anti-Gravity Box, which I happily requested, along with a few other new puzzles that he had on hand.

I have solved several of Frederic’s puzzles in the past – 3D and 2D packing puzzles that offer a serious challenge, comparable to pieces by MINE or Osanori Yamamoto, featuring elements such as interlocking elements and restricted openings.

Anti-Gravity, however, adds new mechanics by introducing a number of magnets into the mix. This makes for a unique and novel puzzling experience; it is no longer “just” about finding a way to get the pieces into their frame, as the magnets throw one’s general approach out the window.

The box is a 3×2 voxel frame that features a removable, acrylic top, allowing you to easily reset the puzzle and view your progress. The box has two, single voxel openings at 90 degrees to one another; both are in the middle of the bottom level, allowing you to enter each axis, but offering no room for angles of any kind. You must fill it with 6 identical rectangular 3×1 blocks; 2 have two magnets on one side, 3 have magnets on one end, and one block has none.

There are rules, of course: you need to place it on a flat surface and you are not meant to pick it up or tilt it (of course, you may hold it while you insert other pieces); you cannot poke your finger into either of the openings to push the pieces; it goes without saying that you cannot just lift off the top and place them in. The removable top is a kind addition, as it avoids the need to struggle to remove pieces when you have eventually found you had made a mistake. The puzzle arrived with the pieces stacked neatly inside. It is kind of cool to have a puzzle so confident in its structure, that it can come fully solved without having spoiled anything.

While by no means simple, neither is it an overly difficult puzzle – in my experience, one of his other packing puzzles was more challenge than I could meet (I am admittedly not so great at packing or interlocking puzzles generally – my interest far exceeds my ability when it comes to these types of puzzles).

More importantly, this is a very fun puzzle, and one with which trial and error will not get you very far; knowing the pieces you can eventually figure your way through it.. After spending a few minutes playing with it, experimenting to get to know the pieces and what they can and can’t easily do, I had to stop and think. This led to the first big aha moment of a series of such moments, leading to the full solution. Each step is its own planned approach, each piece requires forethought once a workable order has been determined. Apparently, this has two approaches that lead to similar solutions; I have found one and will undoubtedly spend some more time to find the second.

TL;DR: Anti-Gravity Box by Frederic Boucher is an original approach to a 3D packing puzzle, with magnetic pieces needing to be stacked using entries that allow for little margin of error. While not Boucher’s hardest puzzle, each move must be planned and purposeful through thoughtful approach and not just trial and error. It features a convenient removable top to reset after you inevitably make a mistake, and is so confident in its own puzzling, that it can arrive solved without lessening its challenge.

Originality: 4 and a Half Sinatras

Difficulty: 3 and a Half Sinatras

Instructions Included

Dr. PinkLady, or How I Learned to Stop Fidgeting and Solve the Burr

Fidget Burr (a/k/a Dollar Burr, a/k/a Chin Burr)

Jerry McFarland, 3.28″ x 3.28″ x 2.92″

Recently, I was lucky enough to get a copy of Jerry McFarland’s Fidget Burr (not to be confused with the puzzle of the same name designed by Tim Alkema and recently produced by Eric. Fuller of CubicDissection). It has quickly become one of my all-time favorite puzzles, with an extremely original design replete with fun and challenging nuances.

First off, the puzzle is beautiful, consisting of 23 wood pieces crafted from walnut, maple, mahogany, and bloodwood (with the keypiece possibly made in a different exotic wood, such as Bubinga, Santos Rosewood or Cocobolo), for a interestingly contrasting aesthetic. It feels soft, presumably waxed into a delightful sheen that allows the puzzle to stand out, adding to the temptation to play and fidget beyond one’s attempts at finding the solution.

But what really makes it stand out is the addition of 22 magnets integrated into the puzzle, adding layers of novelty, difficulty, and stability that makes it stand out from its (still excellent) burr cube brethren. And last but not least, a Lego minifig can be seen, trapped within a window on one piece of the puzzle’s frame, lending the puzzle a hint of puzzle box / take-apart puzzling.


NOTE: The following paragraph reveals details of the puzzle’s first move – I feel comfortable writing about it as this has been blogged about before and is not really a hidden feature of the puzzle, but for those purists out there who want to know absolutely nothing about a puzzle, I thought I would give you fair warning – it has been formatted to make it easy enough to skip:

iIt is readily apparent which piece offers the first move (being the only piece that can move) and, when you press it, you are rewarded with a chain of clacking, automatic movements as 4 pieces are released, magnets forcing them out. This chain will most certainly be repeated again and again, both in the search of its solution, as well as the sheer entertainment value.


Following this first step, I immediately hit a wall. Fortunately, this first step is more than fun enough to play with absent any further progress. However, after numerous attempts at exploring possibilities through trial and error, I explored that other method of puzzle solving: thought. With this, I was able to narrow down the possible next steps, more quickly finding my way past this wall. Soon, it is possible to remove some pieces of the puzzle.

However, this is not the end as one must deal with some (possibly less difficult, but still non-trivial) additional steps, revealing the reason for at least one of the puzzle’s aliases. As you continue through the puzzle, you find a number of added details, magnets, chamfers, clips, and pins that really show off Jerry’s expertise, as they allow for a more consistent and stable puzzling experience (these are detailed in the included instructions in a series of notes, which would be spoilers if shared). One such detail does double duty, causing me several minutes of confusion as I lost all momentum just as I thought I was about to free my Pink Lady. Moving past this, the lovely lady can be freed (and even her window frame reveals evidence of Jerry’s thoughtful and precise approach to puzzle-making, as it is designed in such a way as to make her intended orientation obvious when looking to cruelly force her back into her wooden prison).

The key piece has the puzzle’s “signature,” the maker’s initials, year of creation, and serial number etched into perfectly matched frames (as seen above).

Note that this picture is also no spoiler, as Jerry designed the puzzle such that one can view the signature without having solved the puzzle – yet another unique detail that demands appreciation.

Reassembly is not overly difficult: Jerry has thoughtfully marked some of the pieces to aid with the proper orientation, allowing you to reassemble the puzzle with pleasure rather than frustration. Burrtools is unnecessary, good considering my strong suspicion that it would not provide much (or perhaps any) assistance.

As mentioned, the puzzle comes with instructions and notes: 5 pages that includes solution descriptions assembly instructions with pictures and illustrations, as well as the aforementioned notes and a general explanation of the puzzle (the latter being graciously printed on the first page to avoid any accidental and unwanted spoilers).

Fidget Burr will be entered in the 2020 IPP40 Design competition, where I would be surprised if it did not earn some significant recognition. While 2020 seems it will be a banner year for puzzling, Fidget Burr will no doubt be amongst its top designs; it is certainly amongst my puzzle favorites overall (assuming my judgment is at all reliable), not least considering its atypical replay value.

No, I Don’t Think He is Dead

He Can Not Get the Ball!

Yoh Kakuda and Yasuaki Kikuchi

He Can Not Get the Ball! is a winner of the 11th Annual Karakuri Idea Contest. This box was built by Yoh Kakuda and Yasuaki Kikuchi out of oak and cherry, based on an original idea by Masaki Ohnishi,

The puzzle depicts a moment in which most people have found themselves on at least one occasion – arm stretched out under a dresser, cheek pressed to the floor, face turned so you can get as far in as possible, fingers just brushing the elusive item, still just a bit too far out of reach. Fortunately, the artisans have left us an unattached baseball bat and broom to help us in our quest.

Perhaps the best detail in this puzzle is the tiny baseball that can be seen deep under the dresser – but only if you get your eyes level with the bottom of the dresser. This “hidden” feature really makes this puzzle for me, as it puts the puzzler in the place of the child.

You will notice that the child’s eyes are X’ed out. I am not sure why this is, except perhaps to imply that this poor child died while struggling to regain his lost ball. A tragic end to a common situation. But while we may be too late to save this tiny wooden person, we can at least get his ball! Well, no, actually we can’t…… but we can open his dresser! This is, after all, a puzzle box, albeit a rather simple one.

As with many Karakuri (but certainly not all), the solution is rather straightforward, fitting thematically into the concept of the puzzle, easily deduced from the situation being depicted. However, this collector’s piece is exquisitely made and is surprisingly fun to solve.

The video features the solution following a short spoiler break. As with my last post, this may not be a puzzle that will appeal to a pure solver, but it is one that looks wonderful in my collection – if you are a collector, I definitely recommend getting one of these, if you have the chance.

Pushing All the Right Buttons

Push Button Burr

Designed by Ken Irvine
Built by Tom Lensch

Let me start by saying that, historically, I am not particularly good at interlocking solids. It is only in the last few months that I have begun to expand my puzzling horizons beyond boxes, SD and locks. My first burrs had me running to fellow puzzlers that I have inter-met for burrtools files (thanks MrMark!). I at least felt vindicated by Mr. Eyckman congratulating me for having “solved” his puzzles when I returned to him, tail between my legs, for help reassembling a couple of his pieces (even worse: these were some of his simpler ones!).

I feel no shame in saying this – at least no more than general. I say it to provide some context to my imaginary readers…

Not so long ago, I ordered a few puzzles from Tom Lensch – if you do not know who he is, look him up and buy whatever he will sell you. They came quickly (and were packed amazingly well!). One of my new acquisitions was Push Button Burr, an interlocking burr cube (a puzzle-fluid identity). Designed by Ken Irvine and built by Mr. Lensch, it arrived, much to my initial dismay, unassembled!

Me of little faith, I looked at the pieces and thought that I may as well crawl into the dark hole of failure in which my meaner puzzles prowl. I had read of the joy of disassembling this puzzle – I thought that perhaps I would be able to reassemble it (with the help of some tiny colored stickers and a roll or super skinny post-it tape) after I finished taking it apart.

But when my package arrived with several more balls of bubble wrap than expected, I realized that my assumption did not match that of the master Mr. Lensch who puts interlocking burr cubes together for breakfast.

Instead of a solid cube with little brown buttons, I had a few twisted crazy pieces of varying strange Seussian shapes, and five identical brown sort-of Z’s. What to do? Do I first work on some of the other puzzles that had arrived? No! Do I immediately give up and ask for the solution? Maybe! Do I stare at it stupidly for longer than I care to admit? Probably!

But if I were to assemble it based on instructions, I would kill the fun of disassembly (this works better the other way). So you know what I did? I did another puzzle.

Later, after getting myself in the right mindspace by failing to solve something else, I sat down with my dysmorphic cube pieces and figure I will at least try before probably failing.

And try I did – it took me a while, but I was able to build the frame; it made more sense to me than many such spatially demanding puzzles do – perhaps the disorder saw something in me and decided to give me a break. Eventually, however, build it I did! I was pretty satisfied with myself, until I remembered the five buttons still sitting there outside my almost-cube. The nature of this puzzle is such that it looked close to finished – absent a few holes (10 if you have not guessed), the cube was complete.

Now here is one of the things that makes this such a great puzzle: building it had required trial and error, memory, and, yes, a bit of thought. But getting these buttons in? Well, that is going to take a lot of thought! Not my strong suit, but let’s see if any of those brain cells survived my adolescence.

And so I thought before trialing. And then I thought some more after erroring. Slowly, a dance began to form. These would require a very specific order, back and forth, cube and button, button and cube; the cage was there but must be rebuilt with its prisoners present. And, eventually, I saw it: the right order, in the right way, and piece after piece slid into place, leaving my buttons ready to be pushed (unpushed?).

Declaring myself the smartest man in the world (or at least the room), I gleefully showed by wife, who, true to herself, didn’t really care but did afford me a brief “That’s nice, dear, now shut up” look. But I was too busy admiring my utter and complete brilliance: clearly it goes Albert Einstein, David Byrne, me, and then whoever invented the pop tart.

After doing my happy dance for an acceptable amount of time, I proceeded to do it for an uncomfortably longer time. I went to discord and bragged about something so many others can do more easily than I. And then I went back to push buttons and let the dance play out in reverse, appreciating the creativity it took to design this mashup and the skill that went into making it.

High on my own utter and complete genius, I went back to Stumbling Blocks and was quickly and absolutely humbled.

Oh well, it was good while it lasted.

Grade: Four and a Half Sinatras

Oh Schrat

My latest (meaning second) video takes a look at Schrat by Stephan Baumegger, an interlocking solid puzzle featuring 6 burr sticks in a wood cage. It is a beautiful puzzle of the high quality one should expect from Stephan’s work.

I have only started disassembling this piece and it is proving to be an accessible and fun solve. I have been getting better at these types of puzzles, having mostly collected boxes and other take apart puzzles in the past.

I generally find reassembling interlocking solids to be quite challenging. With practice (and some small, colored stickers), I am improving as I gain experience. In this case, I think I may have a chance at reassembly without resorting to burrtools (file to be begged off some other puzzler, because I am lazy and only semi-computer-literate).

This is a good-sized puzzle and it looks and feels great. I could say what woods are used, but I would be guessing and that is unlikely to be fair to the puzzle or to the maker. However, it is definitely a piece that shows well, with its corner joints an off-white color that plays well with the darker woods of the burr sticks, set within a frame that features lovely wood striations.

As with most of Stephan’s works, I think it is a great addition to my collection aesthetically, with a solve that feels fun (although I have only begun working on it).

Grade: Four Sinatras