Thursday, 21 May 2015

Pocket Pento - The Search For Symmetry

I was very pleasantly surprised when I received an email from Eric Fuller a couple of months back. He had asked if he could make copies of my Pocket Pento for sale on his website together with some other puzzles he was also planning on making. He had spotted my Pocket Pento design published on PWBP and thought it would make a nice addition to his offerings. Of course I said yes without hesitation (well, who wouldn't?) and even emailed him several variations of the design for him to pick from. The next thing I knew, he had made the first copy and posted it on his FaceBook page.

Wow, this was the first time I have seen a design of mine made into a working copy (well, not really the first time as such; other puzzlers have made copies of some of my other designs) but the first from a master puzzle craftsman producing it for commercial sale.

The Pocket Pento is actually one of my early designs, my fourth that was published on PWBP. At that time I was trying my hand at designing and packing puzzles were the easiest and logical choice to begin with. Thanks to Goh Pit Khiam who taught me the use of burr tools and gave me loads of useful advice, I managed to come up with five designs of various shapes and sizes with the common theme of using all twelve flat pentominoes. As the name implies, the Pocket Pento was intended as a small-ish and flat-ish puzzle that could easily be put into the pocket and taken around. The version made by Eric with half inch square units is on the larger size of things and probably would only fit into pants, jacket or trench-coat pockets and handbags.

Eric made the Pocket Pento box out of Maple and the pieces in twelve different exotic hardwoods. The box had acrylic transparent sides which displayed the pieces in the solved state. A really nice touch which shows off the contrasting coloured woods very well. Construction and finish of my copy is excellent with very fine beveling of the edges on the pieces. The fit is very good and everything slides smoothly with no "looseness" of any sort. Thirty-nine copies were put up for sale on Eric's site at US$84 each; and like most of Eric's puzzles, all were sold out within a day or two.

I am not sure if owners of the Pocket Pento have noticed this....the placement of holes on the two sides, the entry/exit point and opposite bottom all have a certain "similarity" of appearance. I was not content to just design a box to house the twelve pieces (which is not too difficult) but I wanted something more...a "symmetry" to the overall look and shape, to make the puzzle as unique as possible. I think close to 100% symmetry may have been possible if Eric had used an acrylic plate to seal the bottom holes instead of another layer of wood which added an extra half inch to the height of the puzzle. But then again this may have affected the overall construction and aesthetics somewhat...and well, Eric's the expert so he must have known what he was doing. 

The puzzle is not easy by any means (and I don't think its overly difficult either). But I too have had problems remembering the exact sequence of moves and once or twice resorted to burr tools for help.

Thanks very much to Eric for turning my design into reality and I am happy to know that there are thirty nine other puzzlers out there in the world with a Pocket Pento in their possession!

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Hanayama Cast Hexagon

The Cast Hexagon is the latest Cast puzzle to come from the Hanayama stable. The Hexagon was designed by Mineyuki Uyematsu who gave us wonderful packing puzzles such as the T4-II, T4-III and Caramel Box

The Hexagon also won the Jury Honourable Mention Award at the IPP34 Puzzle Design Competition. It was originally called "The Claws Of Satan" during IPP34 but it would have sounded very weird if Hanayama had used the name "Cast Claws Of Satan" or worse still, "Cast Satan"! Hexagon definitely sounds more appealing.

The Hexagon appears to be made of steel (I think) and in two colour tones. The choice of external finish for the Hexagon is IMHO really nice for this one, in matt silver and dark grey and not some gaudy chrome or shiny brass.  Construction and quality of my copy is very good and everything moves smoothly as intended.

The object of the puzzle is to separate the three "claws" from the base plate. When you first start to explore the puzzle, all the "claws" or pieces are able to move in various directions but all are locked within the confines of the plate. The pieces are able not only to move linearly but can also rotate at certain positions within the plate. As you puzzle on, hopefully you will be able to understand the trick of the puzzle and how to get the pieces "out". 

I do not want to give too much away here to spoil the fun of still many puzzlers who have yet to get a copy. But like an interlocking burr, once you get the first piece out from the plate, the rest of the pieces come off much easier. It took me about fifteen minutes to disassemble the Hexagon...but it took me a good hour to reassemble it! Because I had forgotten the positions of the pieces relative to the plate and their orientation during the taking apart. While I could get all three pieces back within the confines of the plate, I hit dead ends quite a couple of times and had to disassemble the whole thing and start over again. If you want to, take photos as you go along, so the reassembly will be less frustrating.

The Hexagon is a very nice addition to the Hanayama Cast range. Nice design and well made. For the price of a typical cast puzzle, a lot of puzzling for the money. Its rated four out of six stars for difficulty and this I feel is about right; challenging yes, but not frustratingly so. A great addition to any collection and a must-buy for cast puzzle lovers.

As far as I can tell, the Hexagon is only currently available from PuzzleMaster of Canada for CA$12.95. Eventually it will make its way to other online sellers, including Amazon. Those living in Asia may want to buy direct from Mineyuki via his website. Its in Japanese but click on the link at the lower left sidebar - "overseas mail order".

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Marble Cake

Now here's an interesting packing puzzle I played with over the weekend. It's called the Marble Cake and is the brainchild of my puzzle friend Frederic Boucher. Not only did he design the puzzle, he also made it....without using any wood cutting equipment!

I got to know Frederic two years ago after acquiring his IPP33 puzzle design competition entry, Manholes 55. Frederic is a French Canadian who presently lives in Tokyo, Japan. While back in Canada he had his own wood workshop at home, this is not possible for him in Japan since his dwelling cannot accommodate such a setup. Fortunately Frederic is able to order and get his wood cut into specific size blocks and then he sands, glues and finishes them into the shapes and pieces required. Looking at the quality of the Marble Cake, you wouldn't be able to tell that this was the way Frederic put together his puzzle.

The Marble Cake consists of a bottomless tray made of Japanese elm with seven different pieces made from exotic hardwoods including Japanese beech, magnolia, paduak, teak, wenge, ebony and cherry). Construction and finish is very good indeed and the fit is just nice with the right amount of tolerance between the pieces. 

Three of these tetraminoes....are not like the others....
All seven pieces consist of four units each (tetraminoes) in various shapes.Nothing too unusual about this; except that three of the seven pieces, tho' they are four units a piece, are nevertheless joined together to form rather "odd" shapes (as shown in the photo).

As a result, this makes the Marble Cake far far more tricky and difficult than if it had just been a packing puzzle with seven regular tetraminoes. It took me a good hour or so before I got all the pieces flush into the tray!

If its any help, the trick I suppose is not to think of the odd pieces as odd if possible, but to see how they could possibly fit into the tray if they were just regular tetraminoes (which of course is easier said than done, with the benefit of hindsight).

This is really a very nice packing puzzle with a good level of challenge. Its difficult but not frustratingly so. An original design and with only one solution. For packing puzzle fans, the Marble Cake is a must-have for collectors.

[Edit 12 May 2015: There have been a number of readers asking how they can purchase a copy of Marble Cake from Frederic. Please email me via my blog email and I will put you in touch with Frederic directly]

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Chicken Puzzle

There are many wooden animal puzzles around. Most notably from the Japanese Kumiki puzzles genre as well as the Karakuri Creation Group. All sorts of animals abound including lions, pigs, cats, elephants, owls and even the skunk.

Then there are some from European craftsmen like Alfons Eyckmans which are more conventional burrs but containing within the puzzle an animal-shaped piece, like his Gobi and Free The Monkey 2. Once in a while, someone comes along and designs a burr puzzle but deliberately fashions it in the shape of an animal. The Chicken is one such puzzle.

A really cute puzzle I might add. the Chicken was designed by Olexandre Kapkan and made by Eric Fuller. Excellent craftsmanship as always and the woods used here are Yellowheart and Cherry; no doubt to reflect the colours of a real chicken as far as possible.
The puzzle is about the right size for comfortable handling, measuring about 10.5cm x 6cm x 5cm. It's actually the size of a large chick. This puzzle was the first to sell out after Eric announced his site update. I was lucky to get the last copy.

According to Eric's Facebook post, there is suppose to be a surprise hidden inside the puzzle (eg Egg?) but I didn't find anything as I played with it. Although it is Level 10.2 with only four pieces and the body, its not an easy puzzle to solve at all. After like moving 5 or 6 steps, I got stuck. Took me the good half an hour to find the correct move and then finally got one drum (I mean leg) of the Chicken out. The rest of the other limbs came out easily after that. Putting it back together was about just as hard as I had to do everything in reverse. I couldn't quite remember all the steps and was forced to do some trial and error before I assembled the lot together. Burr Tools not needed here (at least not for me).

The Chicken is really a great puzzle, not only in terms of the design and look (displays very well and attracts comments) but it also offers a good level of challenge from the puzzling perspective. I only wish those beautiful and superb quality Karakuri animal puzzles can be designed with this level of difficulty, then they will really be outstanding puzzles.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Find The Lid

"Find The Lid" is an interesting trick opening "box" from Tatiana Matveeva of Russia. This was her exchange puzzle at IPP34 in London last year. It's not really a box per se, but six panels with notches interlocked together to form a cube.

The object, as what the name to find the lid (and open the box). The panels are numbered from 1 to 6. Overall construction of the box is good and the panels all appear to be laser cut and fit nicely. Inside there is a coin (a Russian 10 Koiieek) thrown in for good measure (as I later found out after opening the lid) to be discovered.

Its obvious that to find the lid, one would have to press, tug or pull each of the six panels to see which one will move. I quite easily found the single panel that could move but the puzzle is not so straight forward. The panel moved about 1 to 2 mm and thereafter got stuck. It is held back by some restraining mechanism. Ha! not so simple after all!

It took me several minutes trying before I figured out the "trick". Not a totally new or novel locking mechanism that holds the lid, but pretty cleverly applied to this puzzle, considering the puzzle is no bigger than 6cm all round and each of the panels is only about 8mm thick.

No force is needed here. In fact if force is used, the puzzle could possibly end up damaged, especially the internals. A nice exchange puzzle, thanks Tatiana!

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Three Coffins

This week saw the arrival of three "coffins" to my home! Three Coffin-designed packing puzzles to be accurate. They are:-

1. The Cruiser
2. Five Fit - Stewart Coffin #177A
3. Martin's Menace - Stewart Coffin #217

The Cruiser
All three puzzles came to me from Creative Crafthouse. Creative Crafthouse has a very extensive catalog of wooden puzzles and games and the company manufactures most of their puzzles in their shop in Florida, USA. They also design their own puzzles. 

All of the three packing puzzles are precision laser cut. Quality, fit and finish is very good. The pieces and tray are made from different hardwoods (and I have asked Creative Crafthouse what these are) while the base of the trays are made of floorboard. Don't let the word "floorboard" put you off; it is extremely sturdy, scratch resistant and durable and can withstand a lot of abuse. You can even clean it, tho I won't recommend using any floor cleaner! Other nice touches include the names and other details etched onto the tray. 

Ranging from US$12 to US$21, these three puzzles represent excellent value for money. Cruiser and Five Fit also come in larger sizes.. What I also really like is that all three puzzles came to me upgraded with tray covers; which makes the puzzle look nicer and storage much neater.

Five Fit - Stewart Coffin Design #177A

I started with what appeared to be the easiest of the lot; Cruiser. Only four piece made up of two congruent pairs of shapes. Not too difficult and I managed to solve it in under five minutes. According to the grading given by Creative Crafthouse for time it takes to solve (less than 1 min - Gifted, less than 5 mins - Smart, less than 10 min - Normal, less than 20 min - Slow,  Never - Sad Situation), I fall into the smart category; for this puzzle only!

My next attempt was with Five Fit. This one consist of five pentominoes. And much tougher than the Cruiser. I must have played with this for nearly half an hour before I finally figured it out. I don't want to have any spoilers here but suffice to say there is a "trick" to this puzzle. You will go around in circles (even tho only five pieces) if you don't discover the trick. Again I have some experience with such packing puzzles and this helped my solving.

Two packing puzzles is enough for one day. I am leaving the last; Martin's Menace for another time and will post a review once I have played with it. It is supposedly a very difficult puzzle from the description. I don't know how to do the "hide/show" thing here, so if any reader wants to see the solutions for the first two puzzles, please PM me and I will send you a photo.

For anyone interested in packing puzzles, these three are great to collect and for beginner and experienced puzzlers alike, its definitely worth checking out Creative Crafthouse's range of products, which judging from these three puzzles, are both high quality and affordable. 

Wednesday, 22 April 2015


Here's another interesting co-ordinate motion puzzle I played with earlier in the week. Both in terms of the puzzle design and the physical shape. Anyway I needed something less stressful after my struggle with the Optiborn.

TetraParquet was Stan Issacs' IPP34 Exchange Puzzle in London last year. The puzzle is triangular shaped and consists of six (also triangular shaped) pieces. Its called "TetraParquet" because the puzzle has four faces, and each face consist of a further three triangular faces. It was both designed and made by Wayne Daniel out of exotic woods; which I think is Maple, Paduak and Walnut. The woods give it a symmetrical 3-colour contrast. Construction, fit and finish is very good and everything slides smoothly. Reminds me of the Cast Delta, but in 3-dimensions.

Object of the puzzle is to take apart the six pieces and reassemble. Each of the six pieces have triangular "plates" glued and attached to the edges. These plates are the connectors between the pieces which holds and "lock" the puzzle in place. Very delicate looking parts!

Taking apart is not too difficult (unlike the Pennyhedron puzzles reviewed previous). Some manipulation and you can begin the feel the joints coming apart as the pieces start to split. Putting it together is harder as the pieces only fit together one way (meaning you can't interchange the positions of the pieces since the plates can fit into adjoining pieces only if the pieces are correctly matched). You start off by building two halves and then bring them together. There is then a need to maintain the six pieces slightly apart (not too far that they are totally separate) and slowly ease the six towards each other. Tricky and it took me a bit of fiddling to finally get the puzzle back into the solved state. 

Not a overly difficult puzzle by any means, but certainly it displays very nicely! 
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