Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Like a Dead Skunk in Your Tire Well, Some Things Just Don’t Go Away - Completely Broken Soma, Part 2

Completely Broken Soma by Ken Irvine
Last summer, I described a wondrous puzzle design dubbed the Completely Broken Soma (A Whole New Level of Puzzle Abuse - Completely Broken Soma).  I ended the post with a request for information on who would be interested in acquiring a copy if it was made available.  With the collection of comments from the post, I approached the cognoscenti of puzzle craftsmanshipdom to prioritize a queue of craftsman interested in the honor of creating this puzzle.  However, not a one indicated the least bit of interest in creating a puzzle that garnered 0 comments in its unveiling post.  I attempted to argue that the lack of response was due to the fact that nobody reads my blog instead of lack of interest in owning a completely broken puzzle.  Unfortunately, I was not unable to convince any of those venerable craftsmen to put their reputation and resources at risk.  On the bright side, there are no readers to be upset by this news.

The smart thing to do is fling the design deep into the pit of eternal stench.  So I bought a 3D printer and attempted to plasticize the design myself.  I went with the 3 color version and created the design files to print the required 54 half-cubes.  The 48mm (1.9”) cube only took a little over 10 hours to print.

Completely Broken Soma Piece Removed
I soon found out that there’s a special place in hell where people can assemble the pieces of the Completely Broken Soma.  The diminutive 8x16x16 mm half-cubes have tiny pimples that need to be popped into the recesses of other half-cubes to connect them.  Forcing these pieces together is a challenge that gets ever more interesting as you add the third and fourth half-cubes while the prior ones get in the way.  However, when you have completed assembling the pieces and then the cube, you are rewarded with a beautiful lumpy cube where the pieces just don’t fit nicely together.  Since the connectors are so small they have a tendency to flex and nice 90 degree joints are not guaranteed (or even likely).

Having suffered a similar fate when creating the wood version, I knew exactly what to do.  I shoved the puzzle in a dehydrator and slowly drove the temperature to just over 130 degrees, the low end of the glass transition temperature for PLA.  I didn’t want to risk going higher and potentially fusing the pieces together.  Shortly after the target temperature was reached, I pulled it out and quickly clamped it for the night.  In the morning, I unclamped a reasonably cubic object and disassembled it to ensure that nothing was unintentionally fused together.  Having finally exorcising that caustic concept from my system, I quickly put it in a box and sent it away to plague someone else.  I really don’t understand why I don’t have friends any more.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

And The After Dinner Mint – Peppermint Basket

Peppermint Basket by Akaki Kuumeri
After completing all those Picnic Baskets that Akaki Kuumeri made, what’s left.  The after dinner mint of course.  Akaki decided to top off the Picnic Basket series with what he called a Final Boss Puzzle.  For those of you who didn’t grow up playing video games like Mario Brothers, the boss character is usually the big bad character that you need to defeat at the end of a level.  The final boss is the toughest, meanest, and most difficult to defeat character at the end of the game.  And Akaki succeeded in developing his final boss picnic basket – Peppermint Basket.

Like the prior 13 picnic baskets (A Tisket A Tasket, Puzzles In – Akaki’s Picnic Baskets), the Peppermint pieces fit within the same picnic basket.  However, the first thing that you will notice is that the pieces have diagonally cut half cubes.  These cuts allow for some new types of movements/rotations needed to solve the puzzle.  The second thing that you will notice is that there are only 3 pieces and that there is a lot of empty space in the assembly.

This puzzle is reminiscent of Andrew Crowell’s Turning Interlocking Cube (TIC) puzzles where the difficulty is getting the first 2 pieces situated within a frame against their wishes.  I printed the standard version of Peppermint with the tighter tolerances and the rotation required to resolve the positioning of the first 2 pieces is very precise and not easy to discover.  There are also several almost possible rotations, but don’t be tempted to force it.  One of these almost possible rotations is associated with a false assembly.  I’m sure by now that you can tell that I spent a bit of time trying to solve this one.  Getting the last piece in is not difficult, but I liked how the movement worked.

If this is the end of the Picnic Basket series, this was a great final puzzle.  Akaki did an awesome job designing this final challenge and made good use of the diagonally cut cubes.  More final boss puzzles please!

So why did Akaki label Peppermint as Akaki Basket #16 if there were originally 13 picnic basket puzzles?  What happened to 14 and 15?  If I had to guess, one of those is a prior version of Peppermint that Akaki didn’t release because it had an unintended short cut in the solution.  I would guess that the other is:

Nachos Basket by William Hu
Nachos Basket by William Hu.

Puzzle designer extraordinaire, William Hu, took up the challenge to create a picnic basket for the series.  Like Peppermint, Nachos uses diagonally cut half cubes.  With 4 pieces instead of 3, it was a bit more difficult to find the piece assembly, especially since there is a lot of void space in the final assembly.  The empty space and angled cuts also make the puzzle fiddly to play with outside the basket when figuring out the moves required to insert them.  The well thought out movements earn this puzzle its difficult rating although I found it quite a bit easier than Peppermint.  More please!

Model files for printing your own copies of Peppermint and Nachos are freely available with the other Picnic Baskets on Akaki's Picnic (basket packing puzzle series) Thingiverse page.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

A Tisket A Tasket, Puzzles In – Akaki’s Picnic Baskets

Basket puzzles are all the rage now.  As one Mechanical Puzzles Discord (MPD) member put it, These baskets are like the current beanie babies of the puzzling world.  We had Two Burrs in a Basket by Logan Kleinwaks, 4L Basket and 5L Basket designed by Koichi Miura, 3 Mushroom Basket puzzles designed by Andrey Ustjuzhanin, and now an entire series of Picnic Basket puzzles by Akaki Kuumeri.

There were originally 10 puzzles in the Picnic Basket series and Akaki offered them for sale on his AkakiKuumeri Etsy Shop.  At the same time, he also kindly made the model files freely available on Thingiverse (Akaki's Picnic (basket packing puzzle series)).  Since then he has added 3 more designs and at least 1 more is currently under development.

The picnic basket puzzle descriptions below are in the order that I printed and solved them.  With almost 3 hours required to print each, there is plenty of time to solve each before the next one is ready.  I printed them directly from the Thingiverse STL files and the fit is perfect.  If you turn the basket upside-down the pieces won’t drop until you lightly tap the basket.  Each model also has a looser fitting option if you find that the pieces are coming out too tight on your 3D printer.  The difficulty levels indicated are those provided by Akaki on Thingiverse or Etsy.

Egg Basket – Akaki Basket #6, Medium.

Of course, before printing the first set of pieces, I needed to print the basket.  I have to say that the fancier basket model is very well done and imparts a huge cuteness factor to the series.  Many members of the MPD proudly display pictures of their printed baskets.  Egg Basket consists of 4 pieces that have to be placed in the basket.  I found it to be easy, but it is a good introduction of how the pieces can be manipulated and inserted into the basket.  The 3 rotational moves are staples for the entire series.

Wine Basket – Akaki Basket #2, Difficult.

Wine Basket seems to be a favorite on the MDP and for good reason.  It’s a bit more of a challenge than Egg and makes great use of the handle to trap pieces.  I particularly liked the piece that consisted to 2 connected 2x2 blocks.  It interacts nicely with the basket and other pieces. This puzzle itself is worth printing out the basket along with the Wine pieces even if for some reason there was something wrong with you and you weren’t interested in the entire series.

Sandwich Basket – Akaki Basket #10, Difficult.

Sandwich is a nice example of how pieces have to work with each other.  I didn’t find it that difficult, but it was a nice solve.  The reason I started with Egg, Wine, and Sandwich was the Cubicdissection announcement that these 3 puzzles will be made as a set and included in an upcoming release.  Eric Fuller also indicated on the MPD that the basket for the CD release would be compatible with the puzzle pieces from Akaki’s Etsy shop.  A very nice gesture for those who will want to acquire additional pieces to enlarge the set.  Of course, it would be even nicer to acquire the remaining sets of pieces in different exotic woods.  After having done the entire series, I agree that these 3 make a nice set although I may have been tempted to swap out Egg for one of the more difficult ones, but that’s just my preference.

Subway Basket – Akaki Basket #5, Difficult.

Unfortunately, I chose to do Subway after Sandwich.  Please avoid doing that.  They are similar and use the same solving method.  The only real difference is that Subway combines 2 of the pieces to make it a 3 piece puzzle.  There is certainly nothing wrong with it, but it was a quick solve for me right after Sandwich.

Coffee Basket – Akaki Basket #9, Medium.

As a medium puzzle, Coffee Basket is pretty straight-forward.  Nothing really difficult and I didn’t find it as interesting as Egg.  I should mention that I only printed one basket and have been swapping the pieces in and out so there is no real need to skip any of these puzzles when it takes less than 3 hours to print each.  Akaki also provides the option on his Etsy site to buy each puzzle with or without the basket.

Hamburger Basket – Akaki Basket #13, Medium.

Luckily, I had a number of filament colors so that I could print each puzzle in a different color.  Unfortunately, I ended up with some odd things like blue hamburgers.  Hamburger Basket is one of the 3 puzzles added after the first set of 10 on Thingiverse.  Personally, with only 3 pieces and some obvious piece positions, I thought this one was easy.   However, I should add that Hamburger Basket is a favorite on the MPD.

Fruit Basket – Akaki Basket #4, Easy.

When I mentioned to my Non-Puzzling Significant Other (NPSO), a full-fledged member of the Spouses of Addicted Puzzlers (SOAP) club, that I was only planning to make the difficult and medium puzzles, she said WAIT A MINUTE!.  Witness the power of the cuteness factor!  So I had to change my plan and not only make them all, but print one of the easy ones next.  Enter Fruit Basket.  Not expecting much, I set about putting the pieces in the basket and didn’t find it as easy as some of the more difficult puzzles.  It also added another movement in the basket solving arsenal.  I decided that this one was a bit underrated or at least no simpler than some of the medium level puzzles and decided not to offer it as a starting point for my innocent NPSO.

Chicken Basket  – Akaki Basket #12, Medium.

Chicken is not that difficult and expands on the new move from Fruit Basket.  It also has one more trick up its sleeve to make it interesting.  Just when it looks like it would be trivial, the pieces conspire to get in each other’s way and require you to figure out some additional steps to stuff that chicken in the basket.

Chocolate Basket – Akaki Basket #1, Difficult.

Chocolate Basket is a great design.  The only problem that I had with it is that by this time I was familiar with all the moves required and it was a quick solve.

Salmiakki Basket – Akaki Basket #11, Medium.  

Before now, I’d never heard of Salmiakki.  I assumed that it was some sort of Japanese sushi dish but it turns out that it is a licorice made with salmiak salt.  Who knew?    I found Salmiakki Basket to be tricky and it had me going in circles for a bit.  Just when you think there couldn’t be something new.

Cake Basket – Akaki Basket #8, Easy.

As the name implies, this one was cake and lived up to its rating.  You could easily skip this one.  However, if you are like me and only printed a single basket for all the puzzles, it’s not really a big deal to print out the pieces for a particular puzzle.  On the MPD there are puzzlers in both camps with some printing a basket for each puzzle or like me a single basket for all the puzzles.  There are some that have even printed out a scaled up copy of the basket to hold the pieces for all the puzzles when not in the official basket.

Ice Cream Basket – Akaki Basket #7, Easy.

Ice Cream is definitely easy and a nice follow-on to cake.  It even introduces a new type of move, which is impressive considering that it was the twelfth one that I’ve done.  The variety of different types of movements is surprising.  Akaki mentioned that his design process consisted of developing a piece with interesting movements/rotations and then subtracting that piece from the cube space to then be further cut up into other interesting pieces.  Of course, given the interaction among the pieces, this description is a very simplistic summary of a more intricate process.

Vegetable Basket – Akaki Basket #3, Easy.

And then there was Vegetable Basket.  I found this easy puzzle to be the most difficult of the bunch.  I’m embarrassed to say that I spent more than an hour trying to solve this one.  Although the move count is not high, there are multiple cube assemblies that can be made with the four pieces requiring you to find the correct one as well as put it in the basket.  I kept doing the same things over and over and ending up with the same assemblies that I couldn’t convince myself would go in the basket.  It was insane and I was becoming so myself.  I was pondering a new name like Basket Case for this puzzle.  Thanks to my NPSO for not letting me miss out on the frustration.  For an easy puzzle, I highly recommend this one.

In general, I found the easy puzzles to be a mixed bag with 2 easier than the medium puzzles and 2 harder than the medium puzzles.  The 2 harder ones were so under constrained that they were more difficult to solve.  Unlike some of the difficult ones that were so constrained that they were easy to solve.  I’d certainly be interested in hearing about other people’s experiences with these puzzles in the comments.

Akaki has mentioned on the MPD that he is working on an even more difficult “Boss” puzzle (codename: Peppermint Basket) to cap the series.  Of course, the MPD members have indicated that they don’t want to see the series capped, but continually expanded beyond the “Boss” puzzle.  Other well-known puzzle designers on the MPD, like William Hu, are also considering contributing to the series (codename: Nachos Basket).  I’m looking forward to seeing how this series evolves, especially after seeing some photos involving angled half-cubes.

Finally, a big thank you to Akaki for making the Picnic Basket models available to the puzzle community!

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Terrific Value in a Small Package - Mini TV

When I saw that the mad puzzler, Mr. S., wrote a post on the hefty looking 6T Burr puzzle by Alfons Eyckmans (Alfons Proves I'm Improving...), puzzle envy set in and I was looking forward to trying that level 22 puzzle someday.  As soon as I resigned myself to a long wait, the puzzlewillbeplayed site added a new level 18 puzzle by Stéphane Chomine with a similar format called Mini TV.  The size was reduced by quite a bit compared to Alfons’ 6T Burr and I decided to print a copy to play with.

Mini TV consists of a frame with 2 core pieces that run through its center and 6 mini transverse pieces that slide along the outside and impede the movement of the 2 core pieces.  I originally looked at using a 13 mm voxel size but the print time was much too long.  Changing to a 10 mm voxel dropped the print time to a mere 13 hours.

The puzzle is very approachable and not too difficult to solve.  Of course, since it was printed, it was an assembly challenge.  It takes a lot less time to solve than to print.  It took about an hour to assemble the puzzle.

Assembling the puzzle follows a series of logical steps and some experimentation.  One of the 6 transverse pieces provides a significant clue on how the core pieces need to be oriented with respect to each other.  This in turn identifies how the 2 middle transverse pieces need to be placed.  The remaining 3 pieces then provide the final clues as to the exact orientation of the 2 core pieces.  Then it’s just a matter of putting the core pieces within the frame and adding the transverse pieces one at a time until it’s all assembled.  Of course adding the first few is trivial (one is just decoration) while the last basically requires going through the complete disassembly to get to a point where it can be added.

The assembled puzzle is very attractive and like the assembly is very approachable as a disassembly challenge.  The only issue that I had with the design is that the transverse pieces have a tendency to rotate out from the puzzle when they are moved from their initial position.  You have to constantly ensure that they stay within the frame to avoid rotational shortcuts while solving.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Screwed! - Bolt Action

My break from blogging has been rather rudely interrupted with the arrival of Alan Lunsford’s new sequential discovery puzzle, Bolt Action.  It is reminiscent of Alan’s prior sequential discovery puzzle, Unsafe Deposit (Hiding Money in Puzzles - Unsafe Deposit).  Like Unsafe Deposit, Bolt Action is a cube with a US quarter peeking out a window, various holes and slots in the cube, and a bolt screwed into one of the sides.  The new cube is gray with the name of the puzzle embossed in Black.  In one of the square openings, you can see the end of a long bolt wobbling about, but it’s secured on the other end.

Being in the US, I received the puzzle with a quarter inside instead of one of Alan’s own printed coins.  For worldwide distribution outside the US, Alan decided to print his own currency.  As of this writing, the Lunsford is worth about 25 US cents.

The puzzle arrives with a card specifying the goal to remove the coin and find a reason to smile.  What does that mean?  Doesn’t everyone smile when the coin is released?  All I can say is that you will know when you are not done and then when you are.  

After seeing various comments about Bolt Action, I expected it to be a similar experience to Unsafe Deposit.  I expected to knock this one out quickly and decided to keep track of the solve time since Unsafe Deposit was so quick.  

After 20 minutes, I hadn’t gotten anywhere.  I knew exactly how the quarter would be released, but I didn’t have the tools to accomplish it.  Another 20 didn’t give me anything more.  I was pretty sure that I had done just about everything that one could do to this cube and still hadn’t made any progress.  To be honest, after 40 minutes, I was pushing the “No excessive force” rule since I was out of other options.  Tap, tap, tap, spin, spin, band, Bang, BANG!

After an hour, I had to step back and reevaluate the situation.  My options were: 1) I got really lucky on all of Alan’s previous SD puzzles and was now faced with having to really solve one the right way, 2) My mental facilities have started to decay during the quarantine, 3) Something was wrong with the puzzle.  Although all three were just as probable, I opted to pursue #3.  Just after the hour mark, I went out into the garage to look for the box that BA came in.  I shook it and was rewarded with something rattling in the box.  Sure enough, there was a bolt sitting on the bottom under the filler paper.

During that first hour, that empty space that I kept opening (many times), attempting to discern its purpose, was for the missing bolt.  Armed with the missing bolt, the coin was removed and the reason to smile was discovered in 5 minutes.

Am I bothered by the fact that I spent an hour trying to solve an unsolvable cube?  Not really.  I enjoyed spending time thinking about how the puzzle worked.  It’s clever and very well made.  And yes, it’s very much on the order of difficulty as Unsafe Deposit.  You can get your own copy of Bolt Action on Alan Lunsford’s layerbylayerpuzzles Etsy shop.

This was just another reminder to carefully unbox puzzles that you receive in the mail.  There are many sad stories from puzzlers that inadvertently threw away a puzzle piece or extra puzzle.  This first happened to me when I accidentally threw out the chicken poop from Eric many years ago now (This Puzzles No Turkey - It's Chicken).

Wednesday, January 27, 2021


The ZenPuzzler blog will be taking a break.  Hopefully you have found something of interest along the way.  Signing off for now. - Zen

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

It’s a Feature – Inaccurate Burr

Inaccurate Burr - Junichi Yananose
What happens after you’ve completed 336 burr puzzle pieces only to realize that you’ve completely flubbed the measurements for the cuts – You call it a feature and charge extra!

Pure marketing genius!  And Eric Fuller is that marketing genius behind Cubicdissection’s branding drive.  Pavlov would be proud to see the puzzling masses salivating over the sight of cardboard boxes secured with orange tape.

When Inaccurate Burr was released in 2016, acquiring a copy was a no-brainer.  What’s not to like?  Designed by Junichi Yananose, make by Eric Fuller at Cubicdissection, and Oh, that beautiful Marblewood!

As per my wont, I quickly disassembled the burr without paying too much attention so that I could attack it as an assembly process.  Only when I had it apart did I realize that I was a tad impetuous and should have looked at it first to see why it was called Inaccurate Burr.  I’d like to be able to say that this is a rare occurrence, but it seems to occur often.  My favorite is pulling out pieces of a puzzle that I had disassembled years ago with no idea what puzzle it is or what shape it’s supposed to make.  And of course, the ultimate experience is when you acquire pieces of a puzzle with unknown origins.  Some puzzlers even have their friends disassemble multiple puzzles and mix the pieces to provide the penultimate solving experience transcending the normal single puzzle experience, which as you already know, is quite powerful.

Inaccurate Burr Pieces
After my initial, what is it supposed to look like? panic, I started to look at the pieces.  Two pieces immediately stood out.  Instead of having cuts that were half way through the pieces, one had cuts two-thirds deep and the other one-third deep.  The natural assumption would be that these two pieces make one of the three pairs of the 6-piece burr and that this offset led to the name’s genesis.

With the first pair is established, it is a fairly logical progression to add the others.  One piece of the pair has a knob that sticks out one-third and one of the remaining four pieces has a notch one-third deep.  Three pieces down!  Another piece can’t go anywhere except to be the third piece’s mate.  Four pieces down!  For the last pair, you would be forgiven if you tried to put them in backwards.  It looks like either way may work, but if you pick the wrong one, you will hopefully, quickly realize and rectify the incorrect positioning.  Once you get it correct, it ONLY takes 9 moves to insert that last piece and get the puzzle into its final inaccurate shape.

This puzzle may not be difficult but it is nice addition to a 6-piece burr collection and looks awesome in Marblewood.