Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Some Puzzles Give You The Shutters – W-Windows

W-Windows by Osanori Yamamoto
Provided: Box with 2 large windows and 3 escaped pieces.  Your Mission (should you choose to accept it): Contain the pieces and shutter the box.  That’s shUtter the box, not shAtter the box, no matter how tempted you may be mid-solve.  As always, should you or any or your puzzling buds be caught shAttering the box, we will disavow any knowledge of your actions.

W-Windows is an apparent cube packing puzzle designed by Osanori Yamamoto and made by Pelikan Puzzles.  In this case the box has 2 large 2x2 windows that need to be shuttered (i.e., filled) and 2 of the 3 zig-zaggy pieces have a W theme going on.  The box is made from Apple and the pieces are made from Ovangkol.  Usually, I don’t talk about the types of woods used to make puzzles, but since I had to look up Ovangkol in my wood book (Wood! Identifying and Using Hundreds of Woods Worldwide by Eric Meier from the online The Wood Database), it’s worth mentioning that it’s another name for Shedua.  However, Ovangkol is the title for the wood description and Shedua is only mentioned in the comments.  Apparently Ovangkol is used by guitar makers who have better lobbyists than puzzle craftsmen.

After having done many of these types of puzzles and looking at the pieces for W-Windows, I expected:

  • All pieces will be used to fill the windows.
  • The W pieces will be added with some variation of an insert-shift-insert movement.  Sorry to state the obvious
  • One of the Ws has a 2x2 face, which obviously fills one of the box windows.  It’s so obvious that it can’t possibly be part of the solution.  Or could it?
  • The tetracube piece will be in the center somewhere moving around to allow the W pieces to slowly emerge from the box.
  • Each W piece will be associated with its own window.
  • The tetracube piece will have the highest move count.

I freely share these expectations with you because they are of no help whatsoever when solving the puzzle.

When I first sat down with the puzzle, I took the approach of looking for an assembly and then determining whether it could be placed in the box.  I learned 2 important things from this approach: 1) There are too many assemblies, and 2) There are a lot of ways that the pieces cannot be oriented within the box.  It’s definitely worth the time to determine how the pieces can and can’t be oriented within the box so that you can quickly recognize a possible assembly from an impossible one.

When looking for the solution, I try to find an assembly that looks like it has a few good moves.  These types of puzzles usually don’t have deep false paths, and once you find something that looks interesting, it’s frequently the solution, which was the case with W-Windows for me.

It may be the eternal optimist in me, perhaps the stubbornness, or more likely the short-mindedness, but I looked at the 2 big windows of the box and the 3 measly pieces and thought that this would be a quick score.  However, those simple pieces kept me entertained for about an hour and I did enjoy the solution once I found it.  You really can’t go wrong with these apparent cube packing puzzles from Osanori Yamamoto.  Thankfully, Osanori creates new ones faster than I can acquire and solve them.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Puzzle Philosophy - Yin Yang

Yin Yang by Volker Latussek
I like puzzles but they aggravate me.  When I’m working on a puzzle, I can’t wait to find the solution.  When I find the solution, I’m disappointed that it’s over.  I expected all these reoccurring conflicting emotions to surface when I pulled (pushed?) Yin Yang out to work on.

Yin Yang was developed by Volker Latussek and made by Pelikan Puzzles.  The box was made using Cherry and has a Maple (Yang) top to contrast nicely with the 6 Wenge (Yin) pieces.  When all the pieces are packed in the box, you end up with a nice digitized taijitu symbol.

Upon inspection, 4 of the Yin pieces are symmetric and the other 2 are not.  These asymmetric pieces are the key Yin and Yang pieces.  I know that I stated that the Wenge pieces were the Yin to the box’s Yang, but even when you separate them, you still have both in each.  Yeah, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, so let’s just agree to call it a principle and keep building on it.   Now that we have our key Yin Yang Yin pieces, as long as they aren't symmetrically situated within the assembly, these mystical keys can be used to affect a transformation between Yin and Yang assemblies.  You’ll also notice that extra effort went into highlighting that each piece was constructed by combining a 2x3 block with a 1x2 block.  I suppose one of those would be the Yin and the other the Yang requiring the key pieces to be formally referred to as the Yin Yang Yin Yang Yin pieces.

Yin and Yang Pieces
Yin and Yang
Since the Yang box encompasses a 4x4x3 space, the objective is to 1) Find a way to make a 4x4x3 shape with the Yin pieces and 2) discover a method for jamming those Yins into the Yang.  And the answers to all your questions are Yes – Are rotations allowed/required, Are there uncrammable assemblies, If I Yin instead of Yang will the pieces get stuck?

I’m embarrassed to admit it took longer than expected to find a 4x4x3 assembly.  Of course once I found it, it had to be the required assembly and I was never going to let it go.  I could see how the first 3 pieces would come out and only had to figure out how to release the remaining 3.  Surely, taking out (Yang?) / putting in (Yin?) 3 pieces with all that space couldn’t be that hard (With all my experience with 3D apparent packing cubes, it’s a wonder I can still think that).  Needless to say, I spent a considerable amount of time experimenting with some amazing cramming techniques with those obstinate pieces until I remembered the principle of the whole thing and immediately solved it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Petite Passel of Puzzles – 2D Packers

Petite Passel of 2D Packing Puzzles

I recently received a passel of 2D packing puzzles from a very generous member on the Mechanical Puzzles Discord (MPD).  These puzzles make great fidget toys when on the phone.  On a recent call, I found that I went through 5 of them in rapid succession.  To be completely honest, I was pulling the ones that looked easiest while on the phone.  The days of deluding myself by thinking that I can focus on 2 things at the same time have passed.

The puzzles of the petite passel of 2D Packers described here have several things in common.  The goal is to place a set of pieces that lay flat within a frame with a restricted opening top.  They are made from layers of laser-cut acrylic and the frames are held together in the corners by metal hardware.  Each puzzle has its own unique set of identical pieces.  


Doheny by Haym Hirsh
Doheny was designed by Haym Hirsh and made by NothingYetDesigns.  Of the petite passel, this one had the best construction with 2 layers of extra thick green acrylic topped with a thinner piece of clear acrylic.  The layers of acrylic are held together by hex socket bolts with capped hex nuts on the bottom to provide a nice set of legs that won’t scratch furniture.  Small washers are included both on top and bottom.  A slightly thicker washer is included between the clear and green acrylic layers to ensure that the pieces can move freely under the acrylic top once they are inserted.  The 6 pieces to be inserted were made with thick white acrylic to provide a nice contrast with the green frame.  I really like that the name, designer, and shop logo are engraved on the bottom of the clear acrylic.  I don’t know the genesis of the puzzle’s name, but I’m sure that there is a reason for it.  If you know or have a guess, you can include it in a comment.

At first glance, this puzzle looked like it would be the most difficult of the group and in fact it was, but none of these puzzles provided a difficult challenge.  Pretty soon after looking at the pieces and the space that they needed to occupy, I came up with a way to lay them out.  It was a simple matter to then insert the pieces.


C-It by Haym Hirsh
C-It was designed by Haym Hirsh and made by NothingYetDesigns.  The construction is similar to Doheny except that the hardware is black instead of silver and the only washers used were the 4 for the layer spacing.  The top screws also have a lower profile.  C-It was made with a blue frame and black pieces with very little contrast between them.  The name for this puzzle is a bit more obvious than Doheny.  If you can’t see it, look at the pieces and the frame again.  The solve is straight-forward and due to the symmetry of the pieces you don’t even have to worry about putting them in upside-down.  This puzzle is still available at NothingYetDesigns for you to seize it.


Eloquint by Haym Hirsh
Eloquint was designed by Haym Hirsh and made by NothingYetDesigns.  Unlike the prior 2 NothingYetDesigns puzzles, all 3 layers of the frame use thin red acrylic and the hex nuts on the bottom were open and not capped.  The pieces were in light blue.  The name of the puzzle and designer are engraved on the bottom without the NothingYetDesigns logo.

I solved this one and thought the solution was trivial.  So I did what any experienced puzzler would do and doubted that I solved it correctly.  Working at it a bit longer, I found a more complex solution (not to be confused with a complex solution) that I suspect is the intended solution.  The trivial solution resulted from the extra space introduced by the spacers, which allowed for unintended piece movements.  

My favorite part of this puzzle is the name and I find it a shame when I see descriptions of this puzzle referring to the 5 V pentominoe pieces.

Skinny and Fat Lightning?

Skinny and Fat Lightning?
Unfortunately, I received these puzzles second-hand and have no information on them including names, designers, creators, and shops.  How embarrassing!  My guess is that the information is the same for both since the construction looks similar.  The major difference between them is that one has a green frame with brown pieces and the other has a brown frame with blue pieces.  All of the frame layers use the same thin acrylic.  The tolerances on both were well done to allow the movements required to solve the puzzle.  The hardware used to fasten the frame layers used simple phillips head screws and hex nuts.  Unfortunately, some of the screws stick out on the bottom and have sharp edges that will scratch furniture if you’re not careful.  Unlike the NothingYetDesigns puzzles, spacer washers are placed between the 2 colored layers of acrylic instead of between the clear and colored layers of acrylic.  I noticed that this had the benefit of keeping dust and other particles from getting between the clear and colored layers.

It’s obvious that I took great liberties in providing names for this description.  My apologies to all parties concerned.  If you have any information on these puzzles, please post it in the comments.

Neither of these puzzles will stump you for long and they both provide a similar experience.  Lightning only strikes once and after you solve one, the other will lack the same impact.  If you get both, I would recommend avoiding solving them at the same time.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Happy Anniversary! – Yet Another Year of ZenPuzzler

Puzzles From ZenPuzzler Year 3

ZenPuzzler has reached the end of its third year.  Readership has increased by 25% thanks to the arrival of my brother’s first baby.  After discovering that it immediately puts the baby to sleep when my brother reads the blog out loud, he finally relented and subscribed to the blog.  The subscriber base is now holding at a steady 5.  Hopefully, next year will see another increase of 25% as I promote the blog as a cure for insomnia.

To wrap up the year, I have created a list of the posts and the puzzles that are mentioned in each.  This year included puzzles made from exotic woods and colorful plastics (printed and cut) as usual, but also saw the addition of a book this year.  Hopefully, there will be more books forthcoming in the future.  The name of each post is linked to the entry so that you can easily jump to it by clicking on the name.  

20 APR 22 – Solve Before Midnight - Pumpkin 1

  •     Pumpkin 1 by Osanori Yamamoto

6 APR 22 – Are You Worthy - Enter If You Can

  •     Enter If You Can, The art of puzzle boxes by Peter Hajek

Enter If You Can, The art of puzzle boxes by Peter Hajek
Puzzle Knowledge

30 MAR 22 – A Particlely Nice Puzzle - XI

  •     XI by Haym Hirsh

23 MAR 22 – Going Postal – Letter Box

  •     Letter Box by Pit Khiam Goh

16 MAR 22 – Puzzling Preparation Purgatory – Helical Bits and Pieces

  • HeLLical Burr by Derek Bosch
  • Oliver Twist by Derek Bosch
  • Twiddle Dee by Derek Bosch
  • Twiddle Dum by Derek Bosch
  • Dodekastar (improved) by Yavuz Demirhan, tweaked by the Two Brass Monkeys

 9 MAR 22 – Puzzle Of A Year! – 20-22

  •     20-21 by Stéphane Chomine

ZenPuzzler Year 3 Plastic Puzzles
Puzzles in Plastic

16 FEB 22 – X-tra Protection – T Lock

  •     T Lock by Andrew Crowell

9 FEB 22 – Happy VD! – Broken Heart

  •     Broken Heart by Techno Angels and Bozoou

2 FEB 22 – Wonderizing Puzzles – Benno’s TIC 2.0

  •     Benno’s TIC 2.0 by Benno de Grote and Andrew Crowell

26 JAN 22 – Where Does That F’n Piece Go! – Melting F

  •     Melting F by George Bell

19 JAN 22 – Put It To The – Side Lock

  •     Side Lock by Andrew Crowell

12 JAN 22 – Say Hello To – Goodbye

  •     Goodbye by Tomas Vanyo

5 JAN 22 – Not a Box For Tea, A – T-Box

  •     T-Box by Haym Hirsh

ZenPuzzler Year 3 Wood Puzzles
Puzzles in Wood

27 OCT 21 – Shhhh! She Just Turned – 6T

  •     6T by Ken Irvine

8 SEP 21 – A Puzzle to Save the Day - Mighty Pin

  •     Mighty Pin by Alan Lunsford

4 AUG 21 – Tooling Around With Puzzles - Sequential Discovery Cubic Box

  •     Sequential Discovery Cubic Box by Junichi Yananose

28 JUL 21 – An Acute Case of Soma Mangling - Halfcut Soma

  •     Halfcut Soma by László Molnár

15 JUN 21 – BBQ With Charcoal

  •     BBQ Basket by Akaki Kuumeri
  •     Charcoal Basket by Akaki Kuumeri

26 MAY 21 – Need An SD Fix? CD With The - ResQ

  •     ResQ by Frederic Boucher and Eric Fuller

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Solve Before Midnight - Pumpkin 1

Pumpkin 1 by Osanori Yamamoto
I recently received a Pumpkin that was already cut open with its guts spilled out.  At first glance, I looked at its big carved mouth and 3 simple guts and thought – this is going to be easy.  It wasn’t.  It was surprisingly engaging and entertained me for a considerable amount of time.  I didn’t solve it by midnight and it turned into a puzzle.

Pumpkin 1 was designed by Osanori Yamamoto and made by Pelikan Puzzles with a Pear box and Bubinga pieces.  It is an apparent cube packing puzzle (i.e., the opening of the box is completely filled and any empty space is hidden within the box).

There are a few ways to address the solving process for these types of puzzles.  The first is to find an assembly for the pieces and then test the assembly against the disassembly that is constrained by the opening of the box.  This works best when there are a small number of assemblies.  They usually have a smaller number of pieces as well as a smaller number of voids in the solved cube.  Pumpkin 1’s 3 pieces certainly meet the small number of pieces criteria, but there are 9 voids within the solved puzzle.  Playing with the pieces, there seemed to be a surprisingly large number of ways to assemble them within a 3x3x3 space.  After solving it, I checked with PuzzleWillBePlayed (PWBP) where it indicated that there are 54 assemblies with only 1 of the assemblies provides a working solution.

Another way to tackle the problem is to determine how the pieces can be inserted within the frame through the restricted opening.  However, with Pumpkin 1’s wide open corner, there isn’t much that isn’t allowed.  And yet, it’s not easy to get all the pieces in there as an apparent cube.

At one point, I was hoping that I was correct in assuming that it really was an apparent cube puzzle since I had found at least one solution where all the pieces went in, but there was a visible void.  While we’re talking about making assumptions, I wasn’t aware of the puzzle’s level while solving and was assuming that it took more than 1 move to remove the first piece, which is true for most puzzles of this type.

I finally decided to tackle this particular puzzle by working it from the other end and testing how pieces may move in sequence to release them from the box.  For the first move, does the piece start to come out or does it go further in?  Does 1, 2 or all 3 pieces move together at the same time?  How would that movement allow another piece to move?  Rinse and repeat.

The pieces do allow for some interesting movement.  At one point, I discovered an interesting sequence of moves that seemed to have promise.  Unfortunately it wasn’t the solution I was looking for.  I kept searching for other sequences but couldn’t find anything else even close.  I kept going back to that sequence of moves and tried to find ways to tweak it into submission.  Sadly I couldn’t find anything else.  Even sadder, it was the real solution but I failed to recognize it.  As it turned out, I could have solved it before midnight if I had paid better attention.  That’s the danger of working outside the box.  Sometimes there’s a difference between the virtual world and the real world.

I also learned on PWBP that there are 2 other Pumpkin designs by Osanori – strategically named Pumpkin 2 and Pumpkin 3.  After looking at the other 2 designs, I couldn’t find a similar feature that relates them.  However, Osinori generates so many designs, I can’t blame him for genericizing the naming process.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Are You Worthy? – Enter If You Can

And now for something completely different and yet somehow refreshingly exactly the same.  In a slight departure from the normal blog fare here at ZenPuzzler, instead of presenting a puzzle, I have the pleasure of presenting a newly released book about puzzles, or more specifically, puzzle boxes.

Enter If You Can, The art of puzzle boxes is a new book by puzzle box collector and designer, Peter Hajek (ISBN 978-1-5272-8215-5).  After many decades of research on addiction, Peter finally decided to write a book about his own.  Within, Peter shares a wealth of puzzle box knowledge gained from his experience as a longtime collector and his frequent puzzle box hunting expeditions around the world.  The book provides a brief history of puzzle boxes, a survey of different puzzle box styles and their tricks, and a cross section of puzzle box designers from around the world.  I should warn you that the solutions to several of the puzzle boxes included are revealed and discussed.

The book is well-written, informative, and full of beautiful photos of a large variety of puzzle boxes.  Its greatest failure (or strength) is that the reader is left wanting more.  In fact, I would have enjoyed an entire encyclopedia on the subject matter with each chapter becoming a book of its own.  Of course, this is a characteristic of a well-written book and I’m certainly looking forward to the next one.  

The book is available in 2 formats – book only and book with lock.  The locked version ensures that the petitioning reader is worthy of receiving the knowledge within and incorporates a strap attached to the back cover that connects to a lock attached to the front cover.  Of course it is a puzzle lock that has to be solved to open the book.  The lock was designed and made by Master Locksmith, Shane Hales of Halespuzzles.  

As of this writing, the book without the lock is available at Cubicdissection and the locked version is available at Puzzle MasterPelikan Puzzles offers both versions of the book together as a set in case you want the locked copy but also require an easy access version if you feel you may not be worthy.  Both versions are also individually available from Grand Illusions.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

A Particlely Nice Puzzle - XI

XI by Haym Hirsh
How many XI particles can occupy a small planer space?  Well, that all depends on the spin and orientation of each XI particle.

XI is a restricted opening 2D packing puzzle designed by Haym Hirsh and made by NothingYetDesigns.  The 2 openings in the top permit the XI and anti-XI particles to be injected within the frame.   The anti-XI particles are simply XI particles with a 180 degree spin.  Although the 2 openings conspire to suggest that both XI and anti-XI particles should be injected, it is not obvious how many of each is required or even if both types are needed.  Even if each anti-XI particle cancels out a XI particle as they bounce around and collide with each other, the odd number of particles suggests that the solution will eventually end up as a XI or anti-XI puzzle.  I leave it up to you to find out which.

Needless to say, the particles need to be added in a specific order and potentially rotated as they are entangled.  It’s nice that the top is clear so that you can see what you are doing.  Of course, you have to perform all those particle movements and rotations using the 2 openings.  Fiddly, but not that difficult.  However, if you regularly refer to your digits as sausages, you may find the physics of manipulating small particles more of a challenge.

XI is made with laser cut acrylic and has a nice heft to it.  The use of washers to elevate the clear top ensures that the 5 particles move nicely within the frame.  The puzzle information engraved on the top is also well done and useful for distinguishing the puzzle from other restricted opening 2D packing puzzles by Haym from NothingYetDesigns.