Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Not So – Safe

How safe is a coin, really, inside a laser cut maze?  In the case of Safe from Siebenstein-Spiele – not much.  You have several options available to you if you find yourself in dire need of a euro.  There’s the old time-honored smash and grab gambit.  However, it limits replayability of the puzzle.  Then there’s the sneaky take it apart technique where you unscrew the pins and slip out the coin.  Personally, I think this one has some merit.  More on that one at the end.  Lastly, There’s the grind-it-out step-by-step slog through the maze.  Since this is the longest way to get from point A to point B, it’s obviously the puzzler’s path.  If you are not already aware, the goal of every puzzle designer is to provide the longest path possible in the smallest amount of space.

Now that we’ve established that the goal is to remove the trapped euro by traversing the maze, let’s take a closer look at the puzzle.  It’s designed by Jürgen Reiche and made from laser cut wood and acrylic with 3 pins holding it together.  There are 5 layers to the puzzle.  The top layer is made from clear acrylic and has the puzzles name engraved on it as well as 100 equally spaced tic marks around the outer edge.  There are also counts for the tic marks at every even multiple of ten.  The second layer is mostly wide open to view the lower layers with the maze.  However, it does have a circular area that holds the euro in its starting position under the acrylic top.  There are also 4 knobs around the outside to help steady the puzzle as you rotate the maze layers.  Each of the next 2 layers contains a maze.  The top one is acrylic and the bottom one is a dark wood so that you can easily see both.  Each of the maze layers has 2 knobs that stick out to make it easier to rotate the layers.  One knob from each maze layer has an arrow engraved on it.  I didn’t use the arrows, but you can use them with the tics on the top layer to generate a numeric combination for solving the puzzle.  The final layer is made with a light colored wood to make the second layer maze easier to see.  Each maze layer as well as the bottom layer has a circular area that can hold and pass a 1 euro coin.

Safe Instructions
So how does the maze work?  The center pin is fixed and allows the maze layers to be rotated and the two outer pins can move radially in and out between 3 positions.  However they can only move if the 2 maze layers are aligned to both allow the movement.  Also, the maze layers can only rotate if the pins are positioned to allow it.  Traversing the maze is then a series of movements with the 2 outer pins and 2 maze layers.  Once you have that all down, you just need to manipulate the maze so that the 1 euro coin drops down through the layers, one at a time, until it pops out of the bottom.

Returning the euro back to the starting position is almost the reverse of releasing it.  However, letting the coin drop down between the layers is ever so slightly easier than levitating it back up.

Puzzle Master gives this puzzle a rating of 10 out of 10.  I’m assuming that’s for the puzzle’s appearance and not for its difficulty.  As far as laser cut puzzles go, Safe is very attractive.  However, I did not find it “Sehr schwierig !” as indicated in the directions and Puzzle Master's rating.  The maze is rather simple to traverse and I found it more of a fidget toy than an engaging puzzle.  Perfect for something to fiddle with when you’re on the phone, like I did.

Safe Solved
I should mention that there is one point during the solve where you may be tempted to force a move since it is very close to allowing a move, but don’t do it.  Keep going and look for the correct path that requires no force.  Ideally, these “almost valid” situations are worked out in the design phase to remove temptation.  Then again, there does appear to be a market for Youtubing puzzle brutality.

At this point, I have to admit to being a little lazy.  I mentioned at the beginning that it looks like you can take the puzzle apart.  If that’s true, there is nothing to keep you from assembling it differently.  In fact, it looks like you can put it together 32 different ways keeping the order of the layers the same, although I believe that half will have the mirror solution to the other half.  If you’re more industrious than me and have some feedback on whether there are other working configurations, let me know.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Arranging Your Balls - Pyradox

Pyradox by George Bell
So, how many different ways are there to arrange your balls.  It turns out that it’s the same as the number of licks it takes to get to the tootsie roll center of a tootsie pop as demonstrated by Mr. Owl – Three.

The summer of 2018 was a time of many fine things, the foremost being the Edward Hordern Puzzle Exchange at IPP 38 in San Diego.  Amongst the many enticing entries was Pyradox exchanged by George Bell, designed by George Bell, made by George Bell, and packaged by George Bell.   I’m specifically calling out the packaging since it’s nice and compact and well laid out within a transparent box.

Packing balls in tight spaces is a niche area of spatial mathematics and ball packing master George Bell has written several articles concerning this topic.  CFF Issue 94, July 2014, includes George’s article on the development and analysis behind Pyradox – Pyradox: A Pyramid Packing Puzzle.  The article also describes how George paradoxically accomplished the impossible when creating this puzzle.

Pyradox Packaging
Pyradox consists of 5 plane looking pieces and 3 coasters.  The objective is to fulfill your prayers by fully filling the holey coasters with a pyramid.  Each polysphere piece consists of 4 wooden balls glued together with colored bands.  Each of the 3 colors used, red, blue, and green, identifies a unique piece shape.  On careful inspection, you will notice that one of the 3 types of shapes is different, which may be useful when solving the puzzle.  The 3 base plates are made from laser cut wood with Pyradox engraved on each and I don’t really recommend that you use them as coasters.

Each base plate provides a different pyramid building challenge.  To make it easier for you, one utilizes hexagonal close packing, one a face-centered cubic packing, and the last a warped face-centered cubic packing.  You’re welcome!

George did an amazing job discovering how the same 5 pieces can be used to construct 3 different pyramids with different packing geometries.  I found each to be fun, non-trivial, and not too difficult.  Copies are occasionally available on George’s PolyPuzzles Etsy shop.  Get one and have yourself a ball.

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.