Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Put It To The - Side Lock

Side Lock by Andrew Crowell
It had been awhile since I’ve played with an Andrew Crowell puzzle, so I headed over to the arcWoodPuzzles shop on Etsy to see what’s new.  Andrew is a prolific puzzle designer and there’s always something new.  Amongst the fine selection of puzzles, I discovered several intriguing burr lock puzzles and decided to give them a try.  The first of the two that I selected was Side Lock.

The first thing that surprised me when the puzzles arrived was how big they were.  They were twice as big as I was expecting, providing a nice heft for 3D printed puzzles.  The puzzle consists of the frame and 6 other pieces: 4 short burr pieces, the longer burr side piece, and the shackle.  As expected from puzzles 3D printed by Andrew, the fit and movement of pieces is excellent.  The puzzle is also quite attractive, made using a marble-like filament for the frame and shiny blue, green, and purple filament for the pieces.

Since Side Lock arrived assembled and my preference is to attack these types of puzzles as assembly challenges, I quickly disassembled it and planned to leave the pieces untouched for a couple days while any vestiges of piece movement memory quickly decayed.  Quite honestly, at this point in my life, anything over 5 minutes is overkill.  A couple of months later, I found the pieces and attempted the reassembly.

Side Lock Pieces
With an empty frame and 6 pieces, I began tackling the reconstruction of Side Lock.  There is a feature within the frame that matches one of the pieces thus revealing the location of the first piece.  With the location of the first piece known, the location of the next piece becomes obvious.  At this point, I’m thinking, “This is easy, only four more pieces to go!”.  However, this was the end of Easy Street forcing me to kickstart that old clunker of gray matter.  Where once the old brain could breeze through these problems, I can now feel it wheeze through the process.  Eventually, the pieces found themselves in the shape of a lock once again.

I really like these lock shaped burrs and at 19 moves to remove the first piece, it’s a nice little challenge.  The one thing that I would like to see changed with the puzzle is to have the name debossed on the outside instead of on the shackle hidden in the frame.  I like to be able to reference the name without having to disassemble the puzzle.  However, I realize that this is my personal opinion and that there are people that don’t care to have the outside of their puzzles defaced with any type of lettering.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Say Hello to – Goodbye

Goodbye by Tomas Vanyo

Hello Goodbye!  

Yes, we could have wrapped up this blog entry right there but I felt compelled to add some other details.  Goodbye is a puzzle designed by Tomas Vanyo and made by NothingYetDesigns (NYD).  It’s made from laser cut acrylic with a bolt in each corner to keep it all together and includes a little wooden piece made from Cocobolo.  What really caught my attention was the matte black finish on the face with the white lettering.  It has such a clean look to it.  I also liked the clear mazes but they were a real challenge to photograph.  The little wooden piece was made for NYD by Nedeljko Woodworks.  It’s always nice to see these types of collaborations within the puzzle community.

Goodbye Pieces
The puzzle consists of two maze plates that move in opposite directions within a frame.  These maze plates are kept in the frame by the small wooden piece that traps the plates within the frame as well as being trapped itself by the plates.  The goal of the puzzle is to determine how to manipulate the pieces within the frame to remove them.  

Zig, zag, zig, zig, zag, zig, zag, zag … and 181 moves later, you can remove the trapped wooden piece.  It’s not very difficult and you are never in any danger of getting lost.  There is also an Aha moment to be enjoyed – no it’s not the fact that you can unscrew the fasteners to take it completely apart and reorganize it.  

If you want to continue exploring other possibilities with Goodbye, the maze plates can also be placed within the frame in other orientations.  The 181 move orientation that the puzzle arrives with is the maximum number of moves of all the plate combinations.

Goodbye In Display Configuration
After the initial release, NYD posted a message on the Mechanical Puzzles Discord (MPD) server indicating that that the puzzle configuration was not optimum for displaying the puzzle after it was solved.  It turns out that the puzzle stands up nicely on the edge of the frame, but the engraved wording on the puzzle would be upside-down.  NYD indicated that this could be rectified by simply undoing the fasteners and rotating the engraved plate by 180 degrees.

I did rotate the faceplate of my copy of Goodbye and it does display nicely in that orientation.  Of course, puzzle orientation is a funny thing.  When you start working on a puzzle, you eventually establish what you consider is the orientation for the puzzle.  Someone else may have a completely different orientation from you and you might find it odd watching someone else solve it.  Since Goodbye comes with the name, designer, and maker on it, it provides a strong sense of which direction is up and which is down.  Having already established an orientation of the puzzle before switching the faceplate around, I continue to solve the puzzle in the same manor – now with the words upside-down.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Not A Box For Tea, A – T-Box

T-Box by Haym Hirsh

About the same time that I gave my wife her 6T birthday puzzle, I acquired a copy of T-Box, which, pointed out by my wife, also has six T-shaped pieces in a box.  T-Box was designed by Jenga master, Haym Hirsh and made by Mom – no, wait, I had it upside-down - made by Brian Menold at Wood Wonders.  This is the latest of Haym’s designs inspired by Jenga pieces.  For some, Jenga is a multi-player stacking game with wooden pieces, for others it is a source of raw materials for puzzle making.  Hopefully, we won’t see a massive run on Jenga blocks resulting in the worldwide shortages that we saw with tongue depressors (Chico Strikes Again – TD345).


Brian Menold turned the T-Box design into a stunning showpiece.  The pieces were upgraded to Birdseye Maple and the box was made from Bloodwood with a Maple Top.  What really makes this box stunning is the detailed laser engraving on the sides of the box.  Brian is fortunate to have a gifted graphics artist in the family and the design created for the T-Box really makes it something special.

T-Box Pieces
Of course the goal is to get all 6 pieces within the box so that the top lays flush with the sides.  To help, or perhaps to hinder, there are a few impediments attached to the interior of the box.  Solving the puzzle is not that difficult, but it is a nice challenge.  When I was done, I noticed a nice property of the pieces, which can be exploited to solve the puzzle.  I’d like to say that, of course I recognized this property and summarily conquered the challenge in one swift stroke, but as usual, I crossed the finish line with a half-lit bulb.  Perhaps you’ll come across it and immediately recognize it for what it is.  And no, I’m not going to say what it is.

T-Box Design


Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Shhhh! She Just Turned – 6T

Someone just turned 60!  But I promised my young (very young) wife that I wouldn’t say who it was.  Over the years, as other distinguished family members received puzzles, 7T, 8T+, and 9T to commemorate significant milestones, she patiently waited to be bestowed the honor of yet another milestone puzzle.  This year, I developed a 6T puzzle for her - for no specific reason.  As my wife unwrapped her presents for yet another 29th birthday, she was delighted to finally receive her own milestone puzzle.

It may come as a surprise, but the 6T puzzle is comprised of 6 T-shaped pieces that have to be packed within a 3x3x3 box.  The puzzle was 3D printed with each of the Ts in a different color and an open-top silver box with 6T debossed on the side.  Immediately, you know there is some funny business going on if you are required to pack 6 Ts made with 5 cubes (that’s 30 altogether) into a box that can accommodate 27 cubes.  It quickly becomes obvious that the triangular half-cubes of the pieces have to be leveraged to jam those Ts together.

Although practically a kid, my wife has been around puzzles for a long time and knows a thing or two about solving them.  She tackled the puzzle and quickly demonstrated that the experience that comes with youth could be used to solve this puzzle in less than 30 minutes.  She was very happy to discover that this was not one of those intractable designs (avoid celebrating 80!).

I should mention that Dr. Volker Latussek had designed a Six-T-Puzzle that was made by Rombol, but I don’t believe that it is currently being made.  This puzzle was previously mentioned in the post, Puzzle-A-Month Challenge.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

A Puzzle to Save the Day - Mighty Pin

Mighty Pin by Alan Lunsford

Once you’ve had a couple of successes, people start to expect it from you.  I’ve never had to worry about that, but after Alan Lunsford’s successful launch of Unsafe Deposit and Bolt Action, he must have been wondering if his latest entry in the series, Mighty Pin, would continue to garner the high praise achieved by its predecessors.  If you haven’t yet had a chance to play with Mighty Pin, not to worry, it’s a worthy successor of the coin cube conundrum series.

Mighty Pin Solved
If you have not been acquainted with Alan’s c3 series, each puzzle is a cube with a coin visible in a window that needs be freed from the cube.  Each requires multiple steps, utilizing tools that become available during the journey.  My favorite part of these puzzles is the engineering that Alan packs within these little cubes.

The Mighty Pin is 3D printed in black with the name debossed in grey.  Similarly, the coin is black with grey debossing with Alan’s logo on the exposed side and a stylized “A” on the flip side.  Of course, the box also has an assortment of mysterious holes to eventually be explored.

The c3 puzzles are more fun than difficult and Mighty Pin continues that trend.  However, it took me a while to discover the second to last move of Mighty Pin.  I danced around the correct move many times until I finally figured out what was required to be rewarded with yet another tool.  It’s so well done (and so unobviously obvious in retrospect).  I accomplished the last move much quicker, but you can’t fully appreciate it until you free the coin to see exactly how it works.  That final “click” is very satisfying as it lets you know that you’ve arrived at your destination.  As I mentioned earlier, the engineering is awesome!

Mighty Pin Card
As with the other puzzles in the series, Mighty Pin comes with a nice card that outlines the goal.  My favorite part was the note: “small taps may be used to loosen misplaced tools”.  This can be loosely translated as: “yeah, you may regret dropping tools in the bottomless dark holes”.  However, I give Alan a lot of credit for coming up with a design that seems to preclude unrecoverable mistakes although I wouldn’t be surprised if some enterprising individual manages to wedge a tool somewhere it’s not supposed to be (force = frustration x time).  {Unrefined comments about mighty pins in dark holes purposely avoided here – you’re welcome.}

Will there be a fourth in the series?  One can only hope.  My guess is that Alan has developed a cache of ideas during the development of this series that may get incorporated into new puzzles in or apart from the series.  

The Mighty A
You can get Mighty Pin and Alan’s other puzzles on his layerbylayerpuzzles Etsy shop.  Since Mighty Pin just came out, you may have to wait for it to be stocked again.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Tooling Around With Puzzles - Sequential Discovery Cubic Box

Sequential Discovery Cubic Box by Junichi Yananose
Once again, Pluredro has released a sequential discovery (SD) puzzle that sold out in minutes – 140 in 4 minutes to be exact.  This provides all the background you need to understand that Junichi (Juno) Yananose’s puzzles are well appreciated and coveted.

When the Sequential Discovery Cubic Box (SDCB) arrived, it looked like a nice 3x3x3 burr puzzle made from Fijian Mahogany.  It also comes with a nice Spotted Gum stand.  A little shake dispels that concept and gives you the first hint of other things waiting to be discovered inside.

Since spoilers of any kind are deeply frowned upon for SD puzzles, they can only be described in the vaguest of terms.  So the first move is cool!  I wish that I could say that it was the result of some brilliant thinking on my part, but like a lot of things in my life, it just happened.  But it’s so cool!  At this point you find yourself committed to the journey since there is no obvious immediate way to reset the first move.

The second move reveals that this is indeed an SD puzzle and not a simple 3x3x3 Burr.  Several secreted caches of tools, compartments, and receptacles are revealed.  However, most of it is just a tease, since they all seem to be safely nestled in their beds without an obvious way to release them.

Juno Stamp
Although there are several steps that comprise the solution, you’re never really in danger of not knowing what the next step is.  The path is well defined, mostly linear, and focused more on fun than difficulty.  So how do you know when you’ve completed the journey?  It’s over when you finally find Juno’s stamp – or I should say that this is the beginning of the reset process.  Resetting the puzzle is straight-forward, including the first step, which is especially fun.

I didn’t treat solving the puzzle as a race and took my time enjoying and understanding how each step worked.  Juno employed a lot of nice mechanisms in the design and its worthwhile spending some time to appreciate them.  There was one move that I’m sure has a more elegant procedure than the one that I used.  I searched for an alternative after solving the puzzle but was unable to find one.  Everything else was so well thought out that I’m convinced that I’m missing some subtle nuance of the step.  I’m looking forward to getting confirmation on that step someday.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

An Acute Case of Soma Mangling - Halfcut Soma

Halfcut Soma by László Molnár

After seeing all the abused, mangled, and broken Soma variants that came out, László Molnár came to the conclusion that 90/90 is so 2020.  Using his acute sense of puzzle design mastery, he determined that something was wrong with the angles of these variants and decided that they couldn’t be right all the time.  Utilizing the rombic tetrahedra grid of BurrTools, he found a cut that was above the rest and created Halfcut Soma - once again proving the adage that you can still appear sharp even if you’re not right.

Like so many unfortunate Soma cube victims before, the design process commenced with picking on the smallest piece of the group.  The tri-cube was once again targeted and dissected into 6 pieces.  This time however, László cut the 3 cubes at 45 degrees before gluing each triangular half-cube to one of the other 6 pieces.  This could have been the end of it, but László obviously decided that this puzzle would be too easily solved by discriminating Soma puzzle enthusiasts who have been crunching through many variants over recent years.

Halfcut/Fullcut Soma Piece Comparison
Continuing on his 45 degree tangent, László decided to cut all of the pieces’ cubes at 45 degrees and throw half away.  Now each piece was made with only 5 triangular half-cubes.  Of course, now you can’t immediately identify which half-cube was the one that was added.  Each piece looks like it could have been derived from more than one of the original Soma pieces.

The objective of the puzzle remains to fit the pieces into a 3x3x3 space.  Of course, with all those half-cubes thrown out, there are a lot of holes in the resultant cubic space.  László also ensured that there was a single solution to maximize your enjoyment.

Solving the Halfcut Soma is a nice challenge!  Enough information is provided for you to solve it with a logical approach and a little experimentation.  Even so, it takes a while to warp your mind for working with pieces made with triangular segments instead of cubes.  Taking a logical approach is not mandatory and you’re welcome to disregard it and enjoy the puzzle for a longer time.

László Molnár Debossing