Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Ménage à Trois – Two Guys & a Gal (Free Me 9)

With a name like Two Guys & a Gal, you know that the situation will be complicated and you’re in for a protracted fight.  As the name suggests, this puzzle houses a lady flanked by 2 Johns.  More specifically, Lady Liberty and 2 John F. Kennedy’s.  I’m sure every puzzler’s favorite part will be Lady Liberty’s backside featuring a nice selection of gears symbolizing American Innovation.

Two Guys & a Gal was designed and made by Joe Turner.  This is the 9th puzzle in Joe’s Free Me series.  It is a sequential discovery (SD) puzzle concealing several imaginative and tricky mechanisms that need to be overcome to release the 3 trapped coins.  The puzzle was made with Cherry, Maple, Coins, and assorted hidden attractive and unattractive metal bits.  The attention to details like ensuring that the grain flows across piece boundaries makes the puzzle a work of art.

The puzzle houses an amazing 3-part journey to release the coins from their resting place.  This SD adventure uses several tools discovered along the way allowing you to continue the journey along the solution path until you finally arrive at the destination.  Of course in the beginning, it’s just you and the puzzle.  Just keep repeating to yourself: I’m just a tool.

This puzzle was so good, I couldn’t put it down.  Once I started, I didn’t stop until I had freed each of the coins and then reassembled it.  When I initially reset it, it seamed right but didn’t quite seem right.  One of the coins appeared too loose and I thought that maybe I had worn out one of the mechanisms.  After analyzing the associated mechanisms closer, I realized that I failed to properly reset it.  Once properly reset, it was back to the state that it arrived in.  So if it looks like you’re done but it’s loose, you’re not done.

From start to finish, the tools and mechanisms never ceased to amaze and delight me.  I can’t wait to get my hands on Free Me 10 next year! {insert seed of rumor here - done}


Wednesday, May 22, 2024

PPing in the Big Apple - NYPP 2024

After a long hiatus, I’ve finally gotten back to PPing.  And what better way to start than with the 2024 New York Puzzle Party (NYPP).  There’s nothing like a good PP to brighten your day.  The best part is reconnecting with all the other puzzlers you haven’t seen in ages.

The NYPP used to be held in February to align with the World’s Toy Fair, but has now been moved to the end of April to celebrate the end of tax season.  No more sloshing through wet snowy drifts in the middle of the Big Apple, but no one is complaining.

The best part of NYPP is seeing all the puzzle displays and getting the opportunity to play with new puzzles.  There is always a nice variety of puzzles and puzzly things to fiddle with.

Geared Mechanisms

NYPP 2024 was held on 20 April.  My goal this year was to ensure that nobody bought one of the Completely Broken Soma copies that I brought, and I’m proud to say that I successfully accomplished my mission even though the best part of NYPP is the opportunity to buy/sell/trade puzzles.  That reminds me that I need to post another Completely Broken Soma warning update.

Of course the best part of NYPP is the schedule of presentations.  This year’s speakers covered a variety of topics:

Josh Rosenfeld
Giving Puzzly Gifts – Josh Rosenfeld, ODES UNBOXED:
Josh shared the story of his journey in developing personalized puzzles tailored to the recipient.  A journey starting with a birthday puzzle adventure through hundreds of gifts later as a business.  Josh’s presentation centered on his approach to developing these gifts and highlighted 5 stages:

  1. Identifying what you want the gift to convey.
  2. Crafting the giving of the gift.
  3. Building a world for the recipient to inhabit.
  4. Shaping the puzzles around what a person loves.
  5. Revealing meaningful rewards.

Henry Segerman
Geared Mechanisms – Henry Segerman: Henry started with an update on his work with Holonomy and its application to puzzles.  He started with the pursuit of complexiturizing the flat 15 puzzle until it morphed into “something that you don’t want to play with”.  Several holonomy examples were shown, demonstrating that a moving piece following a complete circuit will have a different orientation at the end of the circuit from when it started.  Examples included the Dodecahedral Holonomy Maze and the Continental Drift Puzzle.  Henry did confess that the next generation 3D rotational holonomy puzzles are not fun to play with.  Sounds exactly how I market my puzzle designs.  After the holonomy update, the main portion of the talk was on geared mechanisms.  Best of all, Henry had table full of examples on display that could be played with.

Michael Cahill
Games Magazine Archive – Michael Cahill:
Mike picked up where he left off at the last NYPP that I attended (back in 2020) with some more game show trivia.  This year, Mike gave an overview of:

  1. The Devil’s Plan – Korean game show featuring a reality competition based on strategy games.
  2. The Floor – Time based trivia show.
  3. Generation Gap – Cute game with a psychologically damaging endgame.  Mike pointed out that this game scarred family relationships for life.

The main portion of the discussion focused on contests that went awry and one in particular that was put out by Games Magazine.   Mike researched this by going through old issues of Games Magazine on after seeing a news reference to a large contest payout due to an error in the execution of the contest.

Glenn Iba
Waffle Puzzle – Glenn Iba: I believe that the title of this discussion was Cuyler Cannon but my faulty memory failed to produce a reason why.  The discussion centered on the process of creating a program that could solve the daily Waffle Puzzle.  Glenn provided a step by step approach on how such a program is constructed.

Haym Hirsh
The Soma Renaissance – Haym Hirsh:
Haym provided an overview of the multitudinousation of the Soma cube developed by Piet Hein in the 30’s that has spawned and continues to spawn Soma variants with no end in sight.  Haym fessed up to contributing to this pandemic but cast blame on others as well including Theo Geerinck, Oskar van Deventer, Lucie Pauwels, Frans de Vreugd, Brian Young, Rick Eason, Martin Watson, Volker Latussek, Andreas Röver, and even that Soma mangler, Ken Irvine.  As fascinating as the Soma history review was, it was overshadowed by Haym’s mastery of hand puppetry.

Dick Esterle
Still Amazing, The Windy Windy Twisty Route – Dick Esterle:
  Dick presented some material that he had shown at G4G.  The presentation provided a Glimpse of the geometry that Dick uses to create puzzles as well as the Amazing Geometry Machine

I must confess that at one point I was that annoying audience member making those clack, clack, clackity, clack sounds during one of the presentations as I tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to cram 3 simple (but oh so complex) pieces into a box.  One of those, looks simple but not possible, puzzles.  The fact that the 3 pieces, Curvy, Bendy, and Wavy were not too steady on their feet caused them to tumble down in a rather noisy fashion.  Undeterred by venomous stares, I continued to clack away.  At least I assumed that there were venomous stares since I sat in the back and could only see the back of everyone’s heads.  However, I did manage to get most everything back in the box.

Curvy, Bendy, and Wavy Packing Puzzle

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

A Puzzle of Two Tales – Soma in Case

Soma in Case by Hajime Katsumoto

I hate it!  No, I love it!  No, I’m pretty sure that I hate it!  But it’s great!

Introducing Soma in Case.  This copy isn’t pretty like the one produced by Cubicdissection in 2018.  The quality of the 3D printed box is rough, poorly fitting, and ugly.  There are a lot of artifacts on the perimeters and places where the printer seemed to completely fail.  The pieces are made from Livecubes, which are great for quickly producing pieces, but unfortunately, only four prong pieces were used requiring the prongs to be cut off of one cube of every piece.  And even though the prongs were removed, the base where the prongs are mounted still sticks out from the pieces.  Ideally, each piece would have used 2 cubes with 2 prongs that can be mated to avoid exposed prongs that need to be trimmed.

My apologies to the maker of this puzzle for criticizing a good deed.  In the end, the construction of this puzzle accomplishes its goal of providing an opportunity to experience this excellent design by Hajime Katsumoto.  In fact, nearly all of the solve time was spent searching for the magical assembly using the pieces without the box.   The box is really only needed to verify piece restrictions and testing potential solutions (I use the term potential loosely here since several of the assemblies that I tried had no potential to evolve into a solution).

The style of the box was modeled after (or perhaps before, I really don’t know) the one built by Cubicdissection.  I find the style a bit odd, but it works.  I did like the choice of the top and bottom fill pattern used.

The pieces of the soma cube (3x3x3) consist of 27 cubes and the box is 3x2x5 which holds 30 cubes.  That’s 3 extra spaces!  But wait – there’s a cube attached to the underside of the lid.  Not only does this keep the lid from coming off, but its main purpose is to get in way of adding pieces to the box.  Only 2 empty spaces left.

2-Prong Livecubes

It doesn’t take much pondering to determine that the space directly behind (or in front depending on your point of view) the fixed cube needs to be empty.  Otherwise, the box would be bricked – and as hard as I tried, I wasn’t able to brick the box.  The remaining empty space could be anywhere

I must have discovered all the ways to assemble the pieces within the box that aren’t possible.  At least it felt that way.  The Cubicdissection description says there are Over 100,000 solutions, only one is assemblable.  Although as a frequent BurrTools user, I would have said over 100,000 assemblies but a single solution, the point comes across that it won’t be trivial.  In fact, I worked on this one for a long time before I finally found that needle in the haystack.

Of course, it’s not a random process where you have to try all assemblies.  You can narrow the search by knowing where one empty space is within the box and hypothesizing where the other could be.  The cube attached to the underside of the lid also restricts how pieces can be oriented within the box.  You quickly realize that the movement of the pieces is very limited within the confines of the box and that rotations are difficult to accomplish.

This copy of Soma in Case may not be the heirloom puzzle (defined as any puzzle that children are not allowed to touch but someday own) coveted by serious puzzle collectors, but I highly endorse the use of 3D printing, Livecubes, and other materials to experience excellent puzzle designs like this one from Hajime Katsumoto.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Apparently Aesthetically Pleasing – Belt Cube 3

Belt Cube 3 by Osanori Yamamoto
Pelikan Puzzles has made quite a few clever apparent cube packing puzzles designed by Osanori Yamamoto.  I’ve already talked about W-Windows and Pumpkin 1.  Now let’s look at Belt Cube 3 released in 2019, although I only recently acquired this copy.

Belt Cube 3 is a very attractive puzzle made with a Purpleheart frame and Wenge pieces. With only 3 pieces and a wide open frame, how difficult could it be?  Technically, it has a 10.2 level of difficulty.  This can be loosely translated as fun but not very difficult for this type of puzzle.

The symmetry of the 2 rather large frame openings gives you a big clue as to how the 3 pieces need to be assembled to make an apparent cube.  And yes, there apparently is a non-apparent configuration.

When I started working with the pieces, I quickly found a configuration that looked promising but was having difficulty figuring out the moves required to get it in the frame.  However, having learned my lesson (many, many, maannnyyyyy times) I stuck with it until eventually the pieces appeared to make a cube within the frame.  For puzzles like this, it’s all about appearances.  My rule of thumb for this type of puzzle is if you find a configuration that supports at least 3 to 4 cool consecutive moves, it’s probably the solution and there is a 5th move, and a 6th move, etc.

I found this one a bit easier than the others that I have done, but to be honest, you can’t go wrong with any of them.  They are well made, beautiful, and apparently aesthetically pleasing.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Puzz L - Strugg L

Strugg L by Junichi Yananose

I always enjoy playing with puzzles designed by Junichi Yananose and I was especially attracted to Strugg L with it’s spikey pieces comprising a prickly packing puzzle.  As a bonus, it also had a cool name.

The Strugg L pieces are made from Fijian Mahogany with bamboo pins and the frame is made from American Rock Maple.  The pieces, as well as the frame, have grooves for the pins to traverse, thus restricting their movement.

Although the description on the Pluredro site indicated that the puzzle was sold disassembled, shortly after the release, messages started popping up on the Mechanical Puzzle Discord server saying that they were being received assembled.  Sure enough, when I received mine, it was assembled as well.  Too bad!  I think that disassembled would have been the way to go for this one.

Strugg L Pieces
Using my super power of instantly forgetting puzzle solutions and piece movements, I quickly took it apart and was pleased to discover that it had now arrived disassembled (surely a Memento moment).
The objective, of course, is to make a 3x3x2 assembly with the 6 spikey pieces.  Some of the pins will need to face inward to interact with the other pieces and some will need to face outward to interact with the box.  Although you may think that rotations with the pins would be required to solve the puzzle, the description indicates that the goal is to use only rectilinear moves and that any rotations would only be short-cutting the solution.  It warns that this occurs about 20 moves into removing the first piece and indeed, at that point it is obvious that pieces can be rotated out.  However, it is definitely worthwhile to stick with the rectilinear movements to enjoy the full experience.  If you’re not taking the rotational shortcuts, it also adds a little more effort to remove or insert the remaining pieces.

Although cool, the name isn’t really indicative of the difficulty level.  Strugg L may look intimidating with all those spikes, but I found it to be very manageable in one sitting.  However, I must admit to retaining some residual memory concerning the single hole in the frame, which may have (or may not have) contributed to my quick success.  

Although I was hoping to strugg l a bit more on this puzzle, I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to similar (and slightly more difficult) puzzles of this type.

Bottoms Up

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Happy Anniversary! – Still Yet Another Year of ZenPuzzler

ZenPuzzle 4th Year Puzzles

Four years of ZenPuzzler now!  Readership has dramatically increased by another 20% to 6 steady readers as my grandson has reached reading age.  Thankfully he has yet to discern between good quality and mediocre ramblings in media.

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 very nicely made metal puzzle.  The name of each post is linked to the entry so that you can easily jump to it by clicking on the name.  

5 APR 23 – Don’t Be A Square – Bent Packing

  •     Bent Packing by Arne Koehn

29 MAR 23 – Entwining Pieces – Collator

  •     Collator by Alexander Magyarics

 22 MAR 23 – Uniquely Sneaky Snakey Packer – Snake Pack

  •     Snake Pack by Haym Hirsh

 15 MAR 23 – Well Played – The aMAZEing Puzzle Box

  •     aMAZEing by QUIZBRIX

Wood Puzzles

 8 MAR 23 – An Attractive Puzzle – MagneTeam

  •     MagneTeam by Alexander Magyarics

 1 MAR 23 – Charming Snakes Into A Box – Snake Pack 2

  •     Snake Pack 2 by Haym Hirsh

 22 FEB 23 – ? – W.D.I.G.M.I

  •     W.D.I.G.M.I by Tanner Reyes & Tye Stahly

 15 FEB 23 – Petits Puzzles – Mini Lock

  •     Mini Lock by Christoph Lohe


3D Printed Puzzles

8 FEB 23 – No Scoop 4U – 4 PAC

  •     4 PAC by Hajime Katsumoto

 1 FEB 23 – Catch The Wave – Wavelinks

  •     Wavelinks by Rod Bogart

 31 AUG 23 – A Tray Too Big – Jigsaw 16

  •     Jigsaw 16 by Yuu Asaka

 6 JUL APR 22 – Not So – Safe

  •     Safe by Jürgen Reiche


2D Acrylic Packing Puzzles

28 JUN 22 – Arranging Your Balls – Pyradox

  •     Pyrodox by George Bell

 22 JUN 22 – Some Puzzles Give You the Shutters – W-Windows

  •     W-Windos by Osanori Yamamoto

 8 JUN 22 – Puzzle Philosophy – Yin Yang

  •     Yin by Volker Latussek

 11 MAY 22 – Petite Passel of Puzzles – 2D Packers

  •     Doheny by Haym Hirsh
  •     C-It by Haym Hirsh
  •     Eloquint by Haym Hirsh
  •     Skinny & Fat Lightning

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Don’t Be A Square – Bent Packing

Bent Packing by Arne Koehn
Tired of working with others that are always right -  angled?  Had enough of cubic dissections?  Looking for a puzzle that has a lot of rotations?  Then it’s time to wrap your mind around the core of Bent Packing.  There are too many squares in this world and Arne Koehn has decided to do something about it.

Bent Packing is an apparent cylinder packing puzzle designed by Arne Koehn.  Not only did Arne design the puzzle but he made the model files available for anyone to print their own copy.  Even selling copies is allowed with the only restriction being to credit the designer.  And on top of all that, the OpenSCAD file used to create the models is included.  Wow! – That’s about as generous as it gets.  You can get everything here:

Before moving on to the puzzle itself, the OpenSCAD file provides a lot of useful information.  Of particular interest, is the code for beveling the pieces using the minkowski function.  It’s absolutely brilliant!  It was posted on the Mechanical Puzzle Discord not too long ago and I’ve already used it a couple times.  In fact, I used it to bevel the pieces for 4 Pack (No Scoop 4U – 4 PAC) and the frame and key piece for Mini Lock (Petits Puzzles – Mini Lock).

Bent Packing Frame Disassembled
The OpenSCAD code also uses the BOSL2 library to provide the threading and lettering.  If you need threaded pieces, the library has a nice set of thread routines that you can screw around with.

Since Bent Packing is an apparent cylinder packing puzzle, you have to pack the pieces inside so that it looks like a complete cylinder from the outside.  There are 3 openings in the frame that need to be filled to accomplish this: the rather large opening in the side used to insert the pieces; a hexagonal window in the side opposite from the piece entrance; and a small window in the top of the puzzle.

So how hard is it to pack the pieces in the frame?  For starters, you can just unscrew the frame, put the pieces in, and screw it back together again.  And before you laugh, this really is a nice feature allowing you to store the puzzle in a non-solved state and safely transport it with all pieces encased without worrying that they will fall out (unless you were foolish enough to pack it in the solved state).

On my first try, I packed the pieces in but failed to fill the hex window.

On my second attempt, I said to myself, Oh, that’s not good.  As the last piece snapped in place, I realized it shouldn’t snap and of course the pieces were stuck.  Good thing the bottom can be unscrewed (I recommend not gluing the frame shut for obvious reasons).  I believe that this move was possible because the pieces were designed with large tolerances to support the widest universal success across a world full of various 3D printers.

Bent Packing Top
Forsaking the use of any force whatsoever, no matter how small, I found myself going around in circles.  That’s pretty easy to do with this particular puzzle.  I eventually discovered that I could pack the pieces in without covering the window on the top.  I was beginning to understand why the windows were placed the way that they were.

Of course, along the way I also found a configuration that can fill all the holes.  Unfortunately, it was not possible to insert the pieces for that configuration.  However, it would make a great way to store the puzzle.  Having run out of time, I had to put the puzzle down for the night and leave it for another day.

Lying in bed the following morning, it suddenly dawned on me what I had been missing.  DUH!  As I sat down at the table with my cup of tea, I quickly solved the puzzle.

As I look at this puzzle, I can’t help but wonder if it could be the next successor to the picnic basket puzzle series.  Could this frame be robust enough to support multiple types of pieces that can be packed within?  Will Arne take on this challenge?  Will others in the puzzle community take on this challenge?  Would it be possible to organize a competition?  These are the things that flitter through my mind as the pieces drift through my fingers.