Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Well Played – The aMAZEing Puzzle Box

I was amazed when contacted to do a review of the aMAZEing puzzle box.  Someone wanted me to review a puzzle that they had developed AND BLOG ABOUT IT!  This was a first.  Normally when people send me puzzles, they specifically request that I NOT blog about them.  I’m perfectly fine with this arrangement BTW.

Unless you’re new to the puzzle community, you’ve seen the recent trend of producing puzzles using LEGO ® bricks.  As a designer of puzzles, I perfectly understand the appeal of the LEGO media.  It provides easy access to expressing puzzling genius creativity with quick turn-around times and can produce attractive products without investing in a lot of tools and manufacturing knowledge.  And who doesn’t really like LEGO?

Having said that, you still can’t just throw a bunch of LEGO bricks together and expect a winning product.  There is an art to it and a well-designed LEGO puzzle should be robust as well as intriguing.  I have to admit I was a little intimidated by receiving this puzzle.  I was more than a bit concerned about breaking it.  And by breaking, I mean separating pieces that shouldn’t be separated.  And by concerned, I mean putting myself in a situation where I wouldn’t be able to figure out how it goes back together.

aMAZEing Card
The aMAZEing puzzle box is QUIZBRIX’s debut Sequential Discovery (SD) puzzle constructed from LEGO bricks (the use of the term bricks here does not necessarily mean rectangular).  It either comes in black with white highlights or white with black highlights.  The QUIZBRIX website indicates that the black color is a little more difficult due to lighting differences.  After working with the black one, I can see how it may be easier to peer within a lighter colored version, but it doesn’t really impact the solving process.  There is also one lonely round gray highlight on the side.  

The cryptic highlights promise future knowledge for the worthy.  There are also many openings of various shapes and sizes that look like they would accommodate the insertion of a some type of tool if one could be found (hint: many puzzlers support the requirement of tools that are found and utilized in solving a puzzle if it is to be called a sequential discovery puzzle).  Lastly, there are a few windows where you can peer into the puzzle for visual feedback.  My favorite is the one I refer to as the teaser window.  You can see what has to be done; you have an idea of what needs to happen; but you just don’t know yet how to make it happen.  It was my favorite part of the puzzle.

aMAZEing Instructions
The puzzle arrives with a business card identifying the puzzle and providing guidance for starting. The advice included on the card indicates that you should Pay close attention to what you do.  This is the type of advice usually scoffed at - Duh!  However, it is good advice and I would have included it here even had it not been included on the card.  The puzzle provides many clues on how to proceed.  There are some things that you can just muddle through or you can do it with style.  If you find that you have completed a section without knowing exactly how, it is worthwhile to take a moment and figure out the clues that were to be followed.  There was one section I didn’t fully appreciate until the second time through.

Golden Bar
Having read the warnings on the card, the journey was on.  The objective: find the Golden Bar.  The website promised 30+ steps to completion and all I had to do was find the first one to get started.  The 3 step opening sequence was well-hidden and well-implemented.  Aside from being rewarded after the first few moves, I learned something about LEGO brick movements that I could look for and exploit in other places. I was now completely engaged and on my way to becoming an official LEGO SD explorer.

For the solving process, I view the puzzle as consisting of 3 main sections, with each bringing something new to the experience and the final section culminating in the release of the Golden Bar.  The puzzle box is very well-thought-out, architected, and constructed.  Use of friction was very well implemented.  There are a couple of steps where you just have to trust the designer and go for it.  As for the construction, I needn’t have worried.  LEGO bricks are well-designed and meant to hold together – especially when they are new and haven’t been worn in with repeated assemblies and disassemblies.  LEGO even has a special tool to help separate the bricks.

aMAZEing Reverse Side
Resetting is simple and straightforward and does not require backtracking through all the steps.  However, it is possible to get the puzzle in a state that looks completely reset but would bypass a couple of the steps.  Of course, it’s entirely possible that the next person would be moving in the wrong direction and be resetting instead of solving the puzzle.  Most importantly, it doesn’t appear that you can brick this puzzle with an improper reset.

I had originally thought that the QR code for the reset link would be inside the puzzle box, but was surprised that it was included on the card that came with the puzzle.  In retrospect, it makes sense to add the information on the card to provide the ability to reset at any time prior to completing the solve.  The card also has a QR code for the solution as well.  And yes, you get the reset QR code with the Golden Bar as well in case you need it and can’t locate the card.

QUIZBRIX has done an aMAZEing job with their first LEGO puzzle box.  It’s clever and fun but not difficult.  I believe that the stated 7/10 level of difficulty is a fair assessment.  I’m looking forward to seeing what types of features get added in future QUIZBRIX puzzle boxes.

Was I worthy?  Not entirely.  There was one aspect of the puzzle I wasn’t able to decrypt.  It didn’t impact the solve at all but left me wondering.  I won’t mention it here to avoid taking anything away from your own experience.  -  Yes, I’m worthy!  As I was finishing up this post I finally decrypted that final piece.  I’m still not going to mention what it was.  You’ll have to figure it out for yourself.

The aMAZEing puzzle box is currently available directly on the QUIZBRIX website as well as from NothingYet Designs.

Leg Godt - Play Well!

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

An Attractive Puzzle – MagneTeam

MagneTeam by Alexander Magyarics
You either like or don’t like apparent cube packing puzzles and MagneTeam is certainly a polarizing puzzle.  This puzzle doubles down on apparent cube packingness, giving you that much more to love or hate.

MagneTeam was designed by Alexander Magyarics and made by Cubicdissection.  The box is made from Ash with a - shaped opening on one side and a + shaped opening on the other.  The Cubicdissection team thoughtfully beveled the 4 inner corners of the + opening for when you poke your fingers inside.  The 4 pieces to be packed are made from Granadillo and Morado.  Why 2 different types of wood for the pieces you ask?  Because there are 2 objectives.  The first objective is to pack the 3 Granadillo pieces into the box making an apparent cube (as a quick reminder, an apparent cube is a shape that looks like a cube but may not completely be or be completely a cube.  It just fills all the openings of the box and looks like one.  You can think of it as a cube wannabe/impostor/impersonator – you get the idea).  Once you have apparent( cubic)ly solved the first challenge, the second challenge is to add the Morado piece and pack all 4 within the box to make another apparent cube.  Since the first challenge was already an apparent cube, chances are that you can’t just simply add the additional piece for a quick win but I’m pretty sure that you guessed that already.

So what do you need to know to solve this puzzle.  On the negative side, it may be daunting if you’re not used to apparent cube packing puzzles and unaware of how to utilize small openings to solve the puzzle.  On the positive side, this puzzle has a big opening that easily permits pieces to enter the box.  Both challenges are fun and can be solved like most apparent cube packing puzzles.  No rotations are required but each has a nice difficulty level: and 7.6.6.  

The biggest challenge for the 3 piece apparent cube was quite unexpected.  The Granadillo looks nice and the Morado looks just as nice, so much so, I couldn’t really tell them apart.  You say Granadillo, I say Morado, let’s call the whole thing indistinguishable.  Maybe it was a third challenge, maybe it was Eric Fuller’s sense of humor, but I spent some time trying to convince myself that one of the pieces was made from a different type of wood.  Of course I wouldn’t deprive you of figuring out which piece it is by mentioning it here.  Although if you are curious, you can check it on the puzzle will be played site.  For the record, I would have been perfectly fine if all the pieces had been made from the same type of wood with the challenge being to find which 3 pieces that still made an apparent cube.  

Two very nice challenges for the price of one.  Well done Alexander!

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Charming Snakes Into a Box – Snake Pack 2

Snake Pack 2 by Haym Hirsh
I was fortunate to acquire Snake Pack and Snake Pack 2 from a generous soul on the Mechanical Puzzle Discord (thank you Mark).  To be honest, I approached these puzzles with a bit of trepidation.  I had heard that they were difficult and I was prepared to be assaulted by a variety of coordinate motion dexterity moves worthy of a modern dance performance.  There were even comments from frustrated puzzlers with pieces stuck in the box.  I decided to start with Snake Pack 2 since it was supposed to be the easier of the two (although Haym said that he found it more difficult).

Snake Pack 2 is a charming puzzle designed by Haym Hirsh and made by Brian Menold at Wood Wonders.  The box that the snakes are packed into has an opening in the corner and 3 poke holes inviting your fingers to enter and manipulate the snakes.  The box is made from Canarywood and is absolutely gorgeous!  The varying colors throughout the wood look fantastic!  The 5 identical “B” tetracube snakes that need to be charmed into the box are made of Moabi.  The Moabi looks great, but the poet in me cries for Snakewood – just because.

So what would I expect from a packing puzzle with 5 identical pieces.  The first couple of pieces have lots of room to rotate and could be put in any orientation needed.  The last piece will drop right in.  The next to last piece may require some shifting of the prior 3 to get in place and maybe even a rotation or two.  The third piece will be a pain – enough room to expect rotations and not enough room to accomplish them easily.

I worked with the snakes outside of the box to discover a workable assembly that could be inserted.  A little bit of experimentation shows that there are 2 ways that the snakes can be inserted through the box opening.  The major thought during this process was coming up with an assembly where the first snake could easily be removed from the box followed by a second.  To be honest, at one point I was stuck in a rut and turned the whole thing upside down so that the opening was on the bottom.  This helped me find what I was missing and led me to the solution.

In the end, I thought that the rotations were well behaved and I really enjoyed the puzzle.  And yes, determining what the third piece was and how to get it into place was the crux of the solution.  Once you figure it out, it’s not hard to do.

It turned out that this was an apparent cube puzzle as well.  However, there are supposedly other solutions and I don’t know whether this is the only apparent cube solution or one of many.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

? – W.D.I.G.M.I.

This year’s Christmas present from my friends Tanner and Geneva over at What Did I Get Myself Into HQ was, surprise – a W.D.I.G.M.I. puzzle.  In a recent puzzle gathering, everyone who had a copy confessed to not having solved it.  This inspired me to reshuffle my life priorities to get this one checked off.

W.D.I.G.M.I. was designed and made by Tanner in collaboration with Tye Stahly from NothingYet Designs.  The puzzle is a 2D restricted-opening packing puzzle made from acrylic.  The frame is in the shape of the question mark and made with smoky translucent top and bottom and a black middle layer for sides.  There are 3 openings in the frame but only the largest will admit the pieces.  The other 2 are to there to help move the pieces.  

In addition to the frame, there are 7 pieces made from opaque purple acrylic and represent the characters: W, D, I, G, M, I, and ?.  I particularly liked that it was based on a triangular framework, instead of a rectangular one.  Anyone familiar with Tanner should not be surprised that the color purple was chosen for the pieces.  Usually Tanner bends the phrase What Did I Get Myself Into so that it forms a question mark, but thankfully, we only have to pack the first letter of each word along with a question mark into the frame.

Now that I’ve made it seem easy, it’s not.  When I opened it on Christmas, I quickly found how the pieces could fit in the frame, but it was not possible to put them in the frame in that configuration.  And then almost as quickly, I realized that this was not going to be a trivial challenge.  I don’t want to provide any spoilers, but I will say that I spent most of the time determining how the pieces related to each other and how they could be nestled together in different places within the frame.  Once the proper assembly is found, inserting the pieces is straight-forward.

I can neither confirm nor deny if there is a sole solution or whether multiple solutions exist.  However, I can confirm that finding a solution was a challenge.

Tanner and Geneva are on a mission to spread puzzle joy to the world and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do next.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Petits Puzzles – Mini Lock

Mini Lock - Christoph Lohe
Sometimes you just need to work on a puzzle because it’s cute and not because it’s an epic challenge.  Mini Lock by Christoph Lohe falls squarely into that category.  It’s not difficult and makes a great introductory challenge for someone just starting on interlocking puzzles.  It also displays very nicely and many experienced puzzlers will acquire copies simply for the cuteness factor.

Mini Lock is a simple interlocking burr in the shape of a padlock consisting of a frame and 3 simple pieces.  Two of the pieces form the body of the lock while the third acts as the shackle.  

Mini Lock Pieces
Since I printed my own copy of this puzzle, it was an assembly challenge.  Even so, I’d recommend doing this puzzle as an assembly challenge since it’s not very complex.  Solving the puzzle follows a nice logical progression of how the pieces are introduced to the body.  The 2 body pieces are similar and it’s not too difficult to determine which is on top and which is on the bottom.  Most of the movements are simple with one standing out as a little more interesting, which for me, represented the best Aha moment of the solve.

Cubicdissection recently released a version of Mini Lock in wood, which was still available at the time of this post if you would like your own copy.  A 3D version is also sometimes available at ARC Puzzles.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

No Scoop 4U – 4 PAC

4 PAC by Hajime Katsumoto

Continuing the trend of designing restricted-opening packing puzzles with 4 simple looking pieces, Hajime Katsumoto has provided us with 4 PAC.  The box has a single slot opening to permit the pieces to be entered and several poke holes for you to insert your fingers for manipulating the pieces.  However, for this packing puzzle, the pieces are round, allowing for new types of rotations within the box.  This novelty helped 4 PAC win a Jury Honorable Mention award in the Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition in 2021.

This puzzle looks innocuous.  After all, we’ve solved several of these 2x2x3 packing puzzles with simple looking pieces.  This one looks even easier with the pieces made from cylinders, which support rotations around the cylinder’s axis.  When I first saw a photo of this puzzle, my initial reaction was that it could be trivially solved in several ways.  Deep down, I knew this would not be the case and was summarily reengaged by a comment on the Mechanical Puzzle Discord server: The solution doesn't use the scoop move.  The scoop move?  Was this the move that my trivial solutions were based on.  Indeed it was.  After more thought, this move is obviously (I use the term obviously loosely here since it obviously wasn’t obvious on my first pass) impossible.  However, it would have been possible if the top of the box had a thickness of 0 (that’s mm not inches), which the mental construct within my mind indeed had.

Having cleared its reputation of trivialness, I decided to print a copy to solve.  Given the nature of this type of puzzle, it’s easy to deduce how the last piece goes in.  That only leaves figuring out how to add the first 3 pieces.

4 PAC Scoop Move
No Scoop 4U
As with most of these types of puzzles, I take an out-of-the-box approach and attempt to construct the configuration of the pieces inside an imaginary box and envision how they would be removed.  Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t recognize invalid moves like the scoop move.  This one seemed to require more of an in-the-box approach and I thought that I was clever to have a box with a removable lid so that I could experiment without the top.  I use clever as loosely as obviously since it had all the disadvantages of the out-of-the-box approach as well as the frustration of trying to move round pieces in a tight box in orientations that couldn’t be realized with the top in place.  Having exhausted all the poor ways to solve this problem, I was forced to use the better approach.  With the lid ON, I was able to determine how the pieces could be added one-by-one until the box was packed.  What was once a trivial, unwieldy, frustrating fidgety puzzle, became an interesting puzzle with a solid Aha moment.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Catch the Wave – Wavelinks

Wavelinks by Rod Bogart

It’s swirly, whirly, wavey, and curly.  It’s Wavelinks designed by Rod Bogart.  In addition to being an excellent puzzle, it also has some appeal as a fidget toy.

Wavelinks Pieces
Wavelinks consists of 4 identical pieces that when assembled form 2 interlocking tori (I refrain from using the term donuts to avoid connotations associated with Cast Donuts).  There are no hidden features and everything needed to solve it is in plain view.

I first encountered Wavelinks in the Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Competition  room at IPP38.  I wasn’t able to solve it in the limited time that I had but was duly impressed.  Obviously, I wasn’t the only one impressed since it won a Top 10 vote getter award.

The version in the IPP competition was made by Shapeways, which provides online services for SLS manufacturing.  Upload a design and get copies made and sent to your home.  Before everyone had their own FDM printer at home, this was the best way to achieve rapid prototyping for puzzle development using non-cartesian geometries (I refrain from using the term square to avoid connotations associated with Cast Square).  Even now, although more expensive, SLS is still probably better than FDM for puzzles such as Wavelinks.  You can still acquire copies of Wavelinks from Rod’s Shapeways shop.

I had the opportunity to reattack Wavelinks at an RPP (A Decade of Puzzling - RPP 2019) where someone brought a Shapeways copy that they had acquired.  This time, I was able to solve it fairly quickly while still appreciating the movements required to solve it.

Wavelinks Tori
I mentioned to Rod at an NYPP that I thought Wavelinks would make a good Hanayama puzzle.  Turns out that I wasn’t even close to the first person to mention that.  Rod indicated that he had already discussed it with Hanayama and was told that it was not possible for them to manufacture it.  That was disappointing news considering how lovely it would be if made in metal.

Much to my surprise, a kickstarter project was announced in 2022 by Craighill to produce Wavelinks.  Their campaign announcement had beautiful photos and videos of the 4 pieces (I refrain from using the term quartet to avoid connotations associated with Cast Quartet) made in contrasting silver and black.  It was a complete no-brainer to join the kickstarter.

Wavelinks Packaging
After waiting so long, how is it?  It’s amazing!  Even the packaging is well done.  It arrives in a well designed box with the 2 separated tori situated in a bed of foam.  Each piece is nicely machined and although it can feel a bit fiddly, the movements are smooth.  Having only previously played with the plastic version from Shapeways, it was a shock to actually feel how heavy they are.  1.3 pounds doesn’t sound like a lot until you have to manipulate the piece in your hands.  It’s a real workout.

There is a video in the Kickstarter campaign where the pieces fall into the solved interlocked state (I refrain from using the terms spiral, vortex, and twist to avoid connotations associated with Cast Spiral, Cast Vortex, and Cast Twist).  I suggest that you attempt this catch the wave move.  Once everything is lined up, the pieces really do drop like that.  I’m sure some would consider that video a spoiler, but I don’t think it’s really giving too much away and the appeal of the video is obvious.

I’m very happy that this puzzle was finally released in a format that it deserved and should become available in puzzle shops soon.  I’ve incorporated it into my weekly exercise routine but if you prefer a much lighter copy for your workout, the plastic version is still available on Shapeways.