Wednesday, October 16, 2019
Uns@lv*bl# F!ing O$j@ct - Cast UFO
Every once in a while, something shows up out of nowhere and descends upon the unsuspecting world. This was the case with Cast UFO, and when it landed, it made a big impact.
Cast UFO was designed by Vesa Timonen. I know this because Vesa’s name is the only thing that I can read on the back of the Hanayama Huzzle box. UFO is a sphere trapped within a frame, somewhat reminiscent of Cast Marble (). The frame looks like it needs to slide apart to be separated, but the internal sphere, which can be seen through the hole in the top and bottom, is in the way. The sphere can be rotated within the frame and it appears that the sphere is divided into quarters. The orientation of the quarters can also be changed by rotating any half of the sphere along either cutting plane. Although each of the quarters looks the same, peering into the cracks reveals that the quarters are not simple wedges and that there is some fancy geometry going on that allows the rotations but doesn’t seem to allow it to come apart. Maybe it’s a puzzle.
I played with this one on and off for quite a while. After a month, I was having serious doubts about being able to solve it. For the longest time, it was like the fidget spinner on my kitchen table – something to twirl every once in a while without getting anywhere. Along the way, I was comforted by the thought that the sphere has an infinite number of possible orientations within the cube and that there was no way to identify them since the quarters all look the same. At one point, I almost decided to use a marker to be able to identify the pieces, but decided not to in the end. Warning – using stickers would be a realllllly bad idea.
I started out with what I thought was a reasonable approach to solving it but I wasn’t getting anywhere. Thinking about it some more, I came up with 2 other approaches to disassembling the puzzle. Alternating between the 3 approaches, I finally managed to get it apart. Once I had it all apart my first reaction was relief for finally getting apart. This was quickly followed by the horrifying experience of noticing identifying numbers on the inside of the sphere pieces, which I failed to notice when taking it apart. I now had 6 pieces staring back at me with no indication of how they were originally oriented. The good news is that once you take UFO apart, it is rather easy to determine how the pieces should be oriented and put back together. However, even knowing the solution, it’s still an effort to take apart.
So why does everyone hate this puzzle so much. It’s rare that a puzzle receives negative reviews and this one seems to be attracting them. It’s not that it’s a bad design. It’s a brilliant design. The problem with this puzzle is in the packaging. That’s right, it’s not the puzzle but the box that it came in. It was the presentation that did this puzzle in. Right on the front of the box, it was declared that this puzzle was 4 stars out of 6 in difficulty. So we all put on our 4 star hats and took our 4 star game out to solve this tough nut. But we came unprepared to the game and we felt mislead and cheated. Had the puzzle been given a 6-star rating, puzzlers would have enjoyed it more even though some would have declared that it was too easy to justify a level 6. Folks that normally avoid the most difficult puzzles in the series would have been steered clear of this trap. Even 5 stars might have appeased everyone.
Let’s get back to the design. I’ve already mentioned that it’s brilliant and it is. It was obviously designed to be difficult and it certainly succeeded. Once you take it apart, you can appreciate Vesa’s genius for creating these types of puzzles. This puzzle has very tight tolerances and you have to have everything lined up just right to start the disassembly. I’ve seen at least one reference on the Internet that indicated that a pre-production version, was used for testing. This version most likely had bigger tolerances, which would have made it easier to disassemble, resulting in the easier rating.
I will mention that there is a significant clue that I completely failed to notice that would have been a great help in the beginning.
I bought my version of Cast UFO from Puzzle Master and if the more difficult Hanayama puzzles appeal to you, you can get a copy here.