Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Ending With a Beginning - CagedTIC 1

CagedTIC 1 by Andrew Crowell
This is the 12th and final post of the monthly Andrew Crowell Rotations and Obstructions Series - Turning Interlocking Cubes (ACROSTIC).  A year ago, I decided to do a post every month during 2020 of one of Andrew’s TIC puzzles after buying a large batch of them.  Of course, I acquired many more of them during the year and the later posts are of more recent acquisitions.  You can tell from the newer acquisitions that Andrew has the 3D printing process figured out and the quality of his puzzles has become excellent.  

CagedTIC 1 is a perfect puzzle to end this series on.  It looks great, it’s difficult, and the “1” seems to indicate that there will be more to follow!  Did I mention that it’s difficult?  Even though I almost always recommend that you receive these puzzles disassembled, you can get this one assembled if you want.  It’s a challenge to even get all the pieces out of the frame.

So let’s get into it.  The puzzle fits within a 5x5x5 cubic area.  The simple frame comprises all of the cubes edges and is made from a marble PLA with the name of the puzzle debossed on one edge.  The 7 pieces that get packed into the frame are made from a light blue PLA and Andrew’s name is debossed on one of them.  The packed pieces leave the center of each of the 6 cubic faces unoccupied to make a pleasant design.  The pieces fall into 3 categories.  

Pieces 1-3

The first 3 are filler pieces that serve as spackle to construct that attractive final shape and each can simply be pulled from the puzzle in a single move.  However, the filler pieces do serve an important function for the puzzler.  They help identify how the other pieces need to be oriented within the frame.

Piece 4

The fourth piece is not difficult to remove but can’t be pulled out in a single move.  It also requires a rotation to extract it from the cage.  

Pieces 5-7

The final 3 pieces are the real challenge.  With only 3 pieces left to remove, you would think that it would be easy to just shake them out.  However it is far from easy and, needless to say, requires several rotations to accomplish.  It’s not even easy to determine which of those pieces need to come out first.  I wasn’t certain which one it was until I managed to free it.  Removing the remaining 2 pieces is not that difficult.

CagedTIC 1 Pieces
I had originally taken the puzzle apart when I first received it and didn’t tackle the reassembly until months later, leaving me with a good challenge.  Of course, I easily got 6 pieces in without one of the difficult trio and them spent quite a bit of time trying to get the trio established within the frame.  Of course, I had to take it apart again for the blog photos and struggled again to get the trio back out.  I know how those 3 pieces have to go within the frame but it’s a struggle every time.  Brilliant puzzle!

Although this is the last of the monthly series of TICs from Andrew Crowell, never fear.  I’m a fan of Andrew’s puzzles and I’ll certainly be including more of them in next year’s posts.  I’d like to thank Andrew for his awesome and prolific output of TICs and other puzzles over the last couple of years and look forward to seeing what the future brings.  I hope these TIC posts have inspired some of you to try and enjoy Andrew’s puzzles.  He usually has some available on his Etsy shop, arcWoodPuzzles, if you are looking for them.

You can find the prior posts of the series here:

January: Puzzling DNA - GeneTIC

February: TIC, TIC, TIC - PackTIC II

March: Green Beer ‘ill Cure What Ails Ya - BioTIC

April: The Proper Way to Solve a Puzzle - PedanTIC

May: Will This One Really Be Better Than The Others? - SkepTIC

June: Space, The Final Frontier - MagellanTIC

July: Hanging in Suspense - PackTIC V

August: Fantastic 20+ Move TIC with an 11 Move Non-TIC Alternate Solution - PatheTIC

September: I Had This Feeling That I Was Going To Like This Puzzle - MystTIC

October: A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy - Fantastic

November: Puzzle Candy - ThreeTIC, TriadTIC, TripleTIC, NeuroTIC, TriumviraTIC

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

A Christmas Present For You 2! – Penultimate Burr Box Set 7-Piece Burr Challenges

Penultimate Burr Box Set 7-Piece Burr Challenge Gift

I know that by now, most of you have completed all 898 Penultimate Burr Box Set challenges including last year’s Christmas Challenge and were wondering what to do with that old dusty box.  In the event that you haven’t sold, traded, or regifted your stick collection, there is now an entirely new set of challenges for you.

6-Piece burrs have been all the rage with everyone amassing large quantities of this venerable puzzle and all its variants.  However, the 6-piece burr is so 2020!  As we leave 2020 behind us, a new set of challenges is needed for 2021.  Enter the 7-piece burr, 6’s lesser known brother.

7-Piece Burr Puzzle
Of course, there are multiple ways to construct a shape with 7 burr pieces.  With the construction that I chose, BurrTools indicated there are 3,232,523 assemblies and 184,687 solutions.  In English, this means that there are 3,232,523 ways that 7 of the burr pieces from the set can make the 7-piece burr shape, but only 184,687 of these assemblies can be taken apart.  Further analysis indicates that 471 of the solutions are unique.  A unique solution is one where the 7 pieces cannot be rearranged to make the 7-piece burr another way.  Of the 471 unique solutions, 38 are level 2 and the remaining 433 are level 1, where the level is the number of moves required to remove the first piece or set of pieces from the puzzle.

I haven’t completed all 471 solutions yet.  OK, I’ve only done the first one so far.  I didn’t find it that difficult but it does require some different thinking.  In the 6-piece burr, all the pieces basically perform the same function, however in the 7-piece burr, 2 of the pieces now function differently.  This can be leveraged during the solution process.

Burr PIeces
First Attempt: During my first attempt, I managed to assemble 6 of the pieces into an assembly that would have accommodated the final piece, but there was no way to add that piece.  Some extra thinking was required to find an assembly that can be constructed.  

Second Attempt: My second attempt was close, but the parity of the last piece was wrong for the assembly that I was constructing.  (sheesh, what does he mean by parity? – Basically, the assembly had a hole on the left and the piece had a cube on the right).  

Final Attempt: Assuming that the final piece was correct, I rebuilt the assembly with a parity to match the piece and it finally went together.

Some of the puzzles will be very similar to each other and you may want to cherry pick ones that look interesting.  Then again, 2 puzzles may only differ by 1 piece yet be entirely different. If you would like to give these a try yourself, the pieces required for the unique solutions are below.  Hopefully, these challenges will keep your set from joining the yuletide log.

Penultimate Burr Box Set

Level 2 Unique Solution Piece Sets:

6,7,9,10,15,17,19 6,7,9,10,15,17,20 5,6,7,12,17,22,24 5,6,7,10,21,22,24
5,6,7,12,15,20,22 5,6,7,15,17,23,24 3,5,6,7,8,22,24 6,7,9,10,11,17,24
5,6,7,9,16,19,24 5,7,10,12,15,18,24 5,6,7,9,19,24,25 5,6,7,10,15,23,24
5,7,10,12,17,22,24 5,6,7,9,17,24,26 4,5,6,7,8,22,24 4,5,6,7,11,15,24
5,6,7,15,17,18,24 5,6,7,12,15,17,22 5,6,7,15,17,20,22 6,7,9,10,14,15,19
6,7,9,10,14,15,20 5,6,7,10,20,22,24 5,6,7,10,19,22,24 5,6,7,12,15,23,24
5,7,10,15,17,18,24 6,7,10,11,12,15,17 5,7,10,12,15,17,22 5,7,10,12,15,17,24
5,6,7,10,15,22,26 5,6,7,10,15,24,26 6,7,10,12,14,15,17 5,6,7,17,20,22,24
5,6,7,9,17,23,24 3,5,6,7,11,15,24 5,6,7,12,20,22,24 4,5,6,7,10,15,24
5,6,7,12,15,18,24 6,7,10,13,14,15,17

Level 1 Unique Solution Piece Sets:

5,7,9,10,18,21,24 5,7,9,10,15,18,23 5,7,9,10,15,18,26 5,7,10,11,15,16,19
5,7,10,11,15,16,22 5,7,10,11,15,16,24 1,5,7,8,10,18,22 4,6,7,8,9,10,22
4,6,7,8,9,10,24 1,3,5,6,9,10,15 5,6,7,15,17,21,23 5,6,7,15,17,21,26
5,7,9,10,13,16,19 4,5,7,9,10,15,22 4,5,7,9,10,15,24 5,7,9,10,13,16,20
6,7,9,10,13,15,23 6,7,9,10,13,15,26 1,5,7,9,10,12,19 1,5,7,9,10,12,20
5,6,10,13,17,24,25 5,6,7,11,13,24,26 5,7,10,11,15,18,19 1,5,6,9,10,21,24
5,7,10,14,15,17,18 5,7,9,10,14,19,22 5,7,9,10,14,19,24 5,7,9,10,14,19,25
5,7,10,14,15,17,21 5,6,10,14,15,16,17 1,5,6,10,15,16,17 1,4,5,6,9,10,15
5,7,9,10,16,21,24 5,7,9,10,13,18,19 5,7,9,10,13,18,20 1,5,6,10,14,15,18
1,5,6,10,14,15,19 1,5,7,9,10,14,19 5,7,10,11,13,16,24 1,5,7,9,10,14,20
5,6,10,11,15,19,22 5,6,10,11,15,19,24 5,7,10,11,12,15,21 5,7,10,14,15,19,22
5,7,10,14,15,19,24 5,7,10,14,15,19,25 5,7,9,10,11,16,19 5,7,9,10,11,16,20
5,6,10,14,15,18,22 5,6,10,14,15,18,24 5,7,10,11,17,22,24 3,5,6,7,8,24,25
1,5,7,10,15,16,17 6,7,9,10,11,15,23 6,7,9,10,11,15,26 5,6,7,13,15,18,23
5,6,7,13,15,18,26 5,6,9,10,21,22,24 5,7,10,11,13,18,24 5,7,9,10,15,22,23
5,7,9,10,15,22,26 4,5,6,7,9,17,19 1,5,7,10,14,15,18 1,5,7,10,14,15,19
1,5,7,9,10,16,22 1,5,6,10,11,12,22 4,5,6,7,9,17,20 5,7,9,10,12,19,24
5,6,9,10,17,19,22 5,6,9,10,17,19,24 5,6,9,10,17,19,25 5,7,9,10,14,21,24
1,5,7,8,10,22,25 5,7,9,10,11,18,19 5,7,9,10,11,18,20 4,5,6,7,8,16,24
6,7,8,9,10,22,23 6,7,8,9,10,22,26 5,6,9,10,16,18,24 5,6,7,9,21,23,24
1,5,6,10,12,15,16 1,5,6,10,12,15,19 1,5,6,10,12,15,21 5,7,9,10,13,20,25
5,6,9,10,18,20,24 4,6,7,8,10,14,15 5,7,10,12,15,16,21 5,7,10,12,15,16,22
5,7,10,12,15,16,24 5,6,7,9,20,22,23 5,6,7,9,20,22,26 1,5,6,7,9,13,23
5,6,7,13,17,22,23 1,5,6,7,9,13,26 5,6,7,13,17,22,26 5,7,9,10,15,24,26
1,5,7,9,10,18,24 1,5,6,10,11,14,24 1,5,7,10,11,12,22 5,7,10,11,15,22,25
5,7,10,12,14,15,21 5,7,10,15,17,19,22 5,7,10,15,17,19,24 5,6,10,15,17,18,19
1,5,6,8,10,16,24 1,5,7,8,10,24,25 6,7,8,9,10,24,26 1,4,5,6,7,9,12
5,6,10,15,16,17,18 5,6,10,15,16,17,19 1,5,7,10,12,15,16 1,5,7,10,12,15,19
5,6,10,15,16,17,22 5,6,10,15,16,17,24 5,6,10,15,16,17,25 5,6,9,10,18,22,24
1,5,7,10,12,15,21 5,7,10,12,15,18,21 3,5,6,7,9,12,19 3,6,7,8,10,15,17
3,5,6,7,9,12,20 1,5,7,10,11,14,24 5,7,10,11,15,24,25 4,5,6,7,15,17,19
1,5,6,8,10,18,22 1,5,6,7,8,14,23 1,5,6,7,8,14,26 5,6,10,12,14,16,24
3,5,6,7,15,16,17 5,7,9,10,11,20,25 5,6,9,10,16,20,24 4,5,6,9,10,15,16
4,5,6,9,10,15,17 4,5,6,9,10,15,18 4,5,6,9,10,15,22 4,5,6,9,10,15,24
4,5,6,9,10,15,25 3,5,6,9,10,14,15 5,6,10,11,14,22,24 5,6,9,10,18,24,25
5,6,9,10,12,16,19 1,5,6,9,10,12,19 5,6,10,12,15,19,22 5,6,10,12,15,19,24
5,7,10,11,13,22,24 5,6,7,9,14,19,23 5,6,9,10,12,16,20 5,6,10,12,15,19,25
5,6,7,9,14,19,26 1,5,6,9,10,12,20 1,5,7,9,10,20,22 1,5,7,9,10,20,24
5,6,7,11,15,19,23 5,6,7,11,15,19,26 5,7,10,15,17,21,22 5,7,10,15,17,21,24
5,7,10,15,17,21,25 5,6,7,14,15,18,23 5,6,7,14,15,18,26 5,6,10,12,14,18,24
4,5,6,7,12,14,24 5,6,9,10,16,22,24 4,6,7,9,10,12,15 5,6,9,10,13,19,22
3,6,7,9,10,11,15 5,7,10,13,17,18,22 5,6,9,10,12,18,19 1,5,6,9,10,14,19
5,6,9,10,12,18,20 5,7,10,11,13,24,25 1,5,6,9,10,14,20 4,5,6,7,13,17,24
5,7,10,13,16,17,22 5,7,10,13,15,16,18 5,7,10,13,15,16,19 3,5,6,7,12,15,16
3,5,6,7,12,15,19 3,6,7,9,10,13,15 5,6,9,10,15,23,24 3,5,6,7,9,18,24
1,5,6,9,10,16,22 5,6,10,12,15,21,22 5,6,10,12,15,21,24 5,6,9,10,11,19,22
5,6,9,10,11,19,24 1,5,6,8,10,22,25 5,6,7,9,13,20,23 5,6,7,9,13,20,26
4,5,6,7,8,24,25 5,7,10,13,15,18,19 5,7,10,13,15,18,22 5,7,10,13,15,18,24
5,7,10,13,15,18,25 5,7,9,10,21,22,24 4,5,6,7,11,17,24 1,5,6,9,10,18,24
5,6,9,10,12,20,25 5,7,9,10,17,19,22 5,7,9,10,17,19,24 6,7,8,10,14,15,23
6,7,8,10,14,15,26 5,6,7,11,15,23,25 3,5,6,7,10,15,24 1,5,6,8,10,24,25
5,6,7,8,22,23,25 5,7,9,10,16,18,22 1,3,5,6,7,9,12 5,6,10,13,15,19,22
5,6,10,13,15,19,24 5,7,9,10,18,20,22 5,7,9,10,21,24,25 5,7,9,10,15,17,23
5,7,9,10,15,17,26 5,7,10,13,17,22,25 3,5,6,7,9,20,24 5,7,9,10,14,16,19
5,6,7,9,11,20,23 5,6,7,9,11,20,26 5,7,9,10,14,16,20 5,6,7,11,15,25,26
5,6,7,8,22,25,26 5,6,10,12,14,24,25 5,6,10,11,17,18,24 5,6,7,11,14,24,26
5,7,9,10,18,22,24 5,6,10,11,16,17,24 1,5,7,9,10,11,19 4,5,6,7,9,12,19
1,5,7,9,10,11,20 4,5,6,7,9,12,20 5,6,7,11,13,23,24 1,5,6,9,10,20,22
1,5,6,9,10,20,24 5,7,10,11,15,17,21 5,7,9,10,14,18,19 5,7,10,14,15,16,18
5,7,10,14,15,16,19 5,7,9,10,14,18,20 5,6,10,11,15,16,22 5,6,10,11,15,16,24
5,6,7,11,12,22,23 5,6,7,11,12,22,26 5,6,7,10,15,16,20 5,7,10,11,14,16,24
5,7,9,10,16,20,22 3,5,7,9,10,15,22 3,5,7,9,10,15,24 5,6,7,8,18,22,23
5,6,7,8,18,22,26 1,5,7,9,10,13,19 1,5,7,9,10,13,20 5,6,7,12,15,21,23
5,6,7,12,15,21,26 5,7,10,11,15,19,22 5,7,10,11,15,19,24 5,7,10,11,15,19,25
6,7,9,10,12,15,23 6,7,9,10,12,15,26 5,7,10,14,15,18,19 5,7,10,14,15,18,22
5,7,10,14,15,18,24 5,7,10,14,15,18,25 1,5,6,10,15,17,19 1,5,6,10,15,17,21
5,6,7,10,15,18,20 5,7,10,11,14,18,24 5,7,9,10,16,22,24 5,7,9,10,16,22,25
5,7,9,10,13,19,22 5,7,9,10,13,19,25 1,5,7,9,10,15,23 1,5,7,9,10,15,26
5,6,9,10,17,18,19 5,6,9,10,17,18,20 1,5,6,10,13,15,18 1,5,6,10,13,15,19
5,7,10,11,12,16,22 5,7,9,10,14,20,25 5,6,7,12,14,22,23 5,6,7,12,14,22,26
5,6,9,10,16,17,19 5,6,10,14,15,19,22 5,6,10,14,15,19,24 5,6,9,10,16,17,20
5,6,10,11,17,22,24 1,5,7,10,15,17,19 1,5,6,10,12,14,22 1,5,6,10,12,14,24
5,6,7,13,15,19,23 5,6,7,13,15,19,26 1,5,7,10,15,17,21 1,3,5,7,9,10,15
1,5,7,9,10,17,19 5,7,9,10,15,23,24 5,7,9,10,15,23,25 1,5,7,9,10,17,20
1,5,6,10,11,13,24 4,5,6,7,9,18,24 1,5,6,10,13,17,22 5,7,10,15,17,18,21
1,5,6,10,13,17,24 5,7,10,11,12,18,22 1,5,6,7,8,11,23 1,5,6,7,8,11,26
1,5,7,10,13,15,18 1,5,7,10,13,15,19 5,7,9,10,11,19,22 5,7,9,10,11,19,24
5,7,9,10,11,19,25 6,7,8,9,10,23,24 1,4,5,6,7,8,17 5,6,7,9,21,24,26
5,6,10,11,17,24,25 5,7,10,15,16,17,21 5,7,10,15,16,17,22 5,7,10,15,16,17,24
5,7,9,10,13,21,24 1,5,7,10,12,14,22 1,5,7,10,12,14,24 4,6,7,8,10,15,17
5,6,10,12,15,16,18 5,6,10,12,15,16,19 1,5,6,10,11,15,16 1,5,6,10,11,15,19
3,6,7,8,10,14,15 5,7,9,10,15,25,26 5,6,10,12,15,16,22 5,6,10,12,15,16,24
5,6,10,12,15,16,25 1,4,5,7,9,10,15 1,5,6,10,11,15,25 5,6,9,10,17,20,25
5,6,9,10,20,24,25 1,5,7,10,11,13,24 5,6,7,11,15,16,23 5,6,7,11,15,16,26
5,7,10,12,14,16,22 4,5,6,7,15,16,17 3,6,7,8,9,10,22 3,6,7,8,9,10,24
5,6,10,11,15,22,25 5,6,10,15,17,19,22 5,6,10,15,17,19,24 5,6,10,15,17,19,25
1,5,7,10,13,17,22 1,5,7,10,13,17,24 5,6,7,10,15,22,23 4,5,6,9,10,14,15
5,7,10,11,14,22,24 5,7,10,12,13,15,21 5,7,10,12,15,19,22 5,7,10,12,15,19,24
5,6,10,12,15,18,19 1,5,6,9,10,11,19 1,5,6,9,10,11,20 1,5,6,10,11,17,24
4,5,6,7,9,20,24 1,5,7,10,11,15,16 1,5,7,10,11,15,19 1,5,7,10,11,15,25
5,6,9,10,14,19,22 5,6,9,10,14,19,24 5,7,10,12,14,18,22 5,6,10,11,15,24,25
3,5,6,7,15,17,19 5,7,9,10,11,21,24 4,6,7,9,10,11,15 5,7,10,11,14,24,25
3,5,6,9,10,15,16 3,5,6,9,10,15,17 3,5,6,9,10,15,18 3,5,6,9,10,15,22
3,5,6,9,10,15,24 3,5,6,9,10,15,25 1,5,6,9,10,13,19 1,5,6,9,10,13,20
1,5,7,9,10,21,24 5,6,10,11,13,22,24 1,5,7,10,11,17,24 5,6,7,9,16,22,23
5,6,7,9,16,22,26 5,6,7,14,15,19,23 5,6,7,14,15,19,26 5,6,7,9,13,19,23
5,7,10,11,12,22,25 5,6,7,9,13,19,26 4,5,6,7,12,15,16 4,5,6,7,12,15,19
5,6,10,15,17,21,22 5,6,10,15,17,21,24 4,6,7,9,10,13,15 3,5,6,7,12,14,24
3,6,7,9,10,12,15 5,6,9,10,15,22,23 5,6,9,10,15,22,26 5,7,10,12,15,21,22
3,5,6,7,9,17,19 5,6,10,13,17,18,24 5,7,10,12,15,21,24 5,7,10,12,15,21,25
3,5,6,7,9,17,20 5,6,9,10,12,19,24 5,6,9,10,12,19,25 1,5,6,9,10,15,23
1,5,6,9,10,15,26 5,6,7,9,14,20,23 5,6,7,9,14,20,26 3,5,6,7,13,17,24
5,6,10,13,16,17,24 3,5,6,7,8,16,24 5,7,10,13,15,17,21 5,6,9,10,15,24,26
1,5,6,9,10,17,19 1,5,6,9,10,17,20 5,6,7,9,11,19,23 5,6,7,9,11,19,26
5,7,10,12,14,22,25 1,3,5,6,7,8,17 5,7,10,13,15,19,22 5,7,10,13,15,19,24
5,7,10,13,15,19,25 5,6,10,13,15,18,22 5,6,10,13,15,18,24 5,7,9,10,15,16,23
5,7,9,10,15,16,26 6,7,8,10,15,17,23 6,7,8,10,15,17,26 3,5,6,7,11,17,24
5,7,9,10,20,22,25 5,7,9,10,14,15,23 5,7,9,10,14,15,26 1,5,7,8,10,16,24

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Puzzle Purchasing Pandemonium – Cluster & Inelegant Box

Cluster by Andrew Crowell & Inelegant Box by Haym Hirsh

Puzzle madness has gripped the world!  A once humble community of puzzle enthusiasts has morphed into an insatiable world-wide puzzle-gobbling beast.  Reports of shopping cart thefts and shop crashing are now commonplace on puzzle messaging sites.

Puzzle demand now far outweighs the supply generated by a few key craftspersons around the world.  The entire internet can be felt sagging as puzzlers around the world refresh their screens multiple times per second in the anticipation of newly released puzzles.  Mom & Pop puzzle shops are collapsing under these loads forcing a migration to more sophisticated ecommerce website providers.

For the holiday season, Brian Menold at Wood Wonders decided to embrace this madness and held a special 24 hour “Snatch the Puzzle” event on Black Friday, 27 November 2020.  During the event, puzzles were randomly made available at deeply discounted prices as a way of saying thank you and providing some holiday fun for the puzzling community.  It consisted of puzzles from recent and future releases as well as some other goodies like puzzle stands.

However, Brian took pity on everyone.  To avoid having everyone repeatedly hit the refresh key for 24 hours (please don’t take this to mean that I don’t think there aren’t people up to such a challenge), he periodically posted clues via Facebook on 25 and 26 November 2020, providing hints at the times that he would be releasing puzzles:

  • Will you be looking for puzzles in prime time, or when you're having a piece of pumpkin pie?
  • I wonder if a label might come in handy?
  • Let's start early. Same time forward or backwards.
  • Is it a time or an airplane?
  • There may be an emergency or two tomorrow!
  • Why are those guys all sitting cross-legged on the floor on such a windy day?
  • Another time, same backwards and forwards, and upside down.
  • Police - Location (US)
  • And finally, should I repeat myself?

Who couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that!  Like everyone else around the globe, I continually mashed the refresh key at what I hoped were the release times in an attempt to grab a puzzle.  Most of the time, I managed to get a puzzle in the cart, only to have it disappear before checking out.  The event was almost over before I managed to successfully acquire a puzzle.  When my wife asked me what I bought, I sheepishly looked at her and said “I have no idea.  If you have to look at it before you buy it, it will be gone.”  Of course, all of Brian’s works are wonderful and you really can’t go wrong.  Shortly after the event, I received a box from Wood Wonders with 2 puzzles.


Cluster by Andrew Crowell
I initially had the opportunity to solve a copy of Cluster prototype that Brian brought to RPP last year (A Decade of Puzzling - RPP 2019) and was glad to finally acquire a copy.  The version that I received was made from Cambodian Ormosia.  It has an awesome grain looking like black bolts of lightning running through the wood.  It also has an interesting distinctive scent that reminded my wife of Sandalwood.  Cluster was designed by Andrew Crowell and it should come as no surprise that rotations are required to solve this puzzle.  In fact, all the pieces require rotations.  One of the pieces makes a rotational circuit through the puzzle, which I consider the highlight of the puzzle.  The puzzle is not very difficult, but the crystal shape requires some out-of-the-box-shape thinking.

Inelegant Box

Inelegant Box by Haym Hirsh
Inelegant Box is my second acquisition from the Inelegant Puzzle series by Haym Hirsh made by Wood Wonders.  My first was Inelegant Fake (Not Your Elegant Hoffman Packing Puzzle - Inelegant Fake).  Like Fake, Box is made from 4x5x6 unit blocks that have been joined into 6 "L" shaped pieces consisting of 4 blocks each.  Since this consists of only 24 blocks, the completed cube is missing 3 blocks.  One of those blocks is the center of the cube making it hollow – aka a box.  This puzzle is not that difficult, but you do have to keep in mind that that there are missing blocks and you may have a difficult time solving this puzzle without that in mind.  The version I received from Brian was made with Canarywood and has a beautiful reddish grain to it.  It also came with a Curly Maple frame that shimmers as you tilt it.

Puzzle Stand by Brian Menold

Brian enjoyed providing this event to the puzzle community and is considering making this an annual event.  I’ve already started a finger training route in anticipation of next year’s event.  Thank you Brian for a fantastic time (12:21, 2:33,  3:14, 3:35, 4:06, 7:47,  9:11, 10:20, 11:11, AM/PM)!

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

They’re Everywhere! But This One Is Special! - ACorn

ACorn by Andrew Crowell
This time of year, there is nothing but acorns everywhere you look.  They cover the yard, they cover the sidewalk, they cover the street, and you can hear them raining down on the cars.  You have to be especially careful when you are out walking to avoid having them roll your feet out from under you.  You also learn pretty quickly to cover your head anytime there is a slight  breeze.  Even as we near the end of this year's acorn barrage, I was still happy when one particular ACorn hit my house.

This new ACorn is one of Andrew Crowell's new Apparent cube puzzles. It’s 3D printed with a light brown frame with the name debossed on the side.  Like ManiAC, which was the subject of last week's post (Apparently Another Crazy Puzzle - ManiAC Shuffle), it has 2 separate challenges.  Each challenge involves taking a set of pieces and packing them into the seemingly wide-open frame so that it appears to contain a squat 3x3x2 cube.

The first challenge uses a set of 3 marble pieces debossed with the number 1 on them.  This challenge is a warm-up and much easier than the second challenge.  The rotations required were fairly simple and didn’t require any dexterity to accomplish.  If you’re new to these types of puzzles, this is the one to start with!

On the other hand, the second challenge consisting of 4 black pieces debossed with the number 2 was a real challenge.  Although there is a rotation, this one is not about rotations.  There are only so many ways to insert the largest piece and I found myself going around and around and doing the same things over and over.  I finally gave up and started to think about the problem.  The key thought that led me to the solution was a[sigjfi[j giegr[erjoier gjerg [eji9g[e9jge[ 9rjgeg ijergad fgjldjgioe wrkj gioekr kgjdgj;ek gjrkiejg  - Sorry, nodded off and my forehead took over the typing.  Where was I?  Oh, yes - this second challenge is what makes this puzzle a must-have and the first challenge is simply an added bonus.  

ACorn is a great puzzle with both an easy and difficult challenge.  Something for everybody!

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Apparently Another Crazy Puzzle - ManiAC Shuffle

ManiAC Shuffle by Andrew Crowell
That maniacal puzzle designer, Andrew Crowell, has been at it again.  Back in September, I reviewed Andrew’s initial foray into developing what is being referred to as apparent cube puzzles (Apparently Packing Puzzles - Corner Cube, Edge Cube, Angle Cube).  The objective of these puzzles is to pack some reluctant puzzle pieces into a box with one or more restricted openings such that the box appears completely full.  I say reluctant, because it can be difficult to cajole those pieces into their proper positions with multiple twists and turns.

Andrew’s new apparent cube puzzles come with two sets of pieces for twice the frustration.  The first one that I tried was ManiAC Shuffle.  Please note that Andrew highlighted his initials in ManiAC - or does that stand for Apparent Cube?

As with the prior apparent cubes, ManiAC shuffle is 3D printed and consists of a gray frame and a set of 4 bronze pieces debossed with the number 2 and the another set of 3 blue pieces debossed with the number 3.  Andrew had help with naming the puzzle and number 1 got lost in the shuffle.  Apparently, the honor of naming the puzzle went to the first person to solve it on the Mechanical Puzzles discord group.  The blue and bronze pieces are made with the shiny PLA and look awesome!

One good hint for solving this type of puzzle is the realization that it takes several moves to take the first piece out when it is assembled.  If you are contemplating a configuration of pieces where the last little piece just gets shoved in a hole in one move, you’re on the wrong path.  Another little hint for you is that the debossed numbers on the pieces are not visible when the puzzle is solved.  Before you all start jumping up and down crying that I’ve just ruined your solving enjoyment, Andrew placed all the numbers on inside faces of the pieces.  You didn’t really think that I would give you any kind of useful clue, did you?

I initially solved both ManiAC challenges a couple of weeks ago and then solved then again to refreshed myself on the solutions for this post.  The first time that I solved ManiAC, I started with the blue pieces that were numbered 3 and I did the same when I solved it this time.  I just assume that fewer pieces equates to easier and I always like to start with the easy one.  Well, I can tell you that after sitting around for a couple of weeks, it wasn’t any easier the second time around.  Tough little bugger for only three pieces.  One piece is 3x3x1 so it can only go in the 3x3x2 frame laying flat and there only seems to be one way that it can be inserted.  With one piece down, you would think that it would be close to being solved.  Not quite.  It took some effort to figure out how to add the other 2 pieces.  Of course, every piece has to be rotated and one of the rotations is a real dexterity challenge!

The bronze set seemed easier than the blue set, but to be honest, when you’re working on a few of these at a time, your brain gets a little warped as you work through them and you can start to see around the corners more easily.  Unlike the blue set, not all the pieces have to be rotated.  However, you will start to recognize the common theme of having to insert a piece in an orientation that does not seem possible.  It’s also amazing how many moves such a small number of pieces require to make an apparent cube in the frame.  A lot of these moves are accomplished by tilting the box in various directions to get the pieces to slide where they need to go.  Yes, you’ll look like a maniac.  Be sure to do it with your tongue hanging out!

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

The Gift That Keeps Giving - The Ottawa Cube

The Ottawa Cube by Ken Irvine
Several years ago, the hosts of the 35th International Puzzle Party indicated that they liked my 4x4x4 interlocking puzzles and asked if I would be interested in designing the Committee gift for IPP35.  This gift is given to each of the hard-working committee volunteers that make the event run smoothly.  Of course, I was honored and immediately said yes.

The development of the IPP35 puzzle was a collaborative effort between several people including the IPP35 hosts, Brett Kuehner and Rob Stegmann, who provided design criteria, reviewed proposed designs, and provided feedback; myself as the designer; world-renowned craftsman Brian Menold from Wood Wonders to make them; and Rob Jones providing support.  The result of this team effort was the Ottawa Cube.

What prompted me to finally write about the Ottawa Cube this week, is the listing of an Ottawa Cube on the Cubicdissection Marketplace.  Only 30 were made and you don’t see them very often.  This particular copy is an unopened spare from IPP35 that has been added to the puzzle auction to support a charity: Community Food Bank of New Jersey.  The winner will not only support those in need but end up with a rare puzzle as well.

Since it would be awkward to describe how wonderfully awesome this puzzle is, I decided to share some of the highlights of the design process:

Round 1 - Something New

The IPP35 hosts approached me 1½ years before the event to design the puzzle.  They were looking for something similar to my 4x4x4 designs and offered the following criteria:

  • It should be a new, unproduced design.
  • It should not be too expensive to make.
  • It should be challenging but not too difficult to solve.

The Reject Series Puzzles
With that guidance, I set about creating 3 new designs and I brought prototypes to IPP34 and the following Rochester Puzzle Picnic (RPP) for the hosts to review.  Each of the designs consisted of a 4x4x4 puzzle built around an initial concept.  These concepts were:

  • An entire 2x2 face pushed in for the first move.
  • A friction move required for the first move.
  • A puzzle consisting of all U-shaped pieces.

After a thorough review by the hosts, they said that’s nice, … , but it’s not what we’re looking for.  They were looking for something more theme related to IPP35 in Ottawa, Canada.

I dubbed the 3 designs - The Reject Series, and they are now even rarer than the Ottawa Cube.  There are only 3 complete sets and I have one of them.

Round 2 - Something Themed

The Ottawa Cube in BurrTools
Armed with a pocket full of rejection, I thought about how I would approach a themed puzzle.  I pretty quickly decided on a cube with letters on the side with the following criteria:

  • The cube would have to be 5x5x5.  A 4x4x4 cube was just too small and anything larger would be too expensive.
  • All the characters used would be on the face of the puzzle and not hidden inside.
  • It would be done in two colors with red for the foreground and white for the background to match the Canadian flag.
  • Each piece would be a single color and not a combination of the two colors.  Yes, sometimes I like to make things unnecessarily complex for myself.  However, without this restriction, you could take any 5x5x5 puzzle and make it look the way you want and I felt that it would lose the quality of what makes it unique if that was done.

I worked up an initial prototype using live cubes and sent pictures to the hosts for an initial assessment to verify that I was on the right track.  I was glad to get a response back that it looked worth pursuing.

Round 3 - Something More Complex

The Ottawa Cube Pieces
Unfortunately, there was no way to lay out the letters on the face where the adjacent edges matched color.  To solve this dilemma, I had to up my game and cut the corner cubes at a 45-degree angle to get a different color on each face.  Of course, this was no longer a cubic dissection and I realized that I had probably just shot the expense criteria to hell.  

Did I mention that I imposed a restriction where each of these different color cube halves can’t be part of the same piece?  Needless to say, it was a challenge to develop an interlocking puzzle with purely colored pieces.

I created a BurrTools file of the new design where each cube in the puzzle was represented by a 3x3x3 set of cubes to allow me to cut them in half at an angle.  BurrTools was able to successfully solve the puzzle, which is always welcome feedback.

With a bit of trepidation, I sent the BurrTools file out to the team for review.  I was particularly worried about what Brian would have to say about all those 45-degree angle cuts.  As an amateur wood dabbler, it looked insurmountable to me.  

Round 4 - Final Product

The Ottawa Cube Backside
With the design process complete, Brian Menold took over the development of the Ottawa Cube. Aside from some recommended changes to improve the structural reliability of the pieces from Brett and Rob’s review of an initial prototype, it was good to go.  Rob also suggested the name: The Ottawa Cube.

The final product is a gorgeous cube with the letters for IPP35 on 5 of the 6 faces.  It’s made with Redheart and Maple to represent the red and white colors of the Canadian flag.  It’s also fairly big and heavy at slightly over 3” per side.

When I first saw the Ottawa Cube at IPP35, I was amazed on how beautiful they looked and how smoothly they moved.  Brian did an amazing job with the 45-degree angled pieces and I was impressed on how well everything came together.

I’m sure that Brian has his own story to tell about unrealistic designers and constraints.  After everything was done and I chatted with Brian about the project, I thought I heard him mumble something under his breath like “neber eggen”.

I’m glad to have been part of The Ottawa Cube team and thoroughly enjoyed working with the team.  I hope that others will be interested in acquiring a copy and helping support the Community Food Bank of New Jersey by bidding generously on the Cubicdissection Marketplace Ottawa Cube listing this week.

The Ottawa Cube Box Label

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Hiding Money in Puzzles - Unsafe Deposit

Unsafe Deposit by Alan Lunsford

It’s difficult to chastise my wife for “saving money” by buying things on sale when I’m “investing” in puzzles that come with money inside.  In my defense, Alan Lunsford specifically adds the amount of the coin to be released to the price of his puzzles to highlight the fact that you are explicitly paying for that coin.  The price of the puzzle is in the dollar’s field and the value of the coin to be released is easily identified in the cent’s field.  Unfortunately, this puzzle was only released in the US due to issues with mailing US currency to other countries.  I’m assuming that future puzzles will utilize some form of decorative non-currency token.

Quarter Trapped in Unsafe Deposit
Unsafe Deposit is Alan Lunsford’s latest coin release puzzle available on his layerbylayerpuzzles Etsy Shop.  Unlike the prior Cop Out puzzles, Unsafe Deposit is a cube with openings on 5 of the sides.  On the front, you can see George Washington’s head on a quarter through a square window.  On the left, there is a quarter sized slot that looks like it may be the exit point, but it is blocked on the inside.  There are also different sized slots on the top, front, back and right side.  Only the bottom of the puzzle is untouched.  Through the slots, you can also see that there are other objects within the cube.  The one visible from the top is blocked by an internal hex head socket screw bolt - or simply for this context, a screw with grabbable head.

Unsafe Deposit Card
The goal is to remove the quarter.  Given the name, Unsafe Deposit, you immediately assume that it is possible to remove the quarter that Alan has deposited in the puzzle.  Included with the puzzle is a card with the following rules:

  • The use of external tools is not permitted.  You should avoid the temptation to use your hammer.  Unless, of course, you have already solved it and want to see how the internal mechanisms work.  In that case, you may want to buy a spare.
  • No excessive force should be used in solving the puzzle.
  • The internal mechanisms are delicate so don’t hit it hard.  To be honest, you don’t need to hit it at all.  Hopefully your mail service doesn’t drop kick your package to the door.
  • Store below 40C/100F.  I’m not sure at what temperature puzzles made from PLA start to warp, but I’m assuming that it’s best not to store them in your car or garage in the summer.
  • Contains magnetic components.  Yes, the puzzle is attractive.
  • Have fun!  This reminder was added for those that get stuck and circle back to check the rules again for a clue.

The first thing you’re going to do is try the moves that you used for the Cop Out puzzles, but that’s not going to help you.  Of course, you’re going to do it anyway even though I just told you that it’s not going to work, but that’s OK - I would too.  Forget everything you learned with the Cop Outs.  Unsafe Deposit is a different kind of animal.  I knew that I was in for something different but I didn’t quite realize how much change to expect.  It is more of a sequential discovery puzzle than a coin release puzzle even though the ultimate goal is to release a coin.  Along the way, you will discover other tools that you will need to continue the journey.

Unsafe Deposit Solved
The solving sequence of Unsafe Deposit used very clever mechanisms but I found it very simple overall.  I solved it quicker than any of the Cop Out puzzles.  However, it makes an excellent introduction to sequential discovery puzzles.  What really impressed me was the construction of the puzzle.  The box looks like it has been seamlessly printed as a single object and not assembled from separate pieces.  This would require the printer to be paused while internal pieces such as magnets and sliding panels are added.  And of course, the filament needs to be changed to add the name of the puzzle in a contrasting color on the top of the box.  It really is very well made and I was immediately impressed when I unboxed it.  If anyone does take a hammer to theirs, please send me a photo so I can see what the internal structure looks like.  What is needed now is an Almost Safe Deposit follow-on.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Puzzle Candy - ThreeTIC, TriadTIC, TripleTIC, NeuroTIC, TriumviraTIC


Puzzle Candy
There is something nostalgic and completely satisfying about a dish full of colorful treats in an assortment of pretty colors.  Delicious!  However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve had to replace sugar with plastic.  Thanks to Andrew Crowell’s new Turning Interlocking Cube (TIC) designs, I can continue to feed this habit.

Andrew has been developing several TIC designs that consist of only 3 pieces, which I refer to as puzzle candy.  Not a meaty solve that you can sink your teeth into, but something refreshing that you can experience in short burst of time.  It may only take you a couple of minutes, but will surely leave you with a smile.  And the best part, there are no filler pieces.  All 3 pieces are integrally involved in the solution.  These 3-piece wonders also don’t have externally visible voids.

With only 3 pieces each, it is not difficult to determine where the pieces go.  The entire effort is in discovering the moves and rotations required to entangle those pieces and cajole them into looking like cubes.

I have done 5 of them and recommend them all.   Each was made with a white piece, a gray piece (light or dark), and a unique color to make that puzzle stand out from the others.  A veritable rainbow of colors enticing you to grab one to enjoy.  Each puzzle requires an amazing number of moves and rotations that you can marvel at.

ThreeTIC by Andrew Crowell

White/Light Gray/Light Blue.  Level 7.9 (Although the 9 is mostly rotational moves, which are difficult to enumerate).  After figuring out how the first 2 pieces are aligned, you’ll need to determine the sequence of rotational moves to get them in place.  Keep in mind that most of the 9 moves are rotations.  If you’ve done several of these types of puzzles, this won’t be a problem.  If it’s your first, I suggest holding them both up next to each other in their final respective orientation and imagine that they are together while moving and rotating one of them until you have an imaginary separation.  Now reverse the process and assemble them for real.  The final step is to imagine the third piece in the assembly to figure out how that would be removed/added.  This puzzle is the easiest of the bunch and can be solved exactly as you would expect.

TriadTIC by Andrew Crowell

White/Dark Gray/Light Green.  Level 12.5.  After solving ThreeTIC, you may think that the solving process would be the same for all of these puzzles - but you would be wrong.  TriadTIC has a very different ordering of assembly for the pieces making it slightly more difficult than ThreeTIC.  Of course, you will discover this the hard way when solving it.  This puzzle requires a lot of moves to complete like the others, but has the least number of rotations in the solution.  Only 2 simple rotations are required to solve TriadTIC.  With the explosive growth in TIC designs in the last 2 years, these 2 rotations can be considered on the easy end of the TIC spectrum.  If you are unsure whether you would like rotational moves or not, this one is for you to get a taste of what it’s all about.


TripleTIC by Andrew Crowell

White/Dark Gray/Dark Blue.  Level 14.3.  TipleTIC is reminiscent of TriadTIC and although it has its own sequence of moves, it will seem familiar.  I think it is the same level of difficulty as TriadTIC or maybe ever so slightly harder since it’s 2 rotations are paired together in a sequence.  Of course you should get them both, but if you decide to get only one, I’d recommend this one for the slightly more interesting rotations.


NeuroTIC by Andrew Crowell

White/Dark Gray/Orange.  Level 13.3.  Like TriadTIC and TripleTIC, NeuroTIC only requires 2 simple rotations.  However, one of these simple rotations is rather sneaky and I found this one to be more difficult than the prior 3.  It looks so easy now, but it did take me a while to figure out that rotation.  Yes, I know that his one doesn’t start with a “T” and makes it stand out like the ugly duckling.  But just like the ugly duckling, this one turns out to be awesome!


TriumviraTIC by Andrew Crowell

White/Light Gray/Purple.  Level 16.2.  This puzzle is the hardest in the set and requires all pieces to be rotated at some point.  All 3 pieces are equals in the TriumviraTIC and they are all required to start working together from the beginning.  The rotations were more difficult to discover for this puzzle and it was a lot fun determining how to accomplish them.  TriumviraTIC was my favorite of the puzzle candy set.


If you have never solved a TIC, this is the place to start.  If you are an experience TIC solver, you will find these to be enjoyable little excursions.  My recommendation would be to get them all and have them delivered with all the pieces mixed up together in a Sadleresque puzzle pile - so named after that master puzzle blogger who has his friends mix up his puzzle pieces for him.  If you were worried in the past about receiving puzzles unassembled, this is your opportunity to give it a try.  You can acquire your own copies on Andrew’s arcWoodPuzzles Etsy shop.

Puzzle Candy Pieces

This is the 11th post of the monthly Andrew Crowell Rotations and Obstructions Series - Turning Interlocking Cubes (ACROSTIC).  You can find the prior posts of the series here: