Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Don’t Give Up - COP OUT 1, 2, 3

COP OUT 1-3 by Alan Lunsford

Some people go to great lengths to protect their pennies and Alan Lunsford has made it his mission toCOP OUT 1-3 Card help these people.  Through his Etsy shop, layerbylayerpuzzles, Alan offers fiendish devices that you can use to safely store your pennies.  Alan is so confident in his product that he actually sends them out with an entrapped penny and dares you to remove it.  These devices are called COP OUT 1, COP OUT 2, and maybe you can guess it, COP OUT 3.  All 3 are 3D printed with a dark green box with light grey sliders and sold together as a single set.  I like how Alan priced the puzzles with a nice round dollar figure and then added 3 cents to cover the pennies used.

I don’t normally like blind mazes but the COP OUT puzzles don’t leave you in the dark for too long.  Alan has done an excellent job of engineering each of them so that you don’t have to keep flailing in the dark. 


COP OUT 1On quick inspection, the case appears pretty solid, there is window with Abe Lincoln peering out, and 2 tabs that look like they can be pulled.  As you’re looking at the penny, it’s obvious that it won’t come out through the window.   However, on the side you can see a slot that is big enough for a penny to escape.  Now all you have to figure out is how to move the penny from the window to the exit.

Given the size of the COP OUT box and the size of the penny, you quickly realize that there is a lot of space that can be exploited to confound the puzzler.  Add to that some moving parts and you have a recipe for a good time.

I don’t think that it’s much of a spoiler to mention that you will need to pull on the tabs.  After all, they arrive with a rubber band on them to keep them from being pulled out and putting the penny in play.  Pulling that first piece sets the penny in motion and the second move makes it disappear like a magic trick!  Now it’s a blind maze and you have to rely on audible clues to determine how you are progressing through the maze.

Eventually, the penny will pop out of the exit.  Yes, even if you randomly pull, flip, shake, spin, and take a hammer to it, the penny will eventually escape.  I dare you not to drop the penny.

The real trick to this puzzle is to figure out how the internal mechanism works so that you can release and reset the penny as efficiently as possible.  If you are like me, the first time that the penny is released, you will be saying to yourself, “how did that happen”.  It took me almost a dozen attempts before I had a solid understanding of what was going on to reliably solve and reset the puzzle.


Unlike COP OUT 1 where it’s easy to get the penny to disappear, ItCOP OUT 2 seems impossible to get the penny to go away in COP OUT 2.  Peering into the window you can get half of an idea of what you need to do.  I tried to take a lockpicking approach to solve this one and wasn’t too successful.  It would occasionally start to jam, but I made sure not to force it and completely jam the penny.  It was then that I realized that a significant clue was provided and with that flash of insight, I solved it immediately.  It’s a brilliant Aha moment.  Once you know how to solve this one, it is very easy to repeat both the solve and the reset.  Unlike COP OUT 1, you know immediately what is going on and you don’t have to do it multiple times to figure out how it works.


COP OUT 3COP OUT 3 adds a large helping of confusion, a dash of humor, and a pinch of trickery.  I started this one like the other 2 and immediately got stumped once the penny was out of sight.  To make things more difficult, there are other metallic components rattling within the box along with the penny.  I spent quite a while trying to figure out the internal mechanism as various attempted things appeared to change the movement of the internal components.  The Aha moment on this one is terrific.  Very sneaky.  Never saw it coming.  Like COP OUT 2, once you have it figured out, the solve and reset are easily repeatable.

COP OUT 1-3 Solved

I could have sat down and solved all 3 at once, but I like to spread them out and did 1 a day for 3 days in a row.  They’re quick solves, but they’re fun, and it’s nice to have a bit of fun for as many days as possible.  I’d recommend that you do the same.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

A Whole New Level of Puzzle Abuse - Completely Broken Soma

Completely Broken Soma by Ken Irvine

The Soma cube has recently taken a lot of abuse as it’s pieces have been squashed, skewed, shrunk, amputated, and otherwise transmuted.  The latest tragedy is the Completely Broken Soma.  It is the most horriblest puzzle ever excreted from a severely deranged mind.  The scourge to be reviled in the anals of history, loathed by collectors and craftsmen alike.

Completely Broken Soma PieceYup, if there were truth in puzzle advertising, this would surely accompany the Completely Broken Soma.  After some minor tweaking by Marketing, it will end up with something like:  An heirloom puzzle, surely to be treasured for generations.  It provides a fun challenge that will continue to amaze and amuse you. 

Do we really need another Soma puzzle with broken pieces?  I decided that if I was going to break another Soma, I would do it right once and for all.  The Soma pieces would be so butchered and unrecognizable, that I decided to name this new masterpiece, the Completely Broken Soma.  Each piece would have half of ALL it’s cubies removed requiring the puzzle to have 2 skeletal versions of each piece.  And, of course, you won’t be able to simply join the 2 versions of each piece together.  

Completely Broken Soma PiecesSince every piece is half of a Soma piece, there are now 14 pieces.  Ok, this is already a bad idea.  14 pieces is just too many to expect anyone to solve.  Now comes the marketing.  How can we recover from committing this most heinous crime?  How can we salvage this calamity to make it the most desirable puzzle acquisition for 2020?  Noticed how I slipped that proverbial “we” in there? 

Maybe we could glue intersecting pieces into pairs again to get back to 7 pieces.  As it turns out, the pieces of the Completely Broken Soma naturally mate in pairs, but please don’t expect more Completely Broken Somas.  Of course, these 7 pairs look like hybrids of 2 Soma pieces, which they are.  The pairs have anywhere between 1 and 4 half cubes sticking out of them.  In fact, once the cube is assembled, it naturally disassembles into these 7 pairs and you can just treat it as a 7-piece puzzle.

Completely Broken Soma Mated Pieces
Maybe the half-cubes can be made with exotic woods that make a pattern that provides hints on where the pieces go.  For instance, with 2 types of wood, it could be made into a checkered cube.  Or it could be made with corners of one type of wood, face centers a second type, and edges a third type.  The center can reuse one of the wood types such as the one used for the edges or it can be its own fourth type.  Of course, there is always the possibility of making an even easier version with 27 different types of wood, where only each half-cube and it’s mate would be the same.  This would be a very lovely puzzle and probably within the grasp of most puzzlers.  Who wouldn’t want a copy of that?

It’s not easy to completely break something.  BurrTools choked on this travesty for 18 hours before it finally found a set of pieces that would make a cube and another hour after that to find a cube that could be disassembled.

Completely Broken Soma Piece RemovedAt this point it was all conjecture on how difficult this puzzle really was, so I made the 2-color version.  10 minutes later, I marked the pieces where the third color would be.  Not long after, I identified and marked the 2 half-cubes that comprise the center cube.  With the, now 4-color version, I was able to solve it pretty quickly.  Yes, I was pretty lazy, and had I been playing with a nicely crafted puzzle, I would have stuck with it longer than my ugly version with post-its stuck all over it.  

It’s amazing how that fourth color makes all the difference. Since there is only one cube with that color, it’s an immediate win and something you can hang your hat on.  Without it, nothing is certain.  My current feeling, is that the 3-colored version probably has the right level of difficulty and the 2 half-cubes that make the center can be provided as a hint if needed.

If you were reading carefully, you noticed that I indicated that this puzzle would be despised by craftsmen as well.  I’m guessing that making the pieces of this puzzle would fall into the difficulty category with all those small gluing surfaces.  My biggest concern was that the pieces would be difficult to make and someone might break them.  As the name implies, the puzzle shouldn’t be broken any further, it’s completely broken as is. 

Completely Broken Soma ClampedIt may not be obvious, but I specifically designed the pieces so that each glue joint could be clamped.  When I made the pieces for my prototype, I used BurrTools to put it together.  This allowed me to look at a very lumpy looking cube.  Recalling a bit of advice from Stickman, I put the cube in the microwave for a bit to loosen the glue and them clamped it for a few hours.  After unclamping, I had a proper looking cube and a nice set of pieces.  Although my kitchen microwave is my go-to shop tool, this is probably not true for most craftsman.

So now that we finally have a nice design, will you see this puzzle available in the future?  I don’t have a definitive answer to that.  It may be a hard sell to get a craftsman to take this one on.  Of course, a lot of this is driven by demand.  If you would be interested in seeing the Completely Broken Soma made, let me know and I'll check if someone is willing to make it. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

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

PatheTIC by Andrew Crowell

PatheTIC is another wonderful Turning Interlocking Puzzle (TIC) developed by Andrew Crowell.  It consists of large cage piece and 6 smaller pieces that fit within the cage.  3 of the pieces are what I call filler pieces and can be taken out in a single move.  The other 3 perform the rotational dance that makes these TICs so appealing.  The version that I have was 3D printed by Andrew with a yellow cage and green pieces.  I didn’t find this puzzle difficult, but the rotations were very satisfying.

However, PatheTIC has a dark side.  I really couldn’t remember why this wonderful TIC was named PatheTIC.  After all, I received these puzzles last year and have been really good at restraining myself to solving only one a month.  I went back and looked at Andrew’s email and there it was: PatheTIC has 2 solutions, a pathetic non-TIC solution which only requires 11 moves... and the PatheTIC solution which requires 20+ moves and several rotations.

I don’t know about you, but when I find a solution, that puzzle is solved - Done!  If a puzzle can be assembled in thousands of different ways, I’m not the type of person who has to discover all of them.  In this case however, since there was only 1 TIC solution and only 1 non-TIC solution, I figured that someone was bound to call me out if I didn’t find both.

PatheTIC PiecesI now had to go back and find the non-TIC alternate solution.  Of course, the first question you ask yourself is how different are the 2 solutions.  Are all the pieces in different positions or just a subset.  Maybe only 2 pieces have to be swapped.  It probably took me as much time to find the non-TIC solution as the TIC solution.  You can just refer to this as the Muggle solution since it lacks the magic of the TIC solution.  Yes, I’m reading HP again.  Sorry for that.

If a person unfamiliar with TICs attempted this puzzle, they would most likely find the non-TIC version.  For someone like myself, who has done a lot of these TICs, a lot of rational moves are expected and not avoided.  Instead of thinking it looks impossible to get this piece at that location, we search for ways to rotate pieces to get them there.  It’s a different mindset.

So, is this puzzle a TIC or not?  And how many other non-TIC puzzles are out there that have an alternate TIC solution that BurrTools could not find a solution for?  For me, I was lucky and discovered the TIC solution first, so this was definitely a TIC for me.  For you, it may be different.

This is the 8th post of the monthly Andrew Crowell Rotations and Obstructions Series - Turning Interlocking Cubes (ACROSTIC).  You can find the prior posts of the series here:

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

A Non-Conventional Puzzle - Geneva

Geneva by William HuThis puzzle is different!  …  It includes some very unique rotations and coordinate motions!  …  I went back to bashing my head against the desk!

With comments like these (from puzzlers who shall remain blameless), who could resist taking this puzzle for a spin.  William Hu has been producing several new interesting designs lately and his puzzle Geneva is no exception.  In addition to the comments above, the Cubicdissection site also entices you with the warning that the level of difficulty is 9.3.4 and that rotations and coordinate motion are involved.

Geneva was released by Cubicdissection in May 2020.  It is made from Curly Ash and consists of 4 pieces that interlock to form a 4x4x4 cube.  This puzzle is larger than you would expect from recent Cubicdissection releases.  I’m guessing that this was done since there is no fancy joinery and the butt joints would benefit from the additional surface area. 

Geneva PiecesWith only 4 pieces, it’s easy to determine how the pieces would be positioned within a 4x4x4 cube.  Getting them together - therein lies the difficulty.  Interestingly enough, getting 2 of the pieces together, took me a few of minutes.  At first it doesn’t seem possible, and then it was.  Getting all 4 pieces together entails a very well designed rotational sequence.  It is this movement that everyone is thinking about when they comment on Geneva.  It reminded me of something that you would encounter in a Gregory Benedetti puzzle.

You may have noticed that the solved cube has some visible bits missing.  That’s the price you pay for getting that nice rotational sequence.  Some designers add pieces to fill those holes and some don’t.  Jeff Namkung is a good example of a designer who developed some 4x4x4 cubes with voids like this to achieve a higher degree of complexity.

Expect to see more great things from William Hu.  I have a feeling that he is just getting started.