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. 

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