Wednesday, July 19, 2023

A Puzzle of Two Tales – Soma in Case

Soma in Case by Hajime Katsumoto

I hate it!  No, I love it!  No, I’m pretty sure that I hate it!  But it’s great!

Introducing Soma in Case.  This copy isn’t pretty like the one produced by Cubicdissection in 2018.  The quality of the 3D printed box is rough, poorly fitting, and ugly.  There are a lot of artifacts on the perimeters and places where the printer seemed to completely fail.  The pieces are made from Livecubes, which are great for quickly producing pieces, but unfortunately, only four prong pieces were used requiring the prongs to be cut off of one cube of every piece.  And even though the prongs were removed, the base where the prongs are mounted still sticks out from the pieces.  Ideally, each piece would have used 2 cubes with 2 prongs that can be mated to avoid exposed prongs that need to be trimmed.

My apologies to the maker of this puzzle for criticizing a good deed.  In the end, the construction of this puzzle accomplishes its goal of providing an opportunity to experience this excellent design by Hajime Katsumoto.  In fact, nearly all of the solve time was spent searching for the magical assembly using the pieces without the box.   The box is really only needed to verify piece restrictions and testing potential solutions (I use the term potential loosely here since several of the assemblies that I tried had no potential to evolve into a solution).

The style of the box was modeled after (or perhaps before, I really don’t know) the one built by Cubicdissection.  I find the style a bit odd, but it works.  I did like the choice of the top and bottom fill pattern used.

The pieces of the soma cube (3x3x3) consist of 27 cubes and the box is 3x2x5 which holds 30 cubes.  That’s 3 extra spaces!  But wait – there’s a cube attached to the underside of the lid.  Not only does this keep the lid from coming off, but its main purpose is to get in way of adding pieces to the box.  Only 2 empty spaces left.

2-Prong Livecubes

It doesn’t take much pondering to determine that the space directly behind (or in front depending on your point of view) the fixed cube needs to be empty.  Otherwise, the box would be bricked – and as hard as I tried, I wasn’t able to brick the box.  The remaining empty space could be anywhere

I must have discovered all the ways to assemble the pieces within the box that aren’t possible.  At least it felt that way.  The Cubicdissection description says there are Over 100,000 solutions, only one is assemblable.  Although as a frequent BurrTools user, I would have said over 100,000 assemblies but a single solution, the point comes across that it won’t be trivial.  In fact, I worked on this one for a long time before I finally found that needle in the haystack.

Of course, it’s not a random process where you have to try all assemblies.  You can narrow the search by knowing where one empty space is within the box and hypothesizing where the other could be.  The cube attached to the underside of the lid also restricts how pieces can be oriented within the box.  You quickly realize that the movement of the pieces is very limited within the confines of the box and that rotations are difficult to accomplish.

This copy of Soma in Case may not be the heirloom puzzle (defined as any puzzle that children are not allowed to touch but someday own) coveted by serious puzzle collectors, but I highly endorse the use of 3D printing, Livecubes, and other materials to experience excellent puzzle designs like this one from Hajime Katsumoto.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Apparently Aesthetically Pleasing – Belt Cube 3

Belt Cube 3 by Osanori Yamamoto
Pelikan Puzzles has made quite a few clever apparent cube packing puzzles designed by Osanori Yamamoto.  I’ve already talked about W-Windows and Pumpkin 1.  Now let’s look at Belt Cube 3 released in 2019, although I only recently acquired this copy.

Belt Cube 3 is a very attractive puzzle made with a Purpleheart frame and Wenge pieces. With only 3 pieces and a wide open frame, how difficult could it be?  Technically, it has a 10.2 level of difficulty.  This can be loosely translated as fun but not very difficult for this type of puzzle.

The symmetry of the 2 rather large frame openings gives you a big clue as to how the 3 pieces need to be assembled to make an apparent cube.  And yes, there apparently is a non-apparent configuration.

When I started working with the pieces, I quickly found a configuration that looked promising but was having difficulty figuring out the moves required to get it in the frame.  However, having learned my lesson (many, many, maannnyyyyy times) I stuck with it until eventually the pieces appeared to make a cube within the frame.  For puzzles like this, it’s all about appearances.  My rule of thumb for this type of puzzle is if you find a configuration that supports at least 3 to 4 cool consecutive moves, it’s probably the solution and there is a 5th move, and a 6th move, etc.

I found this one a bit easier than the others that I have done, but to be honest, you can’t go wrong with any of them.  They are well made, beautiful, and apparently aesthetically pleasing.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Puzz L - Strugg L

Strugg L by Junichi Yananose

I always enjoy playing with puzzles designed by Junichi Yananose and I was especially attracted to Strugg L with it’s spikey pieces comprising a prickly packing puzzle.  As a bonus, it also had a cool name.

The Strugg L pieces are made from Fijian Mahogany with bamboo pins and the frame is made from American Rock Maple.  The pieces, as well as the frame, have grooves for the pins to traverse, thus restricting their movement.

Although the description on the Pluredro site indicated that the puzzle was sold disassembled, shortly after the release, messages started popping up on the Mechanical Puzzle Discord server saying that they were being received assembled.  Sure enough, when I received mine, it was assembled as well.  Too bad!  I think that disassembled would have been the way to go for this one.

Strugg L Pieces
Using my super power of instantly forgetting puzzle solutions and piece movements, I quickly took it apart and was pleased to discover that it had now arrived disassembled (surely a Memento moment).
The objective, of course, is to make a 3x3x2 assembly with the 6 spikey pieces.  Some of the pins will need to face inward to interact with the other pieces and some will need to face outward to interact with the box.  Although you may think that rotations with the pins would be required to solve the puzzle, the description indicates that the goal is to use only rectilinear moves and that any rotations would only be short-cutting the solution.  It warns that this occurs about 20 moves into removing the first piece and indeed, at that point it is obvious that pieces can be rotated out.  However, it is definitely worthwhile to stick with the rectilinear movements to enjoy the full experience.  If you’re not taking the rotational shortcuts, it also adds a little more effort to remove or insert the remaining pieces.

Although cool, the name isn’t really indicative of the difficulty level.  Strugg L may look intimidating with all those spikes, but I found it to be very manageable in one sitting.  However, I must admit to retaining some residual memory concerning the single hole in the frame, which may have (or may not have) contributed to my quick success.  

Although I was hoping to strugg l a bit more on this puzzle, I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to similar (and slightly more difficult) puzzles of this type.

Bottoms Up

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Happy Anniversary! – Still Yet Another Year of ZenPuzzler

ZenPuzzle 4th Year Puzzles

Four years of ZenPuzzler now!  Readership has dramatically increased by another 20% to 6 steady readers as my grandson has reached reading age.  Thankfully he has yet to discern between good quality and mediocre ramblings in media.

To wrap up the year, I have created a list of the posts and the puzzles that are mentioned in each.  This year included puzzles made from exotic woods and colorful plastics (printed and cut) as usual, but also saw the addition of a very nicely made metal puzzle.  The name of each post is linked to the entry so that you can easily jump to it by clicking on the name.  

5 APR 23 – Don’t Be A Square – Bent Packing

  •     Bent Packing by Arne Koehn

29 MAR 23 – Entwining Pieces – Collator

  •     Collator by Alexander Magyarics

 22 MAR 23 – Uniquely Sneaky Snakey Packer – Snake Pack

  •     Snake Pack by Haym Hirsh

 15 MAR 23 – Well Played – The aMAZEing Puzzle Box

  •     aMAZEing by QUIZBRIX

Wood Puzzles

 8 MAR 23 – An Attractive Puzzle – MagneTeam

  •     MagneTeam by Alexander Magyarics

 1 MAR 23 – Charming Snakes Into A Box – Snake Pack 2

  •     Snake Pack 2 by Haym Hirsh

 22 FEB 23 – ? – W.D.I.G.M.I

  •     W.D.I.G.M.I by Tanner Reyes & Tye Stahly

 15 FEB 23 – Petits Puzzles – Mini Lock

  •     Mini Lock by Christoph Lohe


3D Printed Puzzles

8 FEB 23 – No Scoop 4U – 4 PAC

  •     4 PAC by Hajime Katsumoto

 1 FEB 23 – Catch The Wave – Wavelinks

  •     Wavelinks by Rod Bogart

 31 AUG 23 – A Tray Too Big – Jigsaw 16

  •     Jigsaw 16 by Yuu Asaka

 6 JUL APR 22 – Not So – Safe

  •     Safe by Jürgen Reiche


2D Acrylic Packing Puzzles

28 JUN 22 – Arranging Your Balls – Pyradox

  •     Pyrodox by George Bell

 22 JUN 22 – Some Puzzles Give You the Shutters – W-Windows

  •     W-Windos by Osanori Yamamoto

 8 JUN 22 – Puzzle Philosophy – Yin Yang

  •     Yin by Volker Latussek

 11 MAY 22 – Petite Passel of Puzzles – 2D Packers

  •     Doheny by Haym Hirsh
  •     C-It by Haym Hirsh
  •     Eloquint by Haym Hirsh
  •     Skinny & Fat Lightning

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Don’t Be A Square – Bent Packing

Bent Packing by Arne Koehn
Tired of working with others that are always right -  angled?  Had enough of cubic dissections?  Looking for a puzzle that has a lot of rotations?  Then it’s time to wrap your mind around the core of Bent Packing.  There are too many squares in this world and Arne Koehn has decided to do something about it.

Bent Packing is an apparent cylinder packing puzzle designed by Arne Koehn.  Not only did Arne design the puzzle but he made the model files available for anyone to print their own copy.  Even selling copies is allowed with the only restriction being to credit the designer.  And on top of all that, the OpenSCAD file used to create the models is included.  Wow! – That’s about as generous as it gets.  You can get everything here:

Before moving on to the puzzle itself, the OpenSCAD file provides a lot of useful information.  Of particular interest, is the code for beveling the pieces using the minkowski function.  It’s absolutely brilliant!  It was posted on the Mechanical Puzzle Discord not too long ago and I’ve already used it a couple times.  In fact, I used it to bevel the pieces for 4 Pack (No Scoop 4U – 4 PAC) and the frame and key piece for Mini Lock (Petits Puzzles – Mini Lock).

Bent Packing Frame Disassembled
The OpenSCAD code also uses the BOSL2 library to provide the threading and lettering.  If you need threaded pieces, the library has a nice set of thread routines that you can screw around with.

Since Bent Packing is an apparent cylinder packing puzzle, you have to pack the pieces inside so that it looks like a complete cylinder from the outside.  There are 3 openings in the frame that need to be filled to accomplish this: the rather large opening in the side used to insert the pieces; a hexagonal window in the side opposite from the piece entrance; and a small window in the top of the puzzle.

So how hard is it to pack the pieces in the frame?  For starters, you can just unscrew the frame, put the pieces in, and screw it back together again.  And before you laugh, this really is a nice feature allowing you to store the puzzle in a non-solved state and safely transport it with all pieces encased without worrying that they will fall out (unless you were foolish enough to pack it in the solved state).

On my first try, I packed the pieces in but failed to fill the hex window.

On my second attempt, I said to myself, Oh, that’s not good.  As the last piece snapped in place, I realized it shouldn’t snap and of course the pieces were stuck.  Good thing the bottom can be unscrewed (I recommend not gluing the frame shut for obvious reasons).  I believe that this move was possible because the pieces were designed with large tolerances to support the widest universal success across a world full of various 3D printers.

Bent Packing Top
Forsaking the use of any force whatsoever, no matter how small, I found myself going around in circles.  That’s pretty easy to do with this particular puzzle.  I eventually discovered that I could pack the pieces in without covering the window on the top.  I was beginning to understand why the windows were placed the way that they were.

Of course, along the way I also found a configuration that can fill all the holes.  Unfortunately, it was not possible to insert the pieces for that configuration.  However, it would make a great way to store the puzzle.  Having run out of time, I had to put the puzzle down for the night and leave it for another day.

Lying in bed the following morning, it suddenly dawned on me what I had been missing.  DUH!  As I sat down at the table with my cup of tea, I quickly solved the puzzle.

As I look at this puzzle, I can’t help but wonder if it could be the next successor to the picnic basket puzzle series.  Could this frame be robust enough to support multiple types of pieces that can be packed within?  Will Arne take on this challenge?  Will others in the puzzle community take on this challenge?  Would it be possible to organize a competition?  These are the things that flitter through my mind as the pieces drift through my fingers.

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Entwining Pieces – Collator

Collator by Alexander Magyarics
Where other people say, please make it easier to put things in the box, puzzlers dare to say, please make the box opening smaller with malcontent contents that don’t like to work together.  Entwining pieces within a box with odd little openings is alluring.  Divining the correct sequence to bit-by-bit, slowly transfer objects that coalesce totally intertwined within the box - puzzle nirvana.

Collator was designed by Alexander Magyarics and made by Brian Menold at Wood Wonders.  It was made with a Flame Birch Box and the 3 pieces that need to be crammed in the box are made from Bolivian Rosewood (one of my favorites) with some very nice heartwood accents.

Putting the pieces in the box is as easy as 1, 2, 3 – or I should say 1.2.3.  However, that is not the true solution.  There are 10 possible ways to assemble the 3 pieces into a 3x3x3 cubic space.  Of those 10, 3 of them can be packed in the box.  However, only 1 of the 3 looks like a solid cube when it is inside the box.  It is this apparent cube configuration that is the objective and it has a difficulty level of 10.4.2.  The other non-apparent cube solution has a difficulty of 5.1.3.

I really don’t need to tell you that this is a good puzzle.  Designed by Alexander, made by Brian, 10.4.2 restricted opening apparent cube packing puzzle – you know it’s going to be good without even seeing it.  And it’s even better when you get your hands on it.  With a box at 3 cubic inches and pieces with a voxel size of 3/4 inches, it’s bigger than most apparent cube packing puzzles making it a pleasure to handle.  The beautiful Bolivian Rosewood pieces also have a nice heft to them.  And no, I wasn’t disappointed and thoroughly enjoyed the sequence of moves required to solve the puzzle.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Uniquely Sneaky Snakey Packer – Snake Pack

Snake Pack by Haym Hirsh
I recently wrote about Snake Pack 2, and now it’s time to talk about its Slytherin twin: Snake Pack.  They look similar but the snakes are the mirror image of each other.  Unfortunately, someone forgot to reverse the box and they are identical.  And therein lies the problem.  These new snakes just don’t feel like they belong with the same box.

Like Snake Pack 2, Snake Pack was 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 2 poke holes inviting your fingers to enter and manipulate the snakes.  Snake Pack 2 had 3 poke holes – I don’t know why one has 2 and the other 3.  It’s possible that one of the holes fell off during shipping since I did find a hole in the package.

The box is made from Moabi and the 5 identical “A” tetracube snakes that need to be coaxed into the box are made of Lacewood.  It’s still not Snakewood but it’s more snakey than the Snake Pack 2 pieces.  It also has a unique solution whereas Snake Pack 2 has 3.

For some reason, using the Snake Pack pieces feels more awkward than the Snake Pack 2 pieces.  Like Snake Pack 2, the Snake Pack pieces can enter the box in 2 different ways, which of course are different than the 2 orientations used by Snake Pack 2.  

The time required to solve Snake Pack was about the same as Snake Pack 2.  However, Snake Pack feels sneakier and the more difficult of the two.  Although the solution to each puzzle is completely different, I felt that the time spent solving Snake Pack 2 amped my snake packing factor to give me an additional boost.

As a last note, I’ve successfully packed all the snakes in the box but it didn’t make an apparent cube.  This was not stated as a requirement in the description and I assume that my solution is the goal, but if you know differently, please let me know.

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.