August 18, 2017

2017 Puzzle Design Competition (Part 3)

Here's Part 3 of my write-up of the various puzzles in the design competition this year! (Photo credit to Nick Baxter)

Galette - Osanori Yamamoto
(Top 10 Vote Getter)

The goal is to get the five pieces into the box, using some combination of the hole on the side and the hole in the top.

I spent a decent amount of time on this one before getting it figured out. A bit challenging but doable with some thought!

Ze Genie Bottle - Stephen Chin

Of course, who else but Stephen could have made this? It has a tippy top that whistles on the top, and is nicely turned.

It combines a few mechanisms well, with a bit of a twist at the end! You're not done until it comes completely apart.

Hardcore - Laszlo Molnar

A fairly simple puzzle with some readily available components: Livecube blocks and a plastic ball like you'd get out one of those coin operated toy machines. The idea is to get the three pieces into the ball.

I spent a fair amount of time on this one, but didn't have much luck! I could get very, very close to getting it to shut, but deep down I knew that it wasn't correct! At the end of IPP I finally peeked at the solution, and it was what I had expected, I was just unable to make it happen!

Hazmat Cargo - Carl Hoff

This puzzle has an interesting goal: put the nine pieces onto the barge, so that no pieces touch (even by a corner). The production is top notch, with some very slick metal components combined with 3D printed parts.

I found it to be quite challenging, since you quickly run out of room leaving the required space between the pieces. I meant to come back to this one, but unfortunately didn't have time. I think this would be well-suited to a graduated puzzle design with multiple challenges, giving you a starting position with some pieces placed and you need to complete it.

Homage to Mr Rubik "Egg" -  Tibor Sipos & Imre Kokenyesi

A cubical Smart Egg (based on Andras Zagyvai's design), you put the brass rod into the cube then try to get it through the maze and out the other end. The tricky thing is that the maze can be manipulated by rotating the cube layers.

This is very nicely crafted and must have been quite a challenge to design and build. However, I feel like it could have benefited from a more snug fit, it was hard to hold all three layers in the position I wanted while examining things or moving the rod.

Identical Twins - Osanori Yamamoto
(Puzzlers Award)

The goal is to put the two identical pieces into the frame. It is nice that you only have to deal with two pieces, and they're fairly simple. There are not many options for correct assemblies, so that helps out as well. Overall, not too challenging but a fun little puzzle nonetheless!

In a Cage - Shiro Tajima
(Jury Honorable Mention)

This is an interesting puzzle box, where the box is stuck in a cage. You can slide the box around in the cage, but you can't directly manipulate the panels on the box, an interesting concept!

I enjoyed solving this one, though the fit on one panel was a bit tight and it seemed to bind up occasionally. Perhaps a slightly larger cage is required to let the box move more freely.

Kakoi - Shiro Tajima
(Jury Grand Prize)

Another great puzzle box by Tajima, this puzzle is inspired by the Japanese kanji letter "Kakoi". Four parts move quite readily at the beginning, but you'll have to think a bit to get it open. Overall, not too challenging but there's a beautiful moment when you discover a particular step!

Kissel - Vinco Obsivac

The goal of this one is to create an interlocking icosahedral shape with the four pieces. I spent a fair amount of time on this one but didn't have much luck! When you get it correct, the pieces click into place quite nicely (or so I hear!). I wish I could have spent a bit more time with this one, since it seemed doable.

Lacing Problem - Lucie Pauwels

The idea is to thread the shoelace through the MDF such that the color on the shoelace matches the color on the board. It starts out simply enough, but then you have some decisions to make! To add some complexity, the shoelace has some coloring that doesn't get used. Fortunately, the board coloring is rotationally symmetric, so you're a bit limited in terms of starting positions.

Still, I didn't have time to solve this one since it required a fair amount of trial and error. Furthermore, physically threading the shoelace took some time and it can take a while before you find yourself at a dead end. So I think you'd have to take a pretty systematic approach to solve this one!

One issue I had was sometimes it wasn't entirely clear whether the color was sufficiently on the correct side of the board (like a small amount of white was showing). So I wasn't entirely confident that a move was acceptable.


This puzzle has several goals, each using all the pieces: 1) Rotational symmetry 2) Mirror symmetry 3) Yellow and blue shapes are congruent (may be rotated or reflected) 4) Both the yellow and blue shapes are symmetric. Whew!

I wasn't sure whether or not the legos could be disassembled and reassembled, but I confirmed that they stay as-is. I solved the first challenge, but didn't have time to come back for the others. Sort of neat that it was made out of Legos, though it doesn't really take advantage of the fact that they are Legos.

Stay tuned for Part 4 (of 6!) tomorrow!

August 17, 2017

2017 Puzzle Design Competition (Part 2)

Here's Part 2 of my write-up of the various puzzles in the design competition this year! (Photo credit to Nick Baxter)

Cubemaker - Volker Latussek

The goal is to make five dark cubes from the five blocks. Each block has two half dark cubes. So, for example, in the photo there are three completed dark cubes.

I came back to this one a few times and was pretty happy to actually figure it out! The piece in the middle of the photo is a bit problematic, since you quickly run out of pieces if you get too far away from it. This was Marti Reis's exchange this year.

CUBI 20 - Frederic Boucher

The goal is to put the five pieces in the box, but the pieces aren't standard: some are shifted by a half-cube. Also, the box has some cubes and half-cubes glued in place.

I think I would have liked to see this one in a bit larger size, it was a bit tricky poking pieces into the corners. I didn't end up spending enough time on this one to solve it.

I ended up looking at the solution to pack it up at the end of IPP and as you assemble it one of the pieces really likes to tilt over and get wedged in the wrong place. It took me some work to free it!

Diabolical 3 Cubed - Rod Bogart & Zach Bogart

There are a three goals to this one, the first of which is to place the tiles into the 3D tray so the 12 edges that meet show the 12 pentomino shapes.

I put in a pretty solid effort on this one, but couldn't quite solve it. The 3D tray and beveled cuts on the wooden pieces was nice, but it may be good to lower the outer rim on the tray to make it easier to pull out the pieces.

Down the Rabbit-Hole - Peter Wiltshire

This is Peter's box for the Jabberwockey chest. It fits the Alice theme nicely, and is very well crafted.

At the beginning, it seems like there's nothing you can do, but there's a nice moment when you figure it out, it has an unusual movement. After that, with a bit more work, I was able to get it open but didn't quite understand how!

It took a few more attempts to figure out what I did, and even then I'm not quite sure how it works. Typically I like it the other way around: you get some kind of feedback that lets you guess how it works, then you test your hypothesis and succeed.

The Egyptian Glove: Band - Jonathan Leaman

The goal is to cover the tetrahedron using the canvas band. I enjoy these 3D cover-up puzzles, they're usually pretty doable but have something interesting going on.

I tried wrapping the band in various efficient ways and eventually found a solution that seemed correct. Checking the solution, I found there was a more graceful way to arrive at the same position, but I probably wouldn't have though of it!

The Egyptian Glove: Triangles - Jonathan Leaman

Pretty much everything that I said about The Egyptian Glove: Band applies to this one as well, so I won't repeat it. Also a good puzzle!

Fang Duet - Hayassi (Noboru Hayashi)

Seems like a fairly standard nail puzzle, like you see all over the place, right? Nope! This one is quite challenging. It is surprising that there are still good nail puzzle designs that haven't been thought of!

I spent a lot of time on this one and didn't have any luck. It seemed as though I was making some progress, but then I ended up back where I started. In the last hour before we needed to pack up, I looked at the solution and was not surprised that I had trouble figuring it out! This could make a good Hanayama Cast Puzzle, I think!

Fang Quartet - Hayassi (Noboru Hayashi)

Not having solved the 2-piece version, I didn't think I had any chance at solving a 4-piece version. So not much I can say about this one, unfortunately!

Four Hands Puzzle - Ray Stanton & Pelikan

This is a 6-piece coordinate motion puzzle beautifully turned into a ball. As the name implies, you're potentially going to need some extra hands to get this thing back together.

I sort of enjoy these dexterity put-together challenges, and didn't find this one too bad compared to some admittedly crazy others in the same genre (e.g. Rosebud).

Free Me 5 - Joe Turner
(Jury Honorable Mention)

The goal is to take the coin out of the puzzle. Often these remove-the-coin puzzles can be annoying in one way or another with hidden mazes or a bunch of hidden locking pins sliding around, but this one was great!

It is a sequential discovery puzzle: you find tools along the way and need to figure out how to use them. There are a few good moments in there, overall quite enjoyable!

Free the Marble - Laurence Grenier
(Top  10 Vote Getter)

Another goal in the name of the puzzle: get the marble out. There are three rings linked together in a chain, but the marble in the middle prevents them from moving very freely.

I didn't have much luck with this one on my first attempt, but when I came back to it I was able to figure it out. Interestingly, once you get things freed up a bit, there is still some puzzling to do, it doesn't just pop out. A nice, elegant design!

Stay tuned for Part 3 (of 6!) tomorrow!

August 16, 2017

2017 Puzzle Design Competition (Part 1)

After plenty of folks giving me a hard time for slacking off on the blogging, here's a write-up of the various puzzles in the design competition this year! I hope you enjoy it since it took a while to write! (Photo credit to Nick Baxter)

Adam & Eve - Alan Rolfs, Tom Sun, George Miller

Adam & Eve was Roxanne Miller's exchange puzzle this year. The goal is to link Adam and Eve's heads together, with the apple still wrapped around Adam's legs.

Interestingly, this puzzle is nicely machined out of brass rather made out of bent wire. The theme is pretty...creative, which some may or may not enjoy. I spent some time on this one during my initial run through the puzzles, and didn't have much luck with it!

Barreled Bolt - Eitan Cher and David Tsur
(Jury First Prize)

This is an interesting twisty puzzle with fairly limited movements: you can rotate the front, back, and sides of the barrel, but not the top or bottom. In addition, the middle band can be rotated to move the threaded bolt pieces up and down!

It is really nicely 3D printed in color with magnets inside to help align things. Surprisingly, it is not too difficult due to the limited movement. Typically I can't solve any of the crazy (or ever less crazy) twisty puzzles in the competition, but I was able to do this one. I hope this one will be available commercially at some point, since the combination of a fun/original movement and being reasonable to solve would make it a good one to share with non-puzzlers.

Bastille - Volker Latussek

The goal of this one is just to take the seven blocks out and put them back. The blocks are quarter-circles with dimensions equal to the hole size on each axis, I think. It is nicely crafted out of walnut and beech.

This one is quite approachable, anybody can start poking around at the blocks, rotating things around, but it will take a bit of thought to figure out how to solve it. My first few ideas didn't work, but eventually I got it figured out. Typically I'm not a huge fan of poking at things through holes, the dexterity aspect can get annoying. Fortunately, this one wasn't too bad because the size was large enough.

Black & White Antislide - Volker Latussek

The goal of this puzzle is to place either the black or white pieces into the box, such that they can't slide around when the box is closed. The interesting aspect is that once this is done, you must be able to add the remaining pieces of the opposite color to the box and close the box! Together, all of the pieces make a 3x3x3 with no holes, so you'll need to plan carefully to make sure the other pieces can be added. Nicely crafted out of samena and hevea.

I thought it was quite surprising that solutions starting with both black and white pieces were possible! I was able to figure out the solution starting with the white pieces, after a fair amount of effort. I spent some time working on the black solution as well, but ran out of time.

Burr Lock E - Christoph Lohe

This creatively-shaped burr was built by Eric Fuller, with the perfect fit/finish you expect from his work. The four white pieces, as well as the key and shackle, all move. There are also a few cubes glued inside the frame.

I made quite a bit of progress on this one, but eventually got stuck and didn't have a chance to come back to it! I'd say it is reasonably challenging as far as burrs go and the theme was great.

BurrNova - Jerry McFarland
(Jury Honorable Mention)

I was eager to give this one a try when I read the note: "This is a semi-automatic burr, with magnets providing surprising help along the way." The first move is pretty obvious, and once you make the second move, the subsequent 11 moves happen automatically (and quickly!) thanks to the magnets. The fit is very nice, with Jerry's trademark satiny finish.

Continuing with the disassembly is not immediately obvious, but can be worked out. I didn't get too far through the disassembly for fear of the magnets causing the whole thing to explode. However, Peter Wiltshire said he had gotten it almost all the way apart and didn't have an issue with that.

Clover - Aaron Wang

This is a pretty simple-looking disentanglement where the goal is to remove the ring. Fortunately, the string can be removed in the somewhat likely case that you get things tangled up. I definitely appreciate that touch, particularly when the string is long like this!

I had an idea for what needed to be done on this one, but wasn't able to make it happen. Guess I need to practice disentanglements more!

Colonel's Bouquet - George Sicherman

This puzzle has several challenges: join any two to make a symmetric shape or join all four pieces to make a solid box.

I tried the solid box challenge first and figured it out without too much trouble. The symmetric shape challenges proved a bit more difficult! You'd think it would be easy with only two pieces, but I found it pretty challenging. I think I got one of the solutions, but didn't end up having time to try finding more. Pretty clever that all four symmetric shape challenges are possible, and you can still make a box from all the pieces.

Color Cube Sudoku - Raphael Meyers

There are multiple challenges to this one that take a while to describe, but the first goal is to make a 6x6 latin square, a color can only appear once in each row/column.

I spent a little bit of time on this one during my first pass through the room, but didn't end up coming back to it. It appears to be a ThinkFun product, so there must be something interesting about it! Nick mentioned that there was an observation you could make that made it more doable.

Congruent Figures by Overlapping - Takumi Horiguchi

The goal is pretty much in the name of the puzzle: divide the four pieces into two pairs and overlap both pairs so they make congruent figures. Since the blue shapes can overlap and you don't know which pairs to select, this is pretty tricky!

I attempted this one for a little while, but didn't end up being able to solve it. Interesting idea and nice construction if you enjoy this type of puzzle.

Convex Polygon IrN-6a - MINE (Mineyuki Uyematsu)

As you could guess from the name, the goal is to make a convex polygon. The pieces are quite simple, but I didn't have any luck with this one either.

It is noted in the solution that it is possible to get very close to a correct solution, but still not be quite right! Perhaps it would be more interesting if the side measurements were given.

Stay tuned for Part 2 (of 6!) tomorrow!

October 12, 2016

House Collection

I love sets of things, so I couldn't resist picking up this fairly inexpensive set of building-themed puzzle boxes designed by Hiroshi Iwahara and recently released by Karakuri Creation Group. Here's a few sentences about each:

Church has a single move that is quite simple to find. I did like the padauk on the roof and the detail on the cross and door.

Windmill technically has two moves, but most will solve this one in a few seconds. Looks fairly nice with the octagonal shape.

Oops House is the simplest looking box in the series, and is described on the KCG website as having a lock. However, it is very easy to accidentally open it before you even feel like the lock is a problem (or notice it in the first place).

I think I liked the looks of Design Housing the most, it has a lot of nice little details an contrast in the wood. However, this one opens with a very simple single move which you'll likely find as soon as you pick it up.

The concept behind this Four Color Palace puzzle is that you can change the color in the windows. The solution is fairly simple and not unique, but it did take me a minute or so to find it. As I mentioned, this is probably my favorite of the group.

Sharp Roof House looks nice as well, with the pointy padauk roof. The windows and door are nice details too. I'd say this is slightly harder than most of the other puzzles in the series (other than Four Color Palace), but this one-step solution probably won't keep you busy for more than a few moments.

So in summary, I'd say they look nice, but they're not nearly as good as the small box series, cake series, or cube series. To be fair, I thought they would be pretty simple based on their descriptions, but they were even simpler than I had expected, with four of them being quite trivial.

I think Four Color Palace is the best of the lot, and Sharp Roof House comes in second. If you like the look of them and want something quite simple in your collection, give these a shot, but don't be surprised if they're simpler than you expect!

October 2, 2014

Stickman #5 (Borg Box)

I have long been an admirer of Stickman #5 (Borg Box), an amazing design by Robert Yarger: I finally had a chance to try it out at the 2011 RPP, thanks to Peter Wiltshire bringing his copy. It has eighty very intricate wooden pieces that hold together in the shape of a box. To open the box, you need to slide the pieces around, and once open you can completely disassemble the puzzle into its component pieces. I loved the way it looked, with the patchwork of pieces all locked together.

This seemed to me like an excellent candidate for 3D printing since no glue-up is required, plus I wanted a copy and it goes for a pretty penny at auction! Of course, nothing would quite be the same as the beauty and craftsmanship of the wood version, but I thought that a plastic version would still be a fun way to appreciate the design. (In case you don't read to the end, I was successful and this is now available for sale! Read the end for details.)

Robert was also interested in the idea, and was kind enough to loan me a prototype of the Borg Box that he had, which I could use to create the model. I'm not much of a 3D modeler, but fortunately this puzzle is based on a cubic grid so I could model it in BurrTools. The tricky part was making sure I had all the pieces correct, since it was too complicated of an assembly puzzle for BurrTools to solve without some help!

What I ended up using was a little-known feature of BurrTools where you can save a solved assembly as a new piece. I gave each piece a distinct color, and had BurrTools assemble each panel separately (with a few color specifications given as hints). Next, I exported each solved panel as its own multi-color piece, and assembled these 6 pieces into the final solution. Finally, using this final solution with the exact color specs of each piece, BurrTools was able to assemble the full puzzle.

Using this process, I was able to identify and correct any errors I made during the initial modeling of the pieces. This was great, so I didn't have to waste any money on printing! The interface is a bit tough to use, but you can actually manually slide the pieces around in virtual space to make sure things are interacting correctly.

So I went and ordered a copy from Shapeways and it turned out quite well! Here's the jumble of pieces I received. Assembling it wasn't all that hard since I had become extremely familiar with the design while modeling it. If you didn't know what you were doing, it would be quite a bear!

I had a bit of an issue with some of the pieces on the top and bottom panels not staying locked together with the runners on that panel, but a small tweak to the design fixed this issue.

The other issue was the fit: it was a bit too loose for my taste, so I tried printing a second copy with a somewhat smaller offset to see if that helped. Unfortunately, this copy was too tight! I started sanding the pieces to fit, but then realized I could just swap some of the pieces from my first model to get a great fit! This did the trick nicely. In the final Shapeways model, I went with this mixed offset approach to get as good of a fit as possible.

Currently I'm offering this for sale at $180 plus shipping, but Shapeways just announced a price increase which will raise the price to $340 after October 7th 2014. You can contact me with the contact me link if you're interested in ordering one. I'm not offering these directly from Shapeways since it is probably best to receive it assembled, and it requires a bit of sanding to get the fit just right.

I've also modeled Stickman Snowflake and have that available for sale (here) direct from Shapeways. The price on this one isn't going up by as much, since there are only six pieces. This is a really neat design with six pieces forming a box that can be completely disassembled. I love the way the corners spiral together on this one!

September 25, 2014

2014 Puzzle Design Competition (Part 6)

This is the final post in my series about the puzzles in the 2014 Puzzle Design Competition . All photos are by Nick Baxter from the 2014 Design Competition website.

Tel Arad - Yael Meron

The goal is to fold the pieces into a three-layer stack. The rectangular pieces are joined by string, which can be slid around to some degree to position the pieces where you'd like them.

I had a good time solving this one, folding problems tend to involve a bit of logic and a bit of trial and error. You can see which pieces need to be adjacent to which pieces based on whether there is string joining them. Yael had a smaller version of this as her exchange puzzle.

Tetra-Pack - Ton Brouwer

The goal is to remove the cube from the tetrahedron and put it back in. This puzzle was one of the Top 10 Vote Getters.

The assembled puzzle looks great, with the points of the cube poking out the sides of the tetrahedron. It was disassembled when I found it, so I tried putting the pieces back in. It turns out that the tetrahedron likes to block you at every turn, the first few pieces are easy but then I started getting stuck. I would have liked to spend more time with this one, it is a neat design.

Thor´s Hammer - Stephan Baumegger

The goal is to disassemble and reassemble the burr. I loved the theme of this one, but it ends up being quite a tricky burr! I was able to get a number of moves along, but it just kept going. I meant to return to this one but didn' thave time.

3 Celestial Stars - Stewart Coffin, Stephen Chin, George Bell

Three different assemblies based on the stellated rhombic dodecahedron, each by a different designer and crafted by Stephen Chin. Each assembly comes apart differently, it is quite an interesting geometry with some nice coordinate motion.

3 Pentagons - Koshi Arai

The goal is to make a flat symmetric shape, there are three solutions. I had a tough time with two-piece Symmetric so I wasn't too optimistic about this three-piece puzzle which seemed similar. I didn't have a chance to figure this one out.

Trinity - Michail Toulouzas

The goal is to disassemble and re-assemble the pieces. I had a pretty easy time of doing both of these, which makes me think that I was missing something. Perhaps I just lucked out!

Two Dogs - Diniar Namdarian

The goal is to exchange the position of the two dogs to make them face one another. It is another challenging sliding block puzzle. I really should practice more of these, I had a tough time with this one!

Whitebox - Volker Latussek

The goal is to insert the ball in the maze on one side and navigate it to the other side. I wasn't sure if there was some trick to this one, but I ended up being able to solve it pretty easily with some random shaking and tilting.

Well, that's all for this year's design competition, I hope you enjoyed it! I know I've been slacking off on the blog recently, but hopefully I'll be getting started with more regular posts again.
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