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Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Cast Delta (Kyoo Wong - Hanayama)

You know what I haven't written about in a long time? A Hanayama puzzle! This puzzle isn't new to the market by any means, but it is certainly worth writing about as it is a very nice piece of puzzle design.


This is the Cast Delta, designed by Kyoo Wong and manufactured by Hanayama. In true Cast puzzle style it is made of cast metal, which gives it a great weight, and the antique colour of the finish is a very nice choice in my opinion.

At first glance the Delta reminded me of the first puzzle I ever wrote about, the Cast News. It has that same sort of enclosed container look about it, except where the News is an extremely rattly puzzle, the Delta feels much more solid in the hand.

After playing with the Delta for a few seconds you will get to catch a glimpse of the inner workings, and then promptly realise that it is not some kind of hidden compartment puzzle, and it falls more into the category of a take-apart puzzle.

Now from this position it is easy to close the puzzle fully, then re open to this point, then close it again....then semi-open it again etc. This is the point where it seems most puzzlers get a little bit stuck.

I had a feeling that coordinate motion would be the solution to this puzzle, but when I spun it nothing happened, and when I pulled them all against each other at the same time...nothing happened. There was clearly something that I was missing.

Then came the obligatory 'Ah ha!' moment, something clicked in my head and the Delta was in three identical pieces. The way that it came apart slightly reminded me of the Cast Rattle, and if you've solved that as well you'll probably know what I mean.

It's not a particularly difficult puzzle, with most people I have spoken to solving it within 5-6 minutes, but the elegant design makes it well worth owning. Plus it's a great one to hand over to non-puzzlers, since it has an obvious solution and they are likely to be very pleased with themselves when they solve it...plus it's practically invincible in case someone gets really fed up and throws it out of a window.

The Hanayama Cast Delta is currently available from Puzzle Master and all other good puzzle distributors.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Scacco F.R. Opal Puzzle Chess Set (Franco Rocco)

The problem with knowing so many other puzzle nutters (great guys and gals by the way) is that they also buy brilliant puzzles...and then show them to you. This in turn makes you want said puzzles...so you also go and buy them yourself. The cheek of some people! Therefore this puzzle purchase is totally not my fault, even though I am held to blame for the puzzle purchases of a few (hundred?) others.
This is the Scacco F.R. Opal Puzzle Chess Set. I know, that's quite a mouthful to say. It was designed by the Italian architect, designer and puzzle maker Franco Rocco, and I think the design kind of straddles the lines between being a sculpture, a game and a puzzle.

The original version of this puzzle was called 'Scaccomatto', made in 1977 out of solid brass, with one of the set of pieces being chrome plated. Several different versions of this chess set have followed since then, the one pictured above is the 4th regeneration of the design, and also happens to be the most affordable to date. This was brilliant since I had always loved this design from the moment I first saw it, but I resigned myself to knowing I would never be able to afford one...and now here it is!

This version is made out of cast translucent plastic (methacrylate), with a different colour for each set of pieces. Each cube is made up of seventeen pieces, that includes all of the chess pieces for one player and a sprung locking key piece which is designed to hold the cube in a fully interlocking state until it is removed. No board is included, hence the crappy looking board in the photo as it was all I had to hand.

The idea of having such a good quality puzzle design in plastic was a bit off-putting at first, but because the pieces are cast and not hollow it makes a huge difference. They have a nice weight to them, and there are no size imperfections at all. The fit is absolutely perfect.

I remember that I first came across the metal 3rd version of this puzzle at one of the earliest Midlands Puzzle Parties (MPPs). I took a cube apart and I believe it took me at least 45 minutes to get it back together again! Even though being a puzzle isn't the only thing it was designed to be it is certainly not a breeze to solve. Each chess piece is pretty irregularly shaped, and can interlock into all of the other pieces in one way or another. But every piece is also identical to the other pieces of the same type, so all pawns are identical for example.

This is an absolutely brilliant puzzle in every respect, and for the price (~£50) it is a bargain as well. If you are looking to add one to your collection then have a look at the Puzzle Museum website for more information and availability details.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Cube In A Jar

I remember that a while back I was browsing through pictures of impossible objects on the web, and I came across a Rubik's Cube in a jar. Now at the time I thought two things; 1) Wow that's pretty awesome! 2) I bet I could do that pretty easily. It turns out that both of those statements were true, it just took me quite a long time to get around to it.


The reason that it took me so long to get around to making one wasn't because of the effort involved in physically making it, it was all down to finding the right jar. I kept looking around for square jars just the right size for a cube (without too much wiggle room), but for some reason they always eluded me. This is when I turned to my old friend: eBay.

I found a square jar on eBay, checked the size was okay and placed the order, within two days it had arrived. Immediately I knew something looked wrong. It turns out (being the genius that I am) I didn't realise that most (sane) people when looking at jars aren't looking for measurements of the inner dimensions. The jar turned out to be way too small for a standard size Rubik's brand 3x3 cube.

While being a bit annoyed at myself I decided that I didn't want to waste a perfectly good jar, so I began to dig through my boxes of puzzles, and I found a cheap knock-off cube with what I can only describe as the most perfect dimensions to fit into the little jar. Lucky or what? And 30 minutes or so later I had a fully functional puzzle well and truly stuck in a glass jar.

The process is actually not very difficult, but like with many impossible objects it does require a decent bit of patience to achieve.

A great bit of fun that I'd recommend anyone with too much spare time (and a jar) on their hands to try for themselves.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Neo - Puzzle Ring (Jeff Bell)

For a long time now I have been trying to find myself a puzzle ring that I could wear as an everyday piece of jewellery. There are several reasons why I haven't been able to find one up till now. The ones you do find are all originating from the same ancient Turkish design (which I don't think particularly suits me), they all tend to be very bulky, they fall apart very easily while wearing, and they also tend to be expensive for what they are. So imagine my surprise when I found something perfect while idly browsing the internet one day!
Neo (Assembled)
This is a lovely 3-band puzzle ring by the name of Neo. It is custom designed and made from Sterling Silver by the very nice Jeff Bell in Thailand. Jeff's online shop can be found here: PuzzleRingMaker.

I have only ever known of a few original puzzle ring designers, so to find Jeff's shop was a pleasant surprise!

Neo (On Arrival)
After a good bit of browsing and narrowing down I decided upon the Neo design. It's nice and sleek, and not too assuming. I placed an order immediately, making sure to add my ring size because I actually do want to wear this one (unlike other rings I have ordered in the past).

I bought my ring on the 18th, it was made and shipped in ten days, and then arrived four days later! Four days from Thailand! I've waiting longer than that for parcels coming from the same town as where I live.

The ring is really nicely made, no visible joins in the silver and a great finish inside and out. The pieces fit together snugly and the ring size is dead-on as well.

Easily one of the best attributes of this design is its inherent ability to hold itself together very well. There's no worry of it disassembling while you're wearing it.

Is it difficult as a puzzle? Not hugely. But I wanted to go for a simpler 3-band design because I intend to use it to demonstrate to puzzle 'muggles' what kind of puzzles I'm interested in. So every time I hear the phrase "so you like jigsaws then?" I can give them the ring to try as a good example of a mechanical puzzle.

I would say that anyone could quite happily solve this design with minimal patience. If you give it logical thought you'll have it together in a minute or two tops, but if you favour the 'random motion' approach it could take you a decent bit longer.

As you can see in the picture there are handy engraved markers on the inside of each band, and these show you which order to assemble the bands around each other. So if you ever have a bad case of 'cantrememberhowtosolveitquickly' there's a handy safety net there for you as well.

Neo currently costs an incredibly reasonable $40, and there are many more original designs available for similar prices. And if silver isn't really your colour you can also order the rings in the gold purity you'd like. Based on my first experience I honestly can't recommend this shop enough.

Buy from: PuzzleRingMaker
Also available on Etsy: PuzzleRingMaker

Friday, 13 September 2013

Popplock T8 (Rainer Popp)

Woo hoo! The time has finally come for another Popplock to be solved. After the release of the T7 back at the end of last year I've been waiting for the next in this now infamous trick lock series, and I was hoping for a bit more of a puzzle challenge this time round. I was not disappointed!

So here it is, the T8. If you are familiar with the rest of the series you will notice the overall design is pretty different in this one. Whereas the other seven looked undeniably like padlocks, the T8 sports a cylindrical body with a look a more like a 'd-lock' usually associated with bicycles.

There's no brass body this time, Rainer has opted for a stainless steel approach. The only visible brass is the knob-like contraption on the end. Personally I like this. Brass -whilst looking lovely- has an issue with getting dull and dirty during handling very quickly. Stainless steel on the other hand will continue to look the same pretty much forever without need for regular cleaning.

I did mention that this is much more of a puzzle than the previous T7, and not only that but it is an excellent solving experience even in comparison to any of the previous locks in the series. I wouldn't say it is the most difficult, but it is definitely one of the most fun to solve, and I think many would agree that it has one of the most innovative mechanisms ever seen in a puzzle lock. Since I received it I keep finding myself solving it and admiring the workings.

As a solve it didn't take me an epic amount of time, I'd estimate somewhere in the region of 45 minutes. But I've since heard of solve times varying from 7 minutes into days, so as always with puzzles 'your mileage may vary'.

If you're after one of these I'd recommend being very quick. They can currently be found with the usual suspects; Puzzle MasterGrand Illusions and of course Rainer Popp himself. The price tag is high, but I doubt anyone would be disappointed. Definitely another excellent addition to the Popplock legacy.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Impossible Bottle (Harry Eng)

I know they aren't mechanical puzzles in the strictest sense, but I really do love impossible objects. I like to ponder over how they have been created, but strangely I don't really want to know the answers as I'd much rather keep on guessing.
Harry Eng is widely regarded as being the master of the 'impossible bottles'. Over the 64 years of his life Harry put decks of cards, tennis balls, tools and even shoes into glass bottles. A particular signature of his was being able to tie complete and complex knots inside bottles as well!

I was very lucky as to stumble across this particular bottle on eBay of all places! 

It was used as an exchange puzzle in Seattle in 1994 for IPP14. It is just a standard glass bottle containing a full monkey's fist knot loose in the bottom, with a whole tennis ball above it. The neck of the bottle is obviously too small for either of these two items to be in there, and yet there they are.

In case you were curious, yes I did check to see if the tennis ball was fully inflated by prodding it with a pen, and it is. I can only guess how this very curious object was created, but like I said, I don't really want to know the answer. I much prefer to pose the question to others instead and see what kind of amazing and elaborate ideas they come up with.

Keep an eye out for some of these creations if you find them as interesting as I do. Or as an even better suggestion, have a try at making one yourself! I mean how hard could it be right?

Friday, 26 July 2013

AlCyl (Iwahiro)

So very much has happened since my last blog post; I went a few MPPs, got married etc. but I think it's about time for a new post!

This rather lovely looking puzzle goes by the name of AlCyl, which is short for 'Aluminium Cylinder'. It made it's first appearance in 2009 as an IPP exchange puzzle in San Francisco, designed by Hirokazu Iwasawa (AKA: Iwahiro) and made by Seiko Kogyo Co. This particular version is a new run of the design which has been available from Wil Strijbos over the last year or so.

AlCyl is machined entirely from aluminium, which has then been anodised in blue. The colour of the the cylinders from the 'new' run of puzzles is slightly darker than the original 2009 version, but apart from that they are completely identical in size and design.

The AlCyl almost seems like it was born to live next to the Aluminium Cylinder and Washer Cylinder puzzles from Wil Strijbos. The AlCyl is larger than both of the others measuring in at 48x60mm, and it has a pretty decent heft to it as well.

The objective of this puzzle is to open it and retrieve the hidden coin inside. As a design it is very simple, and while that doesn't always mean the puzzle itself will be simple as well in this case that is exactly what it means. Most -if not all- puzzlers will be able to solve this puzzle in little time. The only time I have heard of a puzzler not being able to solve it is when Kevin somehow managed to jam his shut by accident (it's funny how it always seems to be Kevin).

This would be a great addition alongside a collection of beautifully made metal puzzles, just don't expect to have the solving experience of your life with it.

The AlCyl is currently available for a very reasonable price directly from Wil Strijbos.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Augmented Stellation / Vega (Stewart Coffin)

Not so long ago a new puzzle site popped up that was offering excellent hand crafted puzzles for very affordable prices. This site is Wood Wonders, which is run by a skilled woodworker by the name of Brian Menold. Brian has created puzzles from the designs of several prolific puzzle designers, including perhaps the most prolific of them all, Stewart Coffin.

I've ordered a few things from Wood Wonders in the past, and I've seen plenty more ordered by others. Brian's craft skills just seem to be getting better and better, so I thought I'd share my most recent acquisition.

Augmented Stellation - Fully Assembled
Brian sold this Stewart Coffin puzzle under the name of 'Augmented Stellation', although I believe it is the same design as Vega which is number 46 in Stewart's numbering system and was first made in 1972.

Brian made a few different wood combinations in the latest run, and although they all looked great I was lucky enough to get hold of my favourite which is made from a light coloured English sycamore with contrasting tips in walnut. The cuts on this puzzle are spot on, leading to a perfectly snug fit. And the points are sharp!

The puzzle is made up of six identical pieces, and it is essentially the same as the Diagonal Burr that can be found practically everywhere. It is quite tricky if you haven't come across this design before, but very easy if you have. The ends of the pieces have been extended to give the pointed look. I think it looks best when it is take to the very edge of collapse.

I really recommend keeping an eye on Wood Wonders, I'm always eager to see what designs Brian will create next, especially since his creations just seem to be getting better and better.

Almost Apart
In Pieces

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Gear Ball (Oskar / Meffert's)

A while back I wrote about a twisty puzzle called the Gear Cube designed by Oskar van Deventer. To this day it is still my absolutely favourite puzzle from the twist genre as it is such a fun puzzle to solve and it looks awesome. Recently Meffert's decided to produce a spherical version of the exact same puzzle, and how could I pass that up?
Gear Ball by Meffert's - Solved

As a puzzle it is essentially exactly the same as the original Gear Cube, so I won't go into that here as you can always check back on the previous post. The only real difference is that where on the Cube I had to add small stickers (Fisher Design) to the inner edge pieces, the Ball comes with those pieces already colour tiled along with all of the other pieces. So out of the box it is technically more difficult that the original Gear Cube.

I've played with (not solved) quite a few twisties now, and honestly this is one of the best turning mass produced puzzles I've come across thus far, which is especially surprising considering it a puzzle based on a geared mechanism! The pieces almost never catch each other, and the black ridges dividing the coloured faces make it nice and easy to quickly turn the sides back and forth. You can also easily remove the square plastic centre caps on each face to loosen or tighten the screws beneath if you feel to, but mine didn't require any fiddling at all.

I really think this is the kind of puzzle that anyone can enjoy, so if you don't already have one I'd suggest adding it to your list. It is currently available from several retailers including HKNowStore and of course Meffert's.


Sunday, 9 December 2012

Topless Box (Eric Fuller)

I don't usually manage to blog about a puzzle immediately after its release (mostly because I'm just never that quick off the mark), but I enjoyed this one so much I thought I'd write about it while it was still fresh in my mind.

This is the Topless Box, and it is Eric Fuller's latest contribution to the puzzle box genre. Eric's puzzles always sell out pretty fast, so I always consider myself lucky when I get hold of his creations.

This puzzle was created by Eric as part of the huge 'Apothecary' project, which will see contributions from twelve great puzzle craftsmen combined into one puzzle chest of epic proportions. Definitely one for the books!

Just like many of Eric's previous puzzle boxes the Topless Box looks pretty unassuming at first glance. The main body of the box is made from a very nice striped, quarter-sawn sapele which looks incredible under the light, and the two 'lids' are made from quilted maple. The whole box feels really sturdy, and even Eric said that they were designed with longevity in mind. This was great news for me! Some of Eric's puzzles don't deal well with levels of high humidity, so I've always had to keep them locked away in a specially dehumidified box, but this puzzle looks like it'll work well whatever the weather.

The box starts to look much more interesting as soon as a lid is removed. Now you can see a really nice contrast with the lovely orange-red colour of the padauk.

But now you start to see a problem. The 'lid' has been removed and the box is clearly not open. How odd.

Maybe if we try the other 'lid' then that will be the way into the box.

Nope...that doesn't seem to be the way forward either. And now the name of the box starts to make sense.

As Eric says;

"The box has two lids and neither a top nor a bottom. Figuring out how to deal with that conundrum will hopefully get you on your way..."
When I first saw pictures of this box on Eric's site I built a picture in my head of how I expected it to work, and strangely (because it doesn't happen that often) I turned out to be right! Because of this I actually managed to solve it pretty quickly, certainly in under ten minutes, but I definitely wouldn't take this as an indication of how difficult it is. I expect that if I hadn't had conjured up the correct expectation before its arrival then it would've taken me significantly longer to solve.

I've now been lucky enough to have had the chance to solve a good few of Eric's puzzle boxes, and I still haven't found one that I didn't really enjoy. The Topless Box has many of the great qualities that I look for in a good puzzle box: It looks great (inside and out), it has an excellent build quality (which is to be expected from Eric), and above all else it has a fun and reliable solution. Because of all of these this is actually one of my favourites from Eric thus far.

If you ever get the chance to buy one of Eric's puzzle boxes then honestly don't hesitate, I very much doubt you'll be disappointed.
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