Saturday, 12 September 2020

Juno’s Coin Case

Junichi Yananose has designed many fearsomely tough puzzles over the past decade. He’s mastered orthogonal board burrs and taken them to extremes. He’s produced some wonderfully non-orthogonal structures that can reduce grown men to tears. And he’s designed and produced some of the very best sequential discovery puzzles out there… so when he announced the release of his Coin Case and described it as the simplest puzzle box he’s ever designed, I was intrigued.

I joined the slightly disorderly queue when it was released and managed to get my order in after things calmed down a little (there was quite a lot of anticipation so the web-store got somewhat hammered and couldn’t handle it elegantly) and waited patiently for the little box to wend its way over to Blighty.

Juno’s done a lovely job of making it look smashing, with a nice selection of woods giving you lots of visual clues to examine. At first glance it looks a little like an oversized version of the Psycho Matchboxes of old, and that may well point you in a particular direction – which might not be useful!

There aren’t a lot of “steps” to opening this box, but it has an interesting twist on an old idea that will make it interesting for puzzlers, while at the same time not making it too hard for muggles to crack without getting frustrated and losing interest. The mechanism is pretty robust and it’s definitely one that you’ll feel very comfortable handing around to folks who don’t necessarily appreciate the finer things about carefully crafted mechanical puzzles – and that’s not to say this one isn’t very well-crafted – just that its also been designed with enthusiastic and potentially inexperienced solvers in mind. 
Definitely one to have handy for sharing with people who haven’t yet been hooked by the lure of solving mechanical puzzles… and there’s still a bunch of them available over at Pluredro.

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Yin Yang

My personal favourite from the latest release of puzzles from the lads at the Pelikan Workshop was Yin Yang from the mind of Volker Latussek.

You have a handsome cherry and maple box and a set of six dark wenge pieces, each of which consists of a flat 3*2 part with an extra 1*2 bit attached to it somewhere. Now, even without any instructions, it’s pretty clear on this puzzle that you need to inveigle the pieces inside the box without breaking anything along the way.  Doing that will make it clear where the name comes from – the top of the box will look like a slightly blocky Yin Yang symbol…

I quite like this design because it straddles the difficulty level rather neatly – not too many pieces, and not many different ways to build the required 4*4*3 shape that needs to be inside the box… in fact there are very few ways of assembling such a block – which to my mind makes this a little simpler as a puzzle because it means bashing through far fewer potential assemblies to see which ones won’t fit inside the box. (That bit usually takes me the absolute longest!)

Think(c)ing about things will also tell you how some of the pieces must be orientated and that really helps cut down the assemblies to start with… combine those two things, and some deductions about how the last piece(s) need to go
into the box and you’ll find you don’t need to bash through an awful lot of potential assemblies at all.

Finding the exact way to handle said inveigling will cause a little bit of head-scratching, but again, some Think(c)ing is well rewarded.

I reckon this one provides a nice challenge and a pretty decent reward of an “A-Ha!” moment without having to wade through too much slogging – as long as you’re prepared to Think(c) a little.

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Penguin Box

Cuteness personified!

There you go, two-word blog post. Says it all!

Each year the folks at the Karakuri Creation Group run an ideas contest, with the best ideas selected to be turned into actual puzzle boxes by their master craftsmen. This year the standout cutest idea came from Yoichi Chiku who proposed the idea of a tobogganing penguin box. Beautifully crafted by Yoh Kakuda, the Penguin Box provides you with a flat sheet of (maple) ice and your very own little penguin to play with.

The little guy is a handsome be-tuxed fellow made of walnut, magnolia and maple, and he certainly looks the part. The blurb on the Karakuri website reliably informs you that penguins can move faster on land by sliding on their bellies than they can by walking – they don’t exactly have long legs, do they? That process – fun fact – is known as “tobogganing”. Anyone else feeling their heart song coming to the fore yet? The website ends off by encouraging you to “Please slide well!” – which is sound advice.

OK, so the puzzle element isn’t massive on this one, in fact the blurb on the web site more or less tell you what to do… there is a bit of a knack to getting it to behave properly though, but once you master that there’s a lovely movement that sees the tobogganing be-tuxed penguin magically releasing the secret drawer.

Guaranteed to put a smile on the face of the puzzler, no matter what their age!

Cuteness personified!


Saturday, 15 August 2020

Allard’s BS - a story about JABS (and Broken Soma)

Last week a package arrived out of the blue from my mate Ken… there was a Snoopy toy in there for Gill (Thanks Helene!) and a modest pile of wooden blocks with a Zen business card and four letters scribbled on the back of it – J A B S. 

Rapidly putting two and two together, I realise this is a new design from Ken and immediately throw myself into solving mode, trying to pile them up to make a cube, which seems like the obvious thing to do here – there seem to be more or less the right number of cubes for a three by three cube so I’m in there!

Several minutes later, having got nowhere near making a cube at all, I pause for thought and decide to check the number of cubes… and half-cubes – for this is one of those deviant designs that starts out with some recognisable Soma pieces and then splits one of them into several little half-cubies and distributes them around the other pieces in a pretty haphazard way… well it looks haphazard, but I’ve come to learn from Ken’s designs that they’re anything but!

OK – I can confirm that there are indeed the equivalent of 27 cubes among the pieces – so we should be good to aim for a cube, remembering that several of Ken’s design aren’t actually cubes and this one didn’t arrive with any instructions telling me to make a cube – you can’t be too careful!

Settling down into something resembling a more thoughtful approach to puzzling I start experimenting with some piece placement and after a little experimentation I manage to find a couple of very-nearly-solutions – one of which starts me down an interesting theoretical path and after hitting one more dead end, a little adjustment yields a perfect cube – complete with theory turning out to be spot-on… I love it when a plan comes together - cue cigar-smoking colonel. 

After I’d solved it, I enthused a little (OK, quite a lot!) at Ken and he mentioned he’d come up with this design when he was working on Broken Soma – so this one become JABS – Just Another Broken Soma – because he wasn’t quite as excited about this one as Broken Soma. I asked if a particular variant might be possible and a very short while later, he shipped over a BurrTools files with what he called Allard’s BS – suggesting it would make a good blog title – so it has! That puzzle looked interesting too and has a couple of “features” intended to make life hard for puzzlers … no idea if it’ll actually be any fun as a puzzle though.

JABS is another really enjoyable puzzle from Ken which he told me that Brian at Wood Wonders would probably be making in the near future – unfortunately I was a little slow in publishing this blog post and that's already come, but not quite gone! There are a few left for sale over here.

…all of which gets me to the point where I’m writing up this blog post and I want to put in a link to my blog post about Broken Soma – Ken’s selection as his best Broken Soma puzzle that made a big splash at the 2019 Rochester Puzzle Picnic. It was an excellent puzzle and I’m thoroughly embarrassed that I didn’t devote a blog post to it… I meant to – I even said as much when I mentioned handing it around at last year’s Northern Puzzle Party and tormenting many puzzlers with it – and yet somehow, I did not. That must be rectified now!

Kevin mentioned that I’d been torturing people with it at MPP’s last year too when he wrote about getting a copy of it from Brian over here.

The conceit of Broken Soma is simple: Ken has taken the small L-piece from a Soma cube and split each cubie in half and then spread those bits across the other pieces, and then asks you to build a 3*3*3 cube from the pieces.

Sure Ken – that sounds simple.

(It is not!)

Many puzzlers have discovered this as they’ve tried, like me to simply put the pieces together and build up a cube… in fact I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve taken a fair amount of pleasure over several months watching a number of well-seasoned puzzlers struggle with this one – you can see why this was Ken’s favourite in that style – it is thoroughly evil!

Having said all those nasty things about it, it is a thoroughly good puzzle if you think about it – there are a couple of things that you can deduce form fiddling around with the pieces, and armed with that information you can actually come up with a bit of a strategy that will significantly reduce the amount of legwork required to find a nice, neat construction that satisfies every constraint – yours and Ken’s.

I reckon that just plain old BS is definitely the king of the castle, but JABS makes a pretty good prince!

Thanks Ken – for both of them!!

Tuesday, 11 August 2020


Osamu Kasho created this rather interesting little puzzle box for the latest Karakuri Creation Group exhibition entitled “GO” – which if you’ve been paying attention to my blog posts, dear reader, you know that the symbol for “GO” can also be interpreted as “five” – and there are five neat little buildings on the top of this box. There’s a rather obvious drawer on the front and a potentially slidey-looking-thingy on the side of the box… and an unusual pattern on the top the box. 

It looks interesting and draws you in…

Examine the buildings a little closer and you’ll see they can change height – by the way, I love the little details on the buildings in the windows and doors and even a helipad. 

So having discovered that they change height, it becomes clear that you’re going to be setting the heights properly in order to release the drawer – so far so good – and if you’re a bit of an agricultural puzzler like I am, you might be tempted to try and pick this particular lock – and you’ll discover that the designer is a better man than you are… you cannot actually feel this one out – you have to solve it properly!

So much for the brute force approach!

Turns out using some finesse is definitely rewarded, but the tolerances on this one are wonderfully precise – you really do need to gets things absolutely spot-on before she will reveal her secrets.

I love the fact that this one teases a little and then forces you to do things properly. Much respect to the craftsman on this one…

Wednesday, 5 August 2020


Way back in 2010, Matt Dawson exchanged a puzzled called Ambidextrous Hexduos that he and Robert Yarger had developed. A duo of wooden hexahedrons, or a pair of cubes if you prefer, would interact with one another interesting ways when they were near one another – the trick was to control the interaction in such a way as to open both the little boxes… and it was a fun puzzle!

Fast forward a few years and Matt and Eric have had a go at making things a bit more “interesting” – read “challenging”. This time you’re offered a trio of hexahedrons… sometimes there’s a familiar feel to them when you bring them near one another – and sometimes there isn’t. 

You mission this time is to open all three boxes and reveal the (incredibly valuable!) gems hidden inside. The boxes are beautiful, as you’d expect from Eric – with Yellowheart, Goncalo Alves and Purpleheart sleeves. The Purpleheart box has a couple of holes in one end, but apart from that, there aren’t any visual clues to what the heck is going on inside there. 

Exploring the boxes also yields virtually no clues as to how they would even come apart… the boy has skillz!

Trying a few of the old tricks will help you make some progress, and you might even find yourself opening a couple of the boxes, but one of them is a thoroughly evil sod! That last one will require not only all of your powers of observation, but several layers of deduction as you work through the frankly fiendish little locking system the lads have put in there. 

Eric has produced a stunning little set of boxes here with locks that will earn the respect of any puzzler – they’re not only fiendish but they’ve been very cleverly executed in there. A worthy successor to a classic little Stickman.