Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Iwahara’s Ninomiya Yosegi Secret Box

When one of the leading craftsmen in the Karakuri collective decides to spend several months learning another craftsman’s techniques in order to produce an homage to the latter, it’s worth paying attention… when the former is the bloke who’s brought us the Byway Secrets, Super-Cubi and the King Cubi, and the latter is Ninomiya-san – it’s always going to be something special… so when the lottery was announced for a few copies of this pedigreed love-child, I joined the queue like a good British puzzler. 

I was lucky enough to be able to purchase a copy, and I have to say that it way surpassed any of my expectations… so this write-up will probably be more than a little gushy. I apologise in advance. 

The web-site blurb explained that Hiroshi Iwahara had spent quite a long time learning from Ninomiya-san and described the box rather humbly as a simple 7-move puzzle box…

Now it may well be “just” a 7-move puzzle box, but it is easily the best looking Japanese puzzle box I have ever seen – that observation will be partly due to my somewhat limited exposure to Ninomiya’s own puzzle boxes, but I think only partly so, because this one is really a thing of beauty. 

On a standard Japanese puzzle box you can usually spot the sliders from across the room – there’s a subtle break in the yosegi where diagonal lines don’t quite meet, or there’s a disturbance in a pattern… or the edges without the yosegi show an obvious split. This one’s not like that. I have defied several puzzlers to spot the breaks in the yosegi after telling them that there are sliders on each end… you cannot see them. Bounce the light off the edges without the yosegi and you can see the faintest clue to where the sliders are… these secret panels literally hide in plain sight.

The yosegi itself is vintage-Ninomiya – a pattern of square blocks where every row has exactly the same height… even where there must have been a cut for the sliders, usually a tell-tale sign – it’s indistinguishable here.

Without the benefit of any visual clues, you’re left to rely on some of your other senses – and they won’t let you down. Find the right jump-off point and you’re rewarded with a set of silky smooth movements that are so wonderfully precise they belong in a dream. 

Iwahara’s tribute to Ninomiya is truly a wonderful homage to one of the great masters… and an instant favourite.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Chicago Cubes

(No, that's not a misspelt baseball team...)

Earlier this year I stumbled across a copy of a great little exchange puzzle from Joe Becker dating back to IPP23 in Chicago. 

Joe designed and manufactured this wonderfully tricky little number using acrylic cubes and packaging tape – proof that good-looking, great designs don’t need expensive materials…

The premise is simple: you have a set of 8 edge-hinged clear cubes and you need to build a 2*2*2 cube. 

Should be simple… except it turns out that it ain’t – in fact, if you’re anything like me, you’ll pretty soon convince yourself it can’t be done – and therein lies the beauty of this design – there’s a wonderfully sneaky little element that makes it all possible and finding that makes for a super “A-Ha!” moment… 

I really enjoyed finding it (eventually)!

Add to that the fact that it’s a wonderfully photogenic object and I have to say that it makes a brilliant addition to the humble hoard. 

[In case you’re wondering – there’s a lovely little trick of the light that makes each cubie look like it is in turn made up of a 2*2*2 when it’s in the assembled state.]

Friday, 1 December 2017

Tricklock 2017

My mate Louis is an absolute whizz at designing 3D printed puzzles that make use of the materials’ qualities superbly… he understands how much flexibility there is in “white, strong and flexible” stuff, how opaque or otherwise it is at various thicknesses and just how to get his bits dimensionally perfect, even when you didn’t have direct control over the printing orientation – something which, as it turns out, is critical in certain circumstances. 

For the past couple of years, he’s been putting that expertise to good use in designing exchange puzzles for me and the odd Tricklock to serve as his own give-aways… Tricklock 2017 is the third on the series, and it’s great. 

I’d seen a prototype on an earlier visit to the Flatlands and on his last visit Louis gave me a copy of the final production piece… it’s a neat little size, fitting perfectly with the two earlier Tricklocks. This one has a “2017” nameplate across the front to differentiate it from its earlier brethren, although in fairness, they are all easily identifiable.

For starters you get a key sticking out of the lock, albeit held rather firmly in place, and a half-covered keyhole, which seems rather unsporting… the key will happily turn, almost a full revolution, but that doesn’t seem to accomplish an awful lot.

Best work out how to get that key to be more useful, or at least find out how to get the darn thing out. 

Finding how to get the key out, immediately presents you with another challenge… get past that one and another one pops up… and so you continue, until finally the shackle is released.

Returning it back to the start is probably a bit simpler given what you’ve had to learn along the way, but still not a trivial exercise. 

I love the way those properties of WSF have been used here – differently to the earlier locks – to present a series of challenges that each build on the previous… and there’s a lovely little bit of humour if you sit back and think about what you’ve done after you’ve solved it. 

Definitely a worthy addition to Louis’ line of Tricklocks!

...and if you're quick, there are still a couple available over at Puzzle Paradise right now.