Thursday, 8 November 2012

Karakuri duo: humour and torment!

A couple of months ago Wil Strijbos let me know that he had an interesting Karakuri box going spare and he thought I’d like it, so we traded a couple of emails and he took it along to IPP32 knowing that he’d see me there, and that if I didn’t want it, there might be an orderly queue of a couple of hundred puzzlers just behind me who would want to take it off his hands.

Flemin’ was created by Shiro Tajima in mid-2010 in this format, and then redone in a slightly different form as TNK, with a racoon’s tail sticking out of one corner of the box.

It starts out looking like a pretty unassuming cube with a set of offset inlaid lines on each side ... after a couple of seconds in the hands, it soon becomes clear that this is unlike any other Karakuri box you’ve ever seen (OK, unlike any Karakuri box I’ve ever seen ... I’m still new to this, remember?).

It seems to consist of an outer shell and an inner cube. The outer shell comes apart into two opposite halves joined around a common corner. You can slide the shell halves outwards in orthogonal directions determined by pegs in the inside of the outer shells that are keyed into paths on the outside of that inner cube. They will let you slide the outer shells all the way apart on a single axis, or halfway out on orthogonal axes. The whole time you’re fiddling around with this, you seem to be getting absolutely nowhere – paying closer attention to the details yields little by way of further clues – exploring your way around all of the faces of the cube confirms there isn’t a secret exit on one of the path ways. Trying to directly manipulate the internal cube brings absolutely no joy either...

In case you hadn’t worked it out yet, this was the one that was tormenting me! I left it on my shelf-of-puzzles-to-be-solved (rather full since IPP32!) and would have a go at it every now and then ... I’d pass it to visiting puzzlers and they too were flummoxed ... after a few weeks of trying this on and off I found myself trying increasing more and more pressure on some of my experiments and stopped myself short of doing any damage by hauling out the solution and consulting it, choosing to admit defeat rather than risk damaging some fine Japanese craftsmanship ... and I’m glad I did – I’d probably have pulled it apart if I’d carried on the way I was going ... it’s clever – very clever ... and it beat me fair and square!

The second Karakuri box I got from Wil in DC is called Drawer in Drawer (or Chest in Chest depending on where you're looking) and it’s a cute little cubic box with a pair of drawers on one side and a handle on the top – and your mission is to open the two drawers...
Your first port of call really should be to tug on the two drawer handles on the front (you’re not that jaded are you?!)  and they move a bit, but not nearly enough to open ... trying that in different orientations just in case there might be gravity locks doesn’t provide much more assistance and soon enough you’ll be off exploring the other aspects of the box that might be hiding some of the usual Karakuri tricky bits...

...and it probably won’t take you very long to find something interesting, and what happens next is guaranteed to put a smile on on the face of even the most cynical of puzzlers – the humour in this one is absolutely terrific – and takes you by surprise ... I tested my theory at our last Midlands Puzzle Party and wasn’t disappointed – they all smiled at that bit...  

This puzzle was one of the winners in the 3rd Karakuri Puzzle Idea Contest - from  a design submitted by Mr Hideki Niwa and crafted by Hiroshi Iwahara ... and it was given the rather aptly named "Astonishment Grand Prize" ... which fits ... absolutely.

Thanks Wil – they’re both great – for very different reasons... :-) 


  1. I also failed at the first one and am glad to see that even you had to look at the solution! I had no idea! As for the second box - those drawers are stunning and you can't fail to laugh out loud when you open them! It's brilliant!

    I will not start buying boxes, I will NOT start buying boxes. No! Not even a leetle one!


  2. my copy of Flemin is totally fused shut... so it is extra frustrating!