Thursday, 21 May 2020

Asymmetric cube -5-

For me, this was the pick of the bunch from my latest Karakuri club order: it looks gorgeous, it’s a handy size and as a puzzle, it rocks!

Kawashima-san designed and crafted this for an exhibition entitled “GO”. Now, in Japanese, the word “go” can also mean “5” – and if you look at most of the faces of the cube, there’s a coloured five against a white background… and he’s used 5 different woods to make this box – but you’ll only get a glimpse of the fifth one (gorgeous!) when you finally solve the puzzle… and this is his fifth incarnation in his Bars Box series – so go, go, go!

At first blush this looks like a simple puzzle box – you have three panels that will each individually slide in one direction… upon sliding any of those panels, nothing else will move… and the other three panels won’t budge at all… take the trouble to read the craftsman’s notes in the website and he warns you that “there are mechanisms that betray your expectations”. 

And he’s not kidding!

I spent a long time performing exactly the same moves over and over again fully expecting a different outcome. (Yes, I know that quotation…) I tried turning gravity on and off, and moving it around – nothing. I tried to move things in different ways – don’t be stupid – those pieces are blocked and two pieces of matter cannot occupy the same space no matter how much you wish they would. 

There is a wonderful “A-Ha!” moment, but even then, there’s still a bit of puzzling to work through to finally open the lid and peek inside to spy Kawashima-san’s hanko hiding inside. 

I love the details in this box – there are some wonderful little details on the inside – just there to make it look drop-dead gorgeous and totally invisible until you’ve solved the puzzle – a stunning reward for solving this little beauty.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

(re-)Discovering a gem

A while back I managed to find a copy of Markus Gรถtz’s Edge Corner Cube. Crafted by Eric Fuller in Canarywood, this 3*3*3 cube assembly is pretty unusual in that virtually all of the joints between cubies are either edge-to-edge or corner-to-corner – so they need to use some neatly engineered steel joiners. (Eric’s probably one of the only craftsmen out there crazy enough to even take on such a thing…) 

Anyhow, back when I got it, I remember playing with it a bit and thinking to myself “It’s cute, but not brilliant” and filing it away in the Fuller section after taking the obligatory pictures for the catalogue-that-I’ll-get-around-to-one-of-these-days. 

That day has now arrived and I decided to start my cataloguing with the stuff that Eric has made… and when I got to entering the Edge Corner Cube, I noticed something a little off with my pieces compared to the ones in Eric’s pics… I consulted some other references thinking that maybe this wasn’t that puzzle after all, it must be something else… and then I looked a little more carefully: most of the pieces matched up nicely but a couple didn’t… and Eric’s pics had only one piece where I had two… and slowly it dawned on me that one of the pieces has been broken in two… since I got it…

After scraping off the barely visible remains of the previous glue, out comes the glue pot and the errant piece is duly affixed, and placed under a kilo or two of brass courtesy of Mister Popp. 

Next morning things look like they’re supposed to on Eric’s pics and I have a new challenge – and far from being a bit m’eh – this one is a decent challenge! AND those whacky connections make all sorts of weird moves that shouldn’t be possible, happen effortlessly – this requires a new way of thinking about things.

Assembly is really interesting: starting with a couple of the larger pieces you can construct a bit of a frame and then try and introduce the other pieces – but working out the order to introduce them, and then getting your head around the new types of moves that are possible with the connectors sliding neatly between the bevelled cubies provides a whole new world of fun… get it all back together again and unless you’re cursed with a photographic memory, disassembly is going to be just as much of a challenge – literally. 

On disassembly, there’s a spare cubie that just drops out – but from there you have nine interesting moves before the next piece is freed… this thing is a wonderful little puzzle – all hiding in an apparently benign 3*3*3 cube. 

In retrospect I should have been ashamed of thinking that Markus had designed an ordinary puzzle, or that Eric had selected a straight-forward puzzle and gone to all that bother of engineering the connectors without good cause… either way, I’m really glad I stumbled across the problem and fixed it while I was cataloguing my puzzles.

Sunday, 10 May 2020

TriTIC and GeneTIC

Brian Menold recently made a bunch of new Turning Interlocking Cubes (or TICs, courtesy of Bernhard) designed by Andrew Crowell – the current TIC King. Having seen Brian’s work come on in leaps and bounds over the past few years, and having “enjoyed” many of Andrew’s designs already, it wasn’t really a tough choice to decide to buy these little guys. 

They duly wended their way across the ocean, no doubt following the circuitous new routes that COVID-19 seems to have condemned all puzzle packages to take, before arriving safely in Barnt Green. 

I started with what I assumed would be the simpler of the two: TriTIC – which, as clued in the name, consists of only three pieces… and that’s the main beauty of this one for me: Andrew’s created a wonderfully non-trivial puzzle that forms a completed 4*4*4 cube on the outside, using only three pieces. Let that sink in for a while – not only does this one not just fall apart, but it will actually provide a nice little challenge - using only three pieces.

Brian ships his puzzles unassembled (‘cos he’s nice that way!) so a little fiddle around with the (only!) three pieces will show you pretty much exactly where every piece must go – getting them there is the challenge though! By my count it takes about 11 moves to form a cube from those (only!) three pieces with somewhere around half of them being things that BurrTools won’t help you with!

I reckon this is probably the ideal TIC to introduce people to – you can get your head around it pretty quickly, yet it will still provide enough of a challenge that you’ll get a sense of achievement when the “A-Ha!” finally strikes. 

GeneTIC, on the other hand, is the mean old ugly step-sister to the elegant Cinderella above. This one arrives in six pieces – one that you might generously call a “frame”, and the others “stuff-that-will-probably-go-inside-the-frame” – somehow! I managed to work out where I thought the pieces went and then even managed to get quite a few of them more or less into place – of course, more less in this case left me with a piece or two on the desk. 

Obviously, I’d inserted the pieces in the wrong order, so set about trying a different assembly sequence – same problem, different pieces. 

At some point I begin to doubt my idea about where the pieces have to go – and I seek BurrTools assistance to convince myself that there isn’t another potential assembly – I needn’t have bothered. 

Slowly I manage to whittle down the possible things that can move and where I can make spaces and then finally, I chance upon the real “A-Ha!” and watch as pieces slide gently past one another, almost as though they were designed to, and things slot into place.

It’s excellent!

Brian has done a thoroughly brilliant job on these – lapping or pinning the potentially weak joints, making sure that every piece has just the right amount of bevelling on its edges and then giving the wood a stunning finish so that they look gorgeous too – I salute you Messrs Crowell and Menold!