Saturday, 10 June 2023

The Bandit

MW Puzzles, aka Matt and Chris launched pre-orders for their latest puzzle a couple of months ago – I dutifully tossed my coins in the ring and waited patiently… and then at our last MPP the lads arrived with a couple of copies of The Bandit for those of us they knew would be there – so I wanged some PayPal at Chris and this lovely little blue Bandit went home with me…

First thing you notice is that this guy’s a lot bigger than their previous puzzles… and it’s really pretty. When I was chatting to them at MPP they were talking about how folks had been complimentary about their earlier puzzles, but they’d spotted that puzzlers also like their puzzles to look good – so they made sure that this one was a real looker.

And it is…

There’s a lot of detailing to make it look like a tiny little fruit machine – there’s walnut panelling on the sides, a smoked acrylic back that teases you with a bit of a view on the innards, an obvious coin slot (and a return slot), a big ole handle on the side, a flashy-lighty-thingy (Yup, that’s the actual technical term!) on the top and of course a set of reels that look like they’re going to spin at some point.

It also comes with a handy little instruction card telling you that The Bandit is broken and that your mission is to repair it. In order to do that you’re going to have to find your tools, retrieve your ID card and a coin and then win the jackpot – sounds simple!

At the start of this solve there’s a lot to explore – there are stacks of little holes crying out for a tool of some sort, it’s great fun to whizz the handle on the side around and around – but that doesn’t seem to do anything useful. It’s probably worthwhile spending a little time staring at the innards through the smoked acrylic back – although that seems like more of a tease than actually providing any actionable intelligence.

Eventually we find our first tool and we’re off to the races! 

Only we’re not… a bit more experimenting and we’re rewarded with something interesting, and even some tools and that signals the start of a wonderful romp through the puzzling countryside.

There's a lovely cadence in the solve - make some progress, find something interesting, find a use for it, make some magic happen and then wonder where the heck to go next... wash, rinse, repeat. 

There's also a very clear build up to the eventual solution - you can see yourself progressively getting things to work and making more and more sense of what's going on inside that little cabinet. (I spent ages just fiddling with the main mechanism and playing... it's very satisfying!)

There’s lots to keep sequential discovery fans amused for quite a while - there are some little bits of magic that happen – there are some very sneaky mechanisms and several things hidden in plain sight all along that will have you laughing at (or to, depending on how long it takes you to find them) yourself.

At some point you’ll find your ID card with the puzzle’s limited-edition number on it and a coin to play the slots with, and as long as you’re able to solve the puzzle, you’ll get to win a little jackpot at the end.

There is a LOT of great engineering in there and it’s all ben beautifully made. Chris and Matt have definitely raised the bar on this one – superb job, lads!

Sunday, 4 June 2023


Yup, I’m butchering my Roman Numerals once again, which can only mean one thing: another excellent day’s puzzling with my mates from all over the place.

I collected Louis and Mieke from the airport on Friday evening and after a couple of pizzas out on the deck – for the sun was shining(!) – Louis and I grabbed a few hours puzzling while the girls caught up on life. Louis had brought me a rather generous gift of a new JCC Telephone Box which I think I spent altogether too many hours puzzling over during the course of the rest of the weekend. I had in turn saved up a few things that Louis needed to either solve for me or at least give me a nudge on… ‘cos I’m nice that way! I spent a while talking him through what I’d discovered on one or two puzzles I’d been struggling with and he gave me some sage words of advice – never more than the very gentlest of nudges to get me going in more or less the right direction once again.

Somewhere around midnight I was totally wiped out and crashed so I left Louis in the cave with a long line of puzzles to solve… and magically next morning most of them had changed order and been solved…

After a goodly round of breakfast, Louis and I headed down to the hall to find Angela was already there negotiating with Dragan to get the parking lot gate open. Gate negotiated, we set about getting the tables and chairs set out in the hall and, most importantly getting the biscuits and coffee sorted.

Before long the London taxi had arrived, rammed to the gunwales with puzzles and puzzlers. Kevin, Mike, Dan and Amy weren’t long after that and pretty soon we had enough people to sensibly call it a puzzle party and settle down to some actual puzzling, and a bit of mild banter because it would be rude not to.

Michael had brought along an entire sack of Einstein tiles and several folks had a go at amusing themselves with tiling just a little bit of the infinite plane. Some people seemed to enjoy not quite getting it right, or indeed finding creative ways of not tiling the plane properly…. Step-hen!

Michael also had a copy of a new puzzle design fresh off the printer from Steve – I managed one of the simplest of the challenges

Mike Q had brought along a tiny copy of the Dolls house puzzle, along with an impressively super-sized version he’d cooked up especially for the occasion, including a super-sized replica of the box the puzzle came in – a suitably bonkers project in the true spirit of MPP that definitely deserves a shout-out!

Kevin had brought along a large selection of TICs and most of the upcoming puzzles from Pelikan for everyone to play with. He also rather generously gave away some spares copies that he had – thanks a stack for my Dino, mate – I love him!

I took along a bunch of the recent Karakuri boxes, largely for Ed to play with, but unfortunately, he came down with a bug and couldn’t make it. The boxes ended up getting well-exercised without him as several folks spent a while working their way through the selection… Horse with a Warrior was definitely the favourite on the day, giving everyone a big smile after they’d invariably been told that “No, you need to get a clear look at the whole warrior to consider that puzzle solved.” Amusingly Bad Radio was given a wide berth by most people…

Karakuri Packing and Coin Wallet also garnered several new fans, generally after perplexing them for quite a while first – but the “A-Ha!” is just so strong on those ones…

Steve had brought along a well-travelled copy of Doog’s Red Herring Box and almost everyone ended up having a bash at it and then signing their names on the guest book secreted inside it. I really enjoyed the solve, and particularly like how Doog suckers you into thinking this is going to be pretty straight-forward and then totally blows you aways with his creativity and his most excellent craftsmanship. We totally forgot to take a picture in the hall with all the solvers present, but we did remember to take a pic back at the house afterwards, albeit a couple of folks hadn’t made it back to my place.

Matt and Chris, them of MW Puzzles fame, arrived with a box of treasure and duly took some money from a bunch of us for a copy of The Bandit. They’d brought a spare copy along for folks to play with in the hall and it ended up being well exercised, although I don’t think very many people actually managed to solve it… The Bandit is a super step up from their previous puzzles – this one has even more puzzling than their previous releases, but they’ve concentrated really hard on themeing and making this one look drop-dead gorgeous, and succeeded. They also gave a couple of us a copy of their Key Ring puzzle to try out… they said they weren’t sure about offering it for sale or not (despite a little trace of it appearing on their web-site some time last year) – and after fiddling with it on and off over the past week and getting absolutely nowhere, I’m struggling to understand their hesitancy.

Somewhere around lunchtime we headed off to the deli for our customary pig rolls only to find they were short staffed and weren’t offering them – calamity! Frank and I settled for a Welsh Dragon sausage roll and chicken samosa instead, albeit the sausage roll was so filling that the samosas ended up in the fridge, untouched.

Gill and Mieke arrived with Barkley in tow some time after lunch on their way to the tea shop for coffee and cake. Barkley didn’t show much interest in the puzzles, but graciously accepted cuddles from the not-too-engrossed puzzlers nearby.

Steve’s copy of Oskar’s Piston Plunger generally got a fair amount of playing with and generated some of the bawdiest double entendres of the day -and there were a lot of them!  (I know, unusual, eh?)

I managed to acquire a few more Martin Gardener first editions from Angela to add to the steadily growing set on the shelf. (Thanks Angela!)

Sometime after five, we started packing everything up and loading up the cars before a few folks headed off home, while the majority headed off to my place after receiving the obligatory puppy-briefing – to make sure that the 6-month old didn’t cause too much chaos when the whole world arrived at her home for a fish supper, and, of course, some more puzzling.

Everyone duly behaved impeccably and totally ignored Rolo when she got a bit overwhelmed and started barking at everyone in the hallway – to the point that they were resolutely ignoring one another as well, but we managed to get past that and calm duly returned when she realised it wasn’t a home invasion, well not a bad one anyway…

It was an absolutely stunning evening so most folks ended up chatting and puzzling outside. Amy was quite disappointed when she opened the biscuit tin in the kitchen only to find it was full of Rolo’s training treats – she managed to find the human treats shortly afterwards!

Bananas came out to play, as did a bunch of older Iwahara boxes and even some arcane disentanglements came out to confuse. Peter’s fish suppers didn’t disappoint and set us up for a few hours more puzzling and banter…

Somewhere around 10pm most folks headed off for a long drive home and I left Louis to reassemble some of the partially solved puzzles dotted around the house.

Sunday was an altogether quieter day’s puzzling with Louis and chatting with Mieke. The weather was lovely again, so most of it was spent outside puzzling in the sun… JCC’s Telephone Box (think mean multi-layer partially-blind n-ary mashed together with a sequential discovery puzzle) and MW Puzzle’s The Bandit getting most of my attention - both providing plenty of puzzling fun.

Another thoroughly wonderful MPP weekend…  


Steve's solution to Rolo's desire to carry his shoes around

Friday, 26 May 2023

Coin Wallet

When Mine showed us pictures of Coin Wallet a few months ago, I thought it looked really interesting… knowing it was designed by Koichi Miura, I set my expectations high and made sure that I joined the queue to purchase a copy.

I wasn’t disappointed!

Coin Wallet invites you to insert two pairs of coins shaped pieces into the rectangular frame with the smallest of possible restrictions along the two edges of the top. You get two yellow three plus one coins pieces and a pair of white two plus ones. There’s a pair of windows on the sides of the frame to allow for manipulation and a quick bit of experimentation will convince you that you need to get the coins into a classic 5-pip arrangement for them to all fit properly inside the frame without projecting beyond the height of the lips.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, no the manipulation holes aren’t large enough for the coins to pass through them – you’re only going to get the coins in through the single top opening.

The frame allows for the thickness of three coins, plus a little wiggle room and it all seems totally fair…

So let’s dive on in and just drop everything in there… and that goes swimmingly until you get to the last set of coins, which are just a little too wide to get inside the frame… perhaps it’s time to Think (c).

Turns out you’re going to need to do quite a bit of thinking, and a fair amount of experimentation leading you to discover quite a few different sorts of manipulation that might just be useful – and then find the secret sauce that combines them all in the right order that allows you to magically get around that initial little hurdle.

It’s a great little puzzle where the aim is totally obvious, and there are few enough pieces that you feel it should be simple, but it will earn your respect and make you a fan… it was certainly a big hit with the boys on our recent King’s Day trip!


Thursday, 18 May 2023


A mate of mine managed to procure a copy of Shutout from Osanori Yamamoto for me recently and I think it’s excellent and deserves to be shouted about.

The design is that pure and simple that it seems like someone should have tried it ages ago… but when you try and solve it, you’ll probably understand why that hasn’t happened until Osanori did it: you might well think it’s not possible!

As with all of these puzzles from Osanori-san, the goal is to make an apparent cube inside a frame. The frame in this case is most of a cube with a couple of slits on opposite sides that are perpendicular to one another. One goes deeper than the other, but apart from that they’re unremarkable…

The pieces on the other hand are intriguing – you are given 6 T-tetrominoes – no weirdly shaped pieces that need to dance around one another, just six T’s…

…and if at this stage you’re thinking to yourself that this is going to be simple, you’d be best to remember who the designer is, and take things slowly…

No matter how slowly you take things it won’t take you long to tie yourself in tiny little knots – start dropping pieces in and you realise they start blocking the very slot you need to drop the last few pieces into… getting most of the pieces in is simple – getting them all in turns out to be impossible.

Step 1. Tick.

Having realised this isn’t going to be a simple case of dropping pieces into the frame, you reassess your options and engage Think (c)…

..and experiment a bit and learn how some of the pieces interact and move, and then experiment a whole lot more… along the way convincing yourself that no amount of manipulation is actually going to help – Yup! Step 1 (again). Tick.

…and then when the epiphany finally comes you realise that you can in fact get to that strange intermediate state you’ve been chasing for a while and then it is finally possible to insert the last piece – cue fat smile – and huge appreciation for a disarmingly cunning design from a true master.

Friday, 12 May 2023

Karakuri Packing

A couple of weeks ago I went away on holiday for a week and took a couple of puzzles along to play with – one of them was Karakuri Packing from Mine’s recent release – and boy was I chuffed with that choice – it has turned into one of my favourite puzzles in a long while.

Designed by Yasuhiro Hashimoto and beautifully made by Mine, it presents you with five pieces (some of which have holes in them) and two dowels to be placed in a box with a slightly restricted opening. A quick count will convince you that there should be more than enough space in the box for those pieces so it should be a simple matter of working out how to arrange them all inside the box…

And that’s where the fun starts…

I’ve often described the first step in my solving technique as getting myself to the point where I think a puzzle is impossible, and then working out how it might possibly not be… this puzzle did that to me multiple times – and that’s probably the main reason I’m such a huge fan of it – it gives and confuses and then gives again…

Having already established that the pieces should all fit in the box… I set about trying to do just that. Don’t get me wrong, it’s easy to find an assembly that would fit inside the space if the opening weren’t restricted, but that little strip across the top turns out to be quite confounding…

It turns out that the restriction and the shape of some of the pieces means you can infer quite a lot about where some things have to be – and that really feels helpful – only it turns out that it’s impossible to actually put them there and get the rest of the pieces into the box… hey ho – step 1.

At this point I was still swithering between a couple of potential assemblies and trying lots and lots of different things to gradually whittle down the possible approaches – until I was left with only one that I thought had to be the right approach – only there was no way to actually execute the assembly – step 1 - again.

Time to think not only outside of the box, but well-differently…. And there lies not only a little madness, but also gold dust it turns out – because there is indeed a way to get around the current blocker in that assembly process… only problem is that another blocker appears almost immediately after that…

Ultimately there is a way to deal with the final hurdle and the pieces just slide neatly into place…

…and when I saw that happen I got one almighty “A-Ha!” buzz that lasted for ages… it’s such a neat little puzzle that makes you Think (c) quite a lot… and as a result it’s become the one I’m currently most enjoying giving to other puzzlers to have a bash at – it is excellent!

Kudos to Hashimoto-san for the design, and thanks to Mine for bringing it to the attention of us puzzlers around the world.

Saturday, 6 May 2023

King’s Day 2023

A few of us have been making the annual trip across the channel to Wil’s legendary King’s Day Puzzle Parties for a while now, and now that we seem to be past all the international lock-downs, Steve, Ali and I made the trip across once again this year.

We met up in Eindhoven where Louis picked the lads up from the airport and collected me from the train station (I’d flown into Schiphol). We checked into our hotel, grabbed a few puzzles and then headed to Louis’ where he’d laid out a fabulous spread for lunch. Well-feasted we hauled out the puzzles and settled into the usual routine of “Here you’ll like this one”, “That’s impossible” and “Aahhh, I really like that one!” with varying delays between them. (Louis’ delays tended to be a lot shorter than ours for some reason.)

I’d taken along my copies of Karakuri Packing, Chained Lumbers and Coin Wallet from Mine’s latest release knowing that the guys probably hadn’t played with them yet… they all went down really well, although Steve stopped short on one or two of them, choosing to delay any gratification in favour of respecting the designers… I’m sure that’s what he said.

Several of us had a play with Louis’ copy of Tri-Rodspan – a 12-piece co-ordinate motion puzzle designed by Bruce Patterson and modelled by George Bell. I’d printed out a set of pieces just before I left on this trip so I was keen to see how easily they went together – fortunately Steve was keen to see how easily Louis’ copy could be disassembled so I got the chance to assemble it. Unfortunately I didn’t pay quite enough attention to the colours and ended up reassembling them in a totally uncoordinated fashion… which set off some serious OCD twitching and a “proper assembly” was undertaken, only for Steve to spin it and start the whole process all over again…

I spent a while fiddling around with a copy of a tray-packing puzzle (Amsterdam?) calling for different levels of Dutch houses to be made in a frame… I managed a couple and felt quite good about myself until Louis promptly went and found several new solutions in a matter of minutes. (Apparently there are several challenges!)

Somewhere around 6pm Louis ordered a massive pile of pizzas which magically arrived at the door a short while later, so we feasted again… plenty pizzas disappeared include some of the famous cinnamon and sugar pizzas that were left for the dessert round.

At some point Mieke prompted us to see about playing an escape room and she and Louis then managed to find one that had a slot available for later that evening, so a short while after dinner we all piled into the car and headed off to a nearby town to help our mate Barry get his meth lab sorted before the cops raided it – and then we played an escape room.

The room had a few really good surprises – the first transition caught us all by surprise and made us all smile – there was some darkness-induced frustration in the second phase due to the flashlight we were supposed to have not being available as it was broken (as we discovered afterwards) and then the third phase was really well done… we made a bit of a meal of one of the main puzzles and that slowed us down a lot, but on the whole we cranked through it all pretty quickly and we enjoyed the room. It was fun to be on the other side of the law in a game…

Back to Louis’ for a little more puzzling before he deposited us back at our hotel for some sleep ahead of the main event on Sunday.

He duly collected us after breakfast and we headed off to Venlo where we were the first the arrive with Wil literally just having finished all his preparations. There were warm greetings and plenty catchings up over a quick coffee and tart before the rest of the known puzzling world began arriving.

The Monkeys had taken along a few copies of Burrly Legal to offload and custom-made Wil a six-piece Burrtle Opener to add to one of his collections – exceptionally well-played The Two Brass Monkeys!!!

The weather on Sunday was fantastic, so the outside tables were put to very good use, with Oskar in his usual spot with piles of new 3D-printed designs inviting anyone to have a fiddle. 

I spent quite a while getting myself hopelessly entangled in a copy of Rainbow Stairs – and just when I thought I was making some progress, Oskar sat down next to me and said “You realise that’s a variation of the Fifteen puzzle don’t you?” – a particularly cruelly-timed comment given I’d literally just got myself to the point where I needed to swap two pieces around… Thankfully(!) he went on to point out that it didn’t have the same parity constraints, so I might actually be able to solve it… and a while later I did indeed manage to align all of my rainbow’s stairs.

While I was doing that Steve was frantically twiddling the handle on Let That Sink In until it did in fact sink in (or out) and then Oskar talked us through the theory behind it – I loved the bit where he assumed we could all instantaneously multiply 7,11 and 13 in our heads while he was telling us about the design. (It’s 1,001, which is interesting because the opposing gears multiply out to 1,000…)

Several of us had a go at his Screw Gears – and I for one can confidently say that I did not come up with a helpful strategy for solving them – over dinner I did manage to almost assemble the screws in precisely the wrong order and I considered that a major achievement.

Michel was handing out copies of a safety pin challenge that I enjoyed playing with while I was writing this blog post – if you want to have a bash yourself, put three safety pins together in such a way that they won’t come apart, but if any one of the three pins is opened, all of the pins come apart.

It was great to catch up with Jan Willem again and to relieve him of a couple of old Karakuri boxes that he had spare copies of… and in time-honoured tradition when I went through airport security the next day, that was the one thing they were interested in! (I suspect they’re all closet Japanese puzzle box aficionados.)

I spent quite a while playing with some extremely rare wonderful old Karakuri boxes from Wil’s collection over the course of the afternoon – a rare treat indeed.

Frans was looking a lot less battered than he has been and it was nice to catch up with him and Rob and Goetz and Michel and Rob (yes, the other one) and Patrick and Christian… and no doubt several others that I chatted or puzzled with over the course of the day… and have forgotten to mention.

At some point the crowds began thinning out and when Wil received a call from his local restaurant he realised he totally missed his booking slot… we all bundled into a few cars and headed into town for another fabulous meal – with the obligatory puzzles on the table as usual. The food was superb, the company excellent and it turned into another night to remember.

Once dinner was complete a few of us ended up back at Wil’s for a little more puzzling and a lot more coffee – it’d been a long couple of days for some of us – before Louis saw us safely back to our hotel somewhere after midnight.

Thanks a stack to Wil for hosting us all on Sunday and giving us another King’s Day to remember and to Louis for fetching and carrying us over the weekend and entertaining and feeding us royally on the Saturday!

 <Some pics courtesy of Wil as I didn't take enough myself!>

Saturday, 22 April 2023


Back in 2018 Rod Bogart’s Wavelinks puzzle was a popular entry in the annual Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition – it was one of the 10 most popular puzzles among the assembled puzzlers. There was much discussion about the potential for the design to be cast in metal by a particular manufacturer, it seemed that was everyone’s first thought on playing with it… but sadly that would not happen as they felt some of the overhangs in the design wouldn’t suit their manufacturing process.

For a few years, the only way to get a copy was to grab a 3D-printed copy off Shapeways, and don’t get me wrong, they’re fabulous to play with in sintered nylon… but they could have been so much better.

Flash forward a couple of years and the good people of Craighill decided to collaborate with the Buck Bros of Art of Play to run a Kickstarter campaign to produce them in steel… and a lot of us joined the queue to order a copy.

My copy arrived toward the end of last year and it is fabulous – I opted for the ever-so-slightly psychedelic version over the black and silver copy so it looks a little trippy. The packaging is second to none so it presents almost as beautifully in an unassembled state as it does fully assembled.

The accuracy on the pieces is stellar, and they slide together wonderfully – but if things aren’t lined up, they will refuse point-blank to move.

Colour aside, you would normally have four identical pieces – given my colour choice, mine literally are identical! Any pair will slide together to form a torus (mathematicians’ doughnuts!) but what you’re really after is to assemble a pair of interlinked torii… something simpler said than done.

I find this design really messes with my head whenever I pick up a copy… and I’ve had a copy for years and solved it many times, but I still struggled when I picked up this copy for the first time. There’s a lovely heft to these pieces that invites fiddling and playing – so fiddle and play!

Finding the right combination, the right starting point and the right combination of movements produces a pair of interlinked torii – it does seem more than a little magical when they slide together.

A brilliant design that’s been perfectly rendered in solid steel…

Saturday, 15 April 2023

QuizBrix’ aMAZEing PuzzleBox

Funny story: a couple of months ago I had a polite email from a young man called Peleg offering me a free puzzle in return for a blog post. I thanked him for the offer, but declined on the grounds that I only blogged about puzzles that I wanted to blog about… now here I am having bought a copy of the puzzle and I’m choosing to blog about it! 

Hopefully that tells you something about this puzzle already…

In the interim I'd spotted someone who’s opinions I rate rather highly posting on Facebook that he really liked this puzzle – so I immediately set about ordering a copy and a few days later one duly arrived, well-packaged, in Barnt Green. It comes with a handy little card telling you the rules of the game and warning you that this is a Lego puzzle and you should really try and avoid the urge to take things apart (because you can literally disassemble the entire thing!).

I started with the obligatory poking and prodding of pretty much everything, then progressed to trying to slide various bits and pieces around and at some point I managed to retrieve a somewhat handy tool… which when applied to some suitably shaped orifices, made things happen…

I was thoroughly hooked at this stage… and then things got even better.

More tools arrived and even more opportunities opened up. The eagle-eyed will have spotted a couple of transparent bricks in the sides and these will give you just enough of a hint of where to concentrate at the appropriate time.

There’s some really clever design in this puzzle – which makes tremendous use of the Lego bricks and their interactions. There’ll be things you want to try and do up front that won’t work, and then you’ll find yourself unlocking them later on… ultimately there’s a wonderful sequence of discoveries that leads to releasing not only the gold bar you're trying to find, but also a handy QR code that takes you to  the reset instructions and also a video of the complete solve – nice touch.

This really is a terrific puzzle and I’m glad I spotted Jim’s glowing recommendation on Facebook and took the plunge myself. Peleg’s done an excellent job of creating an entertaining puzzle that will make you think, and then make you smile. Well worth the price – especially at their currently discounted levels!