Sunday 27 January 2013

Karakuri Christmas 2012

I’ve already confessed to being a big Karakuri Club fan, and last year I ordered five presents ... sadly they didn’t quite make it in time for Christmas, and therein hangs a bit of a tale...

As luck would have it, work turned a bit hectic in the run-up to Christmas so I didn’t end up taking any time off around Christmas or New Year. (It’s calmed down now, thanks for asking.) I’d been expecting my traditional Japanese Christmas parcel and then just after Christmas I was in the office when Gill called and said we’d received a ransom demand from Parcelforce ... and they wanted £580 in VAT and fees to release my little package ... which was a bit sickening, not least because I’d only paid about half that for the puzzles!

She duly got on the phone to Parcelforce, who in turn referred her to the Border Agency and HMRC and by the time she managed to get a real person on the end of the phone and described the problem, the helpful gent promised to look into it and call her back ... which he duly did. It seems there’d been a bit of a snafu that had resulted in the Border Agency picking the wrong currency unit when they input the postage charges into their magic fleecing formula. So a postage charge of JPY 3850 became one of USD 3850 – inflating the cost some 90 times(!) ... a few days later revised ransom demand for £20-odd arrived and I collected my Christmas presents that weekend...

This year I requested presents from Akio Kamei, Tatsuo Miyamata, Hiroshi Iwahara, Hideaki Kawashima and Shiro Tajima, and received all of the craftsmen that I’d hoped for.

Expansion IV – Akio Kamei

During the second half of 2012 a couple of Expansion variants appeared on the Karakuri web-site and I was lucky enough to have a play with Expansion III at James Dalgety’s place back in December. It’s a pretty cute mechanism and quite unexpected ... and Expansion IV develops that idea a little further. 

It doesn’t look like your average puzzle box, in fact it looks a bit more like a burr than a box to me. It won’t take a hardened puzzler very long to get into it, but it’s a neat little mechanism and it’s fun to play with. 

One cute feature is the series of little peepholes on each walnut piece that gives you a view inside of something metallic ... interested yet?

Sunflower - Tatsuo Miyamata

After last year’s Water Pump, Sunflower isn’t nearly as difficult a puzzle. Why Sunflower – because his wife loves sunflowers and she had been asking him to incorporate them into a puzzle for a while, and he’d finally found a way to make them an integral part of his puzzle.

Removing the lid of this handsome little box reveals where the puzzle gets its name from – a neatly crafted little sunflower placed inside the box – apart from a couple of springy panels to fiddle around with, there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot that you can do with the Sunflower box. 

Once you find the starting move, it should only take a few seconds to open the secret compartment.

Not the toughest, but beautifully made!


Half-Finished Box - Hiroshi Iwahara

As you might expect from the craftsman behind the Super-Cubi and the King-Cubi, this is a pretty decent little challenge... approach it like a standard puzzle box and you’ll have it open pretty quickly ... and then notice the rather prominent “A” marked on the lid you’ve just opened and on the inside of the box. Hmm. Wonder why that’s there? 

Take a closer look at the box, that teeny little compartment and the lid, and you’ll soon reach the conclusion that there’s probably another compartment in there somewhere ... and finding that second compartment is a bit trickier than finding the first one... it may be similar in some senses, but it’s definitely trickier to find your way through to the second compartment. 

The name – Half Finished Box is definitely a reference to how it’s likely to be left by an unwary puzzler and not a reference to the quality of the craftsmanship on this box – that is tremendous with the shiuri cherry giving a lovely green tinge to the box in the right light.

Twin 2 - Hideaki Kawashima

Last year Kawashima’s Christmas present was Twin ... and it was pretty sneaky! This year his write up warns that if you’re used to his Christmas presents, this one might be a bit tougher than usual... ominous! 

Last year we had a pair of lids opening after a series of moves with several panels split and moving independently ... this year the colour-scheme hints at a different sort of combination of moves, yet the faces have a similar split panel appearance to Twin.

Start fiddling with it and you know immediately this is a different sort of beast altogether! Two of the panels move, a little, and then they snap back into position rather sharply, suggesting something intriguing at play inside. 

The second move is rather unexpected and somewhat counter-intuitive ... and from there it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to open the two compartments ... very different!

Uroboros - Shiro Tajima

Shiro Tajima has been crafting Christmas presents in the form of Chinese Horoscope figures for years now... 2012 was the year of the snake, and he’s chosen to depict the legend of Uroboros in this year’s puzzle. 

Uroboros appears in a number of mythologies around the world and it depicts a serpent eating its own tail, representing cyclicality and the eternal return.

Tajima’s puzzle box has a pretty standard looking katsura box with a drawer through the centre and a serpent wrapped around the middle. (Love the little red crystals marking out the eyes!)

Finding the first move isn’t immediately obvious and a little recourse to the legend might be instructive ... work your way through the first 6 moves to find the first compartment and another 5 or so moves to find the second compartment...

Easily the Karakuri Christmas Present with the most ‘character’ in my haul this year – and making sure that Shiro Tajima has a firm place on my favourite Karakuri craftsmen list.


  1. nice reviews... I had 4 out of your 5 craftsman (no Miyamoto this year)...
    no regrets, and I agree on your favorites!