Tuesday 24 March 2020

Rune Cube

Kagen Sound’s first foray into this field came with his Waterfall Boxes – a stunning set of boxes where the first four boxes combine to provide the map for the fifth and final box. Somewhere in the middle of that run of boxes, the Rune Box appeared: a cube with mysterious runes on each face that showed puzzlers a series of interacting mazes keeping the box from opening. That in turn developed into his entirely collapsible Maze Burr - which earned him Puzzle of the year in 2006, scooping both the Jury Grand Prize and the People’s Choice Award. He subsequently made a run of absolutely gorgeous Cocobolo Maze Burrs.

The Rune Cube takes all of that puzzling goodness and distils it down to the bare necessities. [Cue Disney earwig – you’re welcome!] A simple poplar box in the core supports sliding plates so that each maple faceplate can slide through its three-by-three maze about a stainless-steel hex screw. The mazes dictate where a panel can move, and the positions of its neighbours dictate which positions in the maze are reachable. One of the panels has a hole at the end of the maze large enough to allow the plate to be lifted clear of the box and the internal box to be opened… which is handy, because that’s where the hex key and a couple of spare screws are stored. Oh, and the inside of the lid is appropriately branded, dated and numbered. 

For each starting position, the special plate with the exit hole can always be moved, a little, which frees up one of its neighbours and so on…

Kagen’s designed the faceplates to be reversible, which adds nicely to the number of challenges available to the puzzlist. John Rausch has provided a handy accompanying PDF file which covers the history of the concept and a whole bunch of different challenges from the relatively straight-forward 6-move set-up through to the somewhat more challenging 115-move suggestion. 

The Rune Cube is about 7cm cubed – big enough to handle easily and small enough to feel like you could play all day. The simpler challenges don’t require much forward planning and you can virtually just follow the available moves through to the solution. 

Some of the longer solutions will however require quite a lot of forward planning and thinking. Nothing is ever particularly complicated, as you’d expect with the 3*3 mazes, but there’s enough planning required to tickle the little grey cells into action for a while. 

I’ve had my copy for a few weeks and I’ve enjoyed running through quite a few of the challenges provided, both on the little sheet accompanying the cube and on John’s downloadable PDF sheet. 

A huge amount of replayable puzzling fun packed into a wonderfully crafted compact little cube. 

<...and they’re currently still available for sale over here…>

<...and I've improved the spelling of my friend's name so that he's no longer merely smoke and now happily drunk again!>

Sunday 15 March 2020

iDventure Cluebox

One of my puzzling mates dropped by to visit for a few days with his family and rather generously gave me a copy of this neat little “Escape Room in a Box” made by iDventure.

They’re made of many, many little pieces of laser-cut plywood, and frankly, given the amount of work that must go into making these little guys, they’re very reasonably priced. The packaging has a neat steampunk design and it makes for a nice-looking puzzle – it’s fully replayable with nothing getting destroyed along the way… or it shouldn’t be if you’re doing it right!

Faced with the locked up starting position, there are certainly lots of things worthy of inspection – several things will move, and even more of them appear to be locked up at the moment – exploring each side of the cube is interesting and rewarding and there quite a few things that appear to make no sense whatsoever. 

There is a proper order for solving things around the box, and there are plenty of clues to make sure that you follow things in the right order, as trying to solve them out of order results in a lot of frustration and attempts at applying lock-picking skills – don’t be that guy. 

Once you’ve found an appropriate place to start the journey, you’ll find yourself faced with a series of mechanical puzzles, encoded messages and observation tests. Some things really don’t make sense until a little nugget of new information appears and all of a sardine a whole series of things will fall into place allowing you proceed to the next layer of the puzzle. 

For a cute little mass-market puzzle it will definitely give people who consider themselves to be real puzzlists enough of a challenge to put a smile on their faces. Given the wider attraction of escape room games around the globe, this little guy might even help more people to find a way into our little hobby… give it a try and then pass it around to your friends. 

Thanks Louis!

Sunday 8 March 2020

Brian Young’s Ages

Everyone who’s read Brian’s blurb about Ages knows that it got its name from the estimated time to completion of the BurrTools analysis of the piece set he gave it to chew over – it’s not hard to imagine the poor little program looking at this problem and deciding that this is going to take entire epochs… but Brian was keen to get something interesting out of that analysis so he’s been keeping it running on an old PC for literally years, carefully harvesting the interim results along the way so that when BurrTools runs out of resources and stops in an inelegant manner, he can just restart it where he was and not go right back to the beginning of the road again. 

OK, so Brian’s been working on this one for a long time… he’d decided on the design during the course of last year and had started talking about it at IPP last year, where Gill asked Sue if there was any possibility of getting a copy to me in time for my birthday at the end of September. The girls duly cooked up a sneaky plan and I was presented with a large beautifully wrapped box that housed a life-size(?) baby wombat – the Australian equivalent of the Standard Puzzle Hamster – several little collectible koalas, a copy of Ages and birthday wishes from Brian and Sue. Lucky boy, eh?

I duly took it up to the Northern Puzzle Party, managed to find the obvious first couple of moves – and then nothing!

At some point Ali was playing with it – said something excitedly and ran out of the room…. And then over the course of that afternoon and evening the lads took the whole thing apart and reassembled it… presenting it back to me in its original form so that I could “enjoy” it myself…

It turned out that “enjoyment” lasted FOUR MONTHS!

For the first two months, I explored the first few moves in great detail… by which I mean I kept repeating the same things over and over again expecting something different to happen. At this point, I literally had Brian sticking his tongue out at me, over and over again…

It turns out there’s a really sneaky move right near the beginning and I needed some encouragement in order to make some progress… encouragement received, I progressed and duly found myself in some serious burr territory. I was seriously tied in knots, safe in the knowledge that “this bit” was “just” a burr… and technically it is, but it is an absolute beast of a burr – and it took me about a month to reduce it to a large pile of parts – during which time I realised I was going to need a lot of help to put this thing together again if it wasn’t going to be lying on my desk in pieces for eternity. 

The final stage in the puzzle is to retrieve a little piece of Aussie – and I was pretty sure I knew where to look – only problem was that the things I thought I was trying to open, STRONGLY resembled a single solid lump – finding the way in was a great little final kick in the teeth from this superb puzzle.

This puzzle really is the BEAST that Brian promised in his blurb – it teased and perplexed me for four months, and I’m still dead chuffed with it – that was an awesome birthday present thanks to Gill and Sue’s conniving and Brian’s wonderfully twisted mind. Thanks to all of you!

<Unfortunately, if you’re reading this and think to yourself: I’d like a shot at that, you’re out of luck – Brian sold all 200 copies in less than the time it took me to solve this little guy – in fact he sold them all before I’d even got past the first real hurdle, and I had a head start on it! So I’m afraid you’re going to have to resort to the secondary market if you’d like a copy of this one.>