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!>