Sunday 21 January 2024

TIC Vault

I managed to miss out on Andrew Crowell’s TIC Vault when it was first released, but I certainly took notice when it garnered a jury honourable mention at this year’s Puzzle Design Competition… so when Andrew offered some copies for sale I didn’t hold back and one duly arrived at Puzzling Times HQ a little while later.

It’s a very handsome puzzle that speaks of a man who has not only designed some rather good-looking puzzles, but also one who has seriously mastered his 3D printer(s)! The quality of the printing is excellent with “inlaid” text on the base and logos all around the sides… it’s a good-looking piece of puzzle!

Initially the interesting bit appears to be the top with some semi-exposed pieces that look like they might make up a 4*4*4 cube… only they appear to be rather trapped in place. They’re in the centre of a red ring, that rather teases some interesting movements may be lurking in our future, but certainly not yet! Tipping things upside down reveal that the grey bits of the cube want to come out of their retaining frame, but they just won’t for some reason…

That, and not a lot else is pretty much where we start… and as it turns out more or less where I stopped for a couple of weeks of gentle fiddling… I got nowhere!

After a little Think(c)ing I managed a little bit of progress and then found myself up against a different little brick wall… albeit by now I was seeing why so many of my mates had been recommending it and why it had been singled out in the Design Competition. This one’s special.

I didn’t get a lot more time to fiddle with it until I took it along to the last MPP where I was determined to make some more progress… it turned out there were a lot of TIC Vault fans there and I got all sorts of encouragement to solve it… and I really enjoyed the journey – right from the initial discovery that evaded me for so long, through the progressive unravelling of things and the gradual dawning of what was happening and then just what the endgame might entail, through to seeing the little bit of magical mechanical wonder as things finally unlocked and presented me with my treasure for the day.

It really is an excellently puzzling journey of discovery with several delightful moments along the way.

Resetting the puzzle for the next victim isn’t too challenging but does require a little thought…

Andrew’s managed to build a wonderful sequential discovery puzzle around a well-disguised TIC (even if the clue’s there in the name all along!) … and the jury were spot on to honour his design – it’s great!

Sunday 14 January 2024

Brass Monkey Sixential Discovery [BM6]

The daddy has arrived.

For five years now Steve and Ali have been bringing us an evolving series of puzzles - all with precisely the same form factor. In fact, if you just glanced at them, you’d probably think they were all the same thing… spend a little time with them and it immediately becomes apparent that they’re very different!

There was the simple standard burr, the one that reminded me of another entire series of puzzles, the one that seemed to be welded together, the one that made you laugh out loud, and now there’s this one… the one entire series has been building up to: Brass Monkey Sixential Discovery is, in my humble opinion, the daddy!

Aside from the marks to identify the number in the series on the ends, this one looks exactly like every other BM in the series… same size, weight and appearance…

The solve on this one is something else entirely – there’s a clue in the name - this one is a rollicking ride through some new uncharted sequential discovery territory - this is some next-level prize-winning stuff… and if I was on YouTube you’d probably all be accusing me of being too click-baity… but trust me on this one.

My first acquaintance with this puzzle came through a prototype that arrived in the mail - I spent several hours over a couple of sessions trying to bash my way through several virtual brick walls… the start for example kept me really confused for a while…nothing like having a lump of brass literally mocking your inability to even find the first step!

Once I was in, I could see that I was going to enjoy this little guy A LOT. There’s some early exposure to some exquisite little tools that you’ll be absolutely itching to use… and you won’t be disappointed. The mechanisms and the tools are really clever and innovative, and each mechanism you get through puts a smile on your face…

At some point you’ll come across a monkey and when you’re done, you’ll have the opportunity to Feed the Monkey – cue gratuitous product reference.

The first time I ran through it all I was left somewhat astounded at the number of little bits and pieces strewn around the desk, having started with “just” a six-piece burr… reassembly felt a little daunting but some Think (c) will see you right…

Once I’d done that I sent off some highly effusive congratulatory messages to Ali and Steve who immediately asked me exactly how I’d solved a couple of specific aspects and when I told them (I was particularly proud of one of my approaches) they “ummed” and “ahhhed” and duly set about changing some of the tools a little to stop anyone else doing that… a few weeks later some replacement bits arrived and I set about re-solving it and replacing the bits… and it’s even better now because it forces you to do things the way they’d intended (even if my way seemed so good, theirs is even better!). They’ve tweaked a couple of bits to make things more predictable and more honest, and they are now happy that it’s ready to be inflicted on puzzlers everywhere.

This thing is literally as far removed from being “just a six-piece burr” as you could possibly imagine - Ali and Steve had some serious ambition to try and cram all of this into that form factor, and the engineering is sublime as usual… I’m a huge fan of this one - I defy you not to think it’s awesome.

If you're interested, Steve and Ali currently have a special offer with free shipping on all orders placed by the 21st of January. [They're already shipping... this isn't one of those pay now and get your (insert favourite example here) puzzle later scams!] 

Saturday 13 January 2024

Window Lock 3

Dick Hensel’s Window Locks just keep getting better and better. One was good. Two was even better, and number Three definitely steps it up again!

Shane had told me that Dick was working on a new Window Lock and there was a knowing wink that said it was going to be a good one, so when Dick reached out and offered me a copy, I shot him some PayPal and bided my time.

There’s a definite family resemblance on Window Lock 3 – a neat little oak package with a generous acrylic window showing off (almost!) all of the innards. The shackle is well and truly locked in place. There are lots of little sliders and goodies inside and the usual ball bearing waiting to do your bidding. As usual there’s a means of moving some of the internals so let’s start playing.

There are plenty of visual clues and a little logic will suggest what you might like to do… and the good news is that it doesn’t take a lot of dexterity to get things to do what you want them to do… and I thought I was doing pretty darn well until I hit a rather dramatic dead end – I thought I’d done all I needed to do, only problem was that the darned shackle remained resolutely locked shut… which was weird – it should have been open!

Turns out that Dick’s added another wonderful layer of complication – you’re going to have to review everything you think you already know about these puzzles before you’re going to find a way to finally open the shackle.

Definitely my favourite Window Lock so far – I love how Dick’s really upped the ante on this one without sacrificing any of the consistent family looks.

Great job Dick!

Sunday 7 January 2024

Chained Lumbers

Another wonderfully simple little puzzle from the mind of Koichi Miura and the hand of Mine.

You’re given a set of six three by one blocks joined together by a short length of bathroom sink chain and a box with a three by three by three void inside. The only possible little wrinkle is a single cubie fixed in the corner of the box’s lid.

Once again, the aim is immediately clear: place all the blocks inside the box and close the lid, properly.

Now at this stage it shouldn’t surprise you that the blocks and the box have been rather accurately made – so the box will fit three blocks next to one another in any direction, but it will not allow for the additional width of a single bit of the chain as well…

…and that rather cuts down on the possible ways of getting things into the box…

…and just when you find a way to do that, that single little cubie in the lid will almost certainly send you back to the drawing board.

A super little puzzle that really does reward a bit of a Think (c).

...and it's not just me that loves it - it was one of the Top 10 Vote Winners at the 2023 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition!


Monday 1 January 2024

Happy 2024

I hope you’re all enjoying a festive break with family and friends!

Thanks a stack to those of you that played along with my Christmas 2023 puzzle… 

I’m sure that everyone noticed the morse code around the edges of my “Christmas card”… and some of you decoded it and followed the trail… the morse decoded to “sorry no time to make a nice puzzle this year, head over to bit dot ly slash allard231225” – although the pesky comma (--..--) confused at least one person along the way.

If you headed over to “” you were redirected to a PDF file on my Google drive with a simple puzzle on it in the form of crossword clues without a grid… answering those clues gave you the following:

  • Think © Sticks
  • Rosebud
  • Andy  (he’s mentioned in my second blog post…)
  • Yuu Asaka
  • Box with a Key (recognise the Karakuri numbering?)
  • IRMO
  • Eric Fuller
  • Nova Plexus

…which is interesting, so now what?

You might try and find some more clues of what to do in the pics below, but you’d be well advised to decode the semaphore script – “just some nice pics of puzzles / nothing more / i promise” – and heed its advice – they literally were just a few of my favourite pics from this year… I wasn’t trying to mislead anyone… this time.

So back to those answers above, if you don’t have a grid, then the only thing you can do is put them in a list, right? … and if you read down the left-hand side it says “TRAYBIEN” - which sounds a bit French, but clearly it’s mis-spelled – or it’s someone playing a little on words… and then there’s my request for a three-digit answer to be emailed to me – know anything that might link a three-digit number to some wordplay via a fiendish puzzle?

It turns out that Stewart Coffin was fond of using the occasional bit of wordplay in naming his puzzles and one of his tray-packers was in fact called Tray Bien – it was #196.

Nick submitted his correct response 48 minutes after the blog post went up on Christmas eve which sort of surprised me as I hadn’t really announced that there was a puzzle… what really blew my mind was when Bill submitted his correct answer a minute later…

Mike popped in a (remarkably close!) random guess of 200 based on the pictures I told you all to ignore and then Georg came in third spot on Christmas morning… there was a bit of a flurry of discorders with Tamsin, Dan and then Mike showing up with the right answers – Dan pipping Mike due to the latter’s typo going unnoticed for a few minutes! It’s amazing what people will do for bragging rights! :-)

Nigel dropped in a correct solution a few days later, as did Steve, in spite of a couple of folks suggesting he knew what the answer was well before that… I guess he was just giving others a chance… a couple of others had some pretty decent partial solutions too.

Thanks to all for playing along – a copy of Yuu Asaka’s Pond 12 will be winging its way to Nick and to Bill in due course… (given there was literally only a minute between them - excellent effort!)

I hope you all have a wonderful 2024 with friends, family, and of course puzzles!