Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Uns@lv*bl# F!&#ing O$j@ct - Cast UFO

Cast UFO by Vesa Timonen

Cast UFO BoxEvery once in a while, something shows up out of nowhere and descends upon the unsuspecting world.  This was the case with Cast UFO, and when it landed, it made a big impact.

Cast UFO was designed by Vesa Timonen.  I know this because Vesa’s name is the only thing that I can read on the back of the Hanayama Huzzle box.  UFO is a sphere trapped within a frame, somewhat reminiscent of Cast Marble ().  The frame looks like it needs to slide apart to be separated, but the internal sphere, which can be seen through the hole in the top and bottom, is in the way.  The sphere can be rotated within the frame and it appears that the sphere is divided into quarters.  The orientation of the quarters can also be changed by rotating any half of the sphere along either cutting plane.  Although each of the quarters looks the same, peering into the cracks reveals that the quarters are not simple wedges and that there is some fancy geometry going on that allows the rotations but doesn’t seem to allow it to come apart.  Maybe it’s a puzzle.

Cast UFO PiecesI played with this one on and off for quite a while.  After a month, I was having serious doubts about being able to solve it.  For the longest time, it was like the fidget spinner on my kitchen table – something to twirl every once in a while without getting anywhere.  Along the way, I was comforted by the thought that the sphere has an infinite number of possible orientations within the cube and that there was no way to identify them since the quarters all look the same.  At one point, I almost decided to use a marker to be able to identify the pieces, but decided not to in the end.  Warning – using stickers would be a realllllly bad idea.

I started out with what I thought was a reasonable approach to solving it but I wasn’t getting anywhere.  Thinking about it some more, I came up with 2 other approaches to disassembling the puzzle.  Alternating between the 3 approaches, I finally managed to get it apart.  Once I had it all apart my first reaction was relief for finally getting apart.  This was quickly followed by the horrifying experience of noticing identifying numbers on the inside of the sphere pieces, which I failed to notice when taking it apart.  I now had 6 pieces staring back at me with no indication of how they were originally oriented.  The good news is that once you take UFO apart, it is rather easy to determine how the pieces should be oriented and put back together.  However, even knowing the solution, it’s still an effort to take apart.

Cast UFO Piece NumberingSo why does everyone hate this puzzle so much.  It’s rare that a puzzle receives negative reviews and this one seems to be attracting them.  It’s not that it’s a bad design.  It’s a brilliant design.  The problem with this puzzle is in the packaging.  That’s right, it’s not the puzzle but the box that it came in.  It was the presentation that did this puzzle in.  Right on the front of the box, it was declared that this puzzle was 4 stars out of 6 in difficulty.  So we all put on our 4 star hats and took our 4 star game out to solve this tough nut.  But we came unprepared to the game and we felt mislead and cheated.  Had the puzzle been given a 6-star rating, puzzlers would have enjoyed it more even though some would have declared that it was too easy to justify a level 6.  Folks that normally avoid the most difficult puzzles in the series would have been steered clear of this trap.  Even 5 stars might have appeased everyone.

Let’s get back to the design.  I’ve already mentioned that it’s brilliant and it is.  It was obviously designed to be difficult and it certainly succeeded.  Once you take it apart, you can appreciate Vesa’s genius for creating these types of puzzles.  This puzzle has very tight tolerances and you have to have everything lined up just right to start the disassembly.  I’ve seen at least one reference on the Internet that indicated that a pre-production version, was used for testing.  This version most likely had bigger tolerances, which would have made it easier to disassemble, resulting in the easier rating.

I will mention that there is a significant clue that I completely failed to notice that would have been a great help in the beginning.

I bought my version of Cast UFO from Puzzle Master and if the more difficult Hanayama puzzles appeal to you, you can get a copy here.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Just Plain Mean - Split Cube 2

Split Cube 2 by Andrew CrowellAntigravity, EM wave theory, and centrifugal force computations were just some of the techniques I employed to solve this beautiful little puzzle, but don’t let her looks fool you, she’s a beast!  You can’t see what’s going on in her head and that’s the problem.  It’s a blind solving process.  However, it’s obvious that she has some loose marbles rolling around in her head.

Before Andrew Crowell started providing those wonderful TIC designs for the puzzle community, he developed a few other puzzle series based on the 4x4x4 cubic dissection.  Normally with a 4x4x4 cubic dissection, you have up to 64 cubes (4 layers of 4x4 cubes) where the puzzle design specifies which cubes are removed and which of the remaining cubes are glued to each other.  Not satisfied with this Andrew decided that some of the internal cubes should be round and replaced them with marbles.  This helps the internal pieces move without getting stuck.  You will appreciate this, until you don’t, and then you’ll be cursing it.  Now take this nice puzzle that I just described and add one more additional feature and she becomes the frustrating hair-pulling demoness called Split Cube 2.  Keep in mind that none of the features of this puzzle are meant to help you, they are ALL designed to hurt you.  Andrew mentioned to me that he was tempted to call this series Just Plain Mean.

I have to confess that before I met up with Andrew’s puzzles, I had no desire to spend time on a “blind” solution process.  However, I really love these puzzles and found them quite challenging as well as enjoyable.

Split Cube 2 by Andrew Crowell (Prototype)I received Split Cube 2 from Andrew as a prototype that he wanted feedback on.  Andrew’s comment to me was: My goal was to make very tough/frustrating puzzles, because a few people asked for something more difficult, but these might be too tough to be enjoyable ...  I assuaged Andrew’s fears by informing him that these are the types of puzzles that the puzzle community eats for breakfast.  There’s a lot of fiber in wood.

What Andrew calls a prototype, is what I aspire to make someday.  The prototype is beautifully made with Purpleheart, Padauk, Walnut, and Maple.  When I was done, I liked Split Cube 2 so much that I got a second copy in the final wood selections of Tigerwood and Purpleheart rather than give the prototype up.  Both copies have the edges of the cube beveled but the edges of the individual pieces are not beveled, which looks fantastic on this puzzle and provides no clues as to which cubes are connected to each other.

Split Cube 2 PiecesAs part of the review process, I timed myself to provide the first benchmark on how long it takes to solve.  It took me 1 hour and 45 minutes to completely disassemble the puzzle.  If you would like that broken down into stages: it took 1 hour and 40 minutes to get the first marble out and 5 minutes to completely take her apart.  With puzzle boxes, you know you are done with the solution when you find the designer’s Hanko (stamped signature).  It would be nice if future versions of this puzzle revealed the Hanko when the last 2 pieces are separated to let you know you are done.

This is a difficult puzzle and normally I wouldn’t have solved it that fast.  There were 2 things working in my favor.  The first is that I was timing myself and therefore very focused and moving faster than normal.  The second is that I had already solved Split Cube 1 as well as the 4 Exolution puzzles, that gave me some idea of what to expect in this puzzle.  Most of the time is spent experimenting with the cube to get some kind of feedback that helps generate a mental map of the internals and how the framing pieces are constructed.  With the mental map, you can hypothesize how she would come apart and the moves required to accomplish it.  And finally, you test the hypothesis to find out it doesn’t work and start all over again, and again, and again…

I like Split Cube 2 because she’s Just Plain Mean.  This puzzle has teeth and once you get her apart, you will see exactly where the teeth (OK, tooth) are and you can put it back together without this tooth to make it a very attractive and fun beginner level puzzle.  If you want to challenge somebody, you can leave it in.

So here is my confession.  Yes, I can get her open and I can even do it relatively quickly.  However, my solving process for this particular puzzle is extremely unusual and I’ve failed to come up with a straight-forward method for solving it.  If you find one, I’d be interested in hearing about it.

I highly recommend this puzzle and if you are up for a challenge, you should get one.  Cubicdissection is currently planning on releasing a run of these in the near future.

Split Cube 2 Puzzles by Andrew Crowell

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Providing Solutions, A Slippery Slope - Cast Slider (Redacted)

Hanayama Cast Slider by Vesa Timonen
My regular Hanayama pusher inquired if I wanted a copy of Cast Slider and I declined.    I felt that a puzzle with 3 stars from Hanayama would not provide enough of a challenge to be that interesting.  I’ve made it a point to collect all the Hanayama puzzles that are 4 stars and higher.  It’s not that I don’t own any easier Hanayama cast puzzles.  I have a copy of Cast Loop, which is 1 star.  It may not be difficult, but I like the movement and it’s a good puzzle to hand to a new puzzler.

My first Hanayama puzzle was Cast Enigma (6 stars), which started me on this path.  As I get older, the numbers seem to be skewing to the left.  I’m thinking that maybe I should reevaluate my abilities and collect puzzles that are 3 stars and higher.  Anyone that has been beaten up by Cast UFO (4 stars) recently can certainly sympathize.

When recently purchasing some puzzles from Puzzle Master to support a puzzle challenge (Puzzle-A-Month Challenge), I decided to add Cast Slider to the cart and give it a try.  I took it with me to the barber and solved it while waiting to get my hair cut.

Cast Slider was designed by Vesa Timonen and consists of 3 pieces, the 2 sliders and a central hub piece that they slide on.  Each slider consists of two flat sides that are connected on each end by a large pin.  One side is extended with a grove that the hub’s pin runs along.  The hub’s pin extends out of both sides of the hub to interact with each slider.  The hub also has a slots cut in it to allow the slider’s pin’s to travel along it.

Here is a blow by blow description of the heart-pounding disassembly process, slightly redacted to preserve against spoilage.   Of course, the person responsible for the redaction is ██████████.

When handling this puzzle, it is apparent early on that the only available move is to █████████████ releasing █████████████████████████  and then Boom! Things start to  █████████████████████████████████ until the sliders flop around, hanging loose by one end on the hub.  Although it looks like they might be able to come off, they just can’t seem to get past the hub’s pin.

After some experimentation, it becomes obvious that █████████████████ are █████████████████████.  With a little further experimentation, it becomes apparent that you need to ██████████████████████ and ████████████████████████, ██████████████████████ is infinity squared bigger than infinity? ████████████████████. ████████████████████████ won’t get you anywhere but ██████████████████████████████████ will █████████████████████ allowing you to ████████████████████████ for the climactic ending where you can ████████████████████████ like magic.  Indeed, if you practiced this enough, you could make it look like a magic trick.

Hanayama Cast Slider PiecesAs you can see from the solution description, this puzzle is not that difficult but has some interesting moves.  Assembling the puzzle would be more of a challenge than disassembly if you haven’t gone through the disassembly process.  However, I consider Slider a disassembly puzzle and wouldn’t recommend starting with the assembly.  I was able to do this puzzle in a few minutes, but I have handed it to others who have found it more challenging than I did.

If you are interested in getting your own copy, you can get Cast Slider from Puzzle Master here.  If you get stuck, just follow the directions in the solution above.

P.S. I gave the puzzle to my wife to work on after she read the solution above and she's still not talking to me.  Great puzzle!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Playing With Fire - Oskar’s Matchboxes

Matchbox Puzzle by Oskar Van DeventerWhere do you keep your matches?  If you’re a puzzle collector, you keep them in Oskar’s Matchboxes.  To help you store your matches, every 5 years Eric Fuller releases a run of Oskar’s Matchboxes: 2005, 2010, 2015, and now planned for 2019.  I guess that we have a lot of impatient matchstick holders that can’t wait until next year.

If you couldn’t guess from the title, the Matchbox Puzzle was designed by Oskar van Deventer. With the new batch planned to be released soon at Cubicdissection, I decided to pull my copy out and revisit it.  The hardest part was finding it.  It was in the last box that I looked in (Have you ever really appreciated how useless some statements are?  Of course, it was in the last box I looked in.)  My version is not a work of art, lovingly crafted by the cognoscenti of wood manipulation, but the version made by Philos, which is a decent looking fully functional version.  The main difference is that the drawers of the Philos version are just solid blocks and can’t store matches.  The puzzlewillbeplayed site also illustrates the drawers as blocks with the side representing the open part of the drawer facing up in the images according to the version made by Cubicdissection.

Matchbox Puzzle PiecesThe puzzle is not that difficult and takes 5 to 10 minutes to assemble.  This is definitely an assembly puzzle, so if you receive it assembled, have someone else take it apart.  The orientation of the pieces has a certain property that makes assembly a quicker process.  No, I’m not going to tell you what that is.

The real challenge is to figure out how to put the matches in without spilling them everywhere.  Since the puzzle doesn’t come with matches, try ball bearings instead for a little more fun.  It is definitely possible to accomplish this task.  However, there are 2 solutions: one that allows you to fill the boxes as you are putting them together and one that doesn’t.  Don’t blame me for all those ball bearings rolling around on your floor.

Can you make a matchbox puzzle with more than 5 matchboxes?  I’m glad you asked – Yes.  In fact, in 2015 Eric Fuller released Matchbox Play 6, designed by Olexandre Kapkan, and consisting of 6 matchboxes.  Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to play with this version, but Cubicdissection indicates that there are multiple solutions and that it’s easier than Oskar’s original 5-piece design.  Maybe I’ll glue up some matchboxes and give it a try.

If you miss the opportunity to get a copy of Oskar’s Matchboxes from Cubicdissection, you could always get the inexpensive Philos copy from Puzzle Master.  You can find it here.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

5 Is the Magic Number - PenTIC

PenTIC by Andrew CrowellA lot of puzzlers are now finding themselves attached to TICs.  You can blame Andrew Crowell and his TIC incubator.

Andrew is the current grand master of designing Turning Interlocking Cubes and has generated many amazing TICS in the 4x4x4 cubic dissection format.  Many of his designs are a product of a program that he wrote to help produce his designs.  It’s astonishing that a program can produce the types of complex rotations that are found in his puzzles.

PenTIC is a level puzzle designed by Andrew Crowell requiring 5 Rotations.  Andrew places this puzzle in the medium difficulty category for his puzzles and recommends taking this as an assembly challenge, so if you have the opportunity, order it unassembled.

The format of this puzzle is one large frame piece with other four pieces that have to fit within the frame.  Unlike HypnoTIC, reviewed earlier in, Mesmerized by – HypnoTIC, the location of the pieces is not that difficult to determine.  The difficulty is in determining how to get them there.  Of course, the rotational moves required to assemble this puzzle are the highlight of the solving process.  It took me a little bit of time to determine the rotational sequences required and I thoroughly enjoyed working on it.  Not that difficult, but very enjoyable.

PenTIC PiecesWhy did Andrew call it PenTIC?  In his own words: “PenTIC (5 is the Magic Number) requires 5 moves to free the first piece, 5 separate rotations, and is made of 5 pieces with 5 different wood types.”  I also made sure that this was the 5th paragraph to ensure that there were five 5s.  I think that’s enough 5’s to justify the name. 

The version that I have was made by Andrew himself and is a beautiful puzzle made with Maple (the handle), Zebrawood (the cat), Wenge (the twisty T), Yellowheart (the corner), and Tigerwood (the cage) with a teak oil finish.  (Piece names gratis from my wife, who likes to attach identities to pieces and provide an accompanying story for the steps of the solution.)  The pieces are all nicely beveled and the largest piece uses dowels to strengthen a few of the butt joints.  The light dowels contrast nicely with the dark piece.

PenTIC is planned to be released soon at Cubicdissection.  You can also find a lot of Andrew's designs being made by Brian Menold at Wood Wonders

Additional information on Andrew Crowell’s TICs can be found in the prior post, Mesmerized by – HypnoTIC.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Totally Tubular Dude! - Tube It In

Yellowheart, Bubinga, Wenge, Holly, Maple, Canary, Cherry, White Oak, Pau Ferro, Peruvian Walnut, Zebrano, Purpleheart, Ash, and Paduak, Oh My!  These 14 exotic tubes are all packed into a space that is 2" x 1.375" x 1.5" with the outer Paduak tube contrasting nicely with the inner Ash tube when assembled.

Tube It In was designed by Wil Strijbos and it should come as no surprise that it was originally made in metal before Eric Fuller released the wood version in 2016 on Cubicdissection.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve had this puzzle for 3 years now.  Eric just released another batch of these for 2019, prompting me to pull mine back out.  Although, I stored mine in the orange sash that it came in, it was easy to locate by feel due to its diminutive size and shape.

After pulling it out of the bag and marveling at how beautiful the wood looks, there is no effort involved in unpacking the tubes.  Once unpacked, the variety of woods used to make each of the pieces can be appreciated.  You can also appreciate the work that went into making these pieces.  All the outer edges of each tube are beveled and each tube, even the smallest, utilizes shoulder joints to make a solid bond.  Considering that these pieces will undergo zero stress, it is amazing that this effort was made instead of a simple butt joint.  However, I’m assuming that it is easier to align and glue a shoulder joint than a butt joint.

It takes a little more effort to pack the tubes back up, but it’s not that difficult.  My attack plan, as with most packing puzzles, is to start with the biggest pieces first and work my way down to the smallest.  It took me about 5 to 10 minutes from start to finish.

I originally had a description here of my experience packing the first 5 pieces together, but I got the "What!  You're telling them how to put it together?" response from my wife, who convinced me that what may seem obvious to me may not be obvious to others.  This is certainly not a mistake I would want to make right after a new set of puzzlers receive their copy of Tube It In.  Sorry, you're on your own now.

The tubes slide into each other without any binding.  You can see from the end shot the wide tolerances that were used for this puzzle.  This tolerance was used throughout the puzzle, which should be able to withstand a wide range of environmental conditions.

The new version that Cubicdissection recently offered has magnets that hold the two largest pieces together, which is a nice addition, although I think it would have been even nicer if the magnet hadn’t been exposed on the outside when assembled.  I also like that the wood selections for the different tube sizes have been altered so that you can easily identify the vintage of the puzzle.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Off With Her Head! - Guillotine

AAAGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!  Off with her head!  The only puzzle that I left unsolved at RPP that tormented me was Guillotine (aka Harun) designed by Volker Latussek.  Just when I thought that I had left all that stress behind me, a package arrived from the UK.  Allard Walker, somehow sensing that I would be starting to recover from my traumatic experience at RPP, strategically mailed me a copy to arrive just in time to prolong the frustration.  I’m lucky to have such good friends.

It turns out that Guillotine was Allard’s exchange puzzle for the Edward Hordern Puzzle Exchange at IPP39 this year.  For those not familiar with the exchange, each participant brings up to 100 copies of a new puzzle design that has not been released in the wild yet, to exchange with the other participants.  This year there were just over 70 participants, so each participant left with 70+ new puzzles.  In addition, a copy of each puzzle is donated to the Lily Library at Indiana University, which now houses more than 34,000 puzzles, generously donated by IPP's founder, Jerry Slocum.

As I explained in A Decade of Puzzling – RPP 2019, when I got back from RPP, I had an epiphany on how to finally solve this bugger.  Overjoyed to finally be able to validate my hypothesis, I eagerly unpacked Guillotine and began to arrange the pieces.  Unfortunately, epiphanies are cheap and this one wasn't worth much.  It wasn't even close.

Guillotine consists of 12 pieces that have to be packed into a 5x5x5 box.  There are 6 planks that are 4x2x1 and 6 additional 4x2x1 planks that have 2x1x1 pieces added on each end (or you can think of it as a 4x2x2 burr piece with a 2x2x1 notch taken out of the middle).  The box has a sliding lid that covers half the box.  It only covers half to allow the pieces to stick out in the unsolved state that it comes in.

After giving up on my erroneous hypothesis, I called it a night to get some sleep before attacking it again.  I resumed the effort again in the morning, and after a short time finally managed to find a solution. Very clever puzzle!

Peter Wiltshire mentioned that there were 2 solutions at RPP, a hard one and an easy one.  I assumed that after all the struggling that I did, I finally managed to find the easy solution.  After another 5 minutes, I found the second solution.  Having both solutions, I’m now assuming that I found the harder one first and that’s why I found the second solution so fast after the first one.

The copy that I played with was made by Eric Fuller and went by the name Harun, which I assume is the name that Volker Latussek gave the puzzle.  Allard’s exchange puzzles were made by ROMBOL GmbH, and I’m told that they sometimes change the names of puzzles for marketing reasons.  So Harun became Guillotine.  Either way, this one is a tough one to get your head into, or maybe I should say out of.

Thank you Allard!