Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A Puzzle with No Name – Yukari’s Cube

Yukari's Cube - Pieces
Yunichi and Yukari Yananose are the owners of the Pluredro puzzle shop in Australia.  They offer high end puzzles designed by the extraordinarily talented Yunichi.  In addition to the Pluredro blog on the puzzle shop’s site, Yukari maintains a very nice blog of her own, Random thoughts with my puzzle sense.  The most recent post on Yukari’s blog, Freshly made puzzle with no name, described a new puzzle designed by Yunichi that was hot off the press.  So hot in fact that it had yet to acquire a name.

Most of my designs are named No Name, blank, space, or whatever your favorite term is for an unfilled spreadsheet cell used to contain a puzzle’s name.  It seems that my creativity process shuts down after the puzzle design is complete.  My first few puzzle designs were lucky to have been named by my wife (Eviction, Confusion, Secret Garden, The Couch, The Maze).  Some later puzzles were named after the wood used to make them by the craftsmen who made them as a way to identify them (Pink Ivory Ring, Multiwood).  Even others were named for their warm reception by the puzzle community (Reject #1, Reject #2, Reject #3).  I completely empathize with puzzlers that collect puzzles with no names.  Around our house, we refer to Yunichi’s new puzzle as Yukari’s Cube.

Yukari's Cube - The Present
The Little Present
After seeing the intriguing set of pieces designed by Yunichi, I did what any sane puzzler with wood and wood mangling equipment in the garage would do.  I went out and mangled some wood.   I glued up 9 corners made with 3 cubes each and then worked on the angled edges.  No sissy jigs on a table saw for me.  I used my beveling jig on the sander to obliterate vast quantities of wood into billowing clouds of swirling sawdust.

Since Yukari didn’t provide a picture of the puzzle in the solved state, I wasn’t sure if the cube was solid (easier), had holes (more difficult), required odd angles (even more difficult), or was a completely cosmic cubic space created by an insanely convoluted wooden shell (who comes up with these crazy ideas kind of difficulty).  I didn’t even know if you could make a cube with 9 corner pieces before all the angled cuts are added.  The 9 corner pieces are made with 27 cubes, the same as a 3x3x3 cube, which is a good first indicated that it might be possible.  I decided to test that out first.  I found out that … well you should figure that out for yourself.  I’d hate to be the despoiler of frustration (i.e., fun).

Yukari's Cube - Pagoda
Even my wife liked the puzzle, I know that she liked it because she was shuffling the pieces around muttering curses under her breath.  This is how puzzlers show appreciation for good designs.

My 5 year old grandson, not one to be constrained by complex geometric shapes like cubes, set out to design his own solution and built an abstract pagoda.  We even built a little present complete with bow.

Yukari was right in pointing out that many puzzlers will be able to solve this relatively quickly.  Yukari alluded to a little trick, but from my perspective, I think that there are 2 that you need to overcome.  Unfortunately, I can’t mention them here without spoilers.  It took me about 10 minutes to construct the cube, which included the time spent on deciding what the cube looked like.  However, I half expect someone to eventually tell me one day, “That’s not the solution”. 

Yukari included the sad disclaimer that there is no plan to produce this puzzle but I wouldn’t be surprised if Yunichi had some puzzling tricks up his sleeve to add to this puzzle.   Maybe someday it will become one of Yunichi’s groovy puzzles or the core of a grander undertaking.  Keep your eye on the Pluredro shop.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Mesmerized by - HypnoTIC

Every once in a while, someone declares that the 4x4x4 cubic dissection puzzle format has been exhausted and that there is nothing new to be discovered in that space.  However, Andrew Crowell has become the most recent champion of 4x4x4 cubic dissection puzzles with not just one or two new designs but many, and more to come.

HypnoTIC is my favorite of Andrew’s Turning Interlocking Cube (TIC) puzzle designs so far.  It consists of 5 pieces with each piece requiring rotational moves to be released, even though one piece comes out by rotating another. 

I ordered this puzzle directly from Andrew and had it sent unassembled to get the full enjoyment from the solving process.  All the rotations add to the fun in determining the relationships between the pieces and the order of assembly.

What really amazed me about this puzzle is one particular piece that needs an amazingly complex rotation to release it.  I was doubly amazed when Andrew told me that he developed a computer program to design these puzzles and that this rotation was indeed a product of that program.  This rotation is not easy to discover and I’ve even taken the piece out in front of others to then enjoy seeing them try to get it back in.

Nice alternate assembly
if you can't solve the rotations

Another thing that I liked about this puzzle is that at the beginning of the assembly there is a perfectly plausible looking piece orientation that could entice you in the wrong direction.  I know this, of course, since I had the joy of experiencing it myself.  I hope you get to enjoy the experience as well!  If you find yourself at your wit’s end, consider doubting the placement of pieces that you consider obvious.

In addition to coming up with fantastic designs, Andrew does a great job of crafting the puzzles from exotic woods.  My HypnoTIC puzzle was made by Andrew in Wenge and White Oak with dowels reinforcing key joints.  Andrew made an effort to have dark dowels for the Wenge pieces and light dowels for the Oak pieces but I think with the two-color scheme that it would have looked nicer with contrasting colors: light dowels for the dark pieces and dark dowels for the light pieces.

Andrew sells puzzles on his arcWoodPuzzles Etsy shop, but has been coming up with so many designs that he is now selling STL files for a nominal fee for puzzlers to 3D print their own copies.  If you don’t have a 3D printer, Andrew will print a copy for a reasonable fee.  The last time I checked the fee was between $15 and $20, which is solidly in the no-brainer category and a reminder that I need to go shopping again.  Andrew has also posted some of his designs for free on Thingiverse.

For those of you that crave exotic wood masterpieces and 3D printed puzzles just won’t do, in addition to getting them directly from Andrew, Brian Menold at Wood Wonders is doing an excellent job of offering puzzles of Andrew’s designs.  Wood Wonders provides finely crafted puzzles in exotic woods of many of the top puzzle designers and puzzles usually sell out very fast when they are released on his site.

A word of warning when ordering puzzles at Wood Wonders in the first few minutes that new puzzles are released – A puzzle is not reserved for you until you COMPLETE the purchase process.  Multiple people can have the same puzzle in their cart, but the first person that completes the sale, gets the puzzle.  The others will be informed that the puzzle is unavailable when they try to complete the purchase.  You need to enter this process treating it like a competition.  Speed is of the essence and if you need to take time reading all the descriptions, you are at a distinct disadvantage.  If there is a puzzle that you really need to have, complete the purchase as soon as you add it to your cart without further browsing.  If you need to take your time and browse through the selections, resolve yourself to potentially losing selections from your cart.  Recognizing the immense popularity of Andrew Crowell's puzzles, Brian has been making larger runs of his puzzles to accommodate demand and alleviate availability issues.  Good luck and may all your selections be available!

You can read Kevin's experience with HypnoTIC here.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

A Second Chance – Puzzle Auctions

Wausau '82
You’ve just read about a fantastic puzzle that you failed to acquire.  Maybe you weren’t interested in it when it was released, maybe you couldn’t afford to buy it with all the puzzles you wanted at the time, or maybe you’re just getting started and arrived too late.  Now your friends are telling you it is the best puzzle ever and what a shame that you missed out.  The puzzle community is rife with regrets regarding missed purchase opportunities on limited edition puzzles.

Regret is a constant itch that can be scratched with the help of puzzle auctions.  It is a second chance to acquire that puzzle that will complete you.  I always track the auctions looking for puzzling gems that would add shine to my collection.  I’ve acquired several puzzles through the auctions including a couple of Bill Cutler’s Wausau series puzzles (‘82 and ‘83) made by Mr. Puzzle and several Cubicdissection puzzles that I failed to buy when they came out.  (Note: Wausau ’82 and ’83 are currently available at Mr. Puzzle and Wausau ’82 – ’84 are available again on Bill Cutler’s site ). The puzzle auction sites that I track are:
Wausau '83
  • Baxterweb Puzzle Auction – This puzzle auction site, run by Nick Baxter, is held a few times during the year and lately has been concentrated in the Winter months.  I believe that the puzzles being auctioned are in Nick’s possession (therefore shipped from the US) and he provides the photos and descriptions along with an estimate of what the puzzle is worth.  Bidding utilizes an anti-sniping feature set to 24 hours.   For those of you not familiar with the term sniping, it refers to the action of a bidder to place a bid just before an auction ends to ensure that the prior winning bidder does not have an opportunity to reconsider and increase his bid.  The anti-sniping capabilities added to many auction sites were added to avoid this by extending the auction for a period of time after a new highest bidder has been established.
  • Cubicdissection Marketplace – Run by Eric Fuller, this puzzle auction site runs several times during the year.  Before the auction starts, any registered seller can add items to be auctioned.  The sellers provided the descriptions and photos and the puzzles are shipped by the sellers from their location to the winning bidders.  Bidding utilizes an anti-sniping feature with a variable time delay that decreases over time to avoid long extensions for the auction.  It’s 24 hours for the first 3 days.
  • eBay – Sometimes, very nice puzzles show up on eBay.  I acquired my copy of Stewart Coffin’s Jupiter puzzle on eBay.  Anybody can list a puzzle on eBay at any time so you either have to hear about it or establish search criteria that will periodically email results to you.  All listing information is from the seller and the puzzle will be shipped from the seller’s location.  Sniping is rampant on eBay, so make sure you bid appropriately.  Puzzles can also be listed with a buy option.
  • Haubrich Puzzle Auction – This puzzle auction site is run by Jacques Haubrich and runs several times during the year.  I believe that the puzzles being auctioned are in Jacques’ possession (therefore shipped from the Netherlands) and he provides the photos and descriptions along with an estimate of what the puzzle is worth.  Bidding utilizes an anti-sniping feature with a variable time delay that decreases over time to avoid long extensions for the auction.  It starts at 24 hours and only existing bidders on an item can continue bidding during the extension period.
  • Puzzle Paradise – This site is like eBay for Puzzlers.  It is supported out of the UK by a group of puzzling individuals that generously donate their time to support the site.  Puzzles can be listed at any time by registered sellers, who provide all listing information, and the puzzles ship from the seller’s location.  Puzzles can also be listed with a buy option.  Puzzle listings may indicate that anti-sniping is activated and how it operates.
Keep in mind that shipping is usually not included in the bid price and you may want to factor that into your bidding process, especially if you are bidding from overseas.

Please be respectful when participating on these puzzle auction sites.  The site administrators work hard to make these valuable facilities available to the puzzle community.  They can and will bar troublemakers from participating at their discretion.

This post was motivated by the 2 major puzzle auctions going on this week at the Cubicdissection Marketplace and the Haubrich Puzzle Auction.  When checking out the Cubicdissection Marketplace, be sure to look at the puzzles being offered by an anonymous seller identified as Steve (there’s a Big clue here somewhere on who that is).  In a stroke of brilliant lunacy, Steve has standardized weight and size measurements for puzzles utilizing the Standardised Puzzle Hamster (SPH).  All puzzle vitals are provided in SPH and each puzzle photo is taken with the SPH for reference except for the ones that the SPH was too embarrassed to be seen with.  For those using antiquated systems of measurement, the conversion to 1 SPH is 160mm length, 76mm height , and 64g weight.  The puzzle descriptions are a must read and not to be missed.  And the best part – One of the puzzles that the SPH is squatting on is Wausau ’83!

Bid well and may all your bids be successful!

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Penultimate Burr Box Set

When is a puzzle set a better puzzle set.  When it has more puzzles of course!  This was the goal of the Penultimate Burr Box Set in Cubicdissection’s latest offering by master craftsman Eric Fuller.

Eric just gave notice that he is entering the next stage of Cubicdissection’s evolution by discontinuing the GEM series and most of the Artisan series to focus on the high-end Signature series of puzzles.  This news was punctuated with the release of several stunning puzzles, the king of which was the Penultimate Burr Box Set.

The Penultimate Burr Box Set was provided in 4 different types of wood combinations with a total of 74 being offered.  They quickly sold out and those lucky enough to acquire one will not be disappointed.  Mine has a Quatersawn Curl Jatoba box with Wenge top and Figured Walnut bottom, Ash pieces, and a Padauk logo.  It’s absolutely stunning and obvious that Eric was looking to make a big statement with this collectible piece.

What I really like about Eric’s approach to selecting and producing puzzles is that he thinks outside the box, or in this case, thinks outside the box inside the box.  Since there were 27 pieces, I assumed that the box would have 3 rows of 9 pieces each.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that it had a nicer shape consisting of 4 rows of 7 pieces each with the Cubicdissection logo in the center of the bottom row in contrasting wood.

Contents of the Secret Drawer
But where are the instruction?  Did I mention what a phenomenal undertaking this effort was?  Did you notice the word Penultimate in the name?  If you were assuming that Penultimate only referred to the large number of puzzles you can construct, you’d be wrong.  Eric wasn’t satisfied with simply making a nice box holding 27 pieces, he wanted more, much more.  In addition to the beautiful set, he added one more hidden touch – It’s a puzzle box!  The instructions for the set are stored in a hidden compartment within the set that must be solved to gain access to the instructions along with a Cubicdissection sticker.

The Penultimate Burr Box Set’s 27 pieces can be used to make a multitude of 6 piece burrs.  Each piece requires phenomenal accuracy since it is not feasible to test every 6 piece burr that can be made with the set to ensure a good fit.  The set of burr pieces was originally defined in Creative Puzzles of the World by Peter Van Delft and Jack Botermans.  Along with the description, they provided solutions for 69 burrs that can be created.  Unfortunately, Van Delft and Bottermans defined the 6 piece burr as being solid with no internal voids, which left most of the set’s potential untapped.

Knowing that Ken Irvine (it’s strange talking about myself in the 3rd person - I hope it doesn’t become a habit for Ken) did an analysis of this burr set in the past with pieces that were 8 units long for the Ultimate Burr Set, Eric requested that the analysis be redone with pieces that were 6 units long for the Penultimate Burr Box Set. 

The Penultimate Burr Box Set analysis showed that 708 burrs with internal voids could be constructed with unique solutions, i.e., the 6 pieces can’t be reconfigured for another solution.  This is an additional 173 burrs compared to the 535 supported by the Ultimate Burr Set.  Each solution requires from 1 to 5 moves to remove the first piece as shown in the following table.

Moves to Remove First Piece

After rescuing the analysis paper from its well-hidden secret compartment in the box, I was wondering which of the 708 puzzles I should start with.  Having rapidly worked through other sets in the past I was feeling cocky and thought that maybe I should just jump to the 4 and 5 move puzzles and initially thought that I wouldn’t bother with the 1 move puzzles at all.  In the end, I decided on picking a 1 move puzzle to get things going.

After selecting a 1 move puzzle, I took the 6 pieces and quickly determined that burrs with arbitrary holes are more difficult to solve than ones that only have meaningful holes supporting specific movements.  This has been proven before when Bill Cutler and Brian Young took a perfectly difficult 6 piece burr, Computer’s Choice Unique-10, and removed another cube to make it even harder as Mega Six.

At one point, I panicked and thought that maybe the pieces of the set didn’t match the pieces in the analysis.  I assuaged my fears by pulling out my copy of Creative Puzzles of the World and verifying that the pieces did indeed match.

Instead of simply putting it together, I had to resort to thinking.  This is usually the last resort in puzzle solving but sometimes comes in handy.  Now armed with a process for solving the 1 move puzzles, I made quick work of that first puzzle.  For the puzzle that I selected, the first move separated the puzzle into 2 sets of 3 pieces.  I suspect that this process will stand up well for the other 255 1 move puzzles but will need to be updated for the puzzles requiring multiple moves to remove the first piece.

For those not daunted by building all 708 unique burrs, there are another 20,322 6 piece burr combinations that have multiple solutions.  The analysis identifies combinations of pieces for an additional 190 non-unique burrs requiring at least 4 moves to remove the first piece.

The full Penultimate Burr Box Set Analysis can be found here.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

You Only Have to - Pack 6

There I was, minding my own business at the IPP34 banquet, when Neil Hutchison plunked down a puzzle in front of me.  It was a beautifully made 6 piece packing puzzle with box and a felt marker.  It was rather large and decorated with multiple signatures.  Neil had the brilliant idea of making a puzzle to bring to IPP for puzzlers to solve and sign as a nice keepsake from the event.  At least that was the objective.  In my case, it was signed without solving.

The puzzle was Eric Fuller’s Pack 6.  It consists of 6 pieces that can be packed into a 4x4x2 shape.  Attentive readers may ascertain how the puzzle’s name was derived.  Although this is not a very difficult puzzle, there is only one solution and it may cause some blameless individuals more than a few minutes to solve while under stressful scrutiny.

I never had an interest in Pack 6 until it embarrassed me that night at the banquet.  Upon returning home from IPP, I immediately made a set of pieces from ¾” red oak stick stock from the local home improvement store to attack the problem again.  I started to analyze the puzzle and determine how the pieces should be oriented to provide 16 cubes on each of the 2 layers but eventually decideded that it would be just as quick to determine how a few key pieces could be oriented within the solved state.  Soon thereafter, I had a nice 4x4x2 shape.

With over 1000 finely crafted puzzles in my collection, Pack 6 is the one that adorns my kitchen table.  Why is that?  Because it is the go to puzzle for my little grandson to play with.  It may not be fancy, but it’s fairly robust for the solving techniques of a 3, now 4, year old.  My goal is to expose my grandchildren to puzzles that they can handle and mentally process as they get older.  So far, Pack 6 has been a skyscraper, a bridge, and even a truck.  Someday it will be a 4x4x2 block.

Eric made the original Craftsman run of Pack 6 in June 2003 and a second run in December 2006.  If you are interested in getting your own copy of the puzzle, Eric sells them on his Cubicdissection Artisan Puzzles page.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Identity I A

Every year, serious puzzle collectors from around the world gather to buy, sell, swap, and discuss puzzles at the International Puzzle Party (IPP).  A major part of the IPP is the puzzle exchange, where participants bring copies of a new puzzle design to exchange with up to 100 other participants.  At the end of the exchange, each participant then has a new puzzle from each of the other exchangers.   You would think that this would be enough puzzles to keep them busy till next year, but for these collectors, it is not even close.

After the puzzle exchange, leftover puzzles are frequently sold at the following puzzle party, which is a large puzzle market featuring a wide variety of the worlds finest puzzle masterpieces from the best craftsmen in the world.  I use the term craftsmen loosely since a few of these renowned craftsmen are women.

One of my primary goals every year is to acquire the puzzle exchanged by Frans de Vreugd.  The designs by Frans hit my sweet spot in terms of puzzle complexity and enjoyment.  When Frans does not provide a puzzle of his own design, he makes sure to provide one of the same caliber.

Frans’ exchange puzzle for last year was Identity I A designed by Andrey Ustjuzhanin.  It consists of four identical pieces packed into a U-shaped frame.  Although many exchange puzzles may be of a slightly lower quality than a craftsman would make to sell, the Identity I A puzzle is of top notch quality.  The frame is made from wenge, one of my favorite types of wood for puzzles.  The pieces are equally nice, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t know the exact type of wood used.  The puzzle is nicely finished and the frame even uses dowels to reinforce the joints.  The color of the pieces and dowels contrast nicely with the dark wenge frame.

The puzzle came assembled and I quickly removed the pieces from the frame and let it sit for a while.  I like to provide enough time to forget any of the disassembly process to make the assembly more challenging.  After all, it’s only five pieces that have to go into the frame and they are all identical.  How hard can it be?

I sat down with the puzzle expecting a short session to get those few identical pieces in the frame and was chagrined that I didn’t allocate enough time to get it assembled.  It took another longer session to figure out how all the pieces go back in the frame.

Usually when solving this type of puzzle, I like to determine how the pieces would be combined outside the frame and then determine the order that they need to be inserted into the frame.  I found this approach more difficult than usual with this particular puzzle due to the large number of voids in the final assembly and abandoned it in favor of simply working with the pieces within the frame.  The frame can hold 40 cubes and the pieces only use 30 or 75% of the space within the cube.

It turns out that there is only one way that the pieces can reside within the cube but the pieces can be added in different orders.  The ordering that requires the least number of moves provides a difficulty of, i.e., 4 moves to take out the first piece, 3 to take out the second, etc.

Packing puzzles where all the pieces are the same are not new but this one is particularly elegant given that it only has 5 pieces and is a non-trivial packing/interlocking puzzle.  The fact that it is so nicely made makes it even more special.  I’m looking forward to this year’s exchange puzzle.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

In The Beginning – The Kimiki Cube

A long, Long, LONG time ago, a little boy took a school field trip to the Museum of Natural History in New York City.  This was a wonderful experience for the little boy who had never been to NYC before and certainly not that far from home without his parents.  Even better, he had 2 dollars in his pocket that his mother had given him that morning to buy something that might catch his interest.

As magical as the museum exhibits were, the little boy was amazed at all the wonderful items on display within the museum gift shop.  Amongst all the fantastical scientific displays, ferocious looking dinosaur figurines, and astronomical paraphernalia, he found himself transfixed by a simple cube, which became his grand purchase.

The cube was obviously made of wood and appeared to be comprised of multiple pieces that interlocked together.  It was even stamped with “JAPAN” on it, which even the little boy knew was all the way on the other side of the world.

After cajoling the first couple of pieces apart, the entire cube disassembled into 12 pieces.  Excited, the little boy ran to show his mother the 12 pieces and explained that she needed to put it back together, which she did.  Little boys don’t like to ask mothers for help and he made sure to never do that again.  His mother is still fearful when he approaches with a puzzle in hand.

He was now on the path.  This puzzle and the many that came afterward, warped the little boy's mind and he had no other recourse than to become an engineer.
More than 1000 puzzles later, this first puzzle, the Kimiki Cube, is referred to as Ground Zero.