August 16, 2017

2017 Puzzle Design Competition (Part 1)

After plenty of folks giving me a hard time for slacking off on the blogging, here's a write-up of the various puzzles in the design competition this year! I hope you enjoy it since it took a while to write! (Photo credit to Nick Baxter)

Adam & Eve - Alan Rolfs, Tom Sun, George Miller

Adam & Eve was Roxanne Miller's exchange puzzle this year. The goal is to link Adam and Eve's heads together, with the apple still wrapped around Adam's legs.

Interestingly, this puzzle is nicely machined out of brass rather made out of bent wire. The theme is pretty...creative, which some may or may not enjoy. I spent some time on this one during my initial run through the puzzles, and didn't have much luck with it!

Barreled Bolt - Eitan Cher and David Tsur
(Jury First Prize)

This is an interesting twisty puzzle with fairly limited movements: you can rotate the front, back, and sides of the barrel, but not the top or bottom. In addition, the middle band can be rotated to move the threaded bolt pieces up and down!

It is really nicely 3D printed in color with magnets inside to help align things. Surprisingly, it is not too difficult due to the limited movement. Typically I can't solve any of the crazy (or ever less crazy) twisty puzzles in the competition, but I was able to do this one. I hope this one will be available commercially at some point, since the combination of a fun/original movement and being reasonable to solve would make it a good one to share with non-puzzlers.

Bastille - Volker Latussek

The goal of this one is just to take the seven blocks out and put them back. The blocks are quarter-circles with dimensions equal to the hole size on each axis, I think. It is nicely crafted out of walnut and beech.

This one is quite approachable, anybody can start poking around at the blocks, rotating things around, but it will take a bit of thought to figure out how to solve it. My first few ideas didn't work, but eventually I got it figured out. Typically I'm not a huge fan of poking at things through holes, the dexterity aspect can get annoying. Fortunately, this one wasn't too bad because the size was large enough.

Black & White Antislide - Volker Latussek

The goal of this puzzle is to place either the black or white pieces into the box, such that they can't slide around when the box is closed. The interesting aspect is that once this is done, you must be able to add the remaining pieces of the opposite color to the box and close the box! Together, all of the pieces make a 3x3x3 with no holes, so you'll need to plan carefully to make sure the other pieces can be added. Nicely crafted out of samena and hevea.

I thought it was quite surprising that solutions starting with both black and white pieces were possible! I was able to figure out the solution starting with the white pieces, after a fair amount of effort. I spent some time working on the black solution as well, but ran out of time.

Burr Lock E - Christoph Lohe

This creatively-shaped burr was built by Eric Fuller, with the perfect fit/finish you expect from his work. The four white pieces, as well as the key and shackle, all move. There are also a few cubes glued inside the frame.

I made quite a bit of progress on this one, but eventually got stuck and didn't have a chance to come back to it! I'd say it is reasonably challenging as far as burrs go and the theme was great.

BurrNova - Jerry McFarland
(Jury Honorable Mention)

I was eager to give this one a try when I read the note: "This is a semi-automatic burr, with magnets providing surprising help along the way." The first move is pretty obvious, and once you make the second move, the subsequent 11 moves happen automatically (and quickly!) thanks to the magnets. The fit is very nice, with Jerry's trademark satiny finish.

Continuing with the disassembly is not immediately obvious, but can be worked out. I didn't get too far through the disassembly for fear of the magnets causing the whole thing to explode. However, Peter Wiltshire said he had gotten it almost all the way apart and didn't have an issue with that.

Clover - Aaron Wang

This is a pretty simple-looking disentanglement where the goal is to remove the ring. Fortunately, the string can be removed in the somewhat likely case that you get things tangled up. I definitely appreciate that touch, particularly when the string is long like this!

I had an idea for what needed to be done on this one, but wasn't able to make it happen. Guess I need to practice disentanglements more!

Colonel's Bouquet - George Sicherman

This puzzle has several challenges: join any two to make a symmetric shape or join all four pieces to make a solid box.

I tried the solid box challenge first and figured it out without too much trouble. The symmetric shape challenges proved a bit more difficult! You'd think it would be easy with only two pieces, but I found it pretty challenging. I think I got one of the solutions, but didn't end up having time to try finding more. Pretty clever that all four symmetric shape challenges are possible, and you can still make a box from all the pieces.

Color Cube Sudoku - Raphael Meyers

There are multiple challenges to this one that take a while to describe, but the first goal is to make a 6x6 latin square, a color can only appear once in each row/column.

I spent a little bit of time on this one during my first pass through the room, but didn't end up coming back to it. It appears to be a ThinkFun product, so there must be something interesting about it! Nick mentioned that there was an observation you could make that made it more doable.

Congruent Figures by Overlapping - Takumi Horiguchi

The goal is pretty much in the name of the puzzle: divide the four pieces into two pairs and overlap both pairs so they make congruent figures. Since the blue shapes can overlap and you don't know which pairs to select, this is pretty tricky!

I attempted this one for a little while, but didn't end up being able to solve it. Interesting idea and nice construction if you enjoy this type of puzzle.

Convex Polygon IrN-6a - MINE (Mineyuki Uyematsu)

As you could guess from the name, the goal is to make a convex polygon. The pieces are quite simple, but I didn't have any luck with this one either.

It is noted in the solution that it is possible to get very close to a correct solution, but still not be quite right! Perhaps it would be more interesting if the side measurements were given.

Stay tuned for Part 2 (of 6!) tomorrow!

October 12, 2016

House Collection

I love sets of things, so I couldn't resist picking up this fairly inexpensive set of building-themed puzzle boxes designed by Hiroshi Iwahara and recently released by Karakuri Creation Group. Here's a few sentences about each:

Church has a single move that is quite simple to find. I did like the padauk on the roof and the detail on the cross and door.

Windmill technically has two moves, but most will solve this one in a few seconds. Looks fairly nice with the octagonal shape.

Oops House is the simplest looking box in the series, and is described on the KCG website as having a lock. However, it is very easy to accidentally open it before you even feel like the lock is a problem (or notice it in the first place).

I think I liked the looks of Design Housing the most, it has a lot of nice little details an contrast in the wood. However, this one opens with a very simple single move which you'll likely find as soon as you pick it up.

The concept behind this Four Color Palace puzzle is that you can change the color in the windows. The solution is fairly simple and not unique, but it did take me a minute or so to find it. As I mentioned, this is probably my favorite of the group.

Sharp Roof House looks nice as well, with the pointy padauk roof. The windows and door are nice details too. I'd say this is slightly harder than most of the other puzzles in the series (other than Four Color Palace), but this one-step solution probably won't keep you busy for more than a few moments.

So in summary, I'd say they look nice, but they're not nearly as good as the small box series, cake series, or cube series. To be fair, I thought they would be pretty simple based on their descriptions, but they were even simpler than I had expected, with four of them being quite trivial.

I think Four Color Palace is the best of the lot, and Sharp Roof House comes in second. If you like the look of them and want something quite simple in your collection, give these a shot, but don't be surprised if they're simpler than you expect!

October 2, 2014

Stickman #5 (Borg Box)

I have long been an admirer of Stickman #5 (Borg Box), an amazing design by Robert Yarger: I finally had a chance to try it out at the 2011 RPP, thanks to Peter Wiltshire bringing his copy. It has eighty very intricate wooden pieces that hold together in the shape of a box. To open the box, you need to slide the pieces around, and once open you can completely disassemble the puzzle into its component pieces. I loved the way it looked, with the patchwork of pieces all locked together.

This seemed to me like an excellent candidate for 3D printing since no glue-up is required, plus I wanted a copy and it goes for a pretty penny at auction! Of course, nothing would quite be the same as the beauty and craftsmanship of the wood version, but I thought that a plastic version would still be a fun way to appreciate the design. (In case you don't read to the end, I was successful and this is now available for sale! Read the end for details.)

Robert was also interested in the idea, and was kind enough to loan me a prototype of the Borg Box that he had, which I could use to create the model. I'm not much of a 3D modeler, but fortunately this puzzle is based on a cubic grid so I could model it in BurrTools. The tricky part was making sure I had all the pieces correct, since it was too complicated of an assembly puzzle for BurrTools to solve without some help!

What I ended up using was a little-known feature of BurrTools where you can save a solved assembly as a new piece. I gave each piece a distinct color, and had BurrTools assemble each panel separately (with a few color specifications given as hints). Next, I exported each solved panel as its own multi-color piece, and assembled these 6 pieces into the final solution. Finally, using this final solution with the exact color specs of each piece, BurrTools was able to assemble the full puzzle.

Using this process, I was able to identify and correct any errors I made during the initial modeling of the pieces. This was great, so I didn't have to waste any money on printing! The interface is a bit tough to use, but you can actually manually slide the pieces around in virtual space to make sure things are interacting correctly.

So I went and ordered a copy from Shapeways and it turned out quite well! Here's the jumble of pieces I received. Assembling it wasn't all that hard since I had become extremely familiar with the design while modeling it. If you didn't know what you were doing, it would be quite a bear!

I had a bit of an issue with some of the pieces on the top and bottom panels not staying locked together with the runners on that panel, but a small tweak to the design fixed this issue.

The other issue was the fit: it was a bit too loose for my taste, so I tried printing a second copy with a somewhat smaller offset to see if that helped. Unfortunately, this copy was too tight! I started sanding the pieces to fit, but then realized I could just swap some of the pieces from my first model to get a great fit! This did the trick nicely. In the final Shapeways model, I went with this mixed offset approach to get as good of a fit as possible.

Currently I'm offering this for sale at $180 plus shipping, but Shapeways just announced a price increase which will raise the price to $340 after October 7th 2014. You can contact me with the contact me link if you're interested in ordering one. I'm not offering these directly from Shapeways since it is probably best to receive it assembled, and it requires a bit of sanding to get the fit just right.

I've also modeled Stickman Snowflake and have that available for sale (here) direct from Shapeways. The price on this one isn't going up by as much, since there are only six pieces. This is a really neat design with six pieces forming a box that can be completely disassembled. I love the way the corners spiral together on this one!

September 25, 2014

2014 Puzzle Design Competition (Part 6)

This is the final post in my series about the puzzles in the 2014 Puzzle Design Competition . All photos are by Nick Baxter from the 2014 Design Competition website.

Tel Arad - Yael Meron

The goal is to fold the pieces into a three-layer stack. The rectangular pieces are joined by string, which can be slid around to some degree to position the pieces where you'd like them.

I had a good time solving this one, folding problems tend to involve a bit of logic and a bit of trial and error. You can see which pieces need to be adjacent to which pieces based on whether there is string joining them. Yael had a smaller version of this as her exchange puzzle.

Tetra-Pack - Ton Brouwer

The goal is to remove the cube from the tetrahedron and put it back in. This puzzle was one of the Top 10 Vote Getters.

The assembled puzzle looks great, with the points of the cube poking out the sides of the tetrahedron. It was disassembled when I found it, so I tried putting the pieces back in. It turns out that the tetrahedron likes to block you at every turn, the first few pieces are easy but then I started getting stuck. I would have liked to spend more time with this one, it is a neat design.

Thor´s Hammer - Stephan Baumegger

The goal is to disassemble and reassemble the burr. I loved the theme of this one, but it ends up being quite a tricky burr! I was able to get a number of moves along, but it just kept going. I meant to return to this one but didn' thave time.

3 Celestial Stars - Stewart Coffin, Stephen Chin, George Bell

Three different assemblies based on the stellated rhombic dodecahedron, each by a different designer and crafted by Stephen Chin. Each assembly comes apart differently, it is quite an interesting geometry with some nice coordinate motion.

3 Pentagons - Koshi Arai

The goal is to make a flat symmetric shape, there are three solutions. I had a tough time with two-piece Symmetric so I wasn't too optimistic about this three-piece puzzle which seemed similar. I didn't have a chance to figure this one out.

Trinity - Michail Toulouzas

The goal is to disassemble and re-assemble the pieces. I had a pretty easy time of doing both of these, which makes me think that I was missing something. Perhaps I just lucked out!

Two Dogs - Diniar Namdarian

The goal is to exchange the position of the two dogs to make them face one another. It is another challenging sliding block puzzle. I really should practice more of these, I had a tough time with this one!

Whitebox - Volker Latussek

The goal is to insert the ball in the maze on one side and navigate it to the other side. I wasn't sure if there was some trick to this one, but I ended up being able to solve it pretty easily with some random shaking and tilting.

Well, that's all for this year's design competition, I hope you enjoyed it! I know I've been slacking off on the blog recently, but hopefully I'll be getting started with more regular posts again.

September 24, 2014

2014 Puzzle Design Competition (Part 5)

This is a continuation in my series of posts about the puzzles in the 2014 Puzzle Design Competition . All photos are by Nick Baxter from the 2014 Design Competition website.

7-4-2 - Lucie Pauwels

The goal is to make two crosses with the seven pieces. The first cross is pretty easy, but getting the second one is more challenging and a clever idea.

Simpleda - Ede Gergényi and Péter Gál

This string disentanglement uses a split and curved piece of wood, which I thought was an unusual choice. Typically you'd see wire here, but it worked pretty well other than the sharp edges on the wood catching the string a bit. The puzzle was a moderately challenging string disentanglement, I think it took me about 5-10 minutes, so not exceedingly difficult.

Six Cube - Evgeniy Grigoriev

This puzzle looks like a burr, but it actually rotates like a Rubik's Cube! This is pretty surprising when you pick it up, but it solves like a twisty puzzle. I'm not much into twisty puzzles, so I didn't dare to scramble this one up.

Six Locks: Two Keys - Simon Nightingale

The goal is to open the box using the keys, but the keys start off inside the box! This puzzle won the Jury Grand Prize.

It wasn't too tricky to free the keys, but actually opening the lid is quite challenging. Fiddling with the various locks started to reveal a pattern, and eventually I had it open. Looking at the solution, I was making some unnessary moves, but it still did the trick. Very clever box and mechanism! I always love to see what Simon has come up with.

Six Ring Circus - Eric Harshbarger

The goal is to assemble the six rings into a sphere. I was able to get most of them together, since the info sheet showed an assembled version I could tell which pieces went where, but getting that last piece in proved to be more difficult! I ended up getting kicked out of the design competition room when it closed, so I had to quit, and I didn't return to this one.

The 69 Puzzle - George Miller

The idea is that you can assemble the cube to make the number 69 when you add up all the external faces. I'm not a big fan of doing math while I'm solving a puzzle, so I opted just to make a cube, which isn't hard at all (of course). Getting the numbers you want on the outside would be more challenging!

Skewered Cubes - Tom Lensch

The goal is to put the two blocks and the divider in the box and close the lid. A simple matter of permutations, right? It turns out to be a bit more complicated than that. It was a bit too difficult for my taste in this type of puzzle, since it took a lot of fiddling to see that a straightforward approach wouldn't work.

Slidoku - Simon Nightingale

A combination of a sliding block puzzle and a sudoku puzzle, the 3x3 frames move and so do the pieces within the frames. The goal is to solve the sudokup by sliding the pieces around. There are some hints marked on the wood regarding which pieces should end up where, but it is still quite challenging! I didn't have time to finish this one.

Space Axis - Osanori Yamamoto

The goal of this puzzle is to assemble the three pieces. I liked the use of the contrasting light and dark woods. Since there are only three pieces and there aren't many ways to place them, there isn't much trial and error involved. The puzzle is more about the movements of the pieces to get them into place, which is the part I enjoy.

Sunleaf - Gondos Gábor

The goal is to place the pieces in the tray. When I came around to this one, it looked terribly tedious and difficult, but due to the shape of the pieces it is actually fairly simple. Once you get going, the pieces only seem to go together one way, which makes it more like a jigsaw puzzle than a tray packing puzzle. The final solution has a nice rotational symmetry.

Symptomino - Péter Gál

The goal is to create a symmetric polyomino with 2, 3, and all 4 pieces. These symmetry problems can be tricky challenging, but I didn't find it too tough to figure out the 2 and 3 piece solution. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to find the 4 piece solution.

Stay tuned for Part 6 tomorrow!

September 23, 2014

2014 Puzzle Design Competition (Part 4)

This is a continuation in my series of posts about the puzzles in the 2014 Puzzle Design Competition . All photos are by Nick Baxter from the 2014 Design Competition website.

One Flower - Osanori Yamamoto

The goal is to assemble to two pieces inside the frame. This was the type of design I was comparing to Claws of the Devil earlier. It uses a number of rotational movements to create the needed space. I found it to be somewhat less challenging than his other designs, though still quite enjoyable. It was nice that there were only two pieces (other than the frame).

Ooban - Kohno Ichiro (Kichiro)

The goal is to place the three broken oval coins in the pipe with both lids on. The description mentions that it was inspired by Iwahiro's Mmmm, but I found it to be too similar: if you know the solution to one, the other is pretty clear. I thought that there might be something clever to do with the smaller bits of each coin, but they go in pretty easily once you have the rest done. The theme was nice though.

Paper Clip - Dmitry Pevnitskiy, Kirill Grebnev

This is a clever string desentanglement based on the shape of a paper clip. I'm used to having trouble with this type of puzzle, but I was able to figure this one out. It is easy to go around in circles, but once I started to play with some different movements it ended out working out. I often find that is the case with these puzzles rather than immediately seeing that a move will work.

Pent-cil Box - Jerry Loo

The goal is to pack the pieces in the box with the pencil. Unfortunately two pieces were jammed pretty badly in the box, so I wasn't able to try this one. Cute idea though!

Perplexing Pyramid - Simon Bexfield/David Singmaster

The goal is to make a regular tetrahedron from the two hinged pieces. This puzzle was one of the Top 10 Vote Getters.

It is an interesting application of the flexibility of certain 3D printed materials. The solution is pretty clever and challenging to find, it wasn't what I expected it to be.

Pillow Packing - Bram Cohen

The goal is to pack all six pieces in the box. I'm really not much of a fan of this type of box, it consists of two halves that separate into two three-sided C shapes. This makes it really hard to stack the pieces and try things out. A proper acrylic box with a lid may have worked better here. In any event, I couldn't figure it out either! This one is pretty challenging.

Pirate's Wallet Puzzlebox - Robert Yarger

The goal is to open the puzzle box, of course! This puzzle was one of the Top 10 Vote Getters.

I purchased this puzzle from Robert and really enjoyed it. It has a number of surprises along the way, and I liked the hinged straps and lock. Unfortunately, it is somewhat fragile and broke a few times during the competition. This is one I'll be keeping away from inexperienced puzzlers!

Power Tower - Goh Pit Khiam and Jack Krijnen

This is another n-ary puzzle, the goal is to remove all the pieces. The great thing about this one is that there aren't any extraneous control pieces or sliders. This gives it a nice simplicity that lets you understand the underlying pattern more easily.

RingInt - Yael Friedman

This is another take-apart puzzle ring, which I liked a bit better than 42 (though 42 looks really cool). It is much more ring-like, though it doesn't completely disassemble. The black strips run through 1/4 of the ring, and must be slid out in the right sequence. Yael even provided a convenient poker tool to help slide them out.

Rollin', Rollin' - Sam Cornwell

The goal is to move the block from one corner to the other. I liked how this puzzle restricted the movement physically rather than simply drawing arrows or something on the pieces to indicate the movement rule. Each of the rolly pieces could only move along one axis.

I found it pretty challenging to make enough room to get the block out of its corner, but once it was on its way it was fairly easy (since I could move a piece into its corner spot).

Safari Clues Cube - Steve Winter

This is an interlocking 4x4x4 cube, with pegs and grooves added to the pieces to further restrict movement. Since this is a very challenging puzzle to solve right off, it has been divided into a number of challenges of increasing difficulty, so you learn about how the pieces interact. The animal stickers on the side are how the challenges are presented (e.g. use the green and blue piece to make an ostrich and an aligator).

This ensures that you know the orientation of the pieces, but you need to figure out the sequence of assembly. I eventually got tired of the challenges and just skipped to the final challenge of assembling the full cube. It took me quite a while, maybe 45 minutes, to finally get it together. Pretty tricky!

Stay tuned for Part 5 tomorrow!
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