LunaTIC – Andrew Crowell

Well, after a fairly long break, I’m back in the saddle again! This time I have LunaTIC. This is the last TIC from the recent order from Woodwonders. Have to say – these have been extremely fun puzzles and I’m super excited for more. It sounds like Eric Fuller will be building some soon, so I’m definitely looking forward to those.

This puzzle is made up of 5 rather complex looking pieces. They are beautifully crafted and I’m bursting with anticipation. I see one pin placed to increase the strength of one particularly vulnerable looking finger of wood. The interesting thing here is that none of the pieces are obvious frames – as is the case with a lot of the TICs that I’ve played with. This one looks to be really exciting, so let’s get going.

The challenge is to fit these pieces together into a cube. I found this puzzle quite difficult.

10 minutes in and I’m having a great time. I got some chill music on, I’m sipping’ some tasty beer and just enjoying the exploratory process of a new puzzle. I must admit that I felt a little lost at first – trying to figure out how the 5 pieces fit together is not easy. There are no obvious signs or indications as to what goes where. So, it just comes down to some fiddling with 2 pieces to see how they interact, after I’ve worked through all the positions, I drop one of the pieces and pick up another. I just keep working combinations, waiting for that moment where everything fits together correctly. And about 10 minutes in, I have 2 pieces fitting together with a promising orientation and I’m ready to see if I’m on the right track or not.

Bah. turns out those 2 pieces were not correct. I grabbed a third piece and quickly realized it was impossible to fit in there, so I’m back to the drawing board.

So far this puzzle is kicking my butt. I’ve had a few more moments where 2 pieces went together in a promising way, but each time I can quickly determine that it’s not gonna work. This TIC is really throwing me off and I love it.

Eventually, I gave up and put this puzzle back on the shelf to settle in for the long haul. The plan was to pick it up occasionally, work on it when I feel motivated and just enjoy the ride.

At some point, while fiddling with the pieces, I finally got it right and now know where the pieces fit. Whew, that phase took a lot longer than usual with this puzzle. But I’m feeling good now. Once I know the position of the pieces, its just a matter of time before I figure out the sequence.

The thing is, this puzzle is really testing me. It just doesn’t seem to be working like other Crowell designed TICs that I’ve worked on. My process is as follows. Put 4 pieces together and then manipulate the puzzle to see if I can get the 5th piece in. When all options fail, then I try again with 4 different pieces. I keep rotating through all the pieces, but a solution is not presenting itself. Furthermore, none of the configurations feel very promising.

After several days (or weeks) working with this methodology, I decide to change it up. What if this is one of those puzzles where you build 2 halves and then fit them together? So, I try this out for a while. It seems more promising, but I’m still not able to get this darn thing together.

All Right! I’ve got the 2 sub-assemblies built – now how to get them to mate?

Then, one night, the magic happens..

Boom Hell Yes! Aw man, I finally, FINALLY got this one together! Its such a good feeling when puzzles go together. Those final moments where you’re not quite sure if its gonna work, but it seems to be going in the right direction, so you’re cautiously optimistic, and then whammo! It goes together! Ahhh yeah. I’m just basking in the afterglow right now and it feels good. This puzzle has really stumped me for a long while. It’s really quite clever and I can’t wait to slowly disassemble it to figure out just how it goes works.

One of the many confusing configurations of this puzzle.

In the end, I was working with two halves of the puzzle. I tried to put this together one piece at a time, but it just seemed impossible, I was ultimately left with trying to force these two halves together through any method possible. I’d move a couple pieces in one half, then move a couple pieces in the other half and see if that then allowed them to fit together. Each attempt, I would move different pieces into different places, just hopelessly searching for something that felt correct. And then finally, after several weeks of on/off attempts, I nailed it tonight. The two halves combined into a unique piece and then it only took 3-4 more moves and the puzzle was complete. Those final 3-4 moves really were special though. The moves were simple, but my excitement was growing as I wondered if this was really happening. Such joy can be had from simple wooden shapes!

The solved cube is so nice! Amazing what challenge lurks inside this simple looking cube.

And there you have it! Another solved TIC. I really enjoyed this one because it was very different from other TICs I’ve worked. Mainly, there are only 2 rotations – and the rotations aren’t what makes this a good puzzle. Usually those rotations yield a great “a-ha” moment, but with this puzzle, the rotations are almost trivial. Yes they are tricky, but they are only used to put together the sub-assemblies. The final moves don’t involve any rotations, just a few very clever moves that are not at all obvious.

Highly recommended for all!

PackTIC #7 – Andrew Crowell

This week I have another TIC from Woodwonders. It’s PackTIC #7 and boy, did this one give me a run for my money. I thought that I was getting good with these TIC puzzles and that I had figured out a fool proof strategy to conquering them. Oh, how wrong I was. You see, PackTIC #7 is unlike the other TICs that I’ve worked on. It contains some unique multi-piece rotations that really make this difficult to assemble and dis-assemble. But, I’m getting ahead of myself already.

The puzzle itself is quite nice. It’s composed of an assortment of wood varieties and I am very happy to see a pin used to reinforce one of the joints. Brian has also chosen to use half-lap joinery instead of just end to end butting, which adds strength and also makes this puzzle unique among the TICs that I have in my collection.

It’s only 5 pieces. Should be easy right?

Like all TICs, I start to solve them by first figuring out where all the pieces go. With this puzzle, this was pretty easy and within the first 15-20 minutes I knew where all the pieces belonged, but I had to now figure out how to get them there.

This puzzle is all about the first 3 pieces. It’s obvious what those pieces are and where they go, but it is incredibly difficult to figure out HOW to make them get into place. I struggled at this point for many hours. Also complicating the matter is that it is really easy to lose orientation on the pieces. So, I would have it in my mind where they belonged but as I began to manipulate the pieces, I’d lose track of my original reference points and thus would have to start over. Eventually, I employed a few colored stickers on the frame and the sticks. I now knew that that the 2 red stickers had to end up next to each other, so I could now better keep track of my objective.

Colored sticker method. I knew the circles had to end up next to each other. Now I just had to figure out how.

I eventually started to get a little desperate and in an attempt to rotate a piece – I snapped the puzzle. Dammit! It’s not first time I’ve snapped a TIC either. It’s really easy to do actually. The valid rotations are quite tight in this puzzle and it is a little scary to find them because they do take a slight amount of force. So it’s easy to be off exploring possible rotations and accidentally apply a little too much force and the puzzle goes snap.

So, I sanded the old glue off, applied some new glue and a couple clamps and stewed for 24 hours, angry at myself and determined to figure this thing out.

I got back to work the following day and finally had some breakthroughs. That 2nd and 3rd piece are really quite troublesome! But I eventually lucked into the solution. Through endless trial and error I eventually happened upon an arrangement whereby the final moves appeared before me. It wasn’t so much of an Ah Ha! moment because I didn’t really know what I had done, all I knew is that they pieces were now correct and I stared in amazement for several long minutes whilst the glow of accomplishment radiated out.

The final 2 pieces are trivial, so after a quick solve, I went back to work through the sequence – and once again I was stumped! Taking it apart was as hard as putting it together! This puzzle takes no prisoners!

The work is done. The final 2 pieces are trivial to insert. Whew, what a puzzle!

And the 2nd attempt was difficult too. This puzzle is said to have 20 moves with 7 rotations. And all 7 of those rotations take place between pieces 2 and 3 dancing around each other, unlocking each others next movements. It’s really quite amazing how it happens and I really had to focus on subsequent attempts to finally grasp the sequence and interplay required.

Completed at last! Note the half-lap joinery used on the top edges.

I hope I’m not giving away too much with this description. I think, with this puzzle anyway, it becomes obvious pretty quickly that the first 3 pieces are the key, so I don’t think I’m spoiling anything here. I’m just quite blown away by the little dance that takes place.

Amazing design, great build quality and construction make this one of my favorite TICs so far.

No Holes Barred – Laszlo Molnar

No Holes Barred - Solved

Another wonderful puzzle from Brian Menold and I can’t wait to get started!

Ok, so we have a 5 sided box with one small wedge shaped obstruction. We also have 5 nearly identical pieces that need to be packed inside. One of the pieces is different however and it contains a piece that matches the wedge shaped obstruction. Logic would tell me that the two pieces should fit together when this is complete. Awesome! That gives me somewhere to start. Let’s see what happens.

It’s easy! Just cram those 5 little pieces into the box!

Well, 2 minutes into this thing and there’s an obvious problem. If the 2 triangular wedges are put together then the piece extends above the top of the box – thus the final solution cannot be found with those two pieces fit together. Instead, I am now thinking that the unique piece will somehow slide past the obstruction with the wedges facing each other. I mean, there has to be a reason to have these wedges right? I’m doubtful that they are simply there for aesthetic reasons.

This triangular wedge really gets in the way!

All right, time to get packing!

Arrrgggg! Did I mention that I’m challenged by packing puzzles? Yeah, my brain just isn’t wired to solve these things – but I’m trying to get better! My problem is that I really love the looks of packing puzzles in general, I love the idea of packing puzzles too – they are always so inviting. The thing I like most about packing puzzles is that they can be very, very casual. I call them “drinking puzzles” because I can have a drink or two (or three) and still work on them. If I happen to solve it – awesome – the solution is right there for the morning! And if I don’t solve it, then no big deal – I haven’t messed up any difficult sequence or anything. Some puzzles require all the focus that I can muster, but packing puzzles? Not so much. But despite my love affair with packing puzzles, they are the hardest for me to wrap my head around.

Holy Hell this thing is frustrating. I keep going back to the wedge shaped pieces. Why are they there? It doesn’t make any sense to me. They are not working the way I though they would work. I don’t think that the wedge piece will slide under the obstruction as I originally guessed. Instead, maybe it’s there to help place the wedge piece because surprisingly, its quite difficult to place pieces into this box and that little wedge allows me to rotate in a piece which seems like it will be important later. The tight tolerances make it seemingly impossible to insert the pieces in many of the available configurations. I’m determined to get there, but right now, I haven’t a clue.

The other thing is, I keep reaching for another piece thinking that I’ll try a different shape for a change. But they are all the same shape! Arrrggg! C’mon brain, do something!

It’s easy to get 3 or 4 pieces in, but getting them all in is quite tricky.

Whelp. Last night I worked on this puzzle while watching hockey. In between each period, I’d pull the puzzle out and work on it with laser-focus. I’ve gotten to know this puzzle now and although I’m not really any closer to solving it, I’ve discovered a couple of things.

Mainly, I’ve discovered that the unique piece with the wedge at the end has a bit more mobility inside the box than the other pieces. The fact that the end of the piece comes to a point allows this piece a little more room to maneuver, which although I haven’t yet capitalized on this fact, I do think it will become important in the end.

The other thing is, at this point, I can only assemble the pieces in 2 different ways. Often times, with these packing puzzles, I’ll flip the box over and assemble the pieces on the bottom, hoping that I will then be able to replicate the process inside the box. Out of the 2 assemblies that I’ve found, only one of them would work in the box. This realization had me excited and I really thought that I had it solved there for a moment. However, it turns out, the assembly I was attempting just doesn’t work. There’s a chance that I am just doing it wrong and that placing the pieces inside is way more complex (ie. moving, sliding, rotating, etc.) then I thought. So, I will have to get back at it soon. A new day brings a new level of focus sometimes.

Eventually I figured it out and was successful at packing the puzzle, but it sure took me longer than I’d like to admit. The main problem is that I was chasing a solution that didn’t exist. There is a very unique move that involves rotating the unique piece in such a way that a little slot opens up that another piece can fit into. This was so unique and exciting that I was sure that it was the solution. The problem is, it didn’t work. And in puzzling, when something doesn’t work, it should usually be abandoned for another method – and I stubbornly kept trying the same move over and over.

Finally, I gave up on that move and started searching for something simpler. It was during this search that I finally found the answer and, boy, did I really over think this thing. In the end, this puzzle goes together pretty easily and I would bet that there are folks out there that would call it trivial. For me, it was a good challenge and very satisfying to complete. And it’s no surprise that I was on a wild goose chase. There is a certain Red Herring in this puzzle that was intentionally designed to misdirect the puzzler. I bought right into it and the prolonged goose chase only sweetened the victory.

It’s packed and ready to go!

Overall, an excellent packing puzzle beautifully created and highly recommended!

FanaTIC – Andrew Crowell

FanaTIC Complete

Wow! I am sure excited for this one. I have FanaTIC designed by Andrew Crowell and crafted by Brian Menold over at wood wonders.

Now, I have to say that acquiring this cube was no easy feat. Brian offered up 7 new puzzles and 4 remakes for his May 5th release and Holy Crap did these things sell out quick! I’m usually pretty good about getting in right at the release and picking up everything I want, but this time, I struck out on a few items that I really wanted. GalacTIC was at the top of my list, but there were only a few copies available for this release, so they went quicker than I could grab one and I foolishly opted not to reserve one for $1 – and then that too sold out! I also missed out on PackTIC #5 which seemed to sell quicker than the others (or there was less stock).

But, it is okay because there will always be more puzzles to buy in the future and in the end I did manage to secure 4/7 New puzzles and 3/4 of the Remakes. RIP my wallet.

FanaTIC. Yes! I can’t wait. Let’s go!

It’s been a little while since I ordered from WoodWonders (I skipped the last release) but I’m always very happy with their packaging. I think packaging for puzzles has to be a bit difficult for the puzzle maker. Some puzzles come assembled, some disassembled. They come in many different shapes and sizes. Should packaging have a name? A Label? Clues on the solution? Should a solution be included? Everyone seems to do it a little different, but I like Brian’s boxes, labels and shrink-wrapping. I like how the shrink-wrap captures the smell of the workshop and I like that the label has a picture. After one’s collection grows into the hundreds, it starts to become difficult to remember every puzzle, every name, every solution. So this gives me a little backup insurance if, down the line, I forget some info. At the same time it also means that I am collecting cardboard boxes (evidence) as well as puzzles.

Ok, lets get started. First off, I really like the size of this puzzle. It’s definitely smaller than the last TICs I bought from Brian and somehow that feels right. The smaller size creates a tighter feel and all the pieces feel really solid.

pieces of the puzzle
6 pieces to assemble. One solution. 5 rotations. Here we go!

This puzzle has 5 pieces and comes disassembled so my objective here is to put it together and form a cube. From the description, I know that there are 5 rotations and that it “assembles a little differently than any of the others” whatever that may mean.

I’ve got an hour to work on this so lets see if I can get it done.

Ok, there are actually 6 pieces to this puzzle! Turns out there was a little 5 voxel T-shaped piece hiding out inside another piece. Ok, pretty sure that’s it. Here we go.

I’m about 10 minutes in and I’ve had my first little breakthrough.

See, at first, it felt pretty hopeless. These Crowell designed TICs always seem to be composed of strange shapes, yet there always seems to be a bit of a pattern. There’s usually 1-2 larger “cage” pieces, followed by 3-4 “filler” pieces and lastly there are always 1-2 “keys”. The keys are usually small 5-6 voxels pieces that are called on to rotate into place and lock the structure together. Understanding how to use these keys is fundamental to understanding these TIC puzzles.

Back to my breakthrough – I managed to get 2 filler pieces into a cage piece in what can only be the correct position. That leaves 3 more pieces to fit in. Another thing about these designs. It’s usually not difficult to figure out where the pieces go – what is difficult is figuring out the sequence required to get the pieces into place.

Well, I was wrong about my little breakthrough. I still think that I have a couple of the pieces put together correctly, but that third piece that I was feeling pretty sure about turned out to be false.

After another 15 minutes, I’ve definitely gotten 3 pieces in correctly (for reeeaal this time!) Now there are 3 more to go and then I’m going to have to figure out how the heck to get them all together.

At this point, I know where all the pieces go. But I am still a long way away from solving this. These TICs are terribly difficult to reverse-engineer. There’s always one little cube that prevents the piece from sliding home. I’m not sure how this goes together, but I’m determined to get there and I can’t wait to slowly disassemble this to really get to understand the mechanics.

After about 45 minutes. I took a break, packed the puzzle into my bag and headed home (yes, I do puzzles at work!) Later that evening, I took the puzzle out again and began to work. Within another 30 minutes I was basking in the glow of victory! These puzzles feel so good to complete, and for me, they are at a very pleasant difficulty level. I get to enjoy the process, but not stress out about remembering placements and such.

It takes quite a bit of movement to get that 4th piece into place!

In the end, it was just a matter of trial and error – well that and one really unique twisting and turning move. Because once you know the position of all the pieces all that is left is figuring out what order they go in and how. I was stumped for a while with figuring out how to get the 1st 3-4 pieces together. It just doesn’t seem possible. Its easy to get 3 out of 4 in place, but that 4th piece is always blocked by the first 3. It was quite maddening for a while – that is until I discovered “The Move” Yes, that 4th piece requires 7 moves and 3 rotations and is super fun to execute. Figuring this all out in reverse (assembly) order made this puzzle 10x more fun than if it had come assembled. Kudos for that decision.

The other great thing about this puzzle? Once I had it completed, it took me 15-20 minutes to figure out the first disassembly move! The craftsmanship is so good and the pieces are so tight that even though I had just done the puzzle, I really had no idea how to open it up again – and the puzzle offered no clues. I eventually go there, of course, but it sure baffled me for a while there.

how to get the next piece in
2 more pieces to go!

I’d also like to praise the addition of pins into these TICs. More than other puzzles, I find these TICs to be easy to overly stress the pieces. Rotating pieces can add a ton of unintentional force and I’ve actually snapped off a piece on another puzzle while trying to find the correct rotation. So, I am very happy to see strategically placed pins to offer more structural support for these types of puzzles. Though I have to say that I did factor in the placement of the pin into my solution. It doesn’t make sense to reinforce a piece that is not subjected to rotation, therefore I new from the beginning which piece would be doing the major rotation.

FanaTIC Complete
The completed puzzle. What a ride! Note the brass pin to add strength at a critical point.

Overall, an awesome puzzle to add to my growing collection of TICs. Speaking of which – does anyone know how many of these there are? Is it possible to collect them all? I don’t know but I’m going to try.

Tower of London – Dr. Volker Latussek

I recently ordered a handful of puzzles from Rombol.de and among them is Tower of London, designed by Volker Latussek. This particular puzzle caught my eye and having recently completed Casino, I wanted to give another one of his designs a try.

To start with, all the puzzles produced by Rombol are fairly inexpensive – especially when compared to Pelikan or Cubic Dissection. So I was curious. Would I enjoy Rombol puzzles as much as the others, or would I be disappointed by the workmanship? It’s great to be able to buy puzzles for around $20 each, but if they fall apart or give me splinters then it’s probably not worth it.

Tower of London is comprised of a Palm wood box with a hole in each side. Inside the box are 6 balls made of Halvea wood. Overall, the appearance is very nice, the Palm wood is a great choice and at first glance, this puzzle seems to be well made. Closer inspection reveals some of the limitations. The box construction is very simple, the finish is a bit rough and just the overall feel tells me that this puzzle was made on a budget.

But the good news is that the puzzle works just fine and at $20, it is about what I expected. So, no real complaints from me.

The object of this puzzle is to remove the balls from the box. It seems very simple, but in fact it is a little tricky. The balls always seem “close” to coming out, but no matter how they are arranged, close isn’t good enough. There is temptation to try to force the balls out, and I do wonder how this puzzle will age over the years. How hard is the wood? Will the balls deform? Will the hole in the wall grow larger as the balls are forced out? Time will tell, but indications so far are positive.

There are 6 balls inside, your mission is to remove them.

For me, this puzzle wasn’t all that difficult. The hardest part is figuring out how to hold onto and manipulate the balls through the port holes. I was able to reach 3 fingers inside to manipulate the balls, but balls being round makes them inherently difficult to manipulate as they tend to spin. There aren’t really that many possible solutions, so it was just a matter of holding one of the balls while I tilted the box and manipulated the rest to make room for extraction. I think most people could solve this in under half an hour and experienced puzzlers should get it in under 15 minutes. But, despite its’ relative ease, this is still a very fun puzzle.

The balls have been removed. Your mission is to put them back in!

In fact, this is the perfect puzzle to hand out to friends, family and kids. There’s nothing to break and it is accessible enough that it shouldn’t frustrate. My 6 year old can’t solve it yet, but nor does he break it or lose pieces. I always like to have these “community” puzzles around so that I don’t feel bad about guarding the more treasured ones. And this is a great Community puzzle.

I need to take a moment to compare this puzzle to Casino. I loved Casino and really enjoyed the steps necessary to reach the solution. There was a very specific set of moves to pack all those chips in the box. Alternatively, Tower of London doesn’t require a specific set of moves – the solution is simpler and it can be solved with luck and determination – The strategy of “just play with it until a piece falls out” would probably work here.

And the final question – if you can get puzzles for $20, why pay $50+? I think this is a valid question and it probably deserves its’ own post, but the quick answer is – you get what you pay for. I think for some puzzles, it is totally worth it to spend the big bucks – you are getting a heirloom quality pieces of art that will be around forever. And for some puzzles, I think the $20 version is just fine. If this particular puzzle were made by Pelikan for $50, I probably wouldn’t buy it as I don’t think a higher quality version would offer anything new. But for puzzles with interlocking pieces, and for designs that require strict tolerances, I’d definitely spend the money.

Along with Tower of London, I picked up a few other puzzles from Rombol.de and with some of them (most notably interlocking puzzles such as Convolution) there is a much, much bigger difference in the puzzling experience.

Final thoughts – Rombol.de serves a purpose. They offer nice puzzles at a budget price. Will I stop buying expensive puzzles and stick with Rombol exclusively? No way. Will I make another purchase from Rombol? Definitely. Sometimes its just worth it to buy a puzzle that I can’t otherwise find. Other times, the type of puzzle dictates that a lesser quality version will work just fine. And lastly, sometimes there is just too much time between puzzle releases and I need something to play with.

Whatever your motivation, I would recommend checking out Rombol.de. Shipping takes a while, but you can’t find better budget puzzles anywhere else.

Cranium – Jerry Loo

Yes! I was one of the lucky 8 people to get my hands on this puzzle! I really didn’t know what I was buying, but when Eric Fuller releases a limited run puzzle, I have no choice but to pull the trigger and purchase it. It sounds like he is open to making more in the future, so those that missed out may have another chance to pick up this wonderful and unique puzzle.

To start – I’m super intimidated by this puzzle. There are a ton of pieces, limited pictures and no instruction on assembly, so it’s up to me to get the job done. Hopefully there is a logical sequence to things and enough clues for me to get it together. I’ve never worked on a puzzle like this, so I’m very excited to get started and see what I’m in for.

Holy crap there are a lot of pieces! I haven’t even begun to attempt this thing yet and I’m already feeling like there is no way I’ll get it solved. But hopefully my first impression is off and I can make some progress. Is this a solid puzzle? Or are there gaps in the skull? The 3 images on the cubic dissection site seem to suggest that it is a solid form. Also, I’ve noticed that one of the images holds some clues as to what pieces come out of the “face”. Ok. Here goes.

Lots and lots of pieces. Where do I even start?

Ok. I’ve spent the last half hour sorting pieces. I had to see what I was working with and there are over 50 pieces here, so step one seemed to be: Sort. And I think its been helpful. This puzzle is comprised of some very interesting pieces! There are large pieces that look like creatures out of the Space Invaders game and there are some tiny “T” shaped pieces. There are over 10 pairs of duplicate pieces and quite a few pieces that are not symmetrical – though a majority are symmetrical. There are no duplicate symmetrical pieces. What does all this mean? I don’t know… but I do have some theories starting to build. I think I’m going to start with the biggest pieces and see if I can’t get some sort of frame built.

Whelp, that failed horrifically and I’m not really sure what to do here. It’s not difficult to put pieces together, but it seems nearly impossible to know if those pieces are correct or not! I’d really like a better picture so that maybe I could identify where one of the bigger pieces goes. I think if I knew how one or two of the big pieces were placed I’d have a fighting chance. As is – I’m not sure how to proceed. But maybe I’m wrong, maybe I should start with a small cube and try to build larger? I’m really not sure how to approach this one..

And thus began my journey to find a better image to work from. I initially did some google searches which brought me to the Puzzle Will be Played site here. But, that didn’t really help, so I continued to search and ended up on Jerry’s Facebook page. And lo and behold I found a video of the Burr Tools file for Cranium. Yes! Awesome. Now I have something to work with! I watched the video, which showed the solution, though with so many pieces, I certainly wasn’t going to memorize the moves. So I went back to work to see watching that video would help me solve this one.

Nope. No help. I had to resign to the fact that I wasn’t going to solve this one by myself and so I decided to watch the video and follow along. The tricky part, though is that it was a video and not actually a burr tools file I was working with, so I was unable to rotate the puzzle and determining what pieces were going in was a matter of pausing the video at the right time. All this was challenging, but not impossible, so I persisted. But the another problem quickly emerged. The pieces in the video didn’t match the pieces in my puzzle! Some were close, so I made “Best guesses” But, I quickly came to a roadblock because the puzzle in my hands had a bunch extra pieces than the puzzle in the video. Gah! I wasn’t sure I’d ever get this thing together.

That’s when I sent a message to Jerry through Facebook and, Yes, he confirmed that the puzzles were different. Jerry offered to send me the burr tools file and I accepted. Well, that should be the end of the story, but the fact is, This puzzle is quite difficult to assemble even with the burr tools file so I was in for a lot more puzzling.

It probably took me another couple of hours, but I eventually did manage to get this thing together. There was one particularly challenging move, that may frustrate folks. It involved putting two halves of the skull together – which I had to attempt a few times to get it right. One of the halves is pretty secure with only a couple of pieces that can fall out, but the other half must be held, clutched with a tenuous grip, while you try to join the halves without any pieces slipping out of your grasp. I eventually resorted to using little bits of scotch tape in strategic areas to hold certain pieces in place. Be careful with this technique though, because later on those little pieces of tape may prevent critical moves and shifts in the puzzle.

It’s not only hard to put together, it’s hard to photograph!

But, overall, the puzzle is doable – It’s kind of like assembling a very difficult lego set – where the pieces don’t always stay together. And I have to say, I’m surprised at how much fun I had following along with the burr tools file. It’s really quite ingenious how the pieces all lock together. And the end result is fantastic. The skull is solid, with a nice weight and a quality feel. this one is going to look great on display.

Thus far in my puzzling career, this has been the first puzzle that I’ve utilized Burr Tools to solve. As such, I expected to feel a bit disappointed in myself, but surprisingly, I don’t feel that way at all. In fact, I had a great experience learning more about the Burr Tools program, and still had lots of fun putting this puzzle together. It’s quite a marvel how all these pieces link together into such a solid unit. I can’t wait to put it up on the puzzle shelf as I’m sure it will receive a lot of comments. Overall, great fun, challenging moves and a standout appearance!

TEETOTUM – Alfons Eyckmans

Ok, here we go. We have Teetotum designed Alfons Eyckmans and wonderfully crafted by Pelikan Puzzles. This one has been taunting me from the shelf for several months now and I’ve had enough. This puzzle shall taunt me no longer for I shall step into the ring and conquer it.

Truth be told, I’m a little intimidated by this puzzle. I’ve played with it for a few minutes here and there, but it seemed like there were an enormous amount of moves and possibilities right out of the gate, so I wanted to be sure that I had the time to work on it properly. Now is that time!

What a beauty! There are many, many paths forward, but only one will solve this beast.

But before we begin, I need to comment on the construction of the puzzle. It’s beautiful. The dark splines not only reinforce the corners, but also make a wonderful contrast. And they match the dark wood of the burr sticks. Overall, a very balanced and inviting puzzle that I can’t wait to begin.

Well, It’s now several days later, I haven’t solved the puzzle and I’m way overdue on a blog post. You see, it turns out that this puzzle is rather difficult and in my ignorance, I decided that it would be fun to map out every single possible move available in this puzzle. I thought that I could systematically attack this puzzle, crawl down every path, keep careful notes and alas I would emerge victorious. However, I may have underestimated this undertaking because I’ve now spent many hours on this puzzle and filled many pages of cryptic notes and thus far, I’ve not solved it. But as any man possessed would say “I can’t stop now!”

Oh man. Despite my best efforts, I’ve gotten lost in the puzzle and am currently stuck. I’m not sure whether I’m trying to get back to the beginning or solve the puzzle at this point – I’m just trying to make progress in some direction. But nothing is happening. The pieces are all jumbled up and I can’t seem to find the key move.

And then, an “oh sh!t” moment occurs. I guess I was trying to get back to the start, since when I accidentally released a piece, my reaction wasn’t “yay I did it”, it was “oh sh!t”.

Whew. That was a tense few minutes there, but I did manage to get the puzzle back to the start. I believe that I was getting close to removing the first piece, but I majorly chickened out when I realized that I had no idea how to reverse the position. I have the first 15 or so moves written down and tracked out, but the puzzle gets a little weird at that point. It doesn’t fall apart, but it gets looser so its really easy to make unintentional moves and thus loose track of what’s happening.

Deep into the process, trying to map out all the moves. This method was eventually abandoned because there were just too many paths/options.

I’m anticipating that this one will come apart in a similar manner as “Wourie” did – and that is, a single piece is not release, rather the puzzle gets to a point where it can be separated into two parts. We shall see.

Well, I’ve fiddled and I’ve floundered. I’m no closer to the solution than I was before – and that makes me happy. I need a good challenge and this appears to be it. I had one of those great puzzling moments where I was deep into the sequence, I was focused, I was nearing the finish line – and suddenly a move opened up and as I was preparing for my A-Ha moment – and then – my bubble was burst and I realized that I was right back at the start. Dammit!

Ok, After the last paragraph, I spent another 30-40 minutes and have gotten back to what I think is “close to the end”. It’s quite amazing how many different configurations these 6 pieces can move through. I’ve got the puzzle to a point where one of the burr sticks is almost completely removed, it is only entangled in one remaining plate. I believe that I am close to the end and I’m excited to finally get this puzzle done!

Bah!!! Once again, in an effort to solve this beast, I unintentionally circled back around to the start! This is one tough puzzle!

It looks like a piece is close to being removed – Don’t be fooled! I spent days trying to figure out where to go from here.

Ok. It’s now a couple of days later and I’ve FINALLY solved this puzzle. It is definitely not easy and took a determined effort, but I’ve done it. For the longest time, I was stuck in one particular spot where one of the burr pieces had cleared 2 of the plates. This configuration felt like it was close to the end, but no matter how I manipulated the pieces, I just couldn’t find a path forward. I was pretty certain that I was on the right path, but was filled with self-doubt since nothing was working. I contemplated starting over as I wondered if this was just an elaborate dead-end, but sure enough, there was a way forward. I’m not sure if this is the intended solution, but my solution required rotating the plates to a different orientation. I was trying to solve this without rotating the plates, but in the end this was the only way I could solve it.

Finally Solved! Oh my that was difficult!

Now, let’s see if I can get it back together – hopefully some of the 8,000 pictures I took will reveal enough clues for me to put it back together. Here goes….

And done. It took about 15 minutes to get this back together WITH the aid of pictures – I can’t even imagine putting this thing together blind – It’s certainly beyond my ability to do so. I’m just happy that I got it apart and back together!

Whelp. That concludes this puzzle write-up. Teetotum was quite difficult, but what an amazing journey! I’m fairly certain that those plate rotation are required, but would be interested to know if others had the same experience as me. I didn’t have quite the desired A-ha moment, it was more like a “Finally!” moment after all those hours of searching, but in the end, this one feels good. I can now proudly place this back on the shelf and check off yet another one of my unsolved puzzles. Until next time – Puzzle On!

Notes – Tamas Vanyo

This week, I’m working with Notes, designed by Tamas Vanyo and created by Eric Fuller at Cubicdissection.com This puzzle is unlike anything else in my collection. It is comprised of a large wooden frame and 8 “U-shaped” pieces or “notes” that interlock with each other and the frame. Its really quite a unique and beautiful puzzle. The 8 “notes” all utilize different wood types with an end result being a wonderful mosaic of wood types.

The beautiful mosaic of squares looks amazing

There are essentially two distinct sides to this puzzle. One side is the “feet” of the 8 pieces. It is comprised on 16 squares that are flush with one another. The other side contains all the “bridges” between the feet. Some of these bridges overlap each other and some do not. When held with the “feet” up, the puzzle is nicely contained and the 16 squares look very interesting and intriguing. However, if the puzzle is then flipped over, the pieces all fall loose and start to shift – some of them are even close to falling out at this point. So, one must handle this puzzle carefully because it is easy to get it all out of sorts without intending to do so.

The puzzle just about falls apart when flipped over. This makes manipulating the pieces a challenge.

One of the first challenges is determining how to manipulate this puzzle. Since it is easy to unintentionally move pieces, I’ve decided to work it with the feet facing upward. That way gravity is hopefully not as much of a factor.

Well, the first piece came out very easily and has me wondering if all the puzzles will be that easy to remove or whether there is more of a challenge ahead. We shall see.

And the puzzle is completely apart. Oh my. I should feel happy, but I’m in fact quite scared. You see, I turned the puzzle over and the parts were fairly intricately connected there at the end and I was manipulating things and the puzzle shifted and pieces just started falling out. Now I have to recreate that intricate web in order to get these pieces back together. It’s clear to me that the challenge isn’t disassembly, but rather putting this mess back together.

The puzzle has been disassembled, now the real challenge begins.

Well, I’ve been working for only a few minutes aided by the photo of the assembled puzzle and I now have 5/8 pieces put back into the frame and it hasn’t been too difficult. I’ve had to remove and replace a few and swap the order of insertion, but otherwise its been very doable. We shall see if the final 3 pieces present any more challenge.

Whew. I now have 6/8 pieces back in the frame and that last one wasn’t so easy. It wasn’t too difficult in terms of “how” to complete the moves, it was more of a problem of holding all the pieces in place whilst inserting the new piece. It seems the best way to adjust the position of the pieces is to move them up and down – outside of the frame – this makes it hard to keep their orientation to each other. Let’s see if I can get the next piece in.

Gah. The final 2 pieces don’t want to go in. It appears that this is going to take a bit more time and exploration to determine what order the pieces need to go into the puzzle. I’m also trying to determine if they all enter the frame “bridge” first or if some enter “foot” first. I’m gonna keep hammering away to see if I can get this together.

Well, 30 more minutes in and I haven’t managed to get the final pieces in. I believe that I have things out of order and am not sure how to fix it. I guess I have to backtrack and see if I can get these pieces into the puzzle somewhere else in the sequence.

Yes! I finally got it put together. It took me another 20 minutes or so of careful consideration and I also had to backtrack a few moves to find a spot to slide in that troublesome piece. But, in the end, with enough manipulation, the piece finally slid into place and then the last piece was trivial.

The thing is – My solution was very sloppy. The disassembly was sloppy and the assembly was sloppy. None of it consisted of specific moves – it was more of an entanglement puzzle for me. I don’t even know how I could break down what I did into a specific number of moves.

So, I want to do it again. This time, instead of turning it over to release the pieces in an uncoordinated mass, I’m going to see if I can specifically slide and raise/lower the pieces to find a more elegant solution.

In the end, I managed a somewhat more elegant solution, but it still wasn’t really made up of specific logical moves. Instead, I shifted the “notes” around which opened up gaps in which I was able to remove some pieces. Some of the times I twisted a “note” to get it out and that didn’t necessarily feel like a correct move. The problem is, that when the pieces are away from the frame, there is nothing to keep them from rotating, thus it would be very hard to actually do this puzzle while keeping all the pieces on a perfect grid.

The second attempt – You can see this piece easily lifts out – but another piece has to rotate for this to be possible – is this an intended solution?

Overall, I enjoyed this puzzle because it was very different from anything I’ve worked on before. At the same time I was a bit disappointed because I had a hard time solving this puzzle with what I think is the intended solution. Not because it was difficult, but because the pieces tended to shift and rotate which pushed me towards what felt like sloppy solutions. I think that if the “notes” were somehow held more inline and in a grid – if perhaps they were contained in more of a box, then the intended “dance” of the “notes” would have been more noticeable and enjoyable.

Casino – Dr. Volker Latussek

Last Friday, I received a shipment from Cubicdissection.com with 6 different puzzles including Casino, Split Maze Burr and Cranium. It was a hard decision which one to write about because I so desperately wanted to play with them all! In the end, I chose Casino. I have never done it before and I’ve heard great things, so off we go!

First off – Wow! This puzzle is supremely gorgeous. It definitely got the Eric Fuller mega-upgrade treatment and it turned out spectacular! I love the inlay – the alternating Walnut and Maple look so clean and stylish and really stand out against the Cherry Box. The chips are equally well-made and the whole experience of handling this puzzle is really just top notch.

The puzzle consists of a box and 6 chips which must be placed inside the box. Its very easy to get 5 chips in, but that 6th one doesn’t fit. The round shapes don’t work very well with packing and the box has a little lip on two sides that frustratingly interferes with everything.

Place the 6 coins into the box. What a gorgeous puzzle. Wow!

Well I’ve only been playing around for about 15 minutes, but feel like I’m real close to a solution. I can see how all the chips should fit into the box, but one of the pieces is just a few centimeters shy of fitting in the opening. I really thought I had it solved there for a second, but I guess I need a more calculated approach.

And after another 15 minutes, I feel lost. I removed the pieces and I’m not sure that I have things correct anymore. There was a moment were I really could visualize where the pieces should go, but now, I’ve lost the image and I no longer see.

Its easy to get 5 pieces in, but that 6th one just doesn’t want to fit!

Ok, another few minutes and I’m back to the beginning again. I can see the solution. I can visualize where the chips need to go. I just can’t get them there. There has to be a sequence of moves to accomplish what I want because the old “force it in” trick isn’t doing the job.

..And Done! Yee haw! That was pretty exciting there. I was hot on the trail of the solution from the beginning and pretty quickly was able to determine the position the chips needed to be in. But, there’s definitely a delightful little trick to getting them into position. It seems a lot of packing puzzles have a similar type of trick. There’s always a little adjustment that needs to be made and a sequence that needs to be considered. Sometimes pieces have to be “pre-loaded” before they are utilized in a move.

Solved. I tried to get a low angle shot so as not to spoil the solution.

But what a fun little puzzle this was. I’m a little sad that I’ve solved is so quickly, but it will be a great puzzle on the shelf and a perfect “family-stumper” puzzle that I can pull out and hand off to anyone up for the challenge.

Its such a nice puzzle because it’s so accessible. And in fact, so are all of Latussek’s puzzles that I’ve worked with. I recently picked up Tower of London and Bastille from Rombol.de and both of those share a lot in common with Casino. Latussek just has a way of working with round pieces and creating interesting packing problems that are simple in concept, very approachable but deceptively difficult.

It’s interesting because I think it’s the roundness of the pieces that make these puzzles what they are. At first the round pieces seemed very different to me, as compared to typical square puzzle pieces, and so I didn’t know quite how to approach these puzzles. I was thrown off by the roundness you could say. But in the end, I kind of forced myself to ignore the shape of the pieces and instead focus on the orientation, position and sequence.

Casino is a great puzzle, I can see why it is so popular. If you enjoyed it, then you should check out Tower of London and Bastille over at Rombol.de – maybe if we are lucky, Eric will get permission on those too!

Wave Puzzle 7 – Yuu Asaka

I am super excited for this one! I’ve been eyeing these acrylic puzzles designed by Yuu Asaka for quite some time now. They are very intriguing to me for a few different reasons and I can’t wait to get started.

I’ve done a ton of jigsaw puzzles in my day and so these seem in the same vein. They are 2D and essentially comprised of puzzle pieces, however, Asaka’s puzzles must fit into a tray, so they are also packing puzzles. I really haven’t done any 2D puzzles of this sort, so I’m really excited to see how it goes.

I love the initial presentation. 6 pieces already fill the tray, there’s no room for any more!

My first impression is great. I love that this puzzle has COLOR! Most of my collection is wooden or metal, so its nice to see the vibrant orange acrylic pieces. I also love the presentation. Although nothing new, I like these framed puzzles that appear to be full of pieces and then off to the side is an extra piece. To me, that set-up in itself is a kind of challenge that I feel compelled to accept.

The shapes themselves are very interesting. All are tall and narrow with fairly minor variations. It would seem that they should be able to nest together in such a way as to complete the puzzle, but I suspect that there is more going on here than that.

After about 15 minutes I have some thoughts.

7 orange acrylic pieces must fit into the tray, but is there room?

Well my first assumption was that this would be fairly easy to solve. Ha! I should have known better. I’ve even read a few description here and there where this puzzle was described as very difficult, still, I was feeling cocky and merely by looking at it I though, “Meh, I bet I can solve that one quick!”

There are many configurations, but only one solution

Well 15 minutes into my solving attempt and I’ve been schooled. I had assumed that with only 7 pieces, there couldn’t be that many configurations. After all, I thought, a single piece could only be oriented 4 different ways… right? Wrong. It just so happens that there are other configurations that I ha not forseen. Oh my, suddenly there are exponentially more potential solutions. Looks like I’ve severely underestimated the difficulty here.

But, on a bright note, I do feel that I am on to something. I quickly abandoned the “all vertical” strategy and have started playing with a mixture of orientations. This is yielding better results and I feel that I am moving on the right track. At the same time, there are 2 acrylic pieces that have me questioning everything. They have very small indents and there’s no real way to fill them except by perhaps the corner of one of the other pieces – but I just don’t see any way to have pieces at angles – as would be required to put the corner of one piece into the small indent. Maybe those two small indents are decoys and have no practical use. So much to ponder…

After another 20 minutes, I’ve started to feel a little helpless. There just seem to be so many combinations and the shapes are so similar that its kind of hard to keep track of things and its hard to get any pieces to “feel right” when I put them in place. I continue to work trying endless variations, flipping pieces over, re-orienting them, swapping positions, etc. There’s no methodology here, its just trial and error, keep pushing forward. Likely I’m repeating moves, but at this point, I don’t care, I just keep trying things.

At some point, I start to get close to the solution. I can feel it. All the pieces are going in except the last one is just slightly overlapping. I’ve changed the layout a few times and finally feel like I have the correct arrangement – its just a matter of getting the pieces in the right position. A few times I get down to that last piece and its just slightly overlapping another, so I swap pieces out and try again.

And then, as I’m saying “come on! come on!” I get it right and that final piece slides in!! Hell Yeah!! That was awesome!! What a cool puzzle! What a great solution and what a nice and deceptive initial set-up! I may have lucked into the solution a bit, but I really do think I was following a process of elimination sort of path and just kept pushing forward and happened upon the solution. In all honesty, I was getting pretty close to taking a break and fears were starting to creep in that this might be “one of those puzzles” that sits on the shelf unsolved.

But, this story ends differently because I managed to get the solution. Looking at the solved puzzle really reveals how clever it is. I can imagine these pieces cut out of a single block and its deceptively clever. I will definitely be adding more Asaka puzzles to my collection because this one was just plain fun and excitement.