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.

ARACNA – Alfons Eyckmans

Ok, Today I have ARACNA by Alfons Eyckmans. The name makes sense considering what is inside the puzzle, but for some reason, I’ve been saying “Arcana” to myself the last week or so. Ah well, sometimes the eye sees what it wants and not what’s really there.

Anyway, this is a new puzzle from Pelikan and its beautiful. I know, I know – I say that about all the puzzles (especially Pelikan puzzles) – but this one is pretty special. I bought the Ovangkol variant which has stunning wood grains. Fun Fact – If Ovangkol gets wet, it releases a strong unpleasant odor! (I just read that over at www.wood-database.com) While I am tempted to experience the odor, I don’t think I’ll be dunking this puzzle anytime soon.


Onward! Let’s solve this beast. Well, I’ve been playing with this puzzle for about 15 minutes now and it is very fun. It took me a while to locate the first couple moves, but now, 3 moves in I’ve hit a deadend. At this point nothing wants to move – but I’ve got to be very careful because its quite easy to hide moves when you have 12 pieces that can all potentially move in multiple direction.

Well, I had to backtrack a bit and find a new path. I’m now 6 moves in and things are heating up. And by heating up, I mean falling apart. As the puzzle moves towards its’ solution, it will becomes looser and looser (I assume). At this stage, its still locked together quite nicely, but I can sense that in another few moves things will open up.

Pieces starting to move and a tiny peak of what’s inside

I’m not sure how many moves in I am at this point, but I just had a very excellent breakthrough moment where a block of pieces all slid together as one unit. I muttered an audible “What the F!” as two major groups of blocks just moved apart from one another. How cool is that!!?

Well, it may be cool, but it’s also scary. This puzzle feels like its barely holding together so I’ll have to proceed carefully and methodically if I don’t want it to fall apart on me. I feel like I should be able to remove a piece at this point and indeed, there is a piece that is very loose, the problem is that the ends are too big for it to exit the available hole. I’ll have to keep searching.

Oh my. After playing a little longer, I discovered some additional moves that I could make with 2 particular pieces. This little shuffle then released the first piece! Wow, I didn’t expect that piece to release first but there it is. Wow, this puzzle gets really intense at this point. I’ve been feeling like I’m real deep in the weeds here, kind of beyond the point of no return, but still close to familiar ground so retreat may be possible. And the more I manipulate the pieces, the looser the overall structure gets and all these little movements are happening that I can’t keep track of and then wammo, that first piece drops out.

I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get this back together or not, but lets keep forging ahead. Well, I took the next 2 pieces out in a very un-puzzlelike way. There was no sliding or calculated move, I just grabbed them and pulled them out!

Well with 4 pieces out, I’d expect the puzzle to fall apart. Nope. It’s being stubborn and requiring more effort. But, a few more minutes of tinkering is all it takes and piece number 5 comes out. The puzzle is not done yet, as the next few pieces take some additional moves. After that, it’s all over and the spider is released – It’s Huge!

The spider sits atop his home. Don’t worry spider, I’ll get it back together

Ah, what an excellent puzzle. Its got everything I’m looking for. The difficulty was perfect – it is challenging enough that it takes a good amount of focus, but its not overly difficult. I didn’t feel frustrated at any point – there was always a move to be made – just not always the correct one. There were also a number of great a-ha! moments too. And finally, once the puzzle is solved, you get to see the treasure inside!

Now on to the assembly. I’m not gonna lie here – I took photos of disassembly and I plan to use those to reassemble. I think a blind reassembly is beyond my abilities – especially with 12 pieces! You would think that the enclosed arachnid would make assembly easier, and perhaps it does, but it’s still not easy enough for me to attempt.

Big ole pile of burr sticks. Wood grains are spectacular.

As is, it still took me close to an hour to get this puzzle back together. It was not easy, but it was fun and I felt a nice zing of joy when it finally went back together. The difficulty is getting all the piece in just right before adding the final 3-4 pieces. And those final 3-4 pieces were quite challenging as the puzzle felt like it was going to fall apart at any minute. And even once those final pieces go in, there are still a few tenuous moves before the puzzle “holds together.”

Overall, I really enjoyed this puzzle. Manipulating the pieces was very satisfying thanks to the amazing craftsmanship and the final moves were especially fun – both in the assembly and disassembly. The difficulty was spot on as well. I had to work for the solution, but I was never stonewalled for long. The assembly was difficult though. I’d like to revisit it one day and see if I can find a more elegant solution as I felt clumsy and desperate.

Happy Puzzling!