Surround – Kohno Ichiro

I’m back in the puzzling groove and this week, I’ve got Surround designed by Kohno Ichiro and masterfully crafted by Eric Fuller over at Cubicdissection.

There have been a number of Ichiro puzzles released by CD recently, including Three Cubes, Four Cubes, and most recently Five Cubes and Surround. I’ve really enjoyed these puzzles. They are relatively easy, but also deceptively tricky. They are great puzzles for all skill levels and very satisfying to complete. The use of small, strong magnets really adds to the experience.

Ok, I’m excited to work on this one, so let’s get started. There are apparently 3 solutions to this puzzle – 2 that use the magnets and one that does not. The completed structure needs to be self-supporting.

There are 6 pieces and a cube. 3 of the pieces are mirrored which would lead be to believe that this is going to be a symmetrical solution, but I’ve been wrong many times before on things like this, so let’s see what happens.

Another beautiful puzzle from Cubicdissection!

Ok, well my first attempt was a total failure. I figured, I’d start with the cube and just add the pieces to the perimeter to surround it, but that did not work at all. The magnets didn’t cooperate that the resulting shape certainly did not surround the cube. Ok cool, I didn’t want this to be easy. Let’s give it another 15 minutes and see what’s up.

Ok, interesting. I believe that I have found one of the solutions – one that utilizes the magnets. It seems that my initial interpretation of “surrounding” the cube was incorrectly understood as “completely cover” the cube. And thus, I was searching for a solution that didn’t exist. Once I let go of that idea, and simply tried to surround the cube, I found a solution quite quickly. The cube is indeed surrounded and contained and the puzzle is self-supporting. Yay! Solution #1 is in the bank! And it is quite a cool looking construct that has formed. The Padauk and Tamerindo make for a beautiful contrast on the completed piece.

Now, onward to see if I can find solution #2.

Well, it too me another 30 minutes or so, but I’ve successfully found solution 2. Interestingly, it is very similar to the first solution, if I hadn’t taken a picture of the first solution, I’m not sure that I would have know that the configuration was different. But, sure enough, it is different. The center cube is a little less covered with this solution, but it is still very pleasing to handle and display.

Overall, a very fun and pleasing puzzle to work on and solve.

After sitting on this puzzle for another day, I decided to try to find the third solution. This one required covering the cube completely, but didn’t use the magnets. After about 10 minutes of fiddling, I was able to find the solution – it didn’t look pretty, but the cube was entirely covered.

So there you have it. 3 solution to one puzzle. I really enjoyed it and am happy to have it in my collection. The only question that remains is: Will we see another incarnation of this puzzle? A 7 or 8 piece configuration? I’m not sure that there is much left – and in fact, since I own, the 3,4,5 piece and surround, I could play with combining those to see if anything interesting happens.

Spheres – Stephan Baumegger

spheres

Spheres arrive yesterday and I’m just now sitting down to play with it. My first impression is – “Wow!” This puzzle is beautiful. The box is exquisite, the lid fits nice and tight, the pieces are really nice looking and I especially like the choice of “spheres” used. I’m so glad Stephan chose to go with these natural stone spheres instead of silver ball bearings. They add a nice contrast, yet still fit perfectly into the overall color scheme. This puzzle is definitely a show stopper.

Witness the beautiful woodwork on this puzzle.

The object of the puzzle is to cram everything inside and shut the lid. I suppose there will be little cramming and mostly planning, arranging and sliding, but either way, it’s all gotta fit.

Well, enough gibber gabber, I’m ready to start solving this thing.

A few minutes pass and I’ve gotten a little more familiar with the pieces. There are 3 sets of 2 pieces that mirror each other and 3 balls. The thing that is throwing me off is the smaller ball. It would seem that this puzzle will require a symmetrical pack, but then, where does that leave the 3rd ball? I’ll have to try some non-symmetrical arrangements as well to see if that’s the key.

Cram everything in and you win!

About 15 minutes later and I’m not any closer to the solution. The pieces are fun to play with and there seem to be an endless amount of arrangements. I can easily get the 6 sticks into the box with 1 large ball, but that’s as close as I’ve come.

Ok, another few minutes and I’m starting to realize that this is not going to be sloppy pack. I don’t know why it would be, but there’s something about including these “spheres” that makes me feel at liberty to let them roll around a bit, thus resulting in a sloppy pack. My new strategy is to pack tightly. Let there be no unfilled negative space inside the cube. If there is space, then it is wrong. Let’s see how this approach goes.

Hmm. well, for a few minutes there, I thought I was on to something – I had a nice tight pack going with 3 pieces, but then things fell apart and did not progress from there. Back to the drawing board!

Not the correct way to pack them in.

Failure again!

Bah! I thought I had it, but then looked down and saw one more stick! I got 5 sticks and 3 balls in… Does that count for anything? No? Well, ok then. Let’s have another try.

Whelp it looks like I’m going to remained stumped for this session. In total, I worked for about 45 minutes. And I have to say, so far it’s been delightful. I keen thinking that I’m on the right track only to find out that I’m not – which is great for a puzzle. This thing gives the impression that you are making progress, which keeps motivating me to try one more combination, and another and another. But, I’ve now burned my allocated time for puzzling today and must return later for another attempt.

Ok. I’m back again on another day to see what I can see. I’m quite drawn to this particular puzzle. I think its the combination of elements (sticks and spheres) that makes it interesting.

Annnnnd, I’m back in the same cycle of failure. I really thought I had it, but alas, there doesn’t seem to be any room left in this darn box for that final piece. Once again, I face the realization that I can’t leave any empty space anywhere.

Zing! I did it!

The lid closes (and the pieces are inside!)

Very, very cool and enjoyable puzzle! I was on the right track the whole time, I knew what had to be done, it was just a matter of time until I found the correct arrangement that allowed all the pieces to fit. And there is definitely something unique involved when it comes to packing spheres. Had those spheres simply been squares of wood instead, I don’t think the puzzle would have been nearly as enjoyable and I’d wager that it would have been easier to solve as well. Again there is something about those spheres that tricks the mind (my mind at least) into believing that a “sloppy pack” is going to work.

Overall, a fantastic puzzle. The box is beautiful, the pieces are fun to play with and the puzzle as a whole has a nice hefty weight to it. This may be the first puzzle I’ve ordered from Stephan, but it certainly won’t be the last!

Small Box #4 – “Paradox Box” – Eric Fuller

Small Box Four

Well, it’s been a while since I wrote one of these blog posts. Life has been busy and I have been negligent. I haven’t stopped puzzling, I’ve just taken a little break from writing about them. Sometimes its nice to be carefree about solving puzzles and not feel obligated to wait for the perfect time where I can write down my thoughts and document the solve. Hopefully I will get back to regular posting in 2020. By the way – Happy New Year to everyone out there in puzzle land.

Another month (or two) has passed and I have another Small Box puzzle from Eric. This time I have Small Box #4 and boy, was this one fun!

The Small Box series has been wonderful. I have always shied away from puzzle boxes. They are usually expensive and once you solve them, they just become decorations on the shelf. I kind of viewed them as a novelty. Well, my admittedly naive opinion has officially changed. The small box series is what really did it for me too. The price point is far more palatable and something about the small size makes them even more approachable. These boxes are also perfect to hand to friends and family during gatherings. There is something irritating about NOT being able to open them which really makes people determined to do so.

Small Box #4 is beautiful. It is slightly larger than the other 3 boxes, clocking in at roughly 3″x2″x1.5″. It is composed of an Ash box and an Bloodwood top. The contrast of colors is eye catching and the construction, as always, is top notch perfection.

Small Box #4 has stumped me for quite some time. The description is perfect “… seems easy at first. Movement here…movement there…what you need to do is immediately apparent, but seems impossible to achieve.” This was exactly my experience. I was caught in an endless loop of the same movements. I just couldn’t figure out any alternative moves or ideas.

Back and forth, back and forth I went. And so, it sat on the shelf for many weeks. Occasionally, I’d pick it up and slide the top back and forth achieving the same nothing over and over. I was truly confounded. What was I missing? Sliding the box top to the left allows the left side to move up. Sliding the box top to the right allows the right side to move up. The problem is, you need both sides to slide up to move the bottom panel.

There had to be something else going on. And, having solved the other 3 small boxes, I knew that somewhere there was a solution. But, that solution kept eluding me. Eventually, I forgot about the puzzle and moved on.

Then, randomly one day, I picked it up again and and was struck with an idea. I tried the idea and failed, but at least I had made some sort of progress – it wasn’t physical progress, it was mental progress. I had broken through the endless loop with a new idea. This gave me motivation to carry forward.

Steadfast in my belief, I tried that same idea again, but in a different place and sure enough – Ah Ha! It worked! I sat back and marveled at yet another Eric Fuller creation. It is such an amazing rush of adrenaline to solve these things. The pain and agony of the endless loop of non-progress is always rewarded in the end when the box is opened. There must be a life-lesson here. Keep pursuing even in the difficult times as you will be rewarded in the end.

Puzzle Solved! What a rush!

What a great feeling and what a clever puzzle. This may be my favorite of the 4 small boxes released thus far. The small box series is currently sold out, but you can find more of Eric’s puzzles Here.

Small Box One – “Window Box” – Eric Fuller

Eric decided to do a series of small puzzle boxes, and I for one, am super happy with that plan. I like the size and the price point of these.

Another beautiful creation from Cubic Dissection. Can you open the box and reveal the treasure inside?

In Small Box One, we have what looks to be a sliding drawer type puzzle, where the solution will allow the drawer to slide out. For now, it is stuck in place, though there is a small amount of play, as I can squeeze it shut just a hair and when I release, it pops back out. Clearly there are some magnets, or springs involved here.

The outside of the box is interesting, on the top, there is a circular window cut out that reveals the top of the drawer, which has a notch cut into its length. There is a magnet on the top as well. On either side, we find two more magnets centered on each side. That’s it for the outside clues, but I can also hear an object bouncing around inside the box that sounds like a small ball bearing. Ok, what does this tell us and how does this open? The description says “careful observation and experimenting is necessary to reveal its secrets.” Ok then, lets begin.

Another looks at this Wonderful puzzle.

Ok, a few minutes in and it’s clear to me that there is more going on inside than just a ball bearing bouncing around inside a box. The ball bearing seems to be restricted in it’s movements and there is also another metallic sound that I can hear on occasion – perhaps some pins holding things in place? I can’t make any sense of what I’m hearing, but it is definitely more complex than I originally thought.

Ok, I’ve discovered something, which has led me down a new path of experimentation. I haven’t figured out the purpose of this something, but it does give me new things to try. External clues took me down this path, now lets see where it leads.

Ok, well I’ve not progressed any further, so more observation is needed. Why are there magnets on the side of the box? And what does the ball bearing on the inside do? I haven’t answered those questions yet, and I imagine they are key to figuring this thing out. I’m having a great time working on this though! I’m so excited to have affordable puzzle boxes to work on!

Wow! Holy Crap! I got it open and found the treasure – but I’m not sure what I did, or how I did it and I’m further confused by the internals that I’ve found. Oh my! And, of course, I quickly closed the box again instead of studying the mechanism, so now I’m back at the beginning trying to open the darn thing. I think that I have an idea of what I need to do but it’s not happening… hmmm.

The puzzle has been solved and the gem has been retrieved! What fun!

A solid 20 minutes later and I have it back open again. I tried repeating the same procedure, but the box wouldn’t open. Then, things clicked into place and whamm-o it was open again. Yes! This time, I’m not closing it. This time, I’m going to study the interior and figure out exactly what is going on.

After a thorough examination, I’ve figured it out and am extremely impressed. There’s a surprising amount of elements working in perfect harmony. Precision woodwork, magnets, micro-magnets, an equal balance of deception and clues make this thing a masterpiece.

Overall, a fantastic introduction to the Small Box series. I have solved 3 out of the 4 at the time of this writing, and think this one may be the trickiest so far. I highly recommend this puzzle and everything else available at www.cubicdissection.com – just remember to keep these puzzle boxes in a climate controlled environment. The tolerances are very tight and changes in humidity can render these puzzles “stuck!”

Harun Packing Puzzle – Dr. Volker Latussek

Harun Packing Puzzle

I try to be inspired before writing a blog post. I find that I write a much better, much more engaging post when I’m really enthralled with a puzzle. And this can lead to an interesting dilemma. I feel like I should write a post at least once every two weeks. And sometimes that deadline approaches and I just don’t feel that inspired to write about any of the puzzle I’ve worked on. And sometimes, I haven’t worked on anything at all for two weeks – I need brain breaks. The whole puzzle blogging thing can be quite a double edged sword. When I’m inspired, it comes easy and takes very little time, when I’m not, it becomes a chore. And as the deadline comes and goes, I start to feel guilty that I haven’t created any content. Which then forces me to work on a puzzle and write it up a lackluster post.

This week, however, I have the Harun Packing puzzle and I’m feeling motivated. As I’m typing this, I haven’t solved it, but I’ve put in a good number of hours over the last few weeks and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the process. As I’ve gotten to know the puzzle, I’ve grown to appreciate it’s devilish trickery. And I’ve also been completely enamored with the wood, the shapes and it’s construction. For some reason, it reminds me of candy. Perhaps the rectangular pieces are similar in size to those two piece starburst that the kids bring home on halloween. Whatever it is, this thing has me locked in to the point where I kind of don’t want to solve it, because I want it to last.

Packing this puzzle if super fun!

Tonight, I’m feeling inspired – and hoping that I can figure it out and thus record my thoughts and reactions when that magic moment comes.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve made some important discoveries about this particular puzzle. I don’t want to give anything away, but if one were to count up the voxels of the pieces and the voxels available in the container, I believe there would be a discrepancy of exactly 5 voxels. This is obviously important as the completed puzzle will contain voids. I spent way too long trying to figure out a solution that didn’t contain voids and was pulling my hair out.

Let me gush again about Eric’s work. These puzzles really are special to play with and experience. Part of it is the masterful design, but a very big part is also the exquisite construction – The beautiful wood grains, the absolute precision of the pieces make it pure joy to manipulate. It is clear that these are works of art and a labor of love and I can unequivocally state that I would not get near the enjoyment out of these puzzles were they made by an inferior craftsman. Hats off to Eric and his masterful creations.

Spectacular wood grain and precision construction make this a pleasure to handle.

You might ask yourself – “Self – how many times can I pack this puzzle incorrectly?” And the answer would be “Infinite!” Yes, I’ve packed this box so many times, my head is spinning. I’ve failed over and over. I’ve tried every clever combination that I can possible think of. I’ve thought out of the box, in the box and around the box. Yet, this puzzle remains stubbornly unsolved. I still feel that I can do it, however. I don’t know why, But I remain confident that the solution lies just around the corner, if only I can persevere..

For 4 more weeks, I struggled with this puzzle. I kept it available and every time I had a few minutes, I’d work on it. My kids would occasionally help with ideas and sometimes, they’d even come up with new things that I hadn’t thought of. I began to get very demoralized, though. I’d read online about other people solving this puzzle, not just with one combination, but Two! And, I’d think to myself, what the heck am I doing wrong?

This is a typical result to a solving attempt. That last piece doesn’t fit!

The puzzle began to mock me – sitting there, oh so pretty and harmless looking. No obstructions, no complex pieces, just a simple box with 12 simple pieces. What was my problem? Why was I struggling so? This felt like the hardest puzzle I’ve ever worked on at times.

And then, this morning, while awaiting the school bus, I had 5 minutes to kill and so I sat down again to work on this very familiar puzzle. This time though, I found a different arrangement of the U-shaped pieces and so explored this new possibility and was incredibly shocked when I slid in the last rectangular piece and IT FIT! My god, I was so used to the last piece extending above the rim, that I didn’t even anticipate solving it, but there it was – solved. I was stunned!

The feeling of relief is tremendous. I can finally have my life back! Yay!

I believe I found the second solution, since the first is described as symmetrical and the one I found is not. Maybe I should feel better about myself for finding the more difficult solution? – Do I dare continue to work on this to find the symmetrical solution?

I can say without a doubt that this one has to be in my top 5 puzzles of all time. Maybe it’s just me and my personal struggles with it, but I’ve been through a war with this puzzle and the scars will forever remain. And although it was torturous at times, I can now transform those memories into fond recollections.

By the way, Pelikan recently released a copy of this puzzle and it’s still available here. It goes without saying that this one is highly recommended.

Bouquet – Christoph Lohe

I’ve been working on this puzzle on and off for a few weeks now and it sure is proving to be a stubborn one. I’ve found a path forward and am now about 19 moves in, but the puzzle just hits a dead end. In fact this puzzle has many, many dead ends. I know that once I get that first piece out, it will be trivial from that point forward, but I just can’t figure out where to go from here. I’ve been mapping out my progress, testing every path forward, diagramming every dead end, backtracking, trying new paths and still, no luck.

Stuck in an endless loop of moves, I can’t seem to find the path forward.

I’m at the point where I may have to backtrack 10 or so moves to find a different path forward, but the logical side of my brain says that there’s no way this puzzle has such an elaborate and misleading path forward. Surely, there can’t be a 19 move trick solution leading only to a dead end… right?

Welcome to Bouquet designed by Christoph Lohe and expertly crafted by Brian Menold over at Wood Wonders. This gorgeous puzzle has been a thorn in my side since I purchased it last month. Despite the rigors, this puzzle is great. The moves have been fun and the burr sticks are of a very unique and misleading shape. The ends of the burr sticks are offset, which has been wreaking havoc on my ability to visualize what is happening. The puzzle is beautiful and aptly named as it does look like a Bouquet. I chose the Wenge Frame with Maple and Paduak pieces and am very happy with it. There are still some available here – so if it sounds enticing to you, go ahead and pick one up before they are gone.

It’s a beautiful puzzle. Both the form and the choice of wood make for a striking display.

Round and round I go in an endless loop. I’ve got the moves and positions memorized and I’m desperately hoping that there is just one little hidden move that will open up a new path forward. But, my hopes are dimmed because I’ve already spent too long in this cycle. I need to bite the bullet and backtrack, or maybe even start over. It’s funny how this is the obvious way forward, and still, I’m consciously avoiding it.

Ok, so I worked my way back to the beginning again and then forward again, searching for any hidden paths along the way. And unfortunately, I didn’t find any. I ended up right back where I was before. About 12 moves in there is a many pronged fork in the road. And it is here that I’ve been stuck doing the endless loop. The furtherst path forward was about 7 more moves, but then hit another dead end. So I started to explore and document every possible combination.

But this time something different happened. One of those paths forward looked and felt like I was simply backtracking, but I noticed that this wasn’t quite the case. It was close to backtracking, but there was a slight variation along the way that made all the difference. I soon found a new configuration and new I was on the right track and to my delight, the first Burr stick was released! Wow! What a feeling! This is one tricky puzzle!

So, now I have one piece out, let’s see how it goes from here. As expected, the remaining pieces were relatively easy to remove. Piece number 2 came right out and then there was some manipulation required to release the 3rd. After that, they all came out easily.

A wonderful feeling of accomplishment after many hours of struggle!

Woo Hoo! I’m super happy about this one. What a clever little puzzle this was! I think the biggest roadblock for me was that I had my mind made up as to which piece was going to be released first and thus kept trying to work moves that would accomplish that when in reality, I was misleading myself. Also, add in the tricky spot that felt like backtracking, but really wasn’t and this puzzle is definitely a fun and challenging one.

One more shot of the glory. Those offset burr pieces make this very challenging.

The shape of the frame and the unique burr sticks all add up to make this an unforgettable experience for me. It’s been a while since I’ve really focused all my energy on solving a tricky puzzle and today was a great day because that determination finally paid off! What a cool puzzle! I took some pictures on disassembly and will surely be needing them to put this one back together again!

Tube It In Packing Puzzle – Wil Strijbos

I am very excited about this one! Tube It In is a unique packing puzzle that consists of many different sized rectangular pieces that must all fit together inside the largest rectangle. This is one of those puzzles that really grabbed my eye and I knew right away that I had to have it.

This particular version was created by Eric Fuller over at CubicDissection.com, so I know it will be of superior construction, fit and finish.

When the puzzle arrived, I was a bit shocked to see that it was already assembled – I’m not sure if I forgot to select a “ship unassembled” option, or if this is just the way Eric decided to package this puzzle, but either way, I quickly opened it up and with eyes closed, I quickly disassembled the puzzle working hard not to peek or gain any insight. The other thing I noticed is that the puzzle is rather small. It’s always hard to determine scale from some photos on the internet, but somehow, I expected a larger puzzle. This is not a problem, however, as the smaller it is, the easier it is to hide in the collection and the less likely I will take any heat for ordering “yet another puzzle.”

The puzzle is composed of 14 different pieces and all of them a different variety of wood. It’s beautiful and despite the small pieces, the construction is superb. It must have been tricky cutting and assembling all these tiny little rectangles with perfect precision, but if anyone it up to the task, it is Eric.

14 beautiful pieces to assemble.

Ok, I’m excited to try this out and see how it goes, I’m not particularly talented when it comes to assembling packing puzzles, but for some reason, this one seemed like it would be easier – after all, I know that I have to pack the small pieces into the big ones, so that should make things easier, right?

Let’s have a go.

Well, I’ve spent a good 10 minutes on this puzzle so far, and I thought that I had it solved, but it turns out, I was wrong. I had a very nice false “a ha” moment, where I thought I was being tricky, but this stubborn little puzzle isn’t giving up its secrets so easily. It really is fun to work with though. I am enjoying this 3 dimensional packing challenge.

Many ways that these pieces can fit into each other

Another 5 minutes later, and with my kids watching, I figure it out and have it solved! Yay! We all shout! Super fun little puzzle for sure! I think the addition of the magnets its a really smart idea as they hold the puzzle together once it is completed.

It turns out my false “a ha” was actually the correct move – I just had a couple of pieces in the wrong place after that particular move. It’s interesting because even if you know the correct placement of all the pieces, there is still a bit of a sequence required to fit everything in. The tolerances are so tight that if put in out of order, the pieces just don’t fit, which tripped me up for a bit.

assembly complete! The magnets ensure it won’t come apart accidentally.

This is a great packing puzzle. A logical thought process will yield positive results and the number of possibilities is limited by the fact that they must fit within each other. These two factors combine for a fun puzzle that feels good to solve. Definitely a puzzle that I can hand to friends and relatives – provided they are careful to not lose any of the small pieces.

Improved Cam Box – Eric Fuller

Whelp, I caved in and bought another puzzle box. After feeling super excited about solving Topless Box, I decided to splurge again on Eric’s next offering – Improved Cam Box. My wallet is in trouble though because the next 3 months releases all have more boxes – Escalating Box, Secret Agent Puzzle Box, and Death Box. Oh My, that’s a lot of boxes to come!

Improved Cam Box is beautifully constructed of African Mahogany with a Black Limba top and bottom. It looks amazing and the construction is a masterclass in precision woodworking. The dark streaks in the Black Limba provide a striking contrast to the overall appearance of the box.

Beautifully precise construction makes this box special.

Straight off the bat, there aren’t too many clues as to how to open this thing. The construction is such that it appears that the sides will possibly slide up and down and the top and bottom both have a peculiar and distinct line cut into them. Otherwise, there is nothing outward to give away the secrets. There are no loose parts inside, no rattling pieces and the puzzle feels largely hollow. Time to investigate further.

The sides do in fact slide a bit, but only a little bit. I am able to slide one of the sides maybe a quarter inch, which then allows the top (or is it bottom?) to slide another bit, which then allows to the other side to slide a small bit. All these bits don’t add up to much however as they neither unlock the puzzler nor reveal any additional clues. The one thing that has my scratching my head is the purpose of a magnet that is revealed after sliding the side down (or is it up?) Why is this magnet here? What purpose does it server? And what do I do next?

The sides slide up to reveal a smallish visible magnet. But, what does it do?

And I’m thoroughly stumped. I can make the above movements happen, but after that there is nothing to do. I’ve repeated the steps forward and back, over and over, and still no realization about how to move forward. It’s at this point that I think I need to stop and analyze things. Why is this called the “cam” box. What is a cam exactly? I have a background in rock climbing, and to me, a cam is a device that sticks into the cracks in rocks and as a force is applied, the “cams” push out into the rocks. As more force is applied, the cams push harder into the rock, thus providing anchor points in an otherwise anchor-less crack. But, how does that apply to this puzzle… hmmm…

I spent another few frustrating sessions working on this box to no avail. And then, one evening I tried a new move that I hadn’t thought of before. (Isn’t this always the way?) And sure enough, I had a solution. Curiously, although I could repeat the process, I still wasn’t sure what the mechanism was or how it really worked.

Puzzle solved! Box Opened!

It wasn’t until many days later, after thinking about things for a while that I really understood what was going on (and the purpose of the magnet). I have to say that this is a very clever puzzle box! The thing I really appreciate is the subtle misdirection that is happening. I won’t say any more, but there is a reason why the particular move took me so long to try. Very clever indeed! One has to be very observant to solve these puzzle boxes! Which is another reason they take me a while – I tend to fiddle more than I tend to observe.

Topless Box – Eric Fuller

This puzzle box is quite amazing. The journey that it took me on from initial inspection to solution to understanding and examining the mechanics was nothing short of magical. I generally stay away from puzzle boxes – I spend enough time and money on other types that I have put a self-limitation on what I will buy – but when I saw this one offered by Eric, I just couldn’t resist.

A simple box flawlessly constructed and brilliantly devised.

The box itself is quite simple in appearance – and that greatly adds to the elegance of the experience. It’s a simple cube that has a lid on the top and a lid on the bottom. Both lids are secured by magnetic force and can be easily removed. However, removing them does not open the box, it just reveals a solid panel beneath. And… that’s about it. That’s all there is to work with.

The lid comes off, but the box doesn’t open.

With most puzzles that I have solved, there are pieces to utilize – you have to stuff a bunch of pieces into a box, or you have to take apart an existing cube, etc. The main difference here is that there is not much to work with. Thus, I had to really change my approach to solving this. I couldn’t just fiddle with pieces, I couldn’t really use trial and error, there was nothing to map out. It’s just a box with 2 lids. The process then, becomes more of a cerebral exercise. What exactly is going on here and what clues are there. The box itself feels empty. There are no rattling parts, nothing shifts inside, there really are no such obvious clues as to how to progress.

For many weeks, this puzzle sat on my shelf. I’d pick it up every once in a while and pop the lids off while shaking my head in defeat. After a few minutes, I’d return it to the shelf and wonder if I’d ever solve it.

Eventually, with enough prodding, I discovered how the box was put together. This was great, but at the same time I was even more confused. What was holding it together? How do I open it? The usual methods of spinning and banging didn’t yield any results nor did they feel like they should. It almost seemed that there was some magical force holding the box together. I was envisioning all sorts of crazy internal mechanisms holding it together, but nothing I imagined was even close. I tried all sorts of random things with the lids, but again, nothing yielded any results.

The box sat on the shelf for many more weeks and I moved on to other puzzles. Then, last night, I decided to spend some more time with it. Again, I ran through all of my previous failed ideas – and again they failed. I finally just say there and stared at the box and instead of trying random things, I used my brain to really think about things. This lead me to try something that then yielded a very small result and I knew I was on the right track. A few minutes later and I had the box open.

Amazing! The feeling of opening this was like none other! I was so excited, I was shaking and overcome with a flood of adrenaline. I had finally done it!

The inside of the box without revealing any mechanisms 🙂

Well, I knew what I had done, but I still wasn’t sure how it had worked, so I spent the next few minutes examining the insides, the mechanism and the trick to opening it. And I was further amazed – and impressed – and awed. In Neil Hutchinson’s Blog – Puzzling-Parts – He describes it as “elegant” – and I couldn’t agree more. It is so incredibly elegant. It’s so satisfying to finally understand how it works and to see the mechanism in action. I closed and opened the box many times and each subsequent time produced a huge smile, over and over.

Perhaps I should rethink my self-imposed ban on puzzle boxes. I know its a deep rabbit hole to venture down, but man, this thing was incredibly fun and supremely satisfactory to solve. Well done Eric. That was awesome!

MysTIC – Andrew Crowell

completed puzzle

Ok, today, I have MysTIC – A very interesting 4×4 cube that I am anticipating will be difficult to solve. Here’s what Andrew Crowell says on his Etsy Page

MysTIC is a puzzle that a computer program I wrote designed. I built a copy, and then got frustrated because I couldn’t assemble it. I finally decided my program must have made a mistake, because the puzzle wouldn’t assemble… So I cheated and looked at the solution… And the puzzle does assemble, it just requires a few rotations, one of which I just couldn’t figure out, and a decent number of moves…

So let’s see if you are smarter than me, or more patient, or just plain lucky. Try to assemble this puzzle. If you fail I can give you the solution.

Well, that’s certainly a bit intimidating to read, but I’m gonna plow ahead and see what happens.

The puzzle comes partially assembled with just one piece left out. It is clear from looking at the cube and the missing piece that the leftover piece will indeed fit in the space provided, I just have to figure out how the heck to get it in there. I’ve got about an hour to kill, so lets see what happens.

This is how the puzzle arrived. Simple right? Just stick that piece in and call it a day.

Within the first few minutes of handling this puzzle, I’ve learned a few things. First, there are  only 5 pieces to this puzzle. And second, the first 4 are fairly trivial to put together. So clearly, the whole challenge to this puzzle is figuring out the sequence to get that final piece in. I suppose this is all clear from the description of the puzzle, but it’s even more clear when manipulating this puzzle.

Well, I am thoroughly defeated. In an hour’s time, I’ve managed to accomplish nothing other than to get myself extremely frustrated. The puzzle really seems quite impossible. I know it can be solved – unless this is a cruel trick, but I just can’t figure out how. I know there are rotations involved, but nothing I try seems to work.

Five beautiful pieces don’t make this any easier.

The above was written almost 9 months ago. I originally ordered this puzzle back in November of 2018 – and today – I’ve finally solved it. Talk about getting my money’s worth! This particular puzzle has sat on the shelf unsolved for all that time mocking me. Occasionally I’d pick it up and tinker with it, but I never got close to figuring it out. In the meantime, I’ve solved many other of Andrew’s TICs and it’s always been bothersome that this one remained unsolved.

Just a few days ago and I saw that Brian Menold was offering up MysTIC in his latest batch of puzzles. I briefly considered buying it, but since I already had a copy, I decided to pass. However, It revitalized my efforts to give it another go. I also had some new information to work with. Brian states in his description ” …this has a very challenging multiple piece rotation that is just amazing to me. This rotation can be made without any pressure or odd maneuvers. It must simply be done very precisely!”

Hmm interesting. So now I knew what to look for – a multiple piece rotation. Ok. Great. But still, how the heck does this thing work? I spent another hour or so working on the puzzle trying different procedures and configurations. I tried putting it together with just 4 of the 5 pieces. But I always came back to the same roadblock. There was a particular piece that I just couldn’t get to the other side of another piece.

Somewhere along the way, I arrived at this configuration. I love how these TIC puzzles can become so convoluted.

Frustrated, I put the puzzle down again for the day. This thing was really giving me a hard time. And then, tonight, I had my breakthrough. I’m still not entirely sure how it happened. I felt like the puzzle was falling apart on me, but then I noticed that the troublesome section was now in the correct position! A few manipulations of another tiny piece and I finally had this one together. Wow! I think I’d have to rank this one as the most difficult of the TICs that I’ve completed.

completed puzzle
The completed puzzle! Brilliant!

Taking the puzzle back apart reveals the amazing movements required. I’m not sure how I stumbled upon the solution, but I agree with Brian that it is truly an amazing move – one of the coolest of all the TIC rotations I’ve seen. Now I know why it took me 9 months to solve! It’s that hard! I don’t want to give any hints, but suffice is to say that it really is quite remarkable.

Overall, one of the best of Andrew’s TICs that I’ve completed. It’s right up there with LunaTIC in difficulty and it provides a fantastic sense of accomplishment. Bravo!