Grooved 6 Board Burr #4 – Junichi Yananose

Yay! I’m back with another board burr – This time, it’s number 4 of the 6 burr series. Thank God it’s not number 3!

An excellent Board Burr Puzzle!

This is another beautiful puzzle that utilizes Hickory and Rose Alder with pins of Bamboo. The two wood varieties achieve a nice contrast and while not exotic looking, this puzzle has a subtle beauty that is very pleasing.

This puzzle was a joy to play with. The moves are fun and satisfying. It was a bit tricky at first, although the start is very limited, the puzzle soon hits a dead end and it’s a bit difficult to figure out.

The key with this puzzle, in my opinion, is to really try to accomplish specific moves and positions. With the previous 3 board burr puzzles, I would mostly just explore every possibility with no other intention in mind. It felt impossible to actually try to solve the puzzle. Instead I was left wandering around, moving back and forth until something new opened up. With #4, I was able to determine which piece needed to come out first and was then able to strategically figure out moves to make that happen. This made it more rewarding to solve. There were even a couple of a-ha moments that really stood out.

There is one pin and groove in particular that was hidden the entire puzzle. This made things challenging, yet fun. I kept wondering why the heck certain pieces wouldn’t move as expected – turns out they were held in place by this hidden pin and groove.

I found myself a bit stuck toward the end of this puzzle – I had in fact solved it, and all I had to do was slide the piece free, but I kept searching for more. When I finally slid the piece off, I felt silly for not trying it sooner. After removing the first piece, there is still a challenge left to remove the remaining pieces.

Some interesting channels, notches and two types of pins make for some fun moves.

To me, this is a classic board burr puzzle. It’s approachable and would likely take a novice a long time to solve, but the solution isn’t terribly difficult – just keep at it and you’ll get there. Where #3 had endless pathways, dead ends and was difficult to keep track of, #4 was far more straightforward. There were some hidden moves, and a few tricks to unlock a certain piece, but overall this was a great puzzle that has given me motivation to continue with the series.

Bring on #5!

Final thought – This series is criminally underrated. There are only a few reviews online and further, a couple example have sold on the Cubicdissection marketplace for ~$60-$80 each. Perhaps board burrs are not that desirable to collectors, but these 6 Burrs stand at the top of my collection. I’ve gotten dozens of hours of very challenging puzzling out of them and they are large, heavy and well-made. What’s not to love?

Grooved 6 Board Burr #3 – Junichi Yananose

Oh boy, this one is going to be tough. I’ve been manipulating it for a casual 15 minutes and can already tell that I’m going to struggle. There are multiple paths to start with and they all seem to get complicated real quick. I’m attempting to map this thing out, but it’s going to be exceedingly difficult to keep track of the moves. It’s not simple board moves, it’s block changing multi-piece moves straight out of the gate and unless I take a photo of each move, or draw it out on paper, I’m not sure my brain can handle it. It takes something like 33 moves to get the first piece out, so I’m going to need all the luck I can get.

Ok. I think I’m making some progress. Out of the 3 beginning options, I think I’ve narrowed it down to only one path. The other 2 has multiple forks, but all came to an end within a handful of moves. That only leaves one option. Time to explore further.

Hmm. Thought I was on the right track, made it about 10 moves in, but then found another dead end, so I must have missed something. Time for bed. I’ll live to fight another day.

Day two. Stuck again after about 14 moves. This thing is tricky!

Day three, Day Four, Day Five. I’m losing a little hope here. I find myself in the familiar position of trying the same thing over and over hoping for a different result. But, as you can imagine, nothing different happens. No progress. What did I miss where is the move?

Day Six and I’ve found a new move that shifts things slightly. It seems to dead end though. The promising new move isn’t so promising after all. But it is something different, so there’s that.

One of the many complicated configurations found in this puzzle

After more tinkering, I found yet another move which allowed piece to be moved to their furtherst extend. But, maddeningly, they would not release! More tinkering and I found a way to remove the first piece! But, it requires a rotation. Juno mentions a shortcut using a rotation to remove the second piece, but I haven’t read anything about the rotation I found. Should I use this rotation or should I continue my search for the correct move. Well, I’d like to do it correctly, so no rotation for me.

OK. Officially frustrated. My careful, controlled approach is failing me. I’ve now resorted to uncontrolled fidgeting and manipulation. I’m now attempting to change the orientation of the puzzle in order to get my brain to think about different moves. I’ve traced the same moves over and over so many times that I’m now conditioned to solving the puzzle wrongly. Hopefully flipping the puzzle over, will allow me to see moves I hadn’t seen before because clearly I’m missing something.

Breakthrough!!!

This is one epic puzzle. My god. This thing is complex. I’ve finally taken the first piece out and it was completely unintentional. I had a breakthrough moment where I found a completely new path that I had never explored. I was certain that I was finally getting close, but again I found a dead end. I decided to retrace the steps to take it back to the beginning and search for a missing path. But somehow, on the path back to the beginning, I apparently found the correct path and though I thought I was going back to the start, pieces just kept moving and moves just kept appearing where they hadn’t before and I just decided to forge ahead, getting completely lost in the process. I was in awe as the puzzle moved further and further apart but still held together. My god, how can a single puzzle have so many paths?

So here I sit, with one piece out and once again, I’m stuck and can’t get any more pieces out. This puzzle is relentless!

Omg. I’m ready to break out the saw or hammer on this puzzle. I’m going to have to come back another day to try to remove the next piece. I’m just frantically moving pieces around hoping and praying that something will release. But NOOOOO. This puzzle has other ideas. Dammit Juno. How the hell did you design this diabolical thing?

I have finally done it. This has to be one of the most difficult puzzles I’ve ever disassembled. This thing is unreal. Taking out the second and even the third piece took me over an hour. It seems you have to backtrack a crazy amount of moves – pretty much back to the beginning to take yet another path to release that 2nd piece. It’s the puzzle that never ends.

It’s done.

In the end, I didn’t feel joy at solving this, I just felt relief.

The pieces don’t look so intimidating, but trust me, this thing is very challenging.

There is absolutely no way I would ever be able to reassemble this thing. I’ll have to resort to the burr file – which will be a first for me. But I just can’t imagine even attempting to put this back together.

In the end, I did contact Pluredro and they quickly sent out the Burr Tools file. I loaded it up and managed to put this thing back together. Even that was not easy. I’m not well versed in Burr Tools and had to spend a good amount of time going through step by step, rotating the puzzle around on the screen to make sure I had everything correct. The process confirmed, once again, that this is a very difficult puzzle.

The thoughts of solving 4,5 and 6 doesn’t sound very appealing at the moment. But, I’ve set out with a goal, so I’m going to give it the best I’ve got. Hopefully the next ones aren’t as ruthless.

Grooved 6 Board Burr #2 – Junichi Yananose

Here we go again! This time with Grooved 6 Board Burr #2

This one is supposed to be much easier than the first. We shall see!

It’s a beaut Clark, a beaut!

Before we begin, I have to talk about the beauty of this thing. It’s incredible. Constructed of Bubinga and European Beech, it is much heavier than the first and in my opinion, is even better looking. The Bubinga has a wonderful wood grain throughout and it is nicely contrasted by the lighter, yellowish Beech. Also of note is the lack of visible grooves and pins. They are still in there, you just can’t see them without moving pieces around. I love this concept – the idea of creating a simple looking puzzle that hides all the intricacies internally that are only revealed through manipulation. There’s no way to plan ahead with this puzzle, you have to start solving in order to learn how to solve it. Very cool.

The description includes “..but we believe that many burr puzzle lovers can assemble the puzzle without any clue.” Challenge accepted! With the previous puzzle, I utilized stickers and photos for reassembly. This time, I’m going to give it a shot without those aids. Wish me luck!

As with the first puzzle in the series, this one is a joy to hold and manipulate. The pieces slide easily and the heavy nature of the wood makes for solid sounding “thunks” and “claps” as the pieces are pushed and pulled. 

Wow. First impressions – I’m stunned. This puzzle isn’t what I expected. There seem to be numerous ‘half-moves’ involved and the puzzle quickly becomes a little loosey goosey and that makes it hard to keep track of what the heck I’m doing. I like to backtrack often in order to keep an idea of where I’m at with a puzzle, but I’m having a hard time doing that here, so I have just pushed forward.

I soon found a move where I thought that pieces would come out, but at the last second, they stopped and I wasn’t able to remove them after all. Super fun and exciting, but slightly intimidating. 

After this, I once again decided to return the puzzle to the original state. The next day, I set about again and could only get about 6 or so moves in. I couldn’t seem to find the move that I completed the previous day. I became rather frustrated as I knew this move was so close, but I just couldn’t unlock it! Gahh!

Well, eventually I found it and it was again thrilling to see the pieces slide all the way to the edge without coming out. What the heck was holding it together? I reworked this move a few times and eventually discovered what I had been doing wrong. Now that I was familiar with these moves, I decided to press on again.

Pieces sliding way out! Close, but no cigar!

This led to more interesting moves – there are a number of times with this puzzle where a series of micro-moves are required. It is great fun, but hard for my brain to comprehend. At last I came to a configuration that once again felt like pieces could fall out and sure enough a piece dropped out the bottom while I was holding it. Had I solved it? Was this the intended solution?

It’s hard to say, by my count, I was only about 19 moves in and Juno’s description says 25 to get the first piece out. Hmm. So, I put the piece back in to check for more moves. Sure enough, I found a couple more of those micro-moves that allowed me to remove the first piece in a much more elegant manner. Ta Da! 

Fun, Fun Fun! What a very cool puzzle. The inner workings of this puzzle are a wonder to behold! And to my surprise, 2 of the pieces were complete rings, with no grooves or pins at all! Juno has done it again!

Look at those amazing boards!

Now, the question remains, Can I reassemble this thing without relying on my notes or photographs? I’m going to come back in a day to let the memory of the positioning and movement fade a bit and see if I can do it!

Ok, let’s see if we can do this. How hard can it be? Looking at the pieces, it is fairly obvious as to how it should go together. There’s only 2 boards that have pins. And there’s also only 2 boards that have grooves. It’s also fairly obvious which pin board goes with which groove board, so now all I have to do is actually assemble the shape.

So far, assembly isn’t going too well. I am quite sure I know which pieces fit where, but at present, they won’t go back together. I’m going to keep at it for an hour or so and see if I can make some progress, but so far, no luck. 

Holy crap I did it! With enough tinkering and guesswork, I finally figured out the arrangement necessary to put it back together. I got some strange looks from my family (and dog) as I was shouting “Yes! YES! YEEESSSS!” but it was certainly worth it. Really, it wasn’t that difficult, I already knew which piece had to go together and I was pretty sure about their orientation, it was just a matter of figuring out how to get them together. In truth, the pins and channels guided the way. I extended the board pairs to their maximum – essentially putting the pins at the end of their grooves and then tried to assemble the thing. Pretty quickly I knew I was on the right track and in fact the assembly went together rather quickly from this point. 

Overall, another fantastic puzzle. Definitely way easier than #1 and I’d say this puzzle is even approachable to folks who are new to puzzles.

Two down, 4 to go!

Grooved 6 Board Burr #1 – Junichi Yananose

The time is here, the mission’s clear. Today I will attempt to solve Juno’s amazing Grooved 6 Board Burr #1.

I purchased this particular puzzle way back in 2018 and have yet to solve it. I’ve toyed with it a few times, but never really put in a good effort. As Juno has continued to release more Grooved 6 Board Burr’s (6 released so far) I thought it was time to finally tackle this one. Assuming things go well, I’m going to move on and try to solve them all (yes, I’ve continued to buy them as they are released) and they’ve all remained on the shelf taunting me. Well, no more! 

Burr #1 is a gorgeous piece of work. It’s made from American Cherry wood with reinforced corners made of Jarrah. The action is smooth, it’s enjoyable to hold and it’s really a wonder to behold – as are all of Juno’s puzzles.

It’s hard to imagine that this simple looking board burr contains so many possible configurations

The description of this one is intimidating. 22 moves to take out the first piece and 4246 assembly options. The big difficulty lies in the grooves and pins. There are grooves routed into many of the boards and correlating pins that travel along the grooves while moving the pieces. This groove and pin system greatly restricts the movement and adds extreme difficulty – especially in assembly. I’m not even going to attempt a blind assembly, my plan is to track all the movements and map things out so that I can reassemble after I’m done.

Let’s get started. 

The puzzle is quite fun to play with. There are two moveable boards to start with, but one of these options quickly hits a dead end. The second option quickly forks to more options and once again one path leads to dead ends, while the other seems to open up more opportunities. Things really get interesting here as the boards slide around and different moves open up even further paths and though it seems like a piece might come out at any minute, I know better than to get too optimistic. These darn grooves and pins prevent the boards from sliding all the way out. 

Seven moves in and I’m stuck. I felt like I was on the correct path, but this feels like a dead end. I must have missed a move somewhere. Time to backup.

Ok, now twelve moves in and stuck again. This is getting quite hard to keep track of. Instead of just one board moving at a time, it is now groups of 2 or three that seem to want to move at the same time. It’s difficult to tell whether these are individual moves or not. Sometimes I think I found a new path only to discover that all I’m doing is reversing the previous move. Things are getting tricky, but I must press on.

Jeez. 15 moves in and I’m sort of back at the beginning – except I’m not. There’s one piece that is now out of place. I’m not sure if this is the correct path or if I’m just circling round and round doing the same moves.

It has just dawned on me that I have no idea what I’m doing. There are pins and grooves and I can see exit points in the grooves, but I’m not really trying to put a specific piece in a specific place, rather, I’m just blindly going down every path possible, hoping that I’ll eventually find the solution. I really don’t know any other way to solve this beast. But I’m currently about 18 moves in and so the end should be near. However, I could be way off on the 18 move thing. Doubt is creeping in as I hit another dead end and have to back up a couple of moves and try a different path.

Not easy to keep track of the moves at this point. Am I progressing forward or just circling around and around?

Aaaand. I need a break. By my count, I’ve completed 32 moves and haven’t removed a piece, so clearly I’m repeating moves and circling around. I’m having a hard time keeping track of what moves take me forward and what moves return me to a previous state. This thing is not easy. There seem to be countless dead ends and the pieces have to be positioned perfectly before moving forward. The puzzle allows you to move forward, but if the pins aren’t in the correct position it just leads to a dead end. This is very tricky indeed and after a solid hour of concentrated focus, I’m going to rest on it and give it another go tomorrow.

Next day and I’m back at it. I’ve taken the puzzle back to the start and am working my way back through the sequence very slowly and carefully, looking for every possible path forward. I’ve clearly missed something along the way and I intend to find it. I also re-read Kevin’s blog post about this puzzle where he specifically says “The true pathway was quite an early divergence from that initial path.” This helpful hint also influenced me to start over and look more carefully.

Ouch. This puzzle has spanked me again! Another fruitless half hour gone as I get more confused. I really thought I’d be able to solve this a little quicker, but I guess not.

And after another hour or so of tinkering, I finally found the move! Wow. I’ve done it. The puzzle has been disassembled. Whew, that was amazing! This truly is a devilish puzzle. I’m amazed at how many deep dead ends there are. Most puzzles that I’ve worked on have much shallower dead ends – it quickly becomes obvious that you are down the wrong path. But, not this puzzle. There are still multiple forks available within the dead end that causes you to keep tinkering, to keep believing that you are right, when in reality, you are dead wrong and the only way to find the real solution is to backtrack 10 moves almost all the way to the beginning. Wow. Just wow.

Yay! I’ve disassembled the puzzle. What an amazing feeling!

I don’t know if I stand any chance of putting this back together. I took dozens of photographs to attempt to keep track of those final moves, but I’m feeling doubtful. Even after the first piece was removed, it still took me a good amount of time to figure out the next piece and it still didn’t get much easier. The final few pieces were stubbornly difficult to remove as well.

In the end, I managed to get it back together without using burr tools. To me, that’s a success. I may have used photos and my written notes, but ultimately, it went back together. It was tricky as there were some moves that I hadn’t tracked very well, but ultimately, I had enough clues to make it work. Whew. I’m exhausted! The bolt of adrenaline from solving the puzzle coupled with the extreme focus required to hold everything together and the mental gymnastics to decipher my notes has left me ready for a nap. 

Notes on the page, colored stickers and coffee are essential ingredients for a difficult solve.
Colored stickers make it easier to identify moves and keep track of what’s what.

Overall, I’m beyond thrilled with this puzzle. It may have taken me 3 years to get it done, but it was well worth it and I will display this one proudly on the shelf. This is truly a masterpiece. Now the only question that remains: Will the other 5 grooved board burrs live up to this one?

TwisTIC – Andrew Crowell

It’s been a while since I worked a TIC puzzle and I managed to grab a copy of this puzzle from Wood Wonders before they sold out. I’m super excited for this one, let’s see what’s in the box!

I’ve read that this puzzle has tons of rotations and is quite difficult. I can’t wait to check it out.

Well, I’ve managed to get it out of the packaging and I’ve separated the pieces. It took an embarrassingly long time to just get it disassembled from how it came packaged! This one is gonna be challenging..

Jeez, this puzzle is something else! There are two particular pieces that I’m playing with and I can sort of “sneak” them together. I don’t know if it’s part of the solution, but it’s really fun to play with – just have to be careful I don’t break anything!

uhh, yeah, that’s supposed to be a cube, just need to re-arrange a piece or two.

Ok wow. I think I just made a major breakthrough. I kept exploring the above move, when the 2 pieces locked tougher into a promising configuration. I then picked up the remaining pieces to see if any would fit – and it looked like they would! The problem was, I was going to have to interlink these 3 pieces somehow and then navigate them to the proper positions.

And, boom! with my daughter in my lap, I manage to get those 3 pieces together and in the right place. It took several tries as there’s not a lot of room to maneuver, but I eventually found the configuration that allowed me to move the pieces into place and then the final 2 pieces popped right in!

Yet another TIC to add to the collection. This was one of the more unique ones I’ve seen.

Ah, I love the TIC puzzles. There’s something about them that makes me happy. Most likely because I seem to be able to solve them fairly easily. This one went together way quicker than expected, but I’m still super happy to own it and add it to my growing TIC collection.

It’s definitely a unique TIC. I haven’t seen rotations and movements quite like this before. There is a very tricky sequence to get the pieces oriented and in the right position.

Part II

Well, I sure was feeling a bit smug after finding the solution so quickly. And I could have ended this blog post at that – but the story didn’t end there.

I wanted to take the puzzle apart to get some photos, so I began to disassemble. The first two piece are trivial to remove, but then things get difficult. So difficult, in fact, that I failed to disassemble the puzzle! I literally tried for over an hour just to take things apart and instead, all I managed was to create a tangled mess where I had lost track of what pieces were where and couldn’t progress forward, nor could I move back to the solution.

I’ve created a mess of things and can’t seem to move forward or backward.

I grew a bit aggravated by this failure. After all, I had solved it so easily, and furthermore, I knew exactly what I needed to do! How was it possible that I couldn’t take these pieces apart?

Eventually I found my way back to the correct (solved) position. I felt lucky to have finally made it back. I was scared and intimidated to try again. And although I hate to leave it at that, I need some recovery time before I can go in for a second attempt at disassembly. Suffice is to say that I’ve been humbled by this puzzle, which in turn makes it a highly recommended puzzle. It’s quite an exciting puzzle and unlike any TIC I have seen before.

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.

Warning: Spoiler Image Solution #1

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.

Warning: Spoiler Image Solution #2

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.

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.

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!

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.

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!