Sloot 3 – Alfons Eyckmans

Ah, Sloot 3, a November 2019 release from Cubicdissection.com that didn’t seem to garner much attention. Perhaps this puzzle was overshadowed by many of the other amazing puzzles released last November – Split Maze Burr, Escalating Box, Small Box #3 & #4 come to mind.

I’m guilty of overlooking this one as well. Sometimes I order too many puzzles, can’t get to them all and so they end up in my “box of unsolved” puzzles. This one suffered such a fate. While my attention was on the small box series, this one collected dust and went forgotten. But, today is a new day and I’m feeling motivated to knock it out.

Look at that Purdy, Purdy puzzle.

Sloot 3 is a very cool puzzle. It looks like a typical 6 piece board burr puzzle, but closer inspection reveals hidden complexities. The edges of the burr pieces have these outer slots into which tabs on the inner side of the boards fit. This restricts movement and adds an extra element that must be considered when disassembling this puzzle.

Maybe the coolest part of all this is that these outer slots are NOT simply routed into the wood. Eric has crafted these channels out of solid wood. It’s a subtle detail, but a very impressive one that really makes this puzzle stand out. It’s exactly these types of details that separates Cubic Dissection puzzles from the pack. The extra attention surely cost more time and material, but the result is worth it and why I choose to spend the extra money.

Attempt at a detail shot of the tabs and slots

So, I’ve been playing with this puzzle for the past couple of days. I think I am close to getting the first piece out, but I am currently stuck at a dead end. It’s a fun puzzle to manipulate. The channels and tabs prevent obvious movements thus a more calculated approach is required. The channels also keep this puzzle locked in tight. There’s no wiggle room.

A typical configuration during the solve. I was stuck in this area for many hours before I found “the move”

After several hours, I eventually escaped the repeating dead-end maze-loop and found an excellent hidden move. Bah! how did I miss that! What a cool puzzle! This little move opened up a whole bunch of other options and now I know that I’m getting close.

After a bit more manipulation I see how I can remove the first piece. Yes! fantastic! I remove the first piece and it’s not over yet. The puzzle doesn’t just fall apart. There’s still some calculated moves required to get out piece #2. But, it’s not too difficult and soon enough I have the whole puzzle apart! Awesomeness. Man it feels good to solve a puzzle!

Puzzle Solved! Yay that was fun!

Ok, the assembly. Truth be told, I took some photos of the final moves, so I used those as a guide to put things back together. I don’t know if I have the ability to do the assembly without help. It certainly would have taken a long, long time, and, well, I have more puzzles to do, so there it is.

Another shot of the disassembled puzzle. Look at all those tabs!

Overall a very fun puzzle that I found to be rather approachable despite it’s difficulty rating (16.6.4) Highly recommended if you can find a copy.

Pinned Framed Burr S – Junichi Yananose

Woot! Another Juno puzzle from Pluredro.com! I don’t buy a lot of puzzles from Pluredro, but this one looked unique, so I couldn’t resist.

This is yet another puzzle that I’ve been ignoring for too long. Released back in February 2020, I purchased this puzzle, along with the “L” version. Both have been sitting in a box in the basement awaiting my attention. Well, I’ve been on a puzzling binge lately, so let’s get started!

The construction of this puzzle is very nice. The framed box is super solid and the burr sticks feel substantial. If anything, this puzzle has a rather plain appearance. It doesn’t scream “pick me up!” like other puzzles do. But looks can be deceiving and the real allure of this puzzle is hidden away, out of sight.

There is a nice audible click and clack as I play with the puzzle which is super pleasing. It’s a borderline fidget toy as you can just sit there and watch tv while pleasantly click and clacking away. Every once in a while you find a new move and the piece push further into the frame which is very satisfying and encourages continued exploration.

The objective of this puzzle is to remove the 4 burr sticks. The burr sticks move by pushing on them, but hidden within the puzzle are an unknown number of pins and channels which must be negotiated in order to remove the pieces. The fact that these elements are hidden really adds to the fun and difficulty of this puzzle.

Pieces move in, pieces move out. Am I making progress? I don’t know.

I didn’t know how to approach this puzzle, so I just played with it. I thought about trying to map out the path that the pins follow, but the problem with that is that I can’t see the pins, don’t know how many there are or where they are located. So, mapping seems out of the question.

In the end, I didn’t even try to keep track of things, I just set my mind to removing the burr sticks and proceeded with a semi-reckless determination to just make it happen. And after many hours, I succeeded!

I was sitting on the couch pushing the burr pieces around (most of the time, I didn’t even focus on what I was doing) and suddenly a piece landed in my lap! Whelp, guess I did it!

Pieces removed. Very interesting arrangement of pins and channels for this puzzle!

Removing the rest of the pieces was a little challenging as it turns out some of the pins are offset, so they can only be removed after the first piece comes out. There’s definitely some hidden trickery happening here and it’s very, very interesting to handle these burr sticks and see how they interact with each other inside the frame.

After taking some photos and admiring the craftsmanship, I set to put it back together. Oh boy! I was expecting things to go relatively smoothly, but turns out re-assembly is quite difficult indeed! My first attempt failed. I think I put things together wrong in a way that would never be able to be solved. Some of the pieces moved around and I thought I was putting it back together, but there was one piece that didn’t seem to “engage” the other pieces, so I eventually had to back track, remove the pieces again and start assembly over.

I think I went through this process 3-4 times, spending hours trying to reassemble the puzzle with piece in the wrong place. Eventually, I got fed up with things, pulled all the pieces out and decided I needed to be more systematic. I examined the pieces, how they interact and tried to really understand things to help me better assemble.

I discovered that there were a couple of different ways to insert the burr stick that fell out first. One of the ways lead to dead ends, the other lead to the solution. It was true, I had been doing it wrong, so I tried the second option and things started to go together better. It still took me a couple of hours to get the puzzle back together though!

Wow! what a challenge. I really thought this would be more straightforward and easy, but it proved to be a worthy adversary. I’m quite scared to try the “L” version, as it looks way more complicated, which is scary indeed. Thanks Juno! I enjoyed this one.

PUMPKIN 1 – Osanori Yamamoto

Ya know, when Covid first hit I was kind of excited because I thought I would get to puzzle all the time. I figured that I’d be home a lot more and would have lots of down time and that I’d be knocking out puzzles and blog posts like a machine. Oh how wrong I was.

Turns out, I wasn’t the only one stuck in the house. My wife and kids were along for the ride as well which meant we have all been crammed into this house for a better part of 7 months. The result is that I’ve had very little personal time and thus very little puzzling time. I’m still buying them at an alarming rate, but haven’t been solving that many.

The other day, I said “enough is enough, I need to solve some of these things before I’m buried in them.”

So, I picked up Pumpkin 1, designed by Osanori Yamamoto and determined that I was going to solve it no matter what.

This particular puzzle was crafted by Pelikan Puzzles and is nicely built and a pleasure to play with. It’s made of Pear / Bubingo wood and there is a very nice contrast between the orange pieces and the tan box. It seems like Pelikan has been focusing more on these “more affordable” puzzles lately and I’m that’s fine by me. Though I hope that they continue to release new “premium” puzzles as well.

This puzzle starts off simple enough. There are 3 pieces and one box and all you have to do is get those pieces into the box so that the entryway is completely filled up. It sounds easy and looks easy, but I’ve worked on these Yamamoto packing puzzles before, so I know that I’m in for a struggle.

Only 3 pieces. It should be easy right?

My first attempts involved randomly sticking pieces into the box to see if I could “get lucky” and find a solution randomly. This method lasted a few hours over the course of an afternoon and not only did I fail to make progress, but I was having trouble remembering what configuration I had tried and what I had not, so inevitably, I repeated the same failed assembly over and over.

I eventually gave up on that idea and opted for a more systematic approach. I’d start by assembling the pieces outside the box in a 3×3 cube. Then I’d search that cube for any 2×2 feature that would “fill the gap” of the box. Once I had a 3×3 structure built that satisfied my requirements, I’d then try to find a sequence to get those pieces into the box in that same configuration.

3×3 overall cube with a 2×2 section. Next step is to see if this will fit into the box.

Over and over I tried again and again and each time I failed. There are actually a whole lot of configurations that would theoretically “work” if only they’d fit into that box. But, the more I worked with the puzzle, the more I came to understand the limitations of the box. That angled top, the bottom lip, the inability for pieces to rotate inside the box – all these things existed to thwart my attempts.

Another day passed and I became even more systematic. The problem I was having is that I would come up with a 3×3 cube that I liked and whilst trying to then insert the pieces, I would lose track of the initial setup. This was frustrating as it is possible that I had the right solution, but got lost along the way and would eventually “reset” before trying all the options.

I began taking pictures to better keep track of the different configuration and I also began employing temporary stickers to keep track of the pieces. This helped, but did not result in a solution.

Another 3×3 cube, this time I’m using stickers to keep track of the pieces. Red, Blue and Yellow should be visible when it’s inside the case.

I then abandoned this method and started really thinking logically about this puzzle. Which piece goes in last? What is the likely configuration of these other pieces? How can I use the shape of the pieces and the shape of the box together? Instead of trying every option I could come up with, I decided to try to narrow things down and focus on what makes the most sense.

And just like that, I found the solution.

Solved! Yay!!! I did it!

The genius in this design is the fact that the packed 3×3 cube has lots of missing voxels. This allows for unique pieces that can be fit together in countless arrangements. Had the pieces made a perfect 3×3 cube, there would be no mystery, there would be only 1 obvious arrangement and that would be no fun.

Overall, an excellent packing puzzle that provided the right amount of challenge. I stayed interested and determined and was rewarded within a few days time with the solution. Highly recommended if you enjoy this type of puzzle!

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.

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 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.

ODD Packing Puzzle – Hirokazu IWASAWA

Today I have ODD packing puzzle. The name comes from the shape of the pieces which in fact spell out O D D. This puzzle won the Puzzle of the Year award at IPP28 and I am very excited to see what it is all about.

Holy shit these are big pieces! That was my first thought upon unwrapping this latest puzzle from Cubicdissection. And indeed, the pieces are big. Each of the “Square-ish are almost 2″x2″ and the box itself is 4″x4”. The rectangular-ish piece is almost 3″ long too. Those are some big pieces to cram into this big box. Is the large size a bad thing? Nope. I don’t think so. Does it enhance the puzzle? I don’t know yet – lets find out!

Huge puzzle pieces! This is going to be fun!

The first thing I notice is that the Square-ish pieces are in fact not square. The will slide into the box in certain orientations, but not others, thus one side is longer than the other. This will likely matter when solving and I’m certain that there will be a fair bit of manipulation and/or rotation going on when solving. Ok, time to put in a little work and see what can be discovered.

Ok, ten minutes in and I haven’t gotten very far. It has become quickly apparent that dimensions matter. Those 2 little square-ish pieces have very strategically bevelled edges and very precise dimensions that have made this puzzle anything but trivial to solve. At this point, I can get any 2 pieces into the puzzle, but not all 3. It took a few tries to figure out how to get the 2 squares inside, but it is then impossible to get that last large piece in. Seems reasonable that one of the squares will be the last piece to enter. But, that isn’t really helping me any. Lets see if another 10-15 minutes will yield any further results.

The pieces don’t seem to fit… at first.

Yes! Yes ! YES! Boom! I’ve done it! And with a verbally shouted “YES!!!!” that awoke the dog from her slumber, I stand triumphant! Whew, that was pretty fun.

I went back to the puzzle for another 10-15 to see what I could see and I quickly discovered something about the large block and a previous assumption. Once I had this piece of information, I knew what had to be done. Suddenly the puzzle looked achievable and it was only a matter of time.

Beautiful wood specimens make this puzzle special.

I now knew the order in which I had to insert the pieces, I just had to figure out how to get the first 2 pieces into the correct place. I tried and failed and tried and failed again. I used the bottom of the box to try to figure out this tricky move and still couldn’t do it. I decided to just sort of “brute force” the solution and was sticking the first two in at various orientations to see if something would budge. When it didn’t work, I’d try a different orientation. At some point, I remembered lessoned learned from a particular Pit Khiam Goh puzzle and tried again. This time, things moved the way I wanted them to and that final piece was inserted and BAM, it was solved.

What a fun puzzle! I can’t wait to share this with some friends and family and see how they do! While not overly difficult, this puzzle definitely requires focus and thought and feels great when that “ah-ha” moment arrives.

I can now adequately, judge the size of this puzzle and have to say that I am very happy with the choice to make this one “big”. It is very satisfying to manipulate these big pieces and I imagine that a smaller sized version wouldn’t have the same appeal. The loud “thunks” of these pieces falling into the box is very satisfying and given that there are only 3 packing pieces, this was a smart choice.

Look – it spells O.D.D.

Zebrawood is an excellent choice wood for the pieces and it is joy to handle and manipulate these pieces while solving. The large size adds a nice heft and also provides a larger canvas to really appreciate the striking grains in this beautiful wood.

Overall, a very pleasing puzzle to work on and solve that I am very happy to have in my collection. I will definitely hand this one over to friends and family with confidence that they can solve it if they put their mind to it.

No Holes Barred – Laszlo Molnar

No Holes Barred - Solved

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

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

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

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

This triangular wedge really gets in the way!

All right, time to get packing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s packed and ready to go!

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

Tower of London – Dr. Volker Latussek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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