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!

LunaTIC – Andrew Crowell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, one night, the magic happens..

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

One of the many confusing configurations of this puzzle.

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

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

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

Highly recommended for all!

PackTIC #7 – Andrew Crowell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Six Face – Andrew Crowell

This week, I have Six Face – designed by Andrew Crowell and crafted by Brian Menold over at Wood Wonders. I’m very happy to have picked this up as it looks very similar to Six Rings, which was awesome, so I’m hoping this one is just as fun.

First off, this puzzle is an absolute beauty. There were 3 different wood combinations available when these were first listed and I quickly ordered the East Indian Rosewood, Ebarria and Koa variety and I am more than pleased with how it looks in person. Not only does this puzzle look great, but the fit and finish are spot on and it is a joy to manipulate.

The initial move is well hidden and it takes a lot of experimental pushing and pulling on various pieces to find it. When I finally found it, I was a bit shocked. 3 little moves and a big ole chunk of the puzzle comes right out! Usually, there is a lot more manipulating necessary to release that first piece, but not with this design.

The first big chunk has been removed. It gets harder from here.

Also interesting is the fact that soon after that first chunk is removed, I have 3 separate smaller pieces to manipulate. They are seemingly trapped as I can’t remove them, but they do have some limited movement, back and forth, up and down. I play with these movements for a while and soon realize that there must be more going on. So, I try a couple of new things and discover that 2 of these pieces can sort of do-si-so around each other which allows the 3rd piece to move to a new location. All this then allows a big chunk to slide up and one of the smaller pieces can then be removed.

About to remove the first small piece

Its quite a sequence to get this far and these are very cool and clever movements that feel unique and exciting. I’m not sure how Andrew does it, but all his puzzles seem to have this same quality to them.

The next set of moves took me a while to figure out. There are now 2 “free” smaller pieces that can move within the puzzle and there’s the bigger chunk that can still move up and down, but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to unlock any of them. I discovered that one of the pieces could be rotated, but that didn’t seem to help much. Eventually, I had my epiphany and figured out a delightful sequence of 8 moves with one rotation that allowed one of the smaller pieces to be removed. Once again these clever movements had me smiling to myself in astonishment!

With only 3 pieces left it should have been easy at this point, but I was overthinking things and struggled for a bit to remove that final tiny piece. It was actually a lot more straightforward than I was making it out to be and once I took a closer look at the puzzle, I was able to pull that final tiny piece out.

At this point all that was left was two intertwined “bigger” chunks and they come apart easily – though it does involve another rotation and is wonderfully marvelous how they fit together.

All the pieces have been disassembled. Beautiful wood and an excellent design.

This puzzle has the same joy of discovery as 6 rings did. There’s something magical about holding a puzzle for the first time – knowing that it can be unlocked with knowledge – and knowing that with enough persistence, I can gain that knowledge. For me it’s like holding an unread book. There is excitement and anticipation and a crackling of energy in the air and this puzzle did not disapoint.

Some puzzles excite me and some feel tedious. I suppose I like Andrew’s puzzles because I can solve them, yet they provide a good amount of challenge. They are never frustrating and when I finally figure out the moves, I greatly enjoy basking in the dreamy glow of accomplishment. Overall, a great design, fantastic craftsmanship and joyous moves make this one of my favorites.

giganTIC – Andrew Crowell

Today, I visit giganTIC designed by Andrew Crowell and wonderfully crafted by Brian Manold over at Wood Wonders Online. I have bought a number of puzzles from Brian recently, but most of them remain unsolved including Perfect 11, I&i, Jitter Soma and Inelegant Cube. Hopefully, I’ll have time in the next few weeks to get to those. But, in the meantime, I have spent the last couple of nights getting to know giganTIC.

The beautifully crafted giganTIC puzzle designed by Andrew Crowell

This is a fantastic puzzle. Despite it’s name, its a little smaller than a typical 4×4 cube. But perhaps it’s the number of moves required that encouraged its name. At 10.10, this is a moderately difficult puzzle that is extremely fun to explore and understand.

The puzzle itself is incredibly beautiful. The selection of exotic woods really makes this one special. I have spent a lot of time holding the individual pieces are marveling at the wood grains. Two pieces in particular are especially nice – the lacewood section with its very conspicuous flecking and the dark brown wood that contains streaks of light brown (sorry don’t know the name of this wood!).

Solving this puzzle is a joy. As with most of these Crowell design TICs, the first move is fairly well hidden and requires pushing and pulling pieces as you spin the cube around. Eventually, the first move is found and soon thereafter is the first rotation. There are a couple of dead ends possibilities, but the path to the solution is mostly straightforward.

The first piece has moved which starts to unlock the mysteries contained within.

I spent bit of time wandering in circles somewhere around the 7-8th move. I couldn’t quite figure out what was next. It was then that I re-read the description and saw that this was a 10.10 solution puzzle. This narrowed down my options as I knew that the 10th move had to remove a piece.

On a side note – I wonder if puzzles descriptions should include the number of moves required to solve it. Isn’t it a bit of a spoiler to know ahead of time how many moves are required? I often use this information as another clue to help me solve the puzzle, but I wonder if I am robing myself of some of experience by utilizing this knowledge? If I didn’t know that this was a 10.10 puzzle, how would that have changed the experience?

The first piece has been removed from the puzzle, only 10 more moves to go!

Anyway, back to the puzzle – After the first pieces is removed, I was again stuck. I continued to cycle through all the known moves – I would return the puzzle back to the start – minus the one piece, and then would work forward again to the spot where I removed the piece and would hit the dead end. There didn’t seem to be any other options. But then, like any decent puzzler, I forced myself to try other options and soon enough found a new path forward.

The new path quickly revealed the answer and with a final rotation, the puzzle separated into two halves. Wow, this thing is really cool!

Puzzle has been disassembled! The wood used in this puzzle is just beautiful.

Overall, The puzzle is kind of split into two separate sets of movement. The first 10 moves remove a cornerstone piece and then the next 10 moves separates the puzzle into two halves and the rest is trivial from there. The moves are really quite unique though, with a number or rotations mixed in as well as other hidden moves that are exciting to find.

It’s hard to imagine that so many mysteries could be hidden in 64 voxel cube. It seems like there should be a finite amount of interesting puzzling options – and I’m sure there are, but to my mind, there are many more options than would seem possible. Andrew seems to have a knack for designing these really creative puzzles that are full of unique and interesting moves. Each step along the way is delightful and satisfying and I can’t wait for more.