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.