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!

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.

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!

Notes – Tamas Vanyo

This week, I’m working with Notes, designed by Tamas Vanyo and created by Eric Fuller at Cubicdissection.com This puzzle is unlike anything else in my collection. It is comprised of a large wooden frame and 8 “U-shaped” pieces or “notes” that interlock with each other and the frame. Its really quite a unique and beautiful puzzle. The 8 “notes” all utilize different wood types with an end result being a wonderful mosaic of wood types.

The beautiful mosaic of squares looks amazing

There are essentially two distinct sides to this puzzle. One side is the “feet” of the 8 pieces. It is comprised on 16 squares that are flush with one another. The other side contains all the “bridges” between the feet. Some of these bridges overlap each other and some do not. When held with the “feet” up, the puzzle is nicely contained and the 16 squares look very interesting and intriguing. However, if the puzzle is then flipped over, the pieces all fall loose and start to shift – some of them are even close to falling out at this point. So, one must handle this puzzle carefully because it is easy to get it all out of sorts without intending to do so.

The puzzle just about falls apart when flipped over. This makes manipulating the pieces a challenge.

One of the first challenges is determining how to manipulate this puzzle. Since it is easy to unintentionally move pieces, I’ve decided to work it with the feet facing upward. That way gravity is hopefully not as much of a factor.

Well, the first piece came out very easily and has me wondering if all the puzzles will be that easy to remove or whether there is more of a challenge ahead. We shall see.

And the puzzle is completely apart. Oh my. I should feel happy, but I’m in fact quite scared. You see, I turned the puzzle over and the parts were fairly intricately connected there at the end and I was manipulating things and the puzzle shifted and pieces just started falling out. Now I have to recreate that intricate web in order to get these pieces back together. It’s clear to me that the challenge isn’t disassembly, but rather putting this mess back together.

The puzzle has been disassembled, now the real challenge begins.

Well, I’ve been working for only a few minutes aided by the photo of the assembled puzzle and I now have 5/8 pieces put back into the frame and it hasn’t been too difficult. I’ve had to remove and replace a few and swap the order of insertion, but otherwise its been very doable. We shall see if the final 3 pieces present any more challenge.

Whew. I now have 6/8 pieces back in the frame and that last one wasn’t so easy. It wasn’t too difficult in terms of “how” to complete the moves, it was more of a problem of holding all the pieces in place whilst inserting the new piece. It seems the best way to adjust the position of the pieces is to move them up and down – outside of the frame – this makes it hard to keep their orientation to each other. Let’s see if I can get the next piece in.

Gah. The final 2 pieces don’t want to go in. It appears that this is going to take a bit more time and exploration to determine what order the pieces need to go into the puzzle. I’m also trying to determine if they all enter the frame “bridge” first or if some enter “foot” first. I’m gonna keep hammering away to see if I can get this together.

Well, 30 more minutes in and I haven’t managed to get the final pieces in. I believe that I have things out of order and am not sure how to fix it. I guess I have to backtrack and see if I can get these pieces into the puzzle somewhere else in the sequence.

Yes! I finally got it put together. It took me another 20 minutes or so of careful consideration and I also had to backtrack a few moves to find a spot to slide in that troublesome piece. But, in the end, with enough manipulation, the piece finally slid into place and then the last piece was trivial.

The thing is – My solution was very sloppy. The disassembly was sloppy and the assembly was sloppy. None of it consisted of specific moves – it was more of an entanglement puzzle for me. I don’t even know how I could break down what I did into a specific number of moves.

So, I want to do it again. This time, instead of turning it over to release the pieces in an uncoordinated mass, I’m going to see if I can specifically slide and raise/lower the pieces to find a more elegant solution.

In the end, I managed a somewhat more elegant solution, but it still wasn’t really made up of specific logical moves. Instead, I shifted the “notes” around which opened up gaps in which I was able to remove some pieces. Some of the times I twisted a “note” to get it out and that didn’t necessarily feel like a correct move. The problem is, that when the pieces are away from the frame, there is nothing to keep them from rotating, thus it would be very hard to actually do this puzzle while keeping all the pieces on a perfect grid.

The second attempt – You can see this piece easily lifts out – but another piece has to rotate for this to be possible – is this an intended solution?

Overall, I enjoyed this puzzle because it was very different from anything I’ve worked on before. At the same time I was a bit disappointed because I had a hard time solving this puzzle with what I think is the intended solution. Not because it was difficult, but because the pieces tended to shift and rotate which pushed me towards what felt like sloppy solutions. I think that if the “notes” were somehow held more inline and in a grid – if perhaps they were contained in more of a box, then the intended “dance” of the “notes” would have been more noticeable and enjoyable.

ARACNA – Alfons Eyckmans

Ok, Today I have ARACNA by Alfons Eyckmans. The name makes sense considering what is inside the puzzle, but for some reason, I’ve been saying “Arcana” to myself the last week or so. Ah well, sometimes the eye sees what it wants and not what’s really there.

Anyway, this is a new puzzle from Pelikan and its beautiful. I know, I know – I say that about all the puzzles (especially Pelikan puzzles) – but this one is pretty special. I bought the Ovangkol variant which has stunning wood grains. Fun Fact – If Ovangkol gets wet, it releases a strong unpleasant odor! (I just read that over at www.wood-database.com) While I am tempted to experience the odor, I don’t think I’ll be dunking this puzzle anytime soon.


Onward! Let’s solve this beast. Well, I’ve been playing with this puzzle for about 15 minutes now and it is very fun. It took me a while to locate the first couple moves, but now, 3 moves in I’ve hit a deadend. At this point nothing wants to move – but I’ve got to be very careful because its quite easy to hide moves when you have 12 pieces that can all potentially move in multiple direction.

Well, I had to backtrack a bit and find a new path. I’m now 6 moves in and things are heating up. And by heating up, I mean falling apart. As the puzzle moves towards its’ solution, it will becomes looser and looser (I assume). At this stage, its still locked together quite nicely, but I can sense that in another few moves things will open up.

Pieces starting to move and a tiny peak of what’s inside

I’m not sure how many moves in I am at this point, but I just had a very excellent breakthrough moment where a block of pieces all slid together as one unit. I muttered an audible “What the F!” as two major groups of blocks just moved apart from one another. How cool is that!!?

Well, it may be cool, but it’s also scary. This puzzle feels like its barely holding together so I’ll have to proceed carefully and methodically if I don’t want it to fall apart on me. I feel like I should be able to remove a piece at this point and indeed, there is a piece that is very loose, the problem is that the ends are too big for it to exit the available hole. I’ll have to keep searching.

Oh my. After playing a little longer, I discovered some additional moves that I could make with 2 particular pieces. This little shuffle then released the first piece! Wow, I didn’t expect that piece to release first but there it is. Wow, this puzzle gets really intense at this point. I’ve been feeling like I’m real deep in the weeds here, kind of beyond the point of no return, but still close to familiar ground so retreat may be possible. And the more I manipulate the pieces, the looser the overall structure gets and all these little movements are happening that I can’t keep track of and then wammo, that first piece drops out.

I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get this back together or not, but lets keep forging ahead. Well, I took the next 2 pieces out in a very un-puzzlelike way. There was no sliding or calculated move, I just grabbed them and pulled them out!

Well with 4 pieces out, I’d expect the puzzle to fall apart. Nope. It’s being stubborn and requiring more effort. But, a few more minutes of tinkering is all it takes and piece number 5 comes out. The puzzle is not done yet, as the next few pieces take some additional moves. After that, it’s all over and the spider is released – It’s Huge!

The spider sits atop his home. Don’t worry spider, I’ll get it back together

Ah, what an excellent puzzle. Its got everything I’m looking for. The difficulty was perfect – it is challenging enough that it takes a good amount of focus, but its not overly difficult. I didn’t feel frustrated at any point – there was always a move to be made – just not always the correct one. There were also a number of great a-ha! moments too. And finally, once the puzzle is solved, you get to see the treasure inside!

Now on to the assembly. I’m not gonna lie here – I took photos of disassembly and I plan to use those to reassemble. I think a blind reassembly is beyond my abilities – especially with 12 pieces! You would think that the enclosed arachnid would make assembly easier, and perhaps it does, but it’s still not easy enough for me to attempt.

Big ole pile of burr sticks. Wood grains are spectacular.

As is, it still took me close to an hour to get this puzzle back together. It was not easy, but it was fun and I felt a nice zing of joy when it finally went back together. The difficulty is getting all the piece in just right before adding the final 3-4 pieces. And those final 3-4 pieces were quite challenging as the puzzle felt like it was going to fall apart at any minute. And even once those final pieces go in, there are still a few tenuous moves before the puzzle “holds together.”

Overall, I really enjoyed this puzzle. Manipulating the pieces was very satisfying thanks to the amazing craftsmanship and the final moves were especially fun – both in the assembly and disassembly. The difficulty was spot on as well. I had to work for the solution, but I was never stonewalled for long. The assembly was difficult though. I’d like to revisit it one day and see if I can find a more elegant solution as I felt clumsy and desperate.

Happy Puzzling!