Tube It In Packing Puzzle – Wil Strijbos

I am very excited about this one! Tube It In is a unique packing puzzle that consists of many different sized rectangular pieces that must all fit together inside the largest rectangle. This is one of those puzzles that really grabbed my eye and I knew right away that I had to have it.

This particular version was created by Eric Fuller over at CubicDissection.com, so I know it will be of superior construction, fit and finish.

When the puzzle arrived, I was a bit shocked to see that it was already assembled – I’m not sure if I forgot to select a “ship unassembled” option, or if this is just the way Eric decided to package this puzzle, but either way, I quickly opened it up and with eyes closed, I quickly disassembled the puzzle working hard not to peek or gain any insight. The other thing I noticed is that the puzzle is rather small. It’s always hard to determine scale from some photos on the internet, but somehow, I expected a larger puzzle. This is not a problem, however, as the smaller it is, the easier it is to hide in the collection and the less likely I will take any heat for ordering “yet another puzzle.”

The puzzle is composed of 14 different pieces and all of them a different variety of wood. It’s beautiful and despite the small pieces, the construction is superb. It must have been tricky cutting and assembling all these tiny little rectangles with perfect precision, but if anyone it up to the task, it is Eric.

14 beautiful pieces to assemble.

Ok, I’m excited to try this out and see how it goes, I’m not particularly talented when it comes to assembling packing puzzles, but for some reason, this one seemed like it would be easier – after all, I know that I have to pack the small pieces into the big ones, so that should make things easier, right?

Let’s have a go.

Well, I’ve spent a good 10 minutes on this puzzle so far, and I thought that I had it solved, but it turns out, I was wrong. I had a very nice false “a ha” moment, where I thought I was being tricky, but this stubborn little puzzle isn’t giving up its secrets so easily. It really is fun to work with though. I am enjoying this 3 dimensional packing challenge.

Many ways that these pieces can fit into each other

Another 5 minutes later, and with my kids watching, I figure it out and have it solved! Yay! We all shout! Super fun little puzzle for sure! I think the addition of the magnets its a really smart idea as they hold the puzzle together once it is completed.

It turns out my false “a ha” was actually the correct move – I just had a couple of pieces in the wrong place after that particular move. It’s interesting because even if you know the correct placement of all the pieces, there is still a bit of a sequence required to fit everything in. The tolerances are so tight that if put in out of order, the pieces just don’t fit, which tripped me up for a bit.

assembly complete! The magnets ensure it won’t come apart accidentally.

This is a great packing puzzle. A logical thought process will yield positive results and the number of possibilities is limited by the fact that they must fit within each other. These two factors combine for a fun puzzle that feels good to solve. Definitely a puzzle that I can hand to friends and relatives – provided they are careful to not lose any of the small pieces.

Improved Cam Box – Eric Fuller

Whelp, I caved in and bought another puzzle box. After feeling super excited about solving Topless Box, I decided to splurge again on Eric’s next offering – Improved Cam Box. My wallet is in trouble though because the next 3 months releases all have more boxes – Escalating Box, Secret Agent Puzzle Box, and Death Box. Oh My, that’s a lot of boxes to come!

Improved Cam Box is beautifully constructed of African Mahogany with a Black Limba top and bottom. It looks amazing and the construction is a masterclass in precision woodworking. The dark streaks in the Black Limba provide a striking contrast to the overall appearance of the box.

Beautifully precise construction makes this box special.

Straight off the bat, there aren’t too many clues as to how to open this thing. The construction is such that it appears that the sides will possibly slide up and down and the top and bottom both have a peculiar and distinct line cut into them. Otherwise, there is nothing outward to give away the secrets. There are no loose parts inside, no rattling pieces and the puzzle feels largely hollow. Time to investigate further.

The sides do in fact slide a bit, but only a little bit. I am able to slide one of the sides maybe a quarter inch, which then allows the top (or is it bottom?) to slide another bit, which then allows to the other side to slide a small bit. All these bits don’t add up to much however as they neither unlock the puzzler nor reveal any additional clues. The one thing that has my scratching my head is the purpose of a magnet that is revealed after sliding the side down (or is it up?) Why is this magnet here? What purpose does it server? And what do I do next?

The sides slide up to reveal a smallish visible magnet. But, what does it do?

And I’m thoroughly stumped. I can make the above movements happen, but after that there is nothing to do. I’ve repeated the steps forward and back, over and over, and still no realization about how to move forward. It’s at this point that I think I need to stop and analyze things. Why is this called the “cam” box. What is a cam exactly? I have a background in rock climbing, and to me, a cam is a device that sticks into the cracks in rocks and as a force is applied, the “cams” push out into the rocks. As more force is applied, the cams push harder into the rock, thus providing anchor points in an otherwise anchor-less crack. But, how does that apply to this puzzle… hmmm…

I spent another few frustrating sessions working on this box to no avail. And then, one evening I tried a new move that I hadn’t thought of before. (Isn’t this always the way?) And sure enough, I had a solution. Curiously, although I could repeat the process, I still wasn’t sure what the mechanism was or how it really worked.

Puzzle solved! Box Opened!

It wasn’t until many days later, after thinking about things for a while that I really understood what was going on (and the purpose of the magnet). I have to say that this is a very clever puzzle box! The thing I really appreciate is the subtle misdirection that is happening. I won’t say any more, but there is a reason why the particular move took me so long to try. Very clever indeed! One has to be very observant to solve these puzzle boxes! Which is another reason they take me a while – I tend to fiddle more than I tend to observe.

Topless Box – Eric Fuller

This puzzle box is quite amazing. The journey that it took me on from initial inspection to solution to understanding and examining the mechanics was nothing short of magical. I generally stay away from puzzle boxes – I spend enough time and money on other types that I have put a self-limitation on what I will buy – but when I saw this one offered by Eric, I just couldn’t resist.

A simple box flawlessly constructed and brilliantly devised.

The box itself is quite simple in appearance – and that greatly adds to the elegance of the experience. It’s a simple cube that has a lid on the top and a lid on the bottom. Both lids are secured by magnetic force and can be easily removed. However, removing them does not open the box, it just reveals a solid panel beneath. And… that’s about it. That’s all there is to work with.

The lid comes off, but the box doesn’t open.

With most puzzles that I have solved, there are pieces to utilize – you have to stuff a bunch of pieces into a box, or you have to take apart an existing cube, etc. The main difference here is that there is not much to work with. Thus, I had to really change my approach to solving this. I couldn’t just fiddle with pieces, I couldn’t really use trial and error, there was nothing to map out. It’s just a box with 2 lids. The process then, becomes more of a cerebral exercise. What exactly is going on here and what clues are there. The box itself feels empty. There are no rattling parts, nothing shifts inside, there really are no such obvious clues as to how to progress.

For many weeks, this puzzle sat on my shelf. I’d pick it up every once in a while and pop the lids off while shaking my head in defeat. After a few minutes, I’d return it to the shelf and wonder if I’d ever solve it.

Eventually, with enough prodding, I discovered how the box was put together. This was great, but at the same time I was even more confused. What was holding it together? How do I open it? The usual methods of spinning and banging didn’t yield any results nor did they feel like they should. It almost seemed that there was some magical force holding the box together. I was envisioning all sorts of crazy internal mechanisms holding it together, but nothing I imagined was even close. I tried all sorts of random things with the lids, but again, nothing yielded any results.

The box sat on the shelf for many more weeks and I moved on to other puzzles. Then, last night, I decided to spend some more time with it. Again, I ran through all of my previous failed ideas – and again they failed. I finally just say there and stared at the box and instead of trying random things, I used my brain to really think about things. This lead me to try something that then yielded a very small result and I knew I was on the right track. A few minutes later and I had the box open.

Amazing! The feeling of opening this was like none other! I was so excited, I was shaking and overcome with a flood of adrenaline. I had finally done it!

The inside of the box without revealing any mechanisms 🙂

Well, I knew what I had done, but I still wasn’t sure how it had worked, so I spent the next few minutes examining the insides, the mechanism and the trick to opening it. And I was further amazed – and impressed – and awed. In Neil Hutchinson’s Blog – Puzzling-Parts – He describes it as “elegant” – and I couldn’t agree more. It is so incredibly elegant. It’s so satisfying to finally understand how it works and to see the mechanism in action. I closed and opened the box many times and each subsequent time produced a huge smile, over and over.

Perhaps I should rethink my self-imposed ban on puzzle boxes. I know its a deep rabbit hole to venture down, but man, this thing was incredibly fun and supremely satisfactory to solve. Well done Eric. That was awesome!

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!

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.

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!

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.

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.