Inelegant Cube – Haym Hirsh

Today, I have the Inelegant Cube designed by Haym Hirsh and beautifully crafted by Brian Menold at Woodwondersonline. This particular version of the puzzle was crafted using Red Louro, Yellowheart and Wenge pieces. It was $5 more than the other version, but I thought the extra pop from the yellowheart was really worth it. Once assembled, this puzzle displays beautifully on the shelf thanks to the included stand. The stand was also very helpful in the assembly process.

The puzzle is comprised of 9 “L shaped” pieces which are each made from 3 identically shaped blocks. However, those 3 blocks are glued together in many different configurations so each of the 9 pieces is unique.

All you have to do is combine these 9 pieces into a cube. Not an easy task.

This was a very challenging puzzle for me. I haven’t worked on a puzzle like this before, so I didn’t have much strategy going into it. A typical session would involve me randomly placing pieces onto the stand in hopes that I would magically arrive at the solution. This strategy didn’t work well and I would often give up after only a few minutes of effort. I didn’t seem to be making any progress and furthermore, I wasn’t eliminating any possibilities either.

At one point, while I was working on a solution, I put two pieces together and they just seemed correct. Finally, I had something to work with and had a tiny bit of hope. This hope soon fizzled out when I fumbled the puzzle and lost track of those two pieces that seemed to fit together so well. Once again, I gave up and shelved the puzzle.

I then decided to bring the puzzle to work and in between work tasks, I was able to spend a bit of time working on things. After what seemed like an eternity, I slowly started to work out a strategy.

There were a few key factors that started to help me push towards a solution. The first was that all the sides had to be level. This seems obvious now, but for some reason it took me a while to realize this. Accordingly, if the sides had to be level, then any configuration where sides aren’t level can be thrown out. The second factor is that the wood types do not have to alternate. For a long time I assumed that two pieces of the same wood type couldn’t sit next to each other, but eventually I determined that this was false. The third factor was using the base as a guide to how much overhang the pieces required. The puzzle doesn’t fit perfectly on the base, rather it has a slight overhang, thus if any configurations produced a larger or smaller overhang, I knew they were not correct.

A nearly completed cube. By keeping the sides level or flush with each other, I was able to build the solution through trial and error.

Armed with these realizations, I began a more methodical process of trial and error. I soon had one side of the cube completed in what I thought was the correct configuration. With one side complete, it was just a matter of time to correctly place the remaining blocks. However, as it turns out, I did not have the first side correct and so my trial and error process eventually ended with no solution and no remaining combinations to try. Failure again!

Back to the drawing board I went. I re-examined my “correct side” and discovered that there were a couple of pieces that I could swap out which then led to additional combinations to attempt.

Finally, after many days of work, I slid that last piece in and the puzzle was correctly assembled. Wow. What a fun puzzle to complete!

It’s so satisfying to finally solve this puzzle!

This puzzle was a major challenge for me. I didn’t have much experience to draw from and thus didn’t have much of a strategy to start. I felt rather helpless in my first handful of attempts and it wasn’t until those first 2 pieces fit together that I felt a glimmer of hope. In the end, it was the process of elimination that allowed me to find the solution.

I really enjoyed this puzzle and despite its’ name, I found it to be quite elegant.

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.