Bouquet – Christoph Lohe

I’ve been working on this puzzle on and off for a few weeks now and it sure is proving to be a stubborn one. I’ve found a path forward and am now about 19 moves in, but the puzzle just hits a dead end. In fact this puzzle has many, many dead ends. I know that once I get that first piece out, it will be trivial from that point forward, but I just can’t figure out where to go from here. I’ve been mapping out my progress, testing every path forward, diagramming every dead end, backtracking, trying new paths and still, no luck.

Stuck in an endless loop of moves, I can’t seem to find the path forward.

I’m at the point where I may have to backtrack 10 or so moves to find a different path forward, but the logical side of my brain says that there’s no way this puzzle has such an elaborate and misleading path forward. Surely, there can’t be a 19 move trick solution leading only to a dead end… right?

Welcome to Bouquet designed by Christoph Lohe and expertly crafted by Brian Menold over at Wood Wonders. This gorgeous puzzle has been a thorn in my side since I purchased it last month. Despite the rigors, this puzzle is great. The moves have been fun and the burr sticks are of a very unique and misleading shape. The ends of the burr sticks are offset, which has been wreaking havoc on my ability to visualize what is happening. The puzzle is beautiful and aptly named as it does look like a Bouquet. I chose the Wenge Frame with Maple and Paduak pieces and am very happy with it. There are still some available here – so if it sounds enticing to you, go ahead and pick one up before they are gone.

It’s a beautiful puzzle. Both the form and the choice of wood make for a striking display.

Round and round I go in an endless loop. I’ve got the moves and positions memorized and I’m desperately hoping that there is just one little hidden move that will open up a new path forward. But, my hopes are dimmed because I’ve already spent too long in this cycle. I need to bite the bullet and backtrack, or maybe even start over. It’s funny how this is the obvious way forward, and still, I’m consciously avoiding it.

Ok, so I worked my way back to the beginning again and then forward again, searching for any hidden paths along the way. And unfortunately, I didn’t find any. I ended up right back where I was before. About 12 moves in there is a many pronged fork in the road. And it is here that I’ve been stuck doing the endless loop. The furtherst path forward was about 7 more moves, but then hit another dead end. So I started to explore and document every possible combination.

But this time something different happened. One of those paths forward looked and felt like I was simply backtracking, but I noticed that this wasn’t quite the case. It was close to backtracking, but there was a slight variation along the way that made all the difference. I soon found a new configuration and new I was on the right track and to my delight, the first Burr stick was released! Wow! What a feeling! This is one tricky puzzle!

So, now I have one piece out, let’s see how it goes from here. As expected, the remaining pieces were relatively easy to remove. Piece number 2 came right out and then there was some manipulation required to release the 3rd. After that, they all came out easily.

A wonderful feeling of accomplishment after many hours of struggle!

Woo Hoo! I’m super happy about this one. What a clever little puzzle this was! I think the biggest roadblock for me was that I had my mind made up as to which piece was going to be released first and thus kept trying to work moves that would accomplish that when in reality, I was misleading myself. Also, add in the tricky spot that felt like backtracking, but really wasn’t and this puzzle is definitely a fun and challenging one.

One more shot of the glory. Those offset burr pieces make this very challenging.

The shape of the frame and the unique burr sticks all add up to make this an unforgettable experience for me. It’s been a while since I’ve really focused all my energy on solving a tricky puzzle and today was a great day because that determination finally paid off! What a cool puzzle! I took some pictures on disassembly and will surely be needing them to put this one back together again!

LunaTIC – Andrew Crowell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, one night, the magic happens..

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

One of the many confusing configurations of this puzzle.

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

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

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

Highly recommended for all!

PackTIC #7 – Andrew Crowell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FanaTIC – Andrew Crowell

FanaTIC Complete

Wow! I am sure excited for this one. I have FanaTIC designed by Andrew Crowell and crafted by Brian Menold over at wood wonders.

Now, I have to say that acquiring this cube was no easy feat. Brian offered up 7 new puzzles and 4 remakes for his May 5th release and Holy Crap did these things sell out quick! I’m usually pretty good about getting in right at the release and picking up everything I want, but this time, I struck out on a few items that I really wanted. GalacTIC was at the top of my list, but there were only a few copies available for this release, so they went quicker than I could grab one and I foolishly opted not to reserve one for $1 – and then that too sold out! I also missed out on PackTIC #5 which seemed to sell quicker than the others (or there was less stock).

But, it is okay because there will always be more puzzles to buy in the future and in the end I did manage to secure 4/7 New puzzles and 3/4 of the Remakes. RIP my wallet.

FanaTIC. Yes! I can’t wait. Let’s go!

It’s been a little while since I ordered from WoodWonders (I skipped the last release) but I’m always very happy with their packaging. I think packaging for puzzles has to be a bit difficult for the puzzle maker. Some puzzles come assembled, some disassembled. They come in many different shapes and sizes. Should packaging have a name? A Label? Clues on the solution? Should a solution be included? Everyone seems to do it a little different, but I like Brian’s boxes, labels and shrink-wrapping. I like how the shrink-wrap captures the smell of the workshop and I like that the label has a picture. After one’s collection grows into the hundreds, it starts to become difficult to remember every puzzle, every name, every solution. So this gives me a little backup insurance if, down the line, I forget some info. At the same time it also means that I am collecting cardboard boxes (evidence) as well as puzzles.

Ok, lets get started. First off, I really like the size of this puzzle. It’s definitely smaller than the last TICs I bought from Brian and somehow that feels right. The smaller size creates a tighter feel and all the pieces feel really solid.

pieces of the puzzle
6 pieces to assemble. One solution. 5 rotations. Here we go!

This puzzle has 5 pieces and comes disassembled so my objective here is to put it together and form a cube. From the description, I know that there are 5 rotations and that it “assembles a little differently than any of the others” whatever that may mean.

I’ve got an hour to work on this so lets see if I can get it done.

Ok, there are actually 6 pieces to this puzzle! Turns out there was a little 5 voxel T-shaped piece hiding out inside another piece. Ok, pretty sure that’s it. Here we go.

I’m about 10 minutes in and I’ve had my first little breakthrough.

See, at first, it felt pretty hopeless. These Crowell designed TICs always seem to be composed of strange shapes, yet there always seems to be a bit of a pattern. There’s usually 1-2 larger “cage” pieces, followed by 3-4 “filler” pieces and lastly there are always 1-2 “keys”. The keys are usually small 5-6 voxels pieces that are called on to rotate into place and lock the structure together. Understanding how to use these keys is fundamental to understanding these TIC puzzles.

Back to my breakthrough – I managed to get 2 filler pieces into a cage piece in what can only be the correct position. That leaves 3 more pieces to fit in. Another thing about these designs. It’s usually not difficult to figure out where the pieces go – what is difficult is figuring out the sequence required to get the pieces into place.

Well, I was wrong about my little breakthrough. I still think that I have a couple of the pieces put together correctly, but that third piece that I was feeling pretty sure about turned out to be false.

After another 15 minutes, I’ve definitely gotten 3 pieces in correctly (for reeeaal this time!) Now there are 3 more to go and then I’m going to have to figure out how the heck to get them all together.

At this point, I know where all the pieces go. But I am still a long way away from solving this. These TICs are terribly difficult to reverse-engineer. There’s always one little cube that prevents the piece from sliding home. I’m not sure how this goes together, but I’m determined to get there and I can’t wait to slowly disassemble this to really get to understand the mechanics.

After about 45 minutes. I took a break, packed the puzzle into my bag and headed home (yes, I do puzzles at work!) Later that evening, I took the puzzle out again and began to work. Within another 30 minutes I was basking in the glow of victory! These puzzles feel so good to complete, and for me, they are at a very pleasant difficulty level. I get to enjoy the process, but not stress out about remembering placements and such.

It takes quite a bit of movement to get that 4th piece into place!

In the end, it was just a matter of trial and error – well that and one really unique twisting and turning move. Because once you know the position of all the pieces all that is left is figuring out what order they go in and how. I was stumped for a while with figuring out how to get the 1st 3-4 pieces together. It just doesn’t seem possible. Its easy to get 3 out of 4 in place, but that 4th piece is always blocked by the first 3. It was quite maddening for a while – that is until I discovered “The Move” Yes, that 4th piece requires 7 moves and 3 rotations and is super fun to execute. Figuring this all out in reverse (assembly) order made this puzzle 10x more fun than if it had come assembled. Kudos for that decision.

The other great thing about this puzzle? Once I had it completed, it took me 15-20 minutes to figure out the first disassembly move! The craftsmanship is so good and the pieces are so tight that even though I had just done the puzzle, I really had no idea how to open it up again – and the puzzle offered no clues. I eventually go there, of course, but it sure baffled me for a while there.

how to get the next piece in
2 more pieces to go!

I’d also like to praise the addition of pins into these TICs. More than other puzzles, I find these TICs to be easy to overly stress the pieces. Rotating pieces can add a ton of unintentional force and I’ve actually snapped off a piece on another puzzle while trying to find the correct rotation. So, I am very happy to see strategically placed pins to offer more structural support for these types of puzzles. Though I have to say that I did factor in the placement of the pin into my solution. It doesn’t make sense to reinforce a piece that is not subjected to rotation, therefore I new from the beginning which piece would be doing the major rotation.

FanaTIC Complete
The completed puzzle. What a ride! Note the brass pin to add strength at a critical point.

Overall, an awesome puzzle to add to my growing collection of TICs. Speaking of which – does anyone know how many of these there are? Is it possible to collect them all? I don’t know but I’m going to try.

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.