## FastMaze #1 – Dan Fast

FastMaze #1 arrived today and I am beyond excited to give this a try. Ever since pictures were posted on FB, I have been anxious to get my hand dirty on this one. There something about how this one looks – It just screams “play with me!”

FastMaze is an aluminum puzzle designed by Dan Fast and manufactured by Cubicdissection. It is comprised of 3 plates and 4 brass pins. The objective is to move the plates and pins until the puzzle is completely disassembled. It looks straightforward, all parts are visible, so no hidden tricks on this one, but with a 52.24.28.10.9.14 solution, I already know that I’m in for a long haul.

First impression is that this is going to be challenging. A couple minutes of play and it’s becoming increasingly clear that there is a lot more going on than I first thought. Each plate moves independently as does each brass pin. thus there are multiple items to track at once. And although I can see all the plates clearly, there are still parts of the middle plate that are obstructed by the top plate. I can see some round holes in the plates that I would assume are the exit points of the pins. So now, all I have to do is position the pins above those holes. Easy enough, right? But, how many dead ends are there? And, how deep do the dead ends go? No idea, but let’s find out!

Straight out of the box, none of the plates will move. However, 3 of the pins will. And with each movement of a pin, I am seemingly unlocking more movements for the plates which in turn opens up more movement options for the pins.

Ok, I’ve been messing around for about 15 minutes and have a few observations. The puzzle is definitely challenging. It’s not easy to keep track of all the moving parts. Often times I’ll feel stuck in a dead end only to realize that if I just move one of the pins slightly, then another pathway opens up. Also, I had a couple of the pins unscrew a bit on me, so now I know to keep them tight and occasionaly check them. Not a big deal.

Ok, I’m about 30 minutes into this beast and I think I’m making some progress. It’s one of those puzzles where I don’t exactly know what I’m doing or where I’m going, but I sort of fix a goal in my head to move a pin into a certain spot and then I push and pull in different directions until something moves, then I adjust and keep going. The pins are definitely moving through the maze, but whether or not I’m actually progressing toward the goal – I have no idea.

It’s a fun puzzle to manipulate. The plates are heavy and the sound of metal on metal is pleasing. The pins slide effortlessly and the micro-chamfered edges really do make a difference. There is zero sticking or binding of any of the pieces. It’s smooth sailing the entire time.

Day Two. I’ve made some more progress (I think), but am also stuck. I’ve managed to manipulate one of the brass pins into position above a circular hole in the top plate. I can push the pin down into that hole, but then the whole puzzle becomes locked up. I’ve spent a good hour or so playing with this position, hoping that something will give, but thus far, no further progress. I’m fairly certain that I need to backtrack. And I have no idea if I’m actually any closer to a solution.

So far, most of this solve has been trial and error. I just move some pins, move some plates and see what opens up. Occasionally, I’ll flip the puzzle over and start working from the other side. This seems to open up more possibilities, but at the same time I sort of lose track of my initial goals.

I’m now wondering if the goal should be to align the 3 larger holes in the plates. If these were aligned, then a pin could pass all the way through in one move. This idea seems to make sense to me, so it is now going to be the goal.

Heck Yeah! I got a pin out and boy does it feel good! I had to employ a little rotation, but after re-reading the puzzle description, It is clear that rotations are allowed! So – Boom! Take that, FastMaze!

Ok, now 3 pins left to go. I’m looking at 24 or so moves to get the next one out. Let’s go!

And Boom! Pin #2 is free! This one was definitely easier. The plates were much easier to manipulate with only 3 pins and it seems clear that pins #3 and #4 will be even easier.

#3 was indeed easier and #4 was trivial. The puzzle definitely gets “looser” as pins are removed such that I employed many, many rotations to get pin #3 out, and #4 was trivial to remove.

Wow! What a fun puzzle. It seemed very daunting at first and I had no idea what to do or where to go, but with time and experimentation I began to see progress and develop a goal. The puzzle was a good challenge, but certainly not impossible. 52 moves to free the first pin seemed monumental, but when there are 4 pins and 3 plates to manipulate, you can burn through those moves fairly quickly.

I really enjoyed this puzzle for a few different reasons. I liked the process of figuring it out, and also really like aluminum and brass as they are durable and heavy. I handed the puzzle off to my kids a few times without fear that they would break it or get it “stuck” forever. The fact that you can unscrew the pins and reset the puzzle at any time is also a bonus.

Overall, I would recommend this puzzle to anyone that is interested. There is also a FastMaze 2 and a FastMaze 3 which are both more difficult than this one. All 3 can be found at Cubicdissection.com for \$65 each. They are selling fast, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see another run of these produced in the future.

*Full Disclosure – I was sent an advance copy of this puzzle to review for this blog. All opinions are my own and are based on my experience with this puzzle.

## Psycho Disks – Eric Fuller

Psycho Disks is a relatively new puzzle designed and created by Eric Fuller at Cubicdissection. It’s composed of aluminum and brass and weighs in at about 1/3 of a pound or 148g. Considering it’s only 1.2″ x 2.4″ in size, it feels heavy in the hand.

When I first saw this one listed for sale, I knew I had to have it. This is exactly the type of intriguing puzzle that I love. It looks simple and gives nothing away. All the tricky bits are nicely hidden inside. It is pleasant to hold and manipulate and doubles as a fidget toy or paperweight.

When I first received the puzzle, I was stumped. According to Eric, the puzzle is inspired by Phil Wigfield’s ‘Spinning Tumblers’ puzzle – and having never seen or played with that particular puzzle, I had no idea what to do. The description calls it a Take-Apart puzzle, so I knew I had to disassemble it somehow, but it was not clear at all how to accomplish said task.

Upon arrival, I took it out and began experimenting. The two ends could freely rotate and so could all the disks sandwiched in between, but that was about all I could discover. There was some sort of small metallic souding piece that rattled inside one of the end pieces too. Other than that there was very little movement. The tolerances were tight and thus there were no gaps between pieces.

For a few days, I was stumped. I didn’t put a ton of time into really thinking about possibilites, rather I just enjoyed holding the puzzle and spinning the disks. I handed it off to my son and let him play with it, but he quickly became bored and moved on. Hmm, no progress yet.

The puzzle sat on the shelf for a couple of weeks. Then as I was preparing for a cross-country road trip, I decided that I’d bring it along and see if I could get anywhere in the car. That’s when my first breakthrough occured.

I was spinning the disks when I noticed that one of them was stuck. It would no longer spin. I knew this meant something, I just didn’t know what. When puzzling, we are always looking for a change, something different – whether that is a new path to take, a new rotation or just a new idea to work on, these differences are what tells us that we are making progress.

Inspired by this new development I put the puzzle in the car and started driving. Somewhere along the way, my wife took the wheel and I was free to puzzle. At this point I started making some real progress. I began developing some theories about how to solve the puzzle and sure enough things seemed to be headed in the right direction. I progressed through the sequence as I had hoped. I still had no idea what I was doing or how the internal mechanism was working, but still the puzzle was behaving as I had hoped and so I was optimistic.

I felt that I was close to solving it (and I was), but I still couldn’t work out how to get the darn thing open. What was I missing?

The puzzle went back in the glove box and I moved on – stumped again.

It wasn’t until a few weeks later, we were driving around and I heard some rattling in the car. What the heck was that? Oh yeah, the puzzle in the glove box was making that noise. Once again I was pulled into puzzle mode. This time determined to figure it out. And this time, I tried something slightly different and behold the puzzle was solved! I was then able to take it apart and see what was going on.

Interestingly, I was still a bit confused by the mechanism. Even with the guts laid bare, I still had some questions. A little more thought and experimenting and it finally dawned on me what was going on. It was at this point that I really began to appreciate the cleverness of this thing. The way the pieces work together to allow the final move is pretty darn cool. It’s simple, but it’s clever.

There are still some of these available at cubicdissection.com and it’s definitely a puzzle that I would recommend. I love that Eric is working with metal now and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

## Sloot 3 – Alfons Eyckmans

Ah, Sloot 3, a November 2019 release from Cubicdissection.com that didn’t seem to garner much attention. Perhaps this puzzle was overshadowed by many of the other amazing puzzles released last November – Split Maze Burr, Escalating Box, Small Box #3 & #4 come to mind.

I’m guilty of overlooking this one as well. Sometimes I order too many puzzles, can’t get to them all and so they end up in my “box of unsolved” puzzles. This one suffered such a fate. While my attention was on the small box series, this one collected dust and went forgotten. But, today is a new day and I’m feeling motivated to knock it out.

Sloot 3 is a very cool puzzle. It looks like a typical 6 piece board burr puzzle, but closer inspection reveals hidden complexities. The edges of the burr pieces have these outer slots into which tabs on the inner side of the boards fit. This restricts movement and adds an extra element that must be considered when disassembling this puzzle.

Maybe the coolest part of all this is that these outer slots are NOT simply routed into the wood. Eric has crafted these channels out of solid wood. It’s a subtle detail, but a very impressive one that really makes this puzzle stand out. It’s exactly these types of details that separates Cubic Dissection puzzles from the pack. The extra attention surely cost more time and material, but the result is worth it and why I choose to spend the extra money.

So, I’ve been playing with this puzzle for the past couple of days. I think I am close to getting the first piece out, but I am currently stuck at a dead end. It’s a fun puzzle to manipulate. The channels and tabs prevent obvious movements thus a more calculated approach is required. The channels also keep this puzzle locked in tight. There’s no wiggle room.

After several hours, I eventually escaped the repeating dead-end maze-loop and found an excellent hidden move. Bah! how did I miss that! What a cool puzzle! This little move opened up a whole bunch of other options and now I know that I’m getting close.

After a bit more manipulation I see how I can remove the first piece. Yes! fantastic! I remove the first piece and it’s not over yet. The puzzle doesn’t just fall apart. There’s still some calculated moves required to get out piece #2. But, it’s not too difficult and soon enough I have the whole puzzle apart! Awesomeness. Man it feels good to solve a puzzle!

Ok, the assembly. Truth be told, I took some photos of the final moves, so I used those as a guide to put things back together. I don’t know if I have the ability to do the assembly without help. It certainly would have taken a long, long time, and, well, I have more puzzles to do, so there it is.

Overall a very fun puzzle that I found to be rather approachable despite it’s difficulty rating (16.6.4) Highly recommended if you can find a copy.

## Small Box #4 – “Paradox Box” – Eric Fuller

Well, it’s been a while since I wrote one of these blog posts. Life has been busy and I have been negligent. I haven’t stopped puzzling, I’ve just taken a little break from writing about them. Sometimes its nice to be carefree about solving puzzles and not feel obligated to wait for the perfect time where I can write down my thoughts and document the solve. Hopefully I will get back to regular posting in 2020. By the way – Happy New Year to everyone out there in puzzle land.

Another month (or two) has passed and I have another Small Box puzzle from Eric. This time I have Small Box #4 and boy, was this one fun!

The Small Box series has been wonderful. I have always shied away from puzzle boxes. They are usually expensive and once you solve them, they just become decorations on the shelf. I kind of viewed them as a novelty. Well, my admittedly naive opinion has officially changed. The small box series is what really did it for me too. The price point is far more palatable and something about the small size makes them even more approachable. These boxes are also perfect to hand to friends and family during gatherings. There is something irritating about NOT being able to open them which really makes people determined to do so.

Small Box #4 is beautiful. It is slightly larger than the other 3 boxes, clocking in at roughly 3″x2″x1.5″. It is composed of an Ash box and an Bloodwood top. The contrast of colors is eye catching and the construction, as always, is top notch perfection.

Small Box #4 has stumped me for quite some time. The description is perfect “… seems easy at first. Movement here…movement there…what you need to do is immediately apparent, but seems impossible to achieve.” This was exactly my experience. I was caught in an endless loop of the same movements. I just couldn’t figure out any alternative moves or ideas.

Back and forth, back and forth I went. And so, it sat on the shelf for many weeks. Occasionally, I’d pick it up and slide the top back and forth achieving the same nothing over and over. I was truly confounded. What was I missing? Sliding the box top to the left allows the left side to move up. Sliding the box top to the right allows the right side to move up. The problem is, you need both sides to slide up to move the bottom panel.

There had to be something else going on. And, having solved the other 3 small boxes, I knew that somewhere there was a solution. But, that solution kept eluding me. Eventually, I forgot about the puzzle and moved on.

Then, randomly one day, I picked it up again and and was struck with an idea. I tried the idea and failed, but at least I had made some sort of progress – it wasn’t physical progress, it was mental progress. I had broken through the endless loop with a new idea. This gave me motivation to carry forward.

Steadfast in my belief, I tried that same idea again, but in a different place and sure enough – Ah Ha! It worked! I sat back and marveled at yet another Eric Fuller creation. It is such an amazing rush of adrenaline to solve these things. The pain and agony of the endless loop of non-progress is always rewarded in the end when the box is opened. There must be a life-lesson here. Keep pursuing even in the difficult times as you will be rewarded in the end.

What a great feeling and what a clever puzzle. This may be my favorite of the 4 small boxes released thus far. The small box series is currently sold out, but you can find more of Eric’s puzzles Here.

## Small Box One – “Window Box” – Eric Fuller

Eric decided to do a series of small puzzle boxes, and I for one, am super happy with that plan. I like the size and the price point of these.

In Small Box One, we have what looks to be a sliding drawer type puzzle, where the solution will allow the drawer to slide out. For now, it is stuck in place, though there is a small amount of play, as I can squeeze it shut just a hair and when I release, it pops back out. Clearly there are some magnets, or springs involved here.

The outside of the box is interesting, on the top, there is a circular window cut out that reveals the top of the drawer, which has a notch cut into its length. There is a magnet on the top as well. On either side, we find two more magnets centered on each side. That’s it for the outside clues, but I can also hear an object bouncing around inside the box that sounds like a small ball bearing. Ok, what does this tell us and how does this open? The description says “careful observation and experimenting is necessary to reveal its secrets.” Ok then, lets begin.

Ok, a few minutes in and it’s clear to me that there is more going on inside than just a ball bearing bouncing around inside a box. The ball bearing seems to be restricted in it’s movements and there is also another metallic sound that I can hear on occasion – perhaps some pins holding things in place? I can’t make any sense of what I’m hearing, but it is definitely more complex than I originally thought.

Ok, I’ve discovered something, which has led me down a new path of experimentation. I haven’t figured out the purpose of this something, but it does give me new things to try. External clues took me down this path, now lets see where it leads.

Ok, well I’ve not progressed any further, so more observation is needed. Why are there magnets on the side of the box? And what does the ball bearing on the inside do? I haven’t answered those questions yet, and I imagine they are key to figuring this thing out. I’m having a great time working on this though! I’m so excited to have affordable puzzle boxes to work on!

Wow! Holy Crap! I got it open and found the treasure – but I’m not sure what I did, or how I did it and I’m further confused by the internals that I’ve found. Oh my! And, of course, I quickly closed the box again instead of studying the mechanism, so now I’m back at the beginning trying to open the darn thing. I think that I have an idea of what I need to do but it’s not happening… hmmm.

A solid 20 minutes later and I have it back open again. I tried repeating the same procedure, but the box wouldn’t open. Then, things clicked into place and whamm-o it was open again. Yes! This time, I’m not closing it. This time, I’m going to study the interior and figure out exactly what is going on.

After a thorough examination, I’ve figured it out and am extremely impressed. There’s a surprising amount of elements working in perfect harmony. Precision woodwork, magnets, micro-magnets, an equal balance of deception and clues make this thing a masterpiece.

Overall, a fantastic introduction to the Small Box series. I have solved 3 out of the 4 at the time of this writing, and think this one may be the trickiest so far. I highly recommend this puzzle and everything else available at www.cubicdissection.com – just remember to keep these puzzle boxes in a climate controlled environment. The tolerances are very tight and changes in humidity can render these puzzles “stuck!”

## Harun Packing Puzzle – Dr. Volker Latussek

I try to be inspired before writing a blog post. I find that I write a much better, much more engaging post when I’m really enthralled with a puzzle. And this can lead to an interesting dilemma. I feel like I should write a post at least once every two weeks. And sometimes that deadline approaches and I just don’t feel that inspired to write about any of the puzzle I’ve worked on. And sometimes, I haven’t worked on anything at all for two weeks – I need brain breaks. The whole puzzle blogging thing can be quite a double edged sword. When I’m inspired, it comes easy and takes very little time, when I’m not, it becomes a chore. And as the deadline comes and goes, I start to feel guilty that I haven’t created any content. Which then forces me to work on a puzzle and write it up a lackluster post.

This week, however, I have the Harun Packing puzzle and I’m feeling motivated. As I’m typing this, I haven’t solved it, but I’ve put in a good number of hours over the last few weeks and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the process. As I’ve gotten to know the puzzle, I’ve grown to appreciate it’s devilish trickery. And I’ve also been completely enamored with the wood, the shapes and it’s construction. For some reason, it reminds me of candy. Perhaps the rectangular pieces are similar in size to those two piece starburst that the kids bring home on halloween. Whatever it is, this thing has me locked in to the point where I kind of don’t want to solve it, because I want it to last.

Tonight, I’m feeling inspired – and hoping that I can figure it out and thus record my thoughts and reactions when that magic moment comes.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve made some important discoveries about this particular puzzle. I don’t want to give anything away, but if one were to count up the voxels of the pieces and the voxels available in the container, I believe there would be a discrepancy of exactly 5 voxels. This is obviously important as the completed puzzle will contain voids. I spent way too long trying to figure out a solution that didn’t contain voids and was pulling my hair out.

Let me gush again about Eric’s work. These puzzles really are special to play with and experience. Part of it is the masterful design, but a very big part is also the exquisite construction – The beautiful wood grains, the absolute precision of the pieces make it pure joy to manipulate. It is clear that these are works of art and a labor of love and I can unequivocally state that I would not get near the enjoyment out of these puzzles were they made by an inferior craftsman. Hats off to Eric and his masterful creations.

You might ask yourself – “Self – how many times can I pack this puzzle incorrectly?” And the answer would be “Infinite!” Yes, I’ve packed this box so many times, my head is spinning. I’ve failed over and over. I’ve tried every clever combination that I can possible think of. I’ve thought out of the box, in the box and around the box. Yet, this puzzle remains stubbornly unsolved. I still feel that I can do it, however. I don’t know why, But I remain confident that the solution lies just around the corner, if only I can persevere..

For 4 more weeks, I struggled with this puzzle. I kept it available and every time I had a few minutes, I’d work on it. My kids would occasionally help with ideas and sometimes, they’d even come up with new things that I hadn’t thought of. I began to get very demoralized, though. I’d read online about other people solving this puzzle, not just with one combination, but Two! And, I’d think to myself, what the heck am I doing wrong?

The puzzle began to mock me – sitting there, oh so pretty and harmless looking. No obstructions, no complex pieces, just a simple box with 12 simple pieces. What was my problem? Why was I struggling so? This felt like the hardest puzzle I’ve ever worked on at times.

And then, this morning, while awaiting the school bus, I had 5 minutes to kill and so I sat down again to work on this very familiar puzzle. This time though, I found a different arrangement of the U-shaped pieces and so explored this new possibility and was incredibly shocked when I slid in the last rectangular piece and IT FIT! My god, I was so used to the last piece extending above the rim, that I didn’t even anticipate solving it, but there it was – solved. I was stunned!

The feeling of relief is tremendous. I can finally have my life back! Yay!

I believe I found the second solution, since the first is described as symmetrical and the one I found is not. Maybe I should feel better about myself for finding the more difficult solution? – Do I dare continue to work on this to find the symmetrical solution?

I can say without a doubt that this one has to be in my top 5 puzzles of all time. Maybe it’s just me and my personal struggles with it, but I’ve been through a war with this puzzle and the scars will forever remain. And although it was torturous at times, I can now transform those memories into fond recollections.

By the way, Pelikan recently released a copy of this puzzle and it’s still available here. It goes without saying that this one is highly recommended.

## 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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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!

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!

## Cranium – Jerry Loo

Yes! I was one of the lucky 8 people to get my hands on this puzzle! I really didn’t know what I was buying, but when Eric Fuller releases a limited run puzzle, I have no choice but to pull the trigger and purchase it. It sounds like he is open to making more in the future, so those that missed out may have another chance to pick up this wonderful and unique puzzle.

To start – I’m super intimidated by this puzzle. There are a ton of pieces, limited pictures and no instruction on assembly, so it’s up to me to get the job done. Hopefully there is a logical sequence to things and enough clues for me to get it together. I’ve never worked on a puzzle like this, so I’m very excited to get started and see what I’m in for.

Holy crap there are a lot of pieces! I haven’t even begun to attempt this thing yet and I’m already feeling like there is no way I’ll get it solved. But hopefully my first impression is off and I can make some progress. Is this a solid puzzle? Or are there gaps in the skull? The 3 images on the cubic dissection site seem to suggest that it is a solid form. Also, I’ve noticed that one of the images holds some clues as to what pieces come out of the “face”. Ok. Here goes.

Ok. I’ve spent the last half hour sorting pieces. I had to see what I was working with and there are over 50 pieces here, so step one seemed to be: Sort. And I think its been helpful. This puzzle is comprised of some very interesting pieces! There are large pieces that look like creatures out of the Space Invaders game and there are some tiny “T” shaped pieces. There are over 10 pairs of duplicate pieces and quite a few pieces that are not symmetrical – though a majority are symmetrical. There are no duplicate symmetrical pieces. What does all this mean? I don’t know… but I do have some theories starting to build. I think I’m going to start with the biggest pieces and see if I can’t get some sort of frame built.

Whelp, that failed horrifically and I’m not really sure what to do here. It’s not difficult to put pieces together, but it seems nearly impossible to know if those pieces are correct or not! I’d really like a better picture so that maybe I could identify where one of the bigger pieces goes. I think if I knew how one or two of the big pieces were placed I’d have a fighting chance. As is – I’m not sure how to proceed. But maybe I’m wrong, maybe I should start with a small cube and try to build larger? I’m really not sure how to approach this one..

And thus began my journey to find a better image to work from. I initially did some google searches which brought me to the Puzzle Will be Played site here. But, that didn’t really help, so I continued to search and ended up on Jerry’s Facebook page. And lo and behold I found a video of the Burr Tools file for Cranium. Yes! Awesome. Now I have something to work with! I watched the video, which showed the solution, though with so many pieces, I certainly wasn’t going to memorize the moves. So I went back to work to see watching that video would help me solve this one.

Nope. No help. I had to resign to the fact that I wasn’t going to solve this one by myself and so I decided to watch the video and follow along. The tricky part, though is that it was a video and not actually a burr tools file I was working with, so I was unable to rotate the puzzle and determining what pieces were going in was a matter of pausing the video at the right time. All this was challenging, but not impossible, so I persisted. But the another problem quickly emerged. The pieces in the video didn’t match the pieces in my puzzle! Some were close, so I made “Best guesses” But, I quickly came to a roadblock because the puzzle in my hands had a bunch extra pieces than the puzzle in the video. Gah! I wasn’t sure I’d ever get this thing together.

That’s when I sent a message to Jerry through Facebook and, Yes, he confirmed that the puzzles were different. Jerry offered to send me the burr tools file and I accepted. Well, that should be the end of the story, but the fact is, This puzzle is quite difficult to assemble even with the burr tools file so I was in for a lot more puzzling.

It probably took me another couple of hours, but I eventually did manage to get this thing together. There was one particularly challenging move, that may frustrate folks. It involved putting two halves of the skull together – which I had to attempt a few times to get it right. One of the halves is pretty secure with only a couple of pieces that can fall out, but the other half must be held, clutched with a tenuous grip, while you try to join the halves without any pieces slipping out of your grasp. I eventually resorted to using little bits of scotch tape in strategic areas to hold certain pieces in place. Be careful with this technique though, because later on those little pieces of tape may prevent critical moves and shifts in the puzzle.

But, overall, the puzzle is doable – It’s kind of like assembling a very difficult lego set – where the pieces don’t always stay together. And I have to say, I’m surprised at how much fun I had following along with the burr tools file. It’s really quite ingenious how the pieces all lock together. And the end result is fantastic. The skull is solid, with a nice weight and a quality feel. this one is going to look great on display.

Thus far in my puzzling career, this has been the first puzzle that I’ve utilized Burr Tools to solve. As such, I expected to feel a bit disappointed in myself, but surprisingly, I don’t feel that way at all. In fact, I had a great experience learning more about the Burr Tools program, and still had lots of fun putting this puzzle together. It’s quite a marvel how all these pieces link together into such a solid unit. I can’t wait to put it up on the puzzle shelf as I’m sure it will receive a lot of comments. Overall, great fun, challenging moves and a standout appearance!