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!

Pack 3 – Osanori Yamamoto

This week, I tackle the Pack 3 designed by Osanori Yamamoto and crafted by Eric over at Cubic Dissection. This one had me tearing out my hair, screaming into the night and storming around the house. My family was concerned for my well being and I attribute last night’s nightmares to this diabolical puzzle.

I’m clearly not very good at packing puzzles – in fact a majority of my unsolved puzzles on the shelf are of the packing variety. I’m not sure why they don’t click with my brain, but they are always a struggle – and Pack 3 was one of the worst (or best?) that I’ve worked on.

This particular puzzle is so deceptively simple and that may be what lead to my frustration. It consists of a beautifully crafted box with a unique opening along with 3 simple looking pieces. All you have to do is stick those pieces into the box. It should be simple, but it is not. The description says “The level 8.2.2 solution is satisfying without being too frustrating.” Well, I’d agree with the satisfying part, but for me, this was extremely frustrating, I dubbed it “the box from hell” along with other more colorful, non-family appropriate names.

This puzzle arrived along with 6 others the other day and I naively started work on it thinking – “I’ll start with the easiest of the bunch!” So, I casually began tinkering with the pieces, trying to insert them into the box. I spent 5 minutes here and 5 minutes there trying haphazardly to cram them all in. But, it didn’t work – furthermore, I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that it required 8 moves with the first piece. How could that be? 8 moves seemed like way too many for the options I was faced with.

All you have to do is stick those 3 pieces into that box!

Within about an hour, I had a solution – only my solution was 2.1.3 and it left a visible gap. The solution didn’t feel right or satisfying and clearly didn’t match up with the description so I fired an email off to cubic dissection to see if I had done it correctly. The reply came back shortly after “You are close but that is not the correct solution.” Ugh, well on one hand I was happy to continue working on it, but on the other, I had hoped that it was correct. Back to the drawing board.

For two days, I worked on this thing. I was obsessed, I was driven, I was thinking about it in my sleep. I focused all my energy, I used all my logic and I failed over and over again. I decided to get systematic and try every possible combination of inserting the pieces, whether they were logical or not, I had to cross off all the non-working ideas and focus on what was left, but again, I failed. I cried, I cursed, I put it back on the shelf, but I couldn’t just walk away. I had to solve it.

One of the many ways to incorrectly pack the puzzle together.

And then, after setting it down and picking it up over and over, I finally saw the light. I was so in tune with the geometry of the pieces and the box that I literally solved it in my head while staring at it. Finally, I smiled and pronounced “I’ve got it!” And sure enough, just like that, I put the pieces in and solve this wicked and cruel little puzzle. The feeling was tremendous and the 2 days worth of built up tension was finally released. Ahhhhh. 

What a wonderful little puzzle! Yes, I wanted to burn it with fire and smash it with a hammer but now that I have solved it, I feel nothing but pure joy. It’s truly astonishing how many possible variations there are to work through. It is, without doubt, the most frustrating and rewarding 3 piece puzzle I’ve every worked on. I can’t wait to spring this on an unsuspecting friend. I will giggle with delight as they struggle with every possible combination they can think of. Awesome puzzle. Now… on to the next!

The completed puzzle. Beautifully constructed.

Prison Burr – Stephane Chomine

Ah, the Prison Burr, another fine creation constructed by the fine folks at Cubicdissection. Did I mention that I really, really like the puzzles from Cubicdissection? Pretty much everything I have bought from them is heirloom quality, challenging and fun!

Today, I writing about the Prison Burr. This intimidating puzzle is sort of like a standard 6 piece burr, however, there is no access to the bottom of the puzzle and all the pieces are contained in a cage – which makes it very challenging indeed. This one sat on the shelf for a number of weeks as I solved other puzzles and made excuses as to why I didn’t have the time or focus to work on it. Well, I knew that eventually, I’d have to give it a go, so a couple weeks ago I sat down with the intention of solving it.

Look at that beauty!

The thing is, this is one complex puzzle and as stated earlier, I was intimidated. I was able to remove the first piece easily enough, but the second piece involved lots of maneuvering and every time I felt that I was making progress, I chickened out and returned it to the start. My main fear was that I’d never be able to get it back together again, and by the time I started making progress, I was too deep for my brain to remember the moves. Maybe I should just “go for it” and deal with the consequences later, but that’s not how I like to do puzzles. I prefer to keep track of the movements the first time I solve it. Later on subsequent efforts, I am more inclined to let myself get lost.

Well, the day finally came, where I had enough time to really work on this thing. I was determined to move forward at all costs and get this thing solved once and for all. 

I have to say, I really, really enjoyed this puzzle. The movements are great, there are multiple dead ends and the puzzle stays challenging to the final piece.

The first piece is rather trivial to remove, but it doesn’t help much. Removing the first piece does allow for a view of the interior, which is helpful, but the second piece is far trickier to remove. I went down many paths and found a few dead ends, but eventually felt that I was getting closer to the correct moves. After many trials, I was brave enough to pull out the second piece. Here we go! No turning back now!

Removal of the 3rd piece is even trickier. Even now, I know the order of removal, but it is still awfully difficult to get that 3rd piece out. I’ve now solved this puzzle multiple times, but its always that 3rd piece that causes me grief. And to make matters worse, once the 3rd piece is removed, it is still difficult to remove the 4th. In fact, this puzzle just doesn’t get any easier. Usually, the 2nd piece is the corner stone and it all comes apart easily afterwards, but not with the Prison Burr. This thing brings it until the end. You would think that with only 3 pieces left, it would be easy, but it’s not. The final 2 pieces are definitely easier to remove, but they still take a some specific moves.

The photos don’t do it any justice. This thing is built like a tank and super difficult.

And then, there is the reassembly. It’s not easy. Not at all. Getting the first 3 pieces back in correctly is quite difficult – I can’t imagine solving this one without knowing the order of the pieces. Even armed with that knowledge, this thing is very challenging.

Well, I’ve talked about how difficult this puzzle is, but I also was to talk about how rewarding it is. I’m really very happy with this puzzle. In fact, I have solved it several times now and while I’m getting more familiar with the necessary moves, It still gives me great joy to complete it.

Part of that joy comes from the wonderful construction. At $75, this is an expensive puzzle, but if you have even the most basic knowledge of carpentry, it is easy to justify the cost. The construction of this is spectacular. Its not flashy with exotic wood choices, but the cage is a marvel of perfectly mitered pieces and where burr puzzles can be “sticky” and hard to manipulate, the movements here are smooth and precise.

Overall, I am so happy to have this in my collection. This is definitely a test-piece for the savvy puzzler. I would highly recommend it if you want a challenge!