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.

Casino – Dr. Volker Latussek

Last Friday, I received a shipment from Cubicdissection.com with 6 different puzzles including Casino, Split Maze Burr and Cranium. It was a hard decision which one to write about because I so desperately wanted to play with them all! In the end, I chose Casino. I have never done it before and I’ve heard great things, so off we go!

First off – Wow! This puzzle is supremely gorgeous. It definitely got the Eric Fuller mega-upgrade treatment and it turned out spectacular! I love the inlay – the alternating Walnut and Maple look so clean and stylish and really stand out against the Cherry Box. The chips are equally well-made and the whole experience of handling this puzzle is really just top notch.

The puzzle consists of a box and 6 chips which must be placed inside the box. Its very easy to get 5 chips in, but that 6th one doesn’t fit. The round shapes don’t work very well with packing and the box has a little lip on two sides that frustratingly interferes with everything.

Place the 6 coins into the box. What a gorgeous puzzle. Wow!

Well I’ve only been playing around for about 15 minutes, but feel like I’m real close to a solution. I can see how all the chips should fit into the box, but one of the pieces is just a few centimeters shy of fitting in the opening. I really thought I had it solved there for a second, but I guess I need a more calculated approach.

And after another 15 minutes, I feel lost. I removed the pieces and I’m not sure that I have things correct anymore. There was a moment were I really could visualize where the pieces should go, but now, I’ve lost the image and I no longer see.

Its easy to get 5 pieces in, but that 6th one just doesn’t want to fit!

Ok, another few minutes and I’m back to the beginning again. I can see the solution. I can visualize where the chips need to go. I just can’t get them there. There has to be a sequence of moves to accomplish what I want because the old “force it in” trick isn’t doing the job.

..And Done! Yee haw! That was pretty exciting there. I was hot on the trail of the solution from the beginning and pretty quickly was able to determine the position the chips needed to be in. But, there’s definitely a delightful little trick to getting them into position. It seems a lot of packing puzzles have a similar type of trick. There’s always a little adjustment that needs to be made and a sequence that needs to be considered. Sometimes pieces have to be “pre-loaded” before they are utilized in a move.

Solved. I tried to get a low angle shot so as not to spoil the solution.

But what a fun little puzzle this was. I’m a little sad that I’ve solved is so quickly, but it will be a great puzzle on the shelf and a perfect “family-stumper” puzzle that I can pull out and hand off to anyone up for the challenge.

Its such a nice puzzle because it’s so accessible. And in fact, so are all of Latussek’s puzzles that I’ve worked with. I recently picked up Tower of London and Bastille from Rombol.de and both of those share a lot in common with Casino. Latussek just has a way of working with round pieces and creating interesting packing problems that are simple in concept, very approachable but deceptively difficult.

It’s interesting because I think it’s the roundness of the pieces that make these puzzles what they are. At first the round pieces seemed very different to me, as compared to typical square puzzle pieces, and so I didn’t know quite how to approach these puzzles. I was thrown off by the roundness you could say. But in the end, I kind of forced myself to ignore the shape of the pieces and instead focus on the orientation, position and sequence.

Casino is a great puzzle, I can see why it is so popular. If you enjoyed it, then you should check out Tower of London and Bastille over at Rombol.de – maybe if we are lucky, Eric will get permission on those too!