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!

Wave Puzzle 7 – Yuu Asaka

I am super excited for this one! I’ve been eyeing these acrylic puzzles designed by Yuu Asaka for quite some time now. They are very intriguing to me for a few different reasons and I can’t wait to get started.

I’ve done a ton of jigsaw puzzles in my day and so these seem in the same vein. They are 2D and essentially comprised of puzzle pieces, however, Asaka’s puzzles must fit into a tray, so they are also packing puzzles. I really haven’t done any 2D puzzles of this sort, so I’m really excited to see how it goes.

I love the initial presentation. 6 pieces already fill the tray, there’s no room for any more!

My first impression is great. I love that this puzzle has COLOR! Most of my collection is wooden or metal, so its nice to see the vibrant orange acrylic pieces. I also love the presentation. Although nothing new, I like these framed puzzles that appear to be full of pieces and then off to the side is an extra piece. To me, that set-up in itself is a kind of challenge that I feel compelled to accept.

The shapes themselves are very interesting. All are tall and narrow with fairly minor variations. It would seem that they should be able to nest together in such a way as to complete the puzzle, but I suspect that there is more going on here than that.

After about 15 minutes I have some thoughts.

7 orange acrylic pieces must fit into the tray, but is there room?

Well my first assumption was that this would be fairly easy to solve. Ha! I should have known better. I’ve even read a few description here and there where this puzzle was described as very difficult, still, I was feeling cocky and merely by looking at it I though, “Meh, I bet I can solve that one quick!”

There are many configurations, but only one solution

Well 15 minutes into my solving attempt and I’ve been schooled. I had assumed that with only 7 pieces, there couldn’t be that many configurations. After all, I thought, a single piece could only be oriented 4 different ways… right? Wrong. It just so happens that there are other configurations that I ha not forseen. Oh my, suddenly there are exponentially more potential solutions. Looks like I’ve severely underestimated the difficulty here.

But, on a bright note, I do feel that I am on to something. I quickly abandoned the “all vertical” strategy and have started playing with a mixture of orientations. This is yielding better results and I feel that I am moving on the right track. At the same time, there are 2 acrylic pieces that have me questioning everything. They have very small indents and there’s no real way to fill them except by perhaps the corner of one of the other pieces – but I just don’t see any way to have pieces at angles – as would be required to put the corner of one piece into the small indent. Maybe those two small indents are decoys and have no practical use. So much to ponder…

After another 20 minutes, I’ve started to feel a little helpless. There just seem to be so many combinations and the shapes are so similar that its kind of hard to keep track of things and its hard to get any pieces to “feel right” when I put them in place. I continue to work trying endless variations, flipping pieces over, re-orienting them, swapping positions, etc. There’s no methodology here, its just trial and error, keep pushing forward. Likely I’m repeating moves, but at this point, I don’t care, I just keep trying things.

At some point, I start to get close to the solution. I can feel it. All the pieces are going in except the last one is just slightly overlapping. I’ve changed the layout a few times and finally feel like I have the correct arrangement – its just a matter of getting the pieces in the right position. A few times I get down to that last piece and its just slightly overlapping another, so I swap pieces out and try again.

And then, as I’m saying “come on! come on!” I get it right and that final piece slides in!! Hell Yeah!! That was awesome!! What a cool puzzle! What a great solution and what a nice and deceptive initial set-up! I may have lucked into the solution a bit, but I really do think I was following a process of elimination sort of path and just kept pushing forward and happened upon the solution. In all honesty, I was getting pretty close to taking a break and fears were starting to creep in that this might be “one of those puzzles” that sits on the shelf unsolved.

But, this story ends differently because I managed to get the solution. Looking at the solved puzzle really reveals how clever it is. I can imagine these pieces cut out of a single block and its deceptively clever. I will definitely be adding more Asaka puzzles to my collection because this one was just plain fun and excitement.

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.

Stumbling Blocks – Pit Khaim Goh

Today we have another amazing puzzle from Cubic Dissection. This one is Stumbling Blocks designed by Pit Khaim Goh. It is part of the Artisan Collection, so it is kept in stock and for $39, this piece should be in everyones puzzle collection.

To start with, the puzzle is gorgeous. The box is made from Ash and the blocks are made from Walnut and Sepele which gives a really nice contrast and checker pattern. The puzzle is shipped unassembled, so it is up to me to get the four blocks into the box.

There are a few peculiar details that stick out right away. The first is that the inside of the box has tiny little wooden triangle blocks glued into two of the corners. These blocks fit perfectly with two of the blocks that have notches cut out.

Notice the triangular pieces glued into the box and the corresponding block

The other thing that I noticed is the way the blocks are glued together and the interesting shapes that are sandwiched between the two squares of wood. It seems peculiar to choose the particular shape for the sandwiched pieces. 

The peculiar stair-step shape in between the square slabs

So, with those details noted, I began to play with the puzzle. It seemed obvious that the two particular blocks had to fit into their specific corners – however, this “fact” didn’t seem to help with the solution. It was fairly simple to get any 3 pieces into the box, but there was never any room left to insert the 4th. 

Over and over again, I tried the same thing and failed. I could see no way that the 4 blocks could be inserted sequentially. There had to be another way – not to mention the website mentions an “ah ha!” moment when solving this puzzle. So, I kept at it, searching for the solution.

Eventually, I managed to get all 4 pieces into the box – however, I did not experience any epiphany, so I was pretty sure that I had solved it incorrectly. To solve it, I sort of had to wedge the last piece in – which although it works and takes no force, is clearly not what the designer had in mind, so I pulled the pieces and began again.

This time, I had the breakthrough, or at least part of it. I inadvertently discovered a certain movement while I had 3 of the pieces in place – I knew immediately that I was on the right track – but it still took me a while to figure out how to get that 4th piece inserted. 

Once I uncovered the real solution, a big ole grin came over my face. Now I know why this puzzle came so highly recommended. It truly is a clever and elegant solution. The rush I get from completing puzzles never gets old, but this one was special, this one was definitely memorable.

The completed puzzle

Cubyful 2 – Lucie Pauwels

I purchased this puzzle last week from Cubicdissection.com and let me tell you, its a beauty. The Leopardwood box is georgeous and the puzzle itself is very fun. I particularly enjoy the weight of this puzzle – it feels very heavy in the hand – likely due to the thick walls of the box.

When I first got the puzzle, I gave it a 2 minute inspection (because I couldn’t resist) to get an idea of how it moved/worked. I quickly discovered that the first piece falls right out with no required moves. After the first piece was removed, I could see other pieces below that also were able to move. Clearly, I was going to need some time and focus to work on this puzzle, so I had to plug that piece back in and wait for my window of opportunity.

Last night, that window arrived – the kids were in bed and I had a couple of hours to myself to explore this fine puzzle. I got my space ready, complete with paper and pencil to attempt to map out moves if necessary. The previous couple of days, I had been thinking about Cubyful 2 and how I was going to keep track of the moves – ultimately, I didn’t have any set plan, I just started taking it apart while trying to keep some notes.

This method was an utter failure. I quickly became lost with the movements and the pieces – my notes failed to accurately track what was happening and in the end, I abandoned them and just focused on removing the pieces. It seemed like the pieces were just falling out and I had no clue of their starting position. Down to the last 2 pieces, I had to do an interesting manipulation and then the final piece slid right out.

The locked piece is quite large and takes up 2/3 of the opening

Its a very interesting puzzle in that there is a large fixed piece that cannot be removed and so the box must be packed/unpacked around this piece. This makes for a fun solution that stumped me for a while.

Reassembly was challenging, but ultimately not too difficult once I slowed down and came up with a plan. The hardest part may be getting the first 2 pieces into the box correctly – and I suspect that there are more than one way of loading these first 2 pieces.

Two pieces in the box – how to fit the remaining pieces?

Once the first two are loaded, its a matter of getting the sequence correct and “pre-loading” a couple of the pieces so that they slide into place. The solution now seems fairly straightforward to me, but I did struggle for a while trying to figure out how the heck to pack all these little pieces into the allotted space – over and over again I would end up “one cube” short of the solution.

Finally, I studied the locked piece and thought about the internal space more closely and determined the only available solution and completed the reassembly. Outstanding fun! I really enjoyed this and will definitely purchase more of these packing-type puzzles in the future.

The puzzle is complete!