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!

Wing Hangar – Osanori Yamamoto

Today, I have the fabulous “Wing Hangar” from Osanori Yamamoto. This is another piece produced recently by Jakub over at Pelikan Puzzles. It’s a wonderful puzzle with only 3 pieces, but don’t be deceived, it’s a bit tricky. As with all Pelikan puzzles, this piece is a work of art and it is a joy to play with.

The puzzle consists of Mahogany outer box and two (in my case) Wenge Burr pieces, But Tthe puzzle also came in a Mahogany/Purpleheart variation. I’m a sucker for Wenge, and thus am very happy with the variant that I chose.

My thoughts while initially playing with the puzzler were as follows: 

“Ok, so I’ve been playing with this puzzle for about an hour and I haven’t gotten anywhere. I thought this one was going to be easy. There’s only 2 pieces, there can’t possibly be that many options, yet here I sit, unable to get the 2 pieces into the box.”

Burr piece slots nicely into the roof of the box but there just isn’t enough room!

This puzzle gave me some trouble to begin with.

“I think they made a good call sending this one out unassembled – it is proving to be a good challenge. The difficulty lies in not knowing the orientation of the pieces – and the pictures on the Pelikan website don’t help.  If I don’t have the orientation correct, then I’m spending time working on an impossible solution. Up to this point I haven’t gotten systematic with it yet either.”

This puzzle took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to put together. I didn’t clock it, but I definitely worked on this for numerous hours over numerous days. And once I solved it, I put it on the shelf and moved on to another. It was many days later that I finally returned to Wing Hangar.

When I finally did return, I found that now, I couldn’t disassemble it. What the heck? I had put it together, surely I could now remove the pieces. I tried over and over and just when I thought I was making progress, I’d realize that I just completed a loop and was back where I started. Frustrated, I put the puzzle back on the shelf for another day.

Today, I had a little time and a little more focus and decided once and for all to conquer this puzzle. And sure enough, not 20 minutes later, I had the pieces out and not only that, I had an understanding of how it works. I took some pictures and then was able to quickly assemble the puzzle again. Now I’m left wondering why the heck this one took me so long to solve and understand.

The pieces are out! This is how this puzzle is shipped.

It’s interesting to me because I’ve experienced varying degrees of success when solving puzzles and I largely attribute my performance to my mental state at the time. Sometimes, I’m just in the zone and all my focus is on the puzzle and I seem to do well in those moments, but other times, I just can’t seem to get anywhere. Clearly I need time and space to perform my best because if there are distractions, or a looming obligation, then I don’t seem to have the required focus.

Also, solving puzzles can be mentally exhausting and I don’t always feel like putting myself through the mental anguish. A lot of nights, I do have the time, but I don’t have the focus. Either way, I’m going to continue to solve puzzles when “the time is right” and try not to force anything. I don’t want this hobby to become a job.

Two Face 3 – Alfons Eyckmans

This week, I have another fantastic burr puzzle created by Eric Fuller and designed by Alfons Eyckmans. This one is called Two Face 3 and is one special puzzle – I’m still reeling from having just completed it.

To begin with, this puzzle is a beautiful work of art. Its visual appearance is stunning – the construction is superb and the choice of woods really elevates the whole design. It’s a 6 piece burr, but unique in that there are two outer cages that can move independently of each other. The inner cage has a few strategically placed cubes and cutouts that combine to make this not only a difficult puzzle, but also a very clever one. The construction of the cages is incredibly sturdy and they fit together very tightly making for a very solid feeling puzzle.

Beautiful construction and and high difficulty make this puzzle shine

The overall design is very clever. The use of two cages is not just for looks either, it factors into the solution. 

This was another intimidating puzzle for me. It sat on the shelf for a couple of weeks before I started to tinker with it, and then it was another week until I really decided to put some effort into it. Whether it’s intimidation or a desire to relish the puzzle as long as possible, I find that sometimes, I’m just content to let it sit. Maybe I don’t want the experience to be over, so I procrastinate a bit, I let the puzzle breath like a fine wine, until that perfect moment arrives and then I sit down with a job to do.

And so, I finally sat down with this one last week and began to seriously work on it. I began exploring different moves and discovered some typical burr-type moves, but didn’t make any real progress. I kept going in circles, with no real progress made.

Going in circles moving pieces around

I spent a number of sessions doing this. Moving pieces, feeling like progress was made only to find myself back at the beginning. Early sessions like this are enjoyable to me – I don’t really want to solve it quickly, I just want to enjoy the experience for a while and Two Face 3 really delivered the goods. But, that said, after a certain number of sessions, i start to feel like I need to make some more progress – so, I increase my focus and start trying abnormal moves.

This yielded some success for me as I discovered an interesting placement for one of the pieces. Surely I was on to something here! But, even with this new discovery, I couldn’t make any progress. I was able to revert back to the beginning position and then repeat the move, but it still didn’t yield any solution. 

After a few more sessions, I discovered a similar move at another location and then knew I was making progress. But, to my dismay, the solution still wasn’t there. Man, this puzzle really takes some work! I spent another day working various moves but couldn’t make progress. I had to be on the right track didn’t I?

Well, one morning, I took the half-solved puzzle to work with me and sat there fiddling with the pieces when suddenly, one fell out! Holy crap! I didn’t expect that, but apparently I had done the right thing and was rewarded. I spent the next 15 minutes carefully removing the remaining pieces and then bathed in glory as I examined all the pieces and marveled at the craftsmanship.

Then, fear set in. I went from joyful elation to fear. I was so happy to have solved the puzzle that I forgot to pay attention to the orientation and position of the 2 cages and the burr pieces. I didn’t really think about the fact that the 2 cages could be put together in 8 different ways… and if they weren’t put together correctly, then there’s no way the burr pieces would fit… How on earth was I going to get this thing back together…?

All the pieces have been removed! Halfway there!

Well, the good news was I had taken various photos while tinkering with the puzzle. So, I went back and took a look at those photos and was able to deduce the orientation and placement of the 2 cages – phew – crisis averted. Although, that would have made one heck of a challenge – to start with this puzzle completely disassembled and go from there. Maybe one day..

Anyway, even though I had the orientation of the cages documented, I still didn’t know how to reassemble this thing. I did keep track of the order in which I removed the burr pieces, and that would prove helpful, but it wouldn’t move the puzzle for me.

In the end it took me at least another 3 hours to put it back together. It’s a tricky puzzle and requires a very specific sequence to solve it. Interestingly, I employed a rotation to put it back together – I’m not convinced that it was entirely necessary, but at a certain point, rotating the burr piece allowed another piece to move where I wanted it and then I rotated the original piece back. Again, not sure if it was necessary, but I remember playing with a rotation when disassembling too, so perhaps it is required.

This may be the most difficult burr puzzle I’ve ever solved and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m not eager to solve it again anytime soon, but I do think I will revisit it one day and see if I can get a better handle on how it works. Highly recommended if you enjoy this type of puzzle – and there are even some left at cubicdissection.com

Bramble Box – Noah Prettyman

Today, I have another stunning puzzle from Cubicdissection.com. This one is called Bramble Box and it was designed by Noah Prettyman and boy is it beautiful.

This puzzle is comprised of a Black Limba box and 4 pieces of different wood types that are stuck inside. The object is to free the pieces and then re-assemble the puzzle. I very much enjoyed playing with this and working it out. The 4 pieces have interesting knobs and protrusions and the box itself has a restricted opening on the top and bottom. Right off the bat, all the pieces are moveable, so there is no need to unlock anything, however, since all pieces are moveable from the start, there are also many possible opening moves. 

Manipulating one of the pieces

I took my time with this puzzle solving it over the period of a few days. I didn’t find it too difficult, but I did find it very enjoyable. Removing the second piece actually took longer than expected, and I discovered a potential short cut if rotations are allowed which makes things easier.

The pieces have been removed! Fun movements and solution.

Reassembly is a bit tricky. It’s not super obvious how the pieces go back together and I was stuck for a while figuring out how to manipulate two pieces in particular around each other. I had to solve the puzzle several more times before I really understood the movements.

Overall, a great puzzle that is all about unlocking that first piece. The build quality is spectacular and I’m very pleased to have this one in my collection.

Funzzle – Gamma

Ahh, another Funzzle puzzle. This time, its the Gamma. This one looks fairly complex and difficult. Let’s see if I can get it opened.

The first thing I notice is that this puzzle is pretty loose. It doesn’t fall apart, but it does feel like it might fall apart if you hold it wrong. A number of pieces slide back and forth and it seems like there will be a lot of combinations to work through here.

I took the initial, disassembly phase, really slowly. I know I have to put it back together, so I want to pay close attention to what I’m doing. I didn’t want to just wiggle out pieces, I wanted to get the specific moves memorized and accounted for, so that I could reverse things.

With that disclaimer in place, I’ll admit that getting the first piece out took me a while – maybe close to an hour total. There were a few different sequences I tried, but they were all dead ends, then I finally found a sequence that seemed like it would work. At this point, I worked the sequence forward and back a number of times until I felt that I had it memorized. It takes 6-7 moves to remove the first piece.

This was the first piece to be removed.

Once I had the first piece removed, it was easy – or so I thought… Actually, it took me another 15 minutes to remove the second piece. Again, I felt that I could just rattle the puzzle around and eventually the next piece would fall out, but I wanted to be sure I was being systematic, so I returned the puzzle back to the starting point – minus one piece, and then worked out the moves to remove the second piece.

The second piece being removed

Once the second piece was removed, the rest were relatively easy to remove. Once I got down to the final 3-4 pieces, I again focused in on how they were connected. I wanted the best chance to reassemble this, so was trying to really focus and remember these crucial steps.

The puzzle has been deconstructed.

Once I had it apart, I quickly celebrated and then started reassembly. Thing went pretty smooth. The initial construction – putting the 3 white pieces together was a little trickier than I thought it would be, but once those three were correct, it was fairly simple to add the next 4 brown pieces – and thats where things got tricky.

The second to last piece just didn’t want to go. I had everything lined up correctly, I think, but there didn’t seem to be any room. After a bit of head banging, I shifted some things around and it opened up for me. Adding the final piece was actually easy because I had practiced that move so many times that I had it memorized.

Overall, this was a fun puzzle. It is apparently a knock-off of a Stephane Chomine design – I’d love to check out the original – and in fact, I did find a breakdown of the original design here. Its hard to tell, but I don’t see many (if any) difference between the two which would lead me to thinking this is a straight up copy of Chomine’s work, but I could be wrong on this.

Funzzle Epsilon

I’ve had the Funzzle Epsilon sitting in a box for a few weeks and last night I decided to give it a go. I don’t have a ton of experience with Burr puzzles, But, I enjoyed the Funzzle Beta, so lets see how this one goes.

Like the other funzzle puzzles this one is made of bamboo. I don’t mind the bamboo – it feels a little cheap, but having some good inexpensive puzzles available is a good thing – I can always buy a pricier Burr if I want.

Anyway, the first 15 minutes with this puzzle was a bit frustrating. One piece falls out immediately, which inspires confidence, but it is quickly dissolved by the roadblock ahead. I fiddled and fiddled with it and came away with only a few possible moves. I couldn’t seem to find any way to free up any more pieces, everything was locked into place regardless of the combinations I chose. So, I put it down.

Later on I returned with renewed focus – once again, I challenged myself to start trying new things, even if they didn’t seem likely. As per usual, this little challenge helped me get the next move. It seems that a rotation is necessary to free up the next piece. After this rotation, I then had many options for movement. It was at this point that I began to fear putting it back together. It started feeling really complicated as to what pieces were moving – As the puzzle gets looser, it becomes harder to keep track of the movements. So, I put it back together, numbered the pieces, slowed down and started taking notes.

I was able to get back to the earlier position and then very carefully moved pieces and kept track of what I was doing. The goal was to figure out how it worked so that I could put it back together – is this cheating? I don’t know what other people think, but I don’t consider it cheating. I’m speeding up the process at which I figure the puzzle out – it seems efficient, but not rule breaking.

Funzzle Epsilon ready to solve
Ready to start pulling pieces out, notes in the background.

A few moves later and I was able to free up all the pieces. As usual, the feeling of solving a puzzle is fantastic and this was no let down. Once the pieces were removed, I breathed a sigh of relief and then assembled it back together. Assembly was pretty easy due to the fact that I had the pieces numbered, I had notes, and also pictures of the near-final state. Maybe the next challenge will be to erase all marks, put away the notes and camera and see how well I do without any aids…

Funzzle Epsilon Solved
The pieces have been removed. You can see my labels on the puzzle.

Overall, I enjoyed this puzzle and I think I may purchase more burr types in the future because they are pretty fun to work out.