## SOMA-FLOP – Dr. Volker Latussek

I love me some DVL puzzles. Some of the best moments I’ve had puzzling were because of the wonderful mind of Latussek. It’s hard to pin down what exactly makes his puzzles different, but I suspect it has something to do with how he uses unique shapes and restricted openings and the pieces sort of dance their way into the box.

When I saw some of the “Flop” series puzzles available at Pelikan, I had to jump on the opportunity. I purchased Soma, Fritz and Tetra Flops without knowing anything about them. Why are they all called Flop? I didn’t know at the time, but after spending some quality time with these puzzles, its become clear that they all share a similar “move” or “flop” that is part of the solution.

Today, I’m going to focus on Soma-Flop.

This was a wonderful puzzle that took me a fair bit of time to figure out, but what I like most is that it is solvable with logic and some trial and error. The solution is within reach if you remain persistent and use really think about the possibilities.

As with many packing puzzles, I started out making a cube outside the box and then tried to see if I could then fit the cube inside. This strategy, as usual, failed. There are many ways to assemble a cube and I quickly lost track of what cubes I had tried, what rotations I had tried and I found myself re-doing moves that had already failed. I needed a better strategy.

Another common approach to packing puzzles is to figure out what piece goes in last and then work from there. Using this idea, I was able to narrow it down to 3 pieces. Only 3 of the pieces could physically go in last. So, I then tried to assemble the cube using that information. It seemed to work better, but I still couldn’t find a solution.

I then really started focusing on logic and movement. If I can make a cube where piece A slides right out the top, then I know that it could be the final piece. But If A slides out, what next? Are the rest of the pieces still locked in to a cube, or can piece B then slide out and be removed? And if so, then is there a piece C that can be removed?

I eventually found an arrangement where the pieces could be removed (and thus inserted) in a sequential fashion that would work. This has to be the solution right? Well, theory and practice are 2 different things and even though the solution should work, it didn’t. There were some very stubborn pieces that I could not figure out how to maneuver into place. I backed up a few steps, but kept coming back to what I believed was the solution, but again it wouldn’t work.

And then. The magic happened. The flop revealed itself. And dammit, DVL did it again. These are such amazing moments in puzzling. I hope he knows the joy he brings to so many. Finally, I had figured it out and with some clever moves and rotations, the full cube was now inside the box. Mission accomplished.

This puzzle was just the right difficulty for me. It took a fair bit of time and reasoning, but I was able to solve it with a few hours of experimenting. Although I put it down at times and solved it over a period of days, I never felt defeated. It always seemed like the solution was just out of reach. Thus I stayed interested and avoided adding it to what Kevin Sadler calls, his “Hall of Shame” – I definitely have a embarrasing amount of puzzles in my hall of shame. But alas, this one shall instead go into my hall of triumph.

## RAYA BOX No. 1 – Yavuz Demirhan

Today, I have a wonderful packing puzzle from Yavuz Demirhan. It’s the first puzzle I’ve worked on from Yavuz, but it certainly won’t be the last. (EDIT: I’m wrong – one of my favorites, Octo Cube was designed by Yavuz – you can read that post here) Raya Box No. 1 is the first in a series of 7 Raya packing puzzles available at his Etsy Store HERE.

These puzzles come from Turkey, so be prepared to wait a while if you order from his store. I placed an order on February 1 and just received the box yesterday – so it took a little over a month to arrive. It’s worth the wait though. These puzzles are inexpensive, but still well made and very fun to solve. I also ordered No. 2 and No. 7, though I have yet to even unbox those.

This packing puzzle consists of a rectangular box with restricted openings. There are 6 pieces that must be placed inside the box – 3 “L” shaped pieces and 3 square pieces. The puzzle also comes with a storage bag. I really like that the bag and the box both have the puzzle name on them. This greatly helps my organization. As my collection grows, it becomes difficult to remember the names of the puzzles and the designers – I usually end up searching my emails for receipts or the archives of various puzzle websites to re-discover the name and/or objective of puzzles that I have neglected or forgotten about.

It took me about an hour to solve this one, and I usually struggle with packing puzzles, but for some reason, this one felt very approachable.

I began by trying to assemble the pieces into the required shape outside the box. Most times, with these packing puzzles, I can flip the box over and assemble on the bottom. The edges of the box keep the pieces constrained to the correct dimensions and I find this easier than assembling on a table.

After a bit of struggle, I managed to find a configuration that was the right size and shape. Yay, I thought. Now, I just had to put the pieces into the box. I tried a few times, but it quickly became apparent that the pieces would not fit in this configuration. That darn restricted plexiglass opening wouldn’t allow the pieces to go in as I wanted. I tried flipping the whole shape over to see if they would go in that way. No luck. I persisted for a while, but eventually, I had to give up and go to bed.

The next day, I tried again. This time, I decided to see if there were any more ways to make the required shape. Ah ha! I found another way to make the cube and once again tried to fit the pieces into the box. And once again I failed. But, I felt I was on to something. The restricted opening makes it clear that the square piece will have to go in last – there just isn’t room for the final piece to be an “L” shaped block.

Back to the drawing board, I took the last configuration and altered it slightly. I could envision how it was going to work if I could just get the first few pieces in correctly. Sure enough I found a way and YES, it worked! That was pretty cool.

I’d call this one a moderately difficult packing puzzle. It’s not easy by any means, but it isn’t super tricky either. I think a novice puzzler with enough time would be able to figure it out and an experienced packer could get it done in under an hour – maybe quicker if they really thought about it instead of just trial and error.

If you haven’t already, please check out Yavuz’s Etsy page. As I type this, there are still a number of puzzles available.

## PUMPKIN 1 – Osanori Yamamoto

Ya know, when Covid first hit I was kind of excited because I thought I would get to puzzle all the time. I figured that I’d be home a lot more and would have lots of down time and that I’d be knocking out puzzles and blog posts like a machine. Oh how wrong I was.

Turns out, I wasn’t the only one stuck in the house. My wife and kids were along for the ride as well which meant we have all been crammed into this house for a better part of 7 months. The result is that I’ve had very little personal time and thus very little puzzling time. I’m still buying them at an alarming rate, but haven’t been solving that many.

The other day, I said “enough is enough, I need to solve some of these things before I’m buried in them.”

So, I picked up Pumpkin 1, designed by Osanori Yamamoto and determined that I was going to solve it no matter what.

This particular puzzle was crafted by Pelikan Puzzles and is nicely built and a pleasure to play with. It’s made of Pear / Bubingo wood and there is a very nice contrast between the orange pieces and the tan box. It seems like Pelikan has been focusing more on these “more affordable” puzzles lately and I’m that’s fine by me. Though I hope that they continue to release new “premium” puzzles as well.

This puzzle starts off simple enough. There are 3 pieces and one box and all you have to do is get those pieces into the box so that the entryway is completely filled up. It sounds easy and looks easy, but I’ve worked on these Yamamoto packing puzzles before, so I know that I’m in for a struggle.

My first attempts involved randomly sticking pieces into the box to see if I could “get lucky” and find a solution randomly. This method lasted a few hours over the course of an afternoon and not only did I fail to make progress, but I was having trouble remembering what configuration I had tried and what I had not, so inevitably, I repeated the same failed assembly over and over.

I eventually gave up on that idea and opted for a more systematic approach. I’d start by assembling the pieces outside the box in a 3×3 cube. Then I’d search that cube for any 2×2 feature that would “fill the gap” of the box. Once I had a 3×3 structure built that satisfied my requirements, I’d then try to find a sequence to get those pieces into the box in that same configuration.

Over and over I tried again and again and each time I failed. There are actually a whole lot of configurations that would theoretically “work” if only they’d fit into that box. But, the more I worked with the puzzle, the more I came to understand the limitations of the box. That angled top, the bottom lip, the inability for pieces to rotate inside the box – all these things existed to thwart my attempts.

Another day passed and I became even more systematic. The problem I was having is that I would come up with a 3×3 cube that I liked and whilst trying to then insert the pieces, I would lose track of the initial setup. This was frustrating as it is possible that I had the right solution, but got lost along the way and would eventually “reset” before trying all the options.

I began taking pictures to better keep track of the different configuration and I also began employing temporary stickers to keep track of the pieces. This helped, but did not result in a solution.

I then abandoned this method and started really thinking logically about this puzzle. Which piece goes in last? What is the likely configuration of these other pieces? How can I use the shape of the pieces and the shape of the box together? Instead of trying every option I could come up with, I decided to try to narrow things down and focus on what makes the most sense.

And just like that, I found the solution.

The genius in this design is the fact that the packed 3×3 cube has lots of missing voxels. This allows for unique pieces that can be fit together in countless arrangements. Had the pieces made a perfect 3×3 cube, there would be no mystery, there would be only 1 obvious arrangement and that would be no fun.

Overall, an excellent packing puzzle that provided the right amount of challenge. I stayed interested and determined and was rewarded within a few days time with the solution. Highly recommended if you enjoy this type of puzzle!

## Spheres – Stephan Baumegger

Spheres arrive yesterday and I’m just now sitting down to play with it. My first impression is – “Wow!” This puzzle is beautiful. The box is exquisite, the lid fits nice and tight, the pieces are really nice looking and I especially like the choice of “spheres” used. I’m so glad Stephan chose to go with these natural stone spheres instead of silver ball bearings. They add a nice contrast, yet still fit perfectly into the overall color scheme. This puzzle is definitely a show stopper.

The object of the puzzle is to cram everything inside and shut the lid. I suppose there will be little cramming and mostly planning, arranging and sliding, but either way, it’s all gotta fit.

Well, enough gibber gabber, I’m ready to start solving this thing.

A few minutes pass and I’ve gotten a little more familiar with the pieces. There are 3 sets of 2 pieces that mirror each other and 3 balls. The thing that is throwing me off is the smaller ball. It would seem that this puzzle will require a symmetrical pack, but then, where does that leave the 3rd ball? I’ll have to try some non-symmetrical arrangements as well to see if that’s the key.

About 15 minutes later and I’m not any closer to the solution. The pieces are fun to play with and there seem to be an endless amount of arrangements. I can easily get the 6 sticks into the box with 1 large ball, but that’s as close as I’ve come.

Ok, another few minutes and I’m starting to realize that this is not going to be sloppy pack. I don’t know why it would be, but there’s something about including these “spheres” that makes me feel at liberty to let them roll around a bit, thus resulting in a sloppy pack. My new strategy is to pack tightly. Let there be no unfilled negative space inside the cube. If there is space, then it is wrong. Let’s see how this approach goes.

Hmm. well, for a few minutes there, I thought I was on to something – I had a nice tight pack going with 3 pieces, but then things fell apart and did not progress from there. Back to the drawing board!

Failure again!

Bah! I thought I had it, but then looked down and saw one more stick! I got 5 sticks and 3 balls in… Does that count for anything? No? Well, ok then. Let’s have another try.

Whelp it looks like I’m going to remained stumped for this session. In total, I worked for about 45 minutes. And I have to say, so far it’s been delightful. I keen thinking that I’m on the right track only to find out that I’m not – which is great for a puzzle. This thing gives the impression that you are making progress, which keeps motivating me to try one more combination, and another and another. But, I’ve now burned my allocated time for puzzling today and must return later for another attempt.

Ok. I’m back again on another day to see what I can see. I’m quite drawn to this particular puzzle. I think its the combination of elements (sticks and spheres) that makes it interesting.

Annnnnd, I’m back in the same cycle of failure. I really thought I had it, but alas, there doesn’t seem to be any room left in this darn box for that final piece. Once again, I face the realization that I can’t leave any empty space anywhere.

Zing! I did it!

Very, very cool and enjoyable puzzle! I was on the right track the whole time, I knew what had to be done, it was just a matter of time until I found the correct arrangement that allowed all the pieces to fit. And there is definitely something unique involved when it comes to packing spheres. Had those spheres simply been squares of wood instead, I don’t think the puzzle would have been nearly as enjoyable and I’d wager that it would have been easier to solve as well. Again there is something about those spheres that tricks the mind (my mind at least) into believing that a “sloppy pack” is going to work.

Overall, a fantastic puzzle. The box is beautiful, the pieces are fun to play with and the puzzle as a whole has a nice hefty weight to it. This may be the first puzzle I’ve ordered from Stephan, but it certainly won’t be the last!

## 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.

## ODD Packing Puzzle – Hirokazu IWASAWA

Today I have ODD packing puzzle. The name comes from the shape of the pieces which in fact spell out O D D. This puzzle won the Puzzle of the Year award at IPP28 and I am very excited to see what it is all about.

Holy shit these are big pieces! That was my first thought upon unwrapping this latest puzzle from Cubicdissection. And indeed, the pieces are big. Each of the “Square-ish are almost 2″x2″ and the box itself is 4″x4”. The rectangular-ish piece is almost 3″ long too. Those are some big pieces to cram into this big box. Is the large size a bad thing? Nope. I don’t think so. Does it enhance the puzzle? I don’t know yet – lets find out!

The first thing I notice is that the Square-ish pieces are in fact not square. The will slide into the box in certain orientations, but not others, thus one side is longer than the other. This will likely matter when solving and I’m certain that there will be a fair bit of manipulation and/or rotation going on when solving. Ok, time to put in a little work and see what can be discovered.

Ok, ten minutes in and I haven’t gotten very far. It has become quickly apparent that dimensions matter. Those 2 little square-ish pieces have very strategically bevelled edges and very precise dimensions that have made this puzzle anything but trivial to solve. At this point, I can get any 2 pieces into the puzzle, but not all 3. It took a few tries to figure out how to get the 2 squares inside, but it is then impossible to get that last large piece in. Seems reasonable that one of the squares will be the last piece to enter. But, that isn’t really helping me any. Lets see if another 10-15 minutes will yield any further results.

Yes! Yes ! YES! Boom! I’ve done it! And with a verbally shouted “YES!!!!” that awoke the dog from her slumber, I stand triumphant! Whew, that was pretty fun.

I went back to the puzzle for another 10-15 to see what I could see and I quickly discovered something about the large block and a previous assumption. Once I had this piece of information, I knew what had to be done. Suddenly the puzzle looked achievable and it was only a matter of time.

I now knew the order in which I had to insert the pieces, I just had to figure out how to get the first 2 pieces into the correct place. I tried and failed and tried and failed again. I used the bottom of the box to try to figure out this tricky move and still couldn’t do it. I decided to just sort of “brute force” the solution and was sticking the first two in at various orientations to see if something would budge. When it didn’t work, I’d try a different orientation. At some point, I remembered lessoned learned from a particular Pit Khiam Goh puzzle and tried again. This time, things moved the way I wanted them to and that final piece was inserted and BAM, it was solved.

What a fun puzzle! I can’t wait to share this with some friends and family and see how they do! While not overly difficult, this puzzle definitely requires focus and thought and feels great when that “ah-ha” moment arrives.

I can now adequately, judge the size of this puzzle and have to say that I am very happy with the choice to make this one “big”. It is very satisfying to manipulate these big pieces and I imagine that a smaller sized version wouldn’t have the same appeal. The loud “thunks” of these pieces falling into the box is very satisfying and given that there are only 3 packing pieces, this was a smart choice.

Zebrawood is an excellent choice wood for the pieces and it is joy to handle and manipulate these pieces while solving. The large size adds a nice heft and also provides a larger canvas to really appreciate the striking grains in this beautiful wood.

Overall, a very pleasing puzzle to work on and solve that I am very happy to have in my collection. I will definitely hand this one over to friends and family with confidence that they can solve it if they put their mind to it.

## No Holes Barred – Laszlo Molnar

Another wonderful puzzle from Brian Menold and I can’t wait to get started!

Ok, so we have a 5 sided box with one small wedge shaped obstruction. We also have 5 nearly identical pieces that need to be packed inside. One of the pieces is different however and it contains a piece that matches the wedge shaped obstruction. Logic would tell me that the two pieces should fit together when this is complete. Awesome! That gives me somewhere to start. Let’s see what happens.

Well, 2 minutes into this thing and there’s an obvious problem. If the 2 triangular wedges are put together then the piece extends above the top of the box – thus the final solution cannot be found with those two pieces fit together. Instead, I am now thinking that the unique piece will somehow slide past the obstruction with the wedges facing each other. I mean, there has to be a reason to have these wedges right? I’m doubtful that they are simply there for aesthetic reasons.

All right, time to get packing!

Arrrgggg! Did I mention that I’m challenged by packing puzzles? Yeah, my brain just isn’t wired to solve these things – but I’m trying to get better! My problem is that I really love the looks of packing puzzles in general, I love the idea of packing puzzles too – they are always so inviting. The thing I like most about packing puzzles is that they can be very, very casual. I call them “drinking puzzles” because I can have a drink or two (or three) and still work on them. If I happen to solve it – awesome – the solution is right there for the morning! And if I don’t solve it, then no big deal – I haven’t messed up any difficult sequence or anything. Some puzzles require all the focus that I can muster, but packing puzzles? Not so much. But despite my love affair with packing puzzles, they are the hardest for me to wrap my head around.

Holy Hell this thing is frustrating. I keep going back to the wedge shaped pieces. Why are they there? It doesn’t make any sense to me. They are not working the way I though they would work. I don’t think that the wedge piece will slide under the obstruction as I originally guessed. Instead, maybe it’s there to help place the wedge piece because surprisingly, its quite difficult to place pieces into this box and that little wedge allows me to rotate in a piece which seems like it will be important later. The tight tolerances make it seemingly impossible to insert the pieces in many of the available configurations. I’m determined to get there, but right now, I haven’t a clue.

The other thing is, I keep reaching for another piece thinking that I’ll try a different shape for a change. But they are all the same shape! Arrrggg! C’mon brain, do something!

Whelp. Last night I worked on this puzzle while watching hockey. In between each period, I’d pull the puzzle out and work on it with laser-focus. I’ve gotten to know this puzzle now and although I’m not really any closer to solving it, I’ve discovered a couple of things.

Mainly, I’ve discovered that the unique piece with the wedge at the end has a bit more mobility inside the box than the other pieces. The fact that the end of the piece comes to a point allows this piece a little more room to maneuver, which although I haven’t yet capitalized on this fact, I do think it will become important in the end.

The other thing is, at this point, I can only assemble the pieces in 2 different ways. Often times, with these packing puzzles, I’ll flip the box over and assemble the pieces on the bottom, hoping that I will then be able to replicate the process inside the box. Out of the 2 assemblies that I’ve found, only one of them would work in the box. This realization had me excited and I really thought that I had it solved there for a moment. However, it turns out, the assembly I was attempting just doesn’t work. There’s a chance that I am just doing it wrong and that placing the pieces inside is way more complex (ie. moving, sliding, rotating, etc.) then I thought. So, I will have to get back at it soon. A new day brings a new level of focus sometimes.

Eventually I figured it out and was successful at packing the puzzle, but it sure took me longer than I’d like to admit. The main problem is that I was chasing a solution that didn’t exist. There is a very unique move that involves rotating the unique piece in such a way that a little slot opens up that another piece can fit into. This was so unique and exciting that I was sure that it was the solution. The problem is, it didn’t work. And in puzzling, when something doesn’t work, it should usually be abandoned for another method – and I stubbornly kept trying the same move over and over.

Finally, I gave up on that move and started searching for something simpler. It was during this search that I finally found the answer and, boy, did I really over think this thing. In the end, this puzzle goes together pretty easily and I would bet that there are folks out there that would call it trivial. For me, it was a good challenge and very satisfying to complete. And it’s no surprise that I was on a wild goose chase. There is a certain Red Herring in this puzzle that was intentionally designed to misdirect the puzzler. I bought right into it and the prolonged goose chase only sweetened the victory.

Overall, an excellent packing puzzle beautifully created and highly recommended!

## 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!