Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Onion

I first came upon the Onion in George Miller's website PuzzlePalace. I emailed George asking if I could buy the Onion and Tangerine puzzles, but he replied to say that he longer manufactures puzzles and that his site is only left active for people requiring solutions to the puzzles featured on PuzzlePalace. However George was kind enough to introduce me to Vesa Timonen, the designer of the Onion, and suggested to Vesa to upload his Onion design onto the Shapeways site and see if a working model could be made. Vesa did as George suggested and after some weeks received his prototype. The prototype must have been ok as Vesa subsequently listed the Onion (and Tangerine) puzzles for sale at his online shop on Shapeways and these two are currently available for order. My Onion came delivered by UPS several weeks thereafter. If you order something from Shapeways, it seems only after the order has been accepted will they start to manufacture the item; nothing is ready in stock.


The Onion puzzle is indeed shaped and looks almost like a real onion, but much smaller at around 13/4 inches in diameter and 11/4 inches thick. It is made of the material that Shapeway describes on their site as "White, Strong, Flexible & Polished". I believe it to be some sort of resin or plastic (although I cannot be sure). The puzzle is well manufactured and all the pieces fit properly and are nice and smooth (important for the Onion). Whatever the material is, it feels tough and durable, although the white colour tends to stain quite easily.


The object of the puzzle is to "peel" the layers of the Onion out from inside the shell...unlike a real onion. My Onion arrived in a solved state; ie all the 5 inner pieces were already separated. It was not overly difficult to fit the pieces together back inside the shell but removing them again was much more challenging. Certainly not that easy at all and I grappled with the puzzle for a good while before finally removing all the inner pieces. As with any puzzle, there is a way to solve the Onion without using any force or extraction tools.

Vesa Timonen's Onion dwarfed by its real cousin
As I understand, Shapeways' items usually come un-coloured (ie white) unless you specify one of their many coloured finishes. In the case of the Onion, this is just as well since white is quite an appropriate colour for the puzzle, so one need not pay extra for colour nor go through the messy trouble of dyeing.

Overall the Onion is a decent looking puzzle, pretty unusual I would say (both in name and design), against the plethora of puzzles out there. From the puzzling aspect, it also poses a reasonable challenge.

Green Apple

This is an all metal puzzle which I acquired from Wil Strijbos. Measuring just about 11/4 inch at its widest and 11/2 inches tall including the stalk, I got it more for its cute factor than anything else. It does possess the shape and outline of a real apple and there are 3 colours in the range to choose from including red and yellow. Construction, quality and finish are excellent and feels decently heavy for its size.


The object of the puzzle is to get a gold coloured ring out from within the apple. Hardly the coolest looking piece of jewellery around, but the ring does fit my right 4th finger quite nicely, so I may just decide to wear it now and again.. While I would not consider this to be a very difficult puzzle, it still does pose a reasonable challenge. Looking at the external surface of the apple (which is not obvious in the photograph), the aim is to split the apple into two halves to remove the ring inside. At first sight it would seem impossible to take the apple apart given the way the two halves are joined together ...but then again, looks are sometimes deceiving. Once you have figured out the way to split the two halves, which I think is rather unique, its quite easy to solve the puzzle repeatedly. Overall the apple is a nice puzzle cum keepsake, with a ring you can wear thrown in for good measure.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

All Hail The King

Update 26 October 2017 - Dear Reader, please check out my new puzzle blog and e-store at http://mechanical-puzzles.com

The All Hail The King puzzle has been reviewed by different bloggers at one time or another. (eg; see Oli's Mechanical Puzzle Blog, Collecting Mechanical Puzzles, Jeff's Puzzle & Magic Reviews). While I probably can't add much more than what has already been said about the puzzle, well here are my own two cents worth.
The King is very tall at 6 inches!
Disclaimer: Coke Zero can displayed for size comparison purposes only.
This blog has no affiliation whatsoever with Coke Zero or The Coca Cola Company
I was very lucky to acquire the King from Oy Sloyd Ab. It was one of two remaining pieces they had which had been used as counter display items in their store in Vaasa, Finland. As far as I know, the King and other puzzles designed by Marcel Gillen are no longer available from any retailer anywhere and very difficult to find. My own version was made most likely by Bits & Pieces. Although the overall quality is generally good, nonetheless because it is made of cast aluminium, one or two tiny cast "joints" are still visible. To be fair this is not really a big deal because the joints are not obvious until you hold the puzzle up close and scrutinize thoroughly. The puzzle itself is large and heavy, measuring about 6 inches tall with a base of almost 2 inches in diameter.
M G for Marcel Gillen
The object of the puzzle is to remove a coin from within the puzzle. By just looking at the puzzle, one can deduce straight away that there must be some kind of a mechanism that will get the puzzle open. Solving this puzzle was not difficult for me and I managed to extract the coin (which turned out to be made of plastic) within 15 to 20 minutes or so of trying. Although I was able to solve the King quite quickly, I think it still presents a fair challenge as evidenced from one of my friends who gave up trying after a couple of hours.

The coin perched atop The King
Overall, the King is a handsome piece and feels solid. Besides being a puzzle, the King can also serve as a nice paperweight or an interesting coffee table conversation piece, as I seriously doubt anyone would mistake it for a real chess king. For its rarity, certainly a collector's puzzle. If you happen to come across one for sale, don't wait, buy it immediately!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Cannonball

The puzzle is from the Enigma Series and I acquired it from Mr Puzzle Australia. The puzzle itself consist of a miniature cannon measuring slightly over 2 1/2 inches long resting on a red painted carriage with 4 wheels. The entire puzzle, cannon, carriage and wheels are entirely made of brass. The puzzle is well made and of decent quality. Aside from being a puzzle, it can also function as a cute decorative item once you are done with the puzzling, or even a child's toy (although I think not advisable for those under 3 years!).

The object of the puzzle is to remove a small cannonball (aka ball bearing) hidden within the barrel of the  cannon. Without going into any details which will give away the solution, all I will say is that I found the puzzle relatively easy to solve. But as I found out later, this was due partly to my side-stepping (by chance) one of the moves in the sequence required to remove the cannonball. And also partly due to the way the different parts were fitted together. Hence I was able to remove the cannonball pretty quickly.

For those interested in the Cannonball puzzle, I will give one clue -- the red carriage on wheels has no part to play in the solving of the puzzle :-)

Straight Forward

The Straight Forward from Mr Puzzle Australia was a participating entrant in the 2008 IPP Puzzle Design Competition. Designed by Brian Young, it is a maze type puzzle consisting of a rectangular block of wood with a centre trough or "dug-out" drain stretching from one end to the other, over which is covered by a sheet of perspex (acrylic). Although physically its simple and innocent looking enough, the way to solve this puzzle is anything but simple nor straight forward (no pun intended). The puzzle is made of Queensland Blackbean wood and part of Mr Puzzle's "craftsman range of superior wooden puzzles". Judging by the workmanship and finish of my piece, the Straight Forward is indeed a high quality item.

The puzzle itself measures about 6 3/4 inches long, 2 inches wide and 3/4 inch thick. The aim of the puzzle is to move the ball bearing from the "Start" position at one end of the puzzle to the "Finish" position at the opposite end. Getting in the way of the ball bearing moving from end to end are three tiny metal (brass I think) pegs that slide in and out from holes on either side of the trough or drain. Depending on how you tilt the puzzle, at any one time at least one or two of the three pegs will slide out of their own holes and "block" the ball bearing in its path, hence making it seemingly impossible to move it to the "Finish" position as intended.

I spent several hours on this puzzle but could not get the ball bearing to reach its destination. I decided then to look at the solution, which really surprised me. I would say that the way to solve this puzzle is actually quite clever in a certain sense, in that the solution was really not what I had expected in a puzzle of this nature. But then again, its the unexpected twist I think, that makes a puzzle unique and interesting. The way this puzzle is solved reminds me of the often quoted saying; "sometimes the easiest way is the obvious way". But then again, the obvious way is not always as obvious as it seems. Although Mr Puzzle rates it as level 7 (out of 10) in difficulty, I would say the puzzle more likely deserves an 8.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Prison Block

Prison Block is one of the easier puzzles in my collection. My aluminium version is from Sloyd but there is also a version made out of wood. What attracted me to this puzzle (besides it being all metal) was the purple square block on top of the black rectangular plate inside it, which gives the puzzle a rather unique appearance.

The puzzle is 31/4 inches square and about 1 inch thick. It houses within it the black rectangular plate and the object of course as the name implies, is to remove the plate from the aluminium housing. The purple square block functions as a knob for your fingers to manipulate the plate which moves freely within the housing. The base of the puzzle is covered with a velvety layer so you can safely place it on any surface like a glass or wooden table top without fear of scratches. Overall construction and fit and finish of the puzzle is good.


I was able to solve the puzzle in less than 5 minutes after picking it up! Removing the plate is relatively easy but putting it back into the housing is far more challenging and I took while longer. The trick to this puzzle is  to examine and look at the puzzle carefully, especially the inside. It becomes pretty easy to solve it after that.

Apart from being a decent puzzle, it makes a nice table decoration or even a paper weight. In fact, more than a few of my friends actually thought  it was an ashtray. Well with the black plate removed, it certainly can function as one!

Centrale

The Centrale (designed by Jean Claude Constantine) is a cute little wooden puzzle. "Cute" and "little" aptly describes the physical appearance of the puzzle. But when it comes to solving it, it is perhaps one of the most difficult I have encountered in the sense that I have not been able to solve it repeatedly, even with the benefit of the solution. This puzzle, which I got from Puzzle Master is no larger than a deck of cards, measuring 31/2 inches x 21/4 inches x 3/4 inch.
It consist of a box (formed by 7 layers of wood of varying thickness) with rounded corners and within the box is a wooden slider holding a Canadian 5cent coin (which I have since replaced with a nicer looking Singapore $1 coin). It has a curved wooden stripe along the top edge which adds to the overall external design of the puzzle. The puzzle is well made and both the construction and fit are good. It is also one of those puzzles which you can pocket easily and take along for travelling. Which is precisely what I did on a recent business trip from Singapore to the Philippines, figuring that I could keep myself entertained with it during the 3 hour long flight.

The object of the puzzle is to remove the coin from the box by unlocking the wooden slider to allow the coin to be extracted from the larger of the two holes. In the locked position, the coin is visible through the smaller hole.
After take off, the pushing and pulling began. But despite everything I tried, nothing I did could get the coin out. Within the puzzle is a mechanism that must be unlocked to allow the slider to move sideways and free the coin. After almost half an hour of trying, I finally got the coin out at 29,000 feet in the sky...but I believe it was purely by chance or through sheer luck. I wasn't too pleased with myself and decided to put the coin back in and try again. This time I was not so lucky and when the plane landed over 3 hours later, the coin was still stuck.

I continued puzzling over the Centrale the next few days to no avail and finally decided to email William Strijbos for a solution. I had read on someone's puzzle blog that he was the man who could provide the key to solving this puzzle. William was very kind and replied me the very same day. Here is when I saw the ingenuity of the design of the internal mechanism. However even following all the steps provided by the solution to the tee, I still had difficulty. I just could not consistently solve the puzzle repeatedly.

I would rate this puzzle as very difficult. Puzzle Master rates it as a 7 but I think it should be an 8 at least. There are a number of steps to be memorized in sequence to unlock the wooden slider to remove the coin. For me, without looking at the solution, I would never have been able to solve it as it was intended. For someone wanting a nice looking, portable, well made and very challenging wooden puzzle at a reasonable price, the Centrale fits the bill.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Internal Combustion

The Internal Combustion puzzle designed by Tadao Muroi is what is known as a "framed burr" puzzle where the burr pieces fit within a fixed outer frame or box. The version that I received from Puzzle Master is made of solid aluminium. There is also a wooden version mentioned in Oli's blog while Mr Puzzle Australia retails their version online under the name Pandora's Box.
The aluminium version is 2 3/8 inches square and about 1 1/2 inches high. It is pretty heavy and feels quite a handful in your palm. My own puzzle is reasonably well constructed with precision and all the inside burr pieces slide against each other quite smoothly.

The object of the puzzle is to remove all the 4 interlocking burr pieces from the outer frame. None of the 4 pieces are identical. This is a sequential movement type puzzle and if the right sequence is followed, the pieces are easily removable and certainly without the use of any force. The number of steps required to remove all the pieces have been so far documented to be either 9, 12 or 15 (see Jim Storer's comments on his site...warning!...the solution is shown).  There is even a YouTube video which shows the puzzle being solved in just 5 moves.

When I first got the puzzle, It took me quite a while to remove the inside pieces, pushing and sliding whatever pieces that could move. As I did not want to look at the solution without giving myself a decent amount of time to solve the puzzle, the way I eventually solved it was probably due not to following the right sequence but rather more through a trial and error process. I believe this is one of those puzzles that one can solve by chance at some point in time through continuous trying, even though the necessary steps are not followed properly in sequence. This is borne out by the fact above that depending on how you move the individual pieces, you could take anywhere from 5 to 15 steps to solve it.


Removing the pieces is the easier (not easy) part....assembling them back within the frame is much more difficult. I would not have been able to do so without the benefit of the online solution provided by Puzzle Master. Although the solution shows the steps to disassemble the puzzle, it does not explicitly state the sequence to assemble it back except to "follow the steps in reverse". If you have solved the puzzle by chance without following the correct sequence, chances (no pun intended) are that the  "reverse" to re-assemble it would prove to be very challenging as I found out. I even had to resort to "marking" each of the 4 pieces A to D with a marker pen to help me remember the orientation of the burr pieces vis-a-vis the frame.

Overall I think this is a nice puzzle to own and one that is pretty difficult (but not overly difficult) to solve (both to take apart and put together again...the latter much harder of course!). Puzzle Master's difficulty rating of 8/10 is spot on. I think with constant practice, one would get the hang of it after a while.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Blind Labyrint 1A & 1C

It has been mentioned more than once on the internet that the Blind Labyrint (no, its not misspelled) is the grandfather of the Revomaze. I could not agree more with this statement. The Blind Labyrint series of puzzles were designed in the early 1980s by Lauri Kaira. According to Sloyd where I acquired both puzzles, only about 2000 units were made. Sloyd informs me that there are actually only two puzzles in the series, graded 1A and 1C (there is no 1B in between), the 1C as being difficult. Both 1A and 1C are still available and Sloyd has categorised them as collectors' puzzles.



The puzzle is entirely made of aluminium, comprising two main parts, the maze portion and the sleeve portion. The maze is "inscribed" (if this is the appropriate word to use) onto a burnished aluminium tube. The maze does not run the entire length of the tube but rather ends just somewhere before the halfway point. I suppose if the maze did run the entire length, the puzzle would undoubtedly be a lot harder than it is. At the other end of the aluminium tube, a short section of the black sleeve is attached permanently.  The second part is the sleeve portion which is entirely in black and holds a small (steel) pin used to navigate the maze. When the puzzle is solved, both parts form nicely into a single black tube. The puzzle is 3 1/2 inches long and has an external tube diameter of 1 3/8 inches.

The puzzle components are overall well made and of high quality. Fit and finish is generally good.....subject to one caveat which I shall elaborate below.

The object of the puzzle is of course to navigate the maze with the pin attached to the black sleeve, and to move the sleeve to cover entirely the burnished aluminium tube. 1A is a one-directional maze meaning that there is only one entry point for the pin. The pin will follow a single twisting path towards the end. Version 1C which is the hardest has two entry points and the maze is an "open" design, with a various paths to the final solved stage but fraught with numerous dead ends.

Blind Labyrint 1A & 1C in the foreground
Being somewhat ambitious, I started with 1C first. I managed to surprise myself when I was able to navigate the pin from start to finish rather quickly, at most 15 minutes I think. Feeling rather smug that I had solved it so quickly and wondering if the puzzle truly deserved its 1C rating, I started to backtrack, ie to navigate the maze backwards and remove the sleeve from the tube. Here is where I had to swallow my ego and pride after over an hour of struggling....I somehow could not seem to find my way back out! No matter what I tried, I keep getting myself into a dead end and had to find my way back to the starting point to start over again...(sounds familiar with the reset in the Revomaze?).

In the process of trying to disassemble the puzzle, at one point I got both the tube and sleeve jammed pretty badly and had to use a certain amount of force to free both parts. While doing so, I heard certain sickening crunching noises as metal rubbed against metal, much like scratching your nails on a blackboard. Thankfully after several attempts over a couple nights, I finally managed to dislodge the sleeve from the maze tube.

Here is where the downside of the puzzle shows itself. Unlike the Removmaze, the pin on the sleeve is not spring loaded. The maze itself also has relatively sharp edges at the bends. As a result moving the pin through the maze is not as smooth or easy as one would have liked. In fact you will hear rough grinding noises from time to time as you twist and turn. Perhaps the tolerances may be too tight, which results in a lack of sufficient "free-play" of the pin within the paths of the maze. One must avoid using any force or the pin will jam as I had experienced. An almost gentle delicate touch is required to push, pull or twist the sleeve through the maze tube to avoid getting stuck and possibly damaging the maze . Handled carefully, the puzzle was problem-free.

Notwithstanding the above, one must remember that this series of puzzles is 30 years old! They were made at  a time when technology was not as advanced, unlike today's modern puzzles like the Revomaze which have the benefit of computerised and precision manufacturing techniques.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Pelikan Egg

Update 24 October 2017 - Dear Reader, please check out my new puzzle blog and e-store at http://mechanical-puzzles.com

This wood puzzle in the shape of an egg comes from Mr Puzzle Australia. Made by Pelikan of the Czech Republic, it consists of 4 interlocking pieces and a turned wood stand. The puzzle is made from a combination of different woods which according to the retailer's website, include "....maple, walnut, birch, ash, apple, pear, cherry, oak, beech, plum, and acacia as well as some exotic woods like mahogany, ebony, wenge, walnut, paduak, rosewood, amaranth, bubinga, owango, jarah, meranti, and iroko". 




The egg measures 3 1/8 inch tall and has a diameter of about 2 3/8 inch; several times larger than a real egg. The stand is 1 5/8 inch tall. Placed on the stand, the egg makes a very nice decoration for the shelf or on the mantle. Anyone wanting it to remain only as a display piece would be well advised to "blue tac" or "double-side-tape" the egg to the stand as it can be pretty easily and accidentally knocked over.


On my puzzle, although I have no clue as to which particular species of woods were chosen, I counted no less than 6 different types of varying colours and grain pattern. These range from a creamy white to dark chocolate with several shades in-between. It is obvious the makers of the puzzle deliberately mixed and matched grain patterns using different woods to give the egg a striking and colourful appearance. 



Each of the four interlocking pieces consist of several different woods glued together as can be seen from the photo. All four pieces have been constructed to very tight tolerances. The external surface of the egg is lacquered and fit and finish on my egg is very good. There are however delicate edges in all the pieces (due to curvature of the puzzle) which requires careful handling, since any drop or knock against one of these edges will almost certainly dent and damage the wood. The same goes for any rough handling. When assembled, the egg feels smooth and tight and holds together well. Yet it is not so tight that brute strength is required to disassemble the egg again.

Disassembly and assembly requires pulling and pushing the 4 interlocking pieces in various directions. As this was my first interlocking wood puzzle, I had no idea how much or how little strength I should exert in order to separate the pieces. My first 30 mins with the puzzle got me nowhere. Somehow I just could not get any part of the puzzle to move. Not wanting to inadvertently damage the puzzle through excessive use of force (especially if it was in the wrong direction!), I emailed the retailer for the solution.

Sue Young, the wife of Brian Young, puzzle designer of Mr Puzzle Australia was kind enough to send some photos of Brian taking apart the egg. She did also mention that some of the egg puzzles in stock were pretty tight due to wetter than normal conditions Down Under. Hence that I should keep mine in an air-conditioned environment. In humid Singapore, this was exactly what I did for several days. On the fifth day, with a more than gentle nudge, the first interlocking piece moved at last. Of course by then I already had a peek at the solution from Sue and I knew which pieces go in which direction.

The Egg Puzzle while not very difficult (level 4 according to the retailer) is nonetheless a handsome puzzle, well made with an array of exotic woods and exudes quality. Personally I feel it deserves a place in any puzzle collection.
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