Jan 31, 2015

Space Space Maze

Space Space Maze - Puzzle 1

Space Space Maze - Puzzle 2

Space Space Maze - Puzzle 3

When I was a child, I had a few encounters with such puzzles. They were usually placed on some other toys, adding more "fun" for the child. I used to be scared of these, because they not only needed precision, patience and calmness, but they also required knowledge of physics, more correctly - sliding.
The goal of these puzzles in most of the cases is to place the small marbles on the small holes. Usually, the holes are randomly positioned and when you put marble on a hole, you will need to be very careful in handling the puzzle further, otherwise you will end in a marble leaving a hole. Some puzzles have obstacles on the way of the marbles, others have free space above the marbles and the obstacles, which will ruin your current placement of you happen to turn the puzzle (upside-down). And the most enhanced versions have bigger marbles as obstacles, to make the game more interesting.
I bought these three puzzles two or three years ago, at my puzzle craze, when I craved for puzzles almost every day. I was at the seaside and having my puzzle collection left at home, I wanted something new badly. I encountered these in a shop, can't remember which one now, and I bought them. I was hesitant at the first place, as I knew this kind already, but I gave up finally and got all three of them. I am not aware if there are any other puzzles in this series, but I saw these three and got them.
I was surprised to actually solve them faster than I thought. Indeed for one or two of them I had accidentally undone my current state once or twice, but in general it was fun solving them. Now follow separate review for each of the puzzles:

Puzzle 1
Personally, I think this is the most annoying of the three. It is tough to navigate the marbles through the maze. There is also one place where the marbles are intended to pass, but it is practically impossible to do that. You can use this in your favor. The place is positioned in such a way that if you miss the entry point for the inner part of the maze, the marble could easily go a few rings out. But with the opening being too small for the marble to pass, you will not suffer that much pain in your endavours to put it inside.

Puzzle 1 - solved

Puzzle 2
What "annoyed" me for the second one was the fact that from one point onwards the maze became the same no matter where the marble initially was, so it was a little (very little) boring. On the other side, this puzzle was the easiest from the three. Here there is also one place where the marbles should pass, but they were not able to. But it is not part of the correct path, so the only way to avoid it is to shake the puzzle more if any marble happen to go there.

Puzzle 2 - solved

Puzzle 3
Among these three, the third puzzle seemed the most appealing to me. It is indeed a bit different than the other two: the maze is different (straightforward); there are no small holes, so you need to just put the small marbles in the inmost part of the maze (which would have made the other two nicer if they had this feature as well); there are more than one big marbles as well; and there is no space above the maze and the marbles. That means, the puzzle cannot be reset if it is turned upside-down. This was a big plus for my choice. While the first and the second need only positioning the marbles in the holes and then shaking the puzzle to start from beginning, the third one has both directions as goals - putting the marbles in and then taking them out of the whole maze. I found it easier for the first direction and much harder for the second. So, if there was space above to reset the puzzle, it would be much easier in general.

Puzzle 3 - solved

I was planning to evaluate the three puzzles separately, because of the above-mentioned differencies, but while preparing the pictures for the blog entry, I decided to give them one and the same ratings:

Idea: 3
Implementation: 3
Experience: 2
Difficulty: 4
Overall: 3

In conclusion, I would not prefer to solve any of these puzzles once again (that is why the rating of 2 for experience for each of them). Even when preparing the pictures for this blog entry, I was wondering whether I shall postpone it until I find more suitable time to solve them. Glad I did it already and can move on with other, more interesting puzzles.

Jan 24, 2015

EZ Unlink

This is another puzzle from the series "EZ" metal puzzles designed by Doug Engel (the other two are "EZ Atom" and "EZ Galaxy"). Actually, I am not aware if there are others in this specific series, whose names start with "EZ".
I don't know what this "EZ" stands for (does it stand for the designer's initials, although they seem to be different - D.E., or does it mean "easy"). Whatever the case is, I like this puzzle. It is designed to look like a 12-pointed star, consisting of four different triangles, three of which are the same, but in different colors, and one is just a closed contour of a triangle. They are put together in a nice form and could be separated easily. If you don't pay attention to how you disassemble the pieces (or even how the form looks like when they are assembled), then you will definitely have difficulties in putting them back together.
Personally, I have tried to follow the order which is depicted on the picture of the assembled version for the puzzle. I guess the pieces could be put in a different order as well, as three out of the four pieces are the same, as I already stated. But in any case, the orientation of the pieces is what is important and one has to find out by themselves how to put them in order to assemble the puzzle back into a 12-pointed star.
My ratings for "EZ Unlink" are the following:
Idea: 4
Implementation: 4
Experience: 4
Difficulty: 3
Overall: 3.75
In general, I like such puzzles, for which the solution is easier in one direction and more difficult in the other. That means the solution is not just that straightforward and something about it requires more details from the solver/player. Give it a try* and have fun.

* You can check the puzzle at PuzzleMaster here

Jan 17, 2015

Cast Quartet

Cast Quartet! I don't know where to begin.
I first noticed this puzzle on the list with Hanayama Cast puzzles (the small one which comes in the package of every Cast puzzle). I was looking for a level 6 puzzle (as per Hanayama's ratings) which to get first of these most difficult in the series. And this one was the most appealing to me. I told myself that I must get it soon. At that time I was having three puzzles in my collection.
So, one day, I went to a book shop, where they sell such puzzles in Bulgaria, and was looking for a level 6 puzzle. There were some, but "Cast Quartet" was missing. And I was not feeling satisfied. So, I did not buy anything. Some time later, I went to another book shop and... bang - there it was, staying alone (they usually have one or two copies of a puzzle), waiting for me. Looking at it through the package, I noticed that the four pieces are a little bent, not straight. That means, each is in the shape of a rhombus and not of a square, as I expected based on the picture of the puzzle in the list. This is the second thing that intrigued me about "Cast Quartet". The third one was on the back of the package - there was a picture how the puzzle is assembled, how the four pieces look like when disassembled and one third picture, which usually is not present for other Cast puzzles. This one represented the second object/shape that could be formed from the fours pieces. With this, I had no more doubts (if I have ever had any for buying this puzzle). The seller in the shop was very easy-going and told me that these puzzles are very clever and tough. She had been playing once with one for several hours. I knew this fact already and was happy to have "Cast Quartet" finally (yeah, only a few weeks of waiting) in my collection.

So, when I got home, I immediately opened the packaged and took the puzzle out. And then it all began. I quickly found out that there are two pairs of equal pieces - and each two that are the same form a thicker rhombus. The two formed rhombi are interlocked, like two pieces of a metal chain are, and there are only small openings on each of the four pieces of the puzzle, which are used to disassemble them. So, I did what was most logical to do - went for a random direction, trying to separate at least one of the pieces from the other three. At that point I expected that all four pieces should be taken apart at the same time, so I was looking for a place where this could happen.
I don't need to come into details how long time and how big struggles it took me in my endeavors for solving this puzzle. I reached some points where I could hardly move any of the pieces (they are so small and the space between then is so little that it is very difficult to move them) or even put three of the pieces as they should look on the second shape of the puzzle, while the fourth stood there in between.
I took the pieces apart when I was at a fast-food above the shop where I bought the puzzle from. I was with my sister there, eating unhealthy food, and was doing the usual - moving some pieces in random direction, when, out of a sudden, one of them fell apart from the rest. Then, it was a matter of several more moves to separate the other three. I was very impressed. Although I did not expect to find the intended solution all alone, I found this puzzle one of the best.

When trying to put it back, one of my goals was correct and I was half the way to assemble it as per the intended solution. But, back then, I did not do what had to be done further, so I failed at finding it completely by myself.

Cast Quartet - second shape

Cast Quartet - second shape (shadowed)

The second shape is very logical to make. I was happy to do this achievement. Then, after solving the puzzle randomly few more times, I looked up the solution. At first I did not believe it, but I was surprised to find out that it really works (although, it is very precise and tight - sometimes it works from the first time for me, at other times it takes a bit more effort to make it go).
So, here are my ratings for the puzzle:
Idea: Here is how this puzzle is presented (from the back of the package):
True bonds has always been hard to form, but once formed such bonds are eternal and hard to break.
My original version was created with this image in mind, but the puzzle was completed into a Cast Puzzle with a bond that is truly difficult to unravel. How would you go about breaking and forming this bond? There are two approaches to this puzzle and I challenge you to both! The key word is “Bond.” 

Personally, I find this idea great! To be honest, without such presentation, this puzzle would be one of the many, but for me it is also important what inspiration a puzzle gives to the players and the creator - be it before or after creating the puzzle.
So, for idea, I give it a rating of 6.
Implementation: The pieces of "Cast Quartet" are very simple. But the shapes they can form are very beautiful and attractive - both of them. I also love the material* - it is one of my most favorite. I think puzzles made of such material are the best. That is why I am giving it a rating of 6 here as well.
Experience: Although it is a very difficult puzzle, and I had to cheat to get the correct solution, I tend to give it a rating of 6 - one of the best puzzles I have got!
Difficulty: 6 and I bet everyone would agree.
Overall: 6
(Everything with overall rating of 5 or more is a diamond in my collection, and with rating 6 is the perfect puzzle for me.)

* It seems to me that different cast puzzles are made of different material, because they look differently on the outside. If that is not the case, then I am referring by "material" to the outside look of the puzzle. I am just not aware of the details how cast puzzles are made.

Jan 11, 2015


"Mirror, mirror, on the wall, which is the hardest puzzle of them all?"
The answer to the above question is "Keyhole"! This puzzle is currently the most difficult puzzle I have got so far. I think only "Alcatraz - the puzzle" could be competing against Keyhole, but let's not dive into it.
I got this puzzle from Puzzle Master* and I had the task to make a video solution of it. I got it together with a few other puzzles and I thought to solve this next-to-the-last from the group. However, the man from Puzzle Master told me that making video solution of this puzzle would not be fun. This intrigued me immediately. I opened the puzzle and started thinking how the string could be separated from the wire.

On the one hand, there are two objects hooked on the two ends of the string - one round bead and one cylindrical bead. The wire on the other hand is shaped in the form of a keyhole - one round opening on the top and one narrow long opening on the bottom. The wire is twisted three times around, and the starting position is such that the end with the round bead comes out of the narrow opening, while the end with the cylindrical bead comes out of the round opening. If it was vise versa, then each end of the string could pass through the corresponding opening on the wire with no issues, but at this setup it is not possible to do so. Of course, you can move one of the two ends through the corresponding opening, but this will twist the string through the center part of the wire, thus making a small knot.
Having the idea of moving ends of the string through the openings, I thought this would be the final step of the solution - one of the two ends could be taken out from the wire, thus freeing the whole string. But this would need to position the whole string in such a way that each end is in different side of the keyhole and both come out of the same opening.
During my endeavors to solve this puzzle, I found out some other possibilities for taking the string out - it could also be taken out of the wire by moving it through the windings of the wire (don't know how to call them - what I mean is the space which is between the curves on the upmost or downmost parts of the wire), or by simultaneously putting the string through the openings (this one results in the opposite position of the string to the starting position). But what was the correct thing to strive for? Also, what should the first step of the solution be? Should I move the center of the string, or one of the two ends, what direction should I move it, should I make it pass through the windings of the wire and so on? There seemed to be thousands of possible positions and movements of the string on the wire. What should be done and what - not?
During my initial try, I created some very complicated knots, I also used force to move the string at some points (it was so twisted in itself), I even hooked the string on the outer side of the wire (which I understood later was part of the correct path of the solution) and did many of things. I was even two or three steps away from solving it, but then I must have taken another path and blasted all my chances in solving it quickly. I created two easier versions, in which the wire is twisted only once and twice respectively. But they were way too easy and their solutions could not be incorporated in the solution of this one as I expected.
At one point, I saw the chance to use some force and then free the string for good. I hesitated a few days whether I shall apply this or not, but at the end, after returning few times to the same position, I cheated.

Afterwards, I was determined to put the string back by myself, so I first made a custom string. It was very each to reset it if I got stuck, so I became the fun again. But, as I have cheated, I did not know where I should enter the keyhole, so in few days of struggles, I gave up and looked up the solution. Afterwards, I had to make a video solution of it and wanted to do it in a reasonable time. Otherwise, one or two years would have been enough to find out the solution all by myself. So, no more tries from my side.
To be honest, I quickly apprehended the solution. I had to check it only twice in order to remember it and do it without any trials and errors. Since then, I can solve this puzzle very quickly (in about a minute).
Finally, I think Keyhole is one hell of a puzzle, which is only for experts in wire and string puzzles. It will take you extremely long time to solve it, even with a custom version, which could easily be reset. And it will take a lot more to remember the correct path all by yourself. If you consider buying it, do it only if you feel that you can spent a lot of weeks on a puzzle, at some points even leaving it behind to rest (being you having the rest, not it).
My final ratings on this puzzle are:
Idea: 5 (I don't give it 6, because once or twice I was wondering if this puzzle was first created with the idea and then the creator was looking for a solution to it... I just have not find yet any logic in the keyhole)
Implementation: 4 (I don't give here 6 as well, because it just looks like something very simple - a wire winded few times and a string put somewhere in it)
Experience: 5 (again, not the highest, because at some points it really annoyed me... and I would not recommend it to everyone, but I am happy to have it in my collection)
Difficulty: 6 (I want to meet someone who will debate this one)
Overall: 5
In conclusion, I would say that "Keyhole"is the puzzle which made me keen on string puzzles (be it wire and string or wood and string - I am now awaiting my first wood and string puzzle, but I think I already love this kind of puzzles as well), if I have not yet been keen on them at the time of working on it (it is my fourth wire and string puzzle and I also have solved 3 wire only puzzles before it). It inspired me in creating a few puzzles by myself, and soon I might share a creation of mine, too.

* You can check the puzzle here

Jan 5, 2015

Cast Helix

My third puzzle in my collection is “Cast Helix”. I got it together with “Cast Heart”, but I decided to solve it after, as it is one difficulty level above “Cast Heart” (5 out of 6 as per Hanayama’s ratings).
I think this puzzle is one of the most beautiful Hanayama puzzles (although, most of them look very appealing - this is one reason I like the series). The idea is to separate the small helix from the star (or flower, what it actually represents). One interesting aspect of this puzzle is that the star consists of two equal pieces, caught together in the middle with a small pin or something. These two can rotate around the central pin, but cannot be separated from each other. So, only the helix can be taken out completely from the structure, which these two pieces form.

Thanks to the rotation of the two, there can be different positions on the star. And there is one special place which can lead the helix to complete freedom, away from the star. Yes, I solved this all by myself (after working 10 days on “Cast Heart”, I think I got some inertia and found the correct solution all alone). Maybe that is the reason I like this puzzle very much. With such a high level of difficulty, finding my way around relatively quickly, I think “Cast Helix” deserves the following ratings from me:
Idea: 5
Implementation: 6
Experience: 5
Difficulty: 4
Overall: 5
It is definitely a puzzle which you won’t solve by luck (or if you do - it must be pure coincidence and you have to pay attention before you remove the helix completely from the star). Give it a try and have fun.

Jan 1, 2015

EZ Atom

“EZ Atom” is one of the most beautiful puzzles I have got. Consisting of three perpendicular to each other ellipses and a ball situated in between them, the goal of this puzzle is to separate all four pieces. Looking at them, you might come up with the idea for the solution, but still there is a high probability that you are stumbled on your very first go in solving it. That is because the pieces are made in a specific way, which allows them staying together, forming a beautiful atom-like object.
When disassembled, you can see that the three ellipses are different not only in color, but in shape as well – one has only one cut (opening) on it (the structure is not completely closed), the other two have two and three cuts correspondingly. I fell in love with this puzzle quickly and even though it is rated at level 6 (from 5 to 10 as per Puzzle Master’s ratings*), I think it is a nice object to have. My final personal ratings for it are:
Idea: 5
Implementation: 5
Experience: 4
Difficulty: 2
Overall: 4
This puzzle is suitable for beginners, but don’t be overtaken by the obstacle you encounter on your first go with it.

EZ Atom - separated

* You can check the puzzle here