Saturday, 15 October 2016


I should warn you before we start, this blog post is going to be a little different! 

Trust me, there are no spoilers in here - I know that some people will still be thinking about buying one, and MANY will still be playing with this puzzle...

I spent months on this box (on and off, as you do) and I failed to solve it… I needed help… TWICE! It is a BEAST of a puzzle … and I’m a big fan!

The SMS Box, or to give it its full pedigree name: SMS Box sequential discovery Limited Edition puzzle is Brian Young’s latest special project. While the design is credited to Brian, he makes no bones about the fact that its very existence owes a lot to Junichi Yananose’s skills at both CAD-ing and crafting. 

Getting the design properly ironed out and making 130(!) of these beauties has taken up a lot of their time over the past year… 

I resolved some time ago that I wouldn’t ever miss out on any of Brian’s limited editions again – since I started collecting puzzles more or less seriously, I have passed on one round of them and immediately regretted it, and I’ve been trying to pick up copies of those puzzles in auctions ever since – no luck yet! When Brian first offered the SMS Box, I piled in and ordered one, along with a couple of other goodies that I’d been meaning to get from him for a while, you know, to make the postage from down under worthwhile?

That package duly arrived in early July and the SMS Box really is a statement piece – it looks brilliant! Brian has literally crafted an old-fashioned telephone out of wood and hidden some puzzly-bits in the gubbins. The goal of the puzzle is to use the phone to receive an SMS… which sounds quite hi-tech for a wooden phone, but hey, I reckon Brian can do just about anything with wood… 

There’s obviously a handset on the top – which when lifted shows a couple of sprung buttons – one of which appears temporarily disabled – hopefully that wasn’t shipping damage! The cord attached to the handset tugs out of its hole in the side of the phone without showing much interesting… and there’s a huge dial on the front – beautifully made, looking rather realistic (albeit wooden!) and it turns quite freely, with the occasional interesting sounding noise…

You’ll find all of that in the first 15 seconds of playing with one of them, and that’s about as much as I progressed for several days! 

I couldn’t find anything interesting on the handset and for all I knew, the dial was purely decorative and I’d bought a solid block of wood with some strange noise-makers inside it… surely Brian wouldn’t be THAT evil, would he?

After a chat with a mate, and a little more inspiration I managed to get the dial to play a different tune, and then actually managed to make something interesting happen… PROGRESS! I had finally managed to get something to actually happen, and not only that, I could undo and re-do it at will… 

That tiny little step (a positive step, but as I now know, an infinitesimally small part of the total solution) was all I managed in my first month with this puzzle…

At about this stage I found myself in Japan where I bumped into Brian and Sue in the back streets of Japan’s second city… and as you’d expect at some point the conversation turned to the SMS Box – and I admitted to my virtually non-existent progress on said puzzle. Brian was quite sympathetic, and said that not many people had made much more progress, and then the conversation moved onto something else more interesting – probably “I’m hungry. Let’s find some dinner.”

Not much the wiser on my return from Japan, I’d pick it up every now and then and try something different… in fairness I also kept trying the same old things expecting something different to happen (yes I know! I’ve used that quote myself in the past in this very blog!). Once or twice I’d even had some brilliant flashes of inspiration in my sleep and then tried them out in the morning, only to be disappointed, again. 

One or two of my similarly confused mates would send the odd email now and then sharing their tribulations, but none of us was getting anywhere at all…

... and then an angel sent out a partial solution, suitably spoiler-warned with zero chance of anyone unwittingly seeing anything they didn’t want to… but by that time, I wanted to – so I worked my way through the document – pausing at several critical junctures to think to myself “Good grief! I would never try that…” 

Now to put things in perspective, this document talked you through the first main lock – and then stopped – that mechanism alone is thoroughly evil, brutal even… and I feel no shame in not solving it myself… if I hadn’t been given the solution to that bit, I’d probably still be where I was before I toddled off to Japan. 

Solution in hand I walked through opening the first main lock and it’s perfect… now that I understand it I can open it repeatedly – but there is NO WAY IN HECK that I’d have worked that out myself… Respect, Mr Puzzle. Deep. Respect.

From there on I was back on my own again… I had more to play with, I’d even found a use for a rather esoteric tool that I suspect many will have overlooked… found something important and I was pretty sure what needed to happen next – but I couldn’t find the right secret sauce to make it happen… 

Of course one of my mates did and duly sent me a photo proving he’d finished the puzzle – without any spoilers… he taunted me for a little while before giving me a hint – just enough of a hint to allow me to discover all manner of magic myself and experience the final reveal – which is a magical little piece of revelation all on its own – complete with Brian’s great Aussie wit. 

A lovely end to the journey…

So what do I think – of the puzzle where I needed a step-by-step solution for the first part and a hint for the second part? 

It’s terrific! 

Cheap, it ain’t. 

Brutal as a puzzle, it is. 

Buy one, you should. 

Saturday, 8 October 2016

The Bernoulli Chest # 1

One of my puzzling mates recently commissioned a rather special puzzle chest - the pictures he sent me looked spectacular, so when he offered to write up a guest blog post on it I dodn't take long to mull it over. Here it is - over to Matt:

A very special thanks to Allard for letting me ramble on in his place in the interwebs.

I’ve been seeking an everyday functional trick chest that has a few drawers that open rather simply and a few more drawers that have a vastly more complex opening sequence.

As I was pondering what type of wood I wanted the chest to made out of and look like I was reminded of the very complex and beautiful yosegi (bits of different wood formed in such a way to make geometric patterns) made by Mr. Yoshiyuki Ninomiya of the Karakuri Group. 

After searching the internet for yosegi for a while I happened across a beautiful wood jewelry chest with a strip of yosegi going around its front edge. This beautiful jewelry chest was made by Mr. Nicholas Phillips of Affine Creations and is currently the cover photo of Affine Creations Facebook account

I contacted Nicholas to see if he could make me a special trick chest with different yosegi on the drawer fronts. He was very enthusiastic about the potential project and mentioned he is fond of making Japanese style puzzle boxes and the challenge of making tricks for the chest is something he would love to take on. Based on his past work and enthusiasm I decided to take a chance and commission him to make me a trick chest.

After a few back and forths with Nicholas on drawer layout we decided on a 14 drawer layout that would bring the chest to a size of 17-1/2" tall x 14-1/4" wide and 11" deep.

Next we discussed that I would like multiple differing yosegi patterns covering the front of the drawers on the trick chest so when the chest is not being played with it will look beautiful and mesmerizing. Nicholas quickly began sketching out yosegi patterns and started building. The woods chosen for the chest were figured cherry, kiaat, and Caribbean Rosewood.

The tricks to The Bernoulli Chest # 1 vary from somewhat simple for easy access to a drawer when I’m half awake in the morning to vastly more complex for puzzling. For example, the second row has four drawers that work together in a sequential discovery puzzle in order to unlock the drawer, but to get to the key item in the first drawer that will help one open another drawer in that row one must learn how the drawer opens by itself. 

One drawer is a separate entity unto itself inasmuch as it's a self-contained Japanese-style puzzle box with sliding keys and panels. 

The last 2 rows contain a total of six drawers that work together in a kind of binary logic puzzle that releases one drawer when its corresponding drawer(s) is closed or open. 
One of the cool pictures of Nicholas building the chest on his tumblr shows how the aforementioned binary logic mechanism works, but even with a picture of the “mechanical computer” it's still quite puzzling to figure out its operation.

I’m very excited to have this trick chest in my collection and use everyday as a functional piece of art. I hope Nicholas Phillips of Affine Creations continues to make trick chests and puzzles into the future. 

 [All photos copyright of Nicholas Phillips / Affine Creations.]

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Katsumoto-san’s winners

Two new puzzles really stood out for me at this year’s Puzzle Design Competition – interestingly they shared a common theme and a designer: Hajime Katsumoto. And I wasn’t surprised when they both took a Jury Honourable Mention and one also won the Puzzlers’ Award in the 2016 Nob Yoshigahara Puzzle Design Competition.

They’re both excellent and if you get a chance to play with a copy, or pick up one of your own, you will not be disappointed! 

Slide Packing has a really simple premise – it’s one of those puzzles you can just leave out without any description or instructions and everyone will instinctively know exactly what the goal is… you’re presented with a box in two halves and a few pentominoes … so clearly the object to put the pieces into the box and close it up… simples! 

Anything but, actually!

The two halves of the box slide together on a pair of rails carved into the edges of the two pieces. The bottom half of the box will allow two layers of cubies and the top half will fit a single layer… the resulting space inside the closed box allowing for a full 3*3*3 cube. The pieces you need to put inside the box will only take up 20 of those 27 cubies – so there’s theoretically bags of space left over inside there once this thing’s solved… 

Hopefully I’ve convinced you by now, dear reader, that this is not only theoretically possible, but you’re probably thinking to yourself that surely there’s another catch… well there ain’t – that is it!

But when you start playing with putting the pieces into the bottom half and sliding the lid closed you realise the problem – you’re going to have to either put one of the flat pieces inside the lid and get the others into the bottom half of the box without any obstruction to the top half, which would allow you to simply slide the lid into place, or you’re going to have to manoeuvre things around while the lid is semi-open and hope you can get things where you need them to be…

Now when I first sat down with this puzzle it was pretty clear what you were trying to do, and I very quickly found that everything I wanted to try wouldn’t work. So I fiddled around for a while and rapidly ran out of ideas…so I did what anyone in my position would do and moved onto the next puzzle… but in the back of my mind I kept playing around with the odd idea or two… and the next morning I’d come up with a plan that I was thoroughly delighted to find actually enabled me to slide the lid home with everything neatly inside the box… my favourite puzzle in the Design Competition and also the one puzzle I’d save.(*) 

Penta in a Box consists of five pentominoes to be packed inside a neat little box with a hinged lid. Once again we have space inside the box for a 3*3*3 cube, so this time there will only be a couple of cubies spare once the box is closed… the pentominoes are also all different this time, which makes finding a 3*3*3 assembly a little more of a challenge!

Finding one is only half the battle, however… the hinged lid effectively swipes a little bit of the top front row of cubies because of the arc it takes as you close the lid… which is interesting because you know there are only two cubies spare in there, yet the lid will probably stop you using three of the cubies – and while it’s been a while since I did any really serious sums, even I remember that 25 into 24 don’t go good! 

Thankfully there aren’t nearly as many possible assemblies with this set of pentominoes so it quickly reduces to the problem of closing the lid and how you can cunningly remove the apparent constraint. 

Another puzzle that needs a bit of thought before the arrival of a massive “A-Ha!” moment…

Two terrific puzzles from Hajime Katsumoto – both were available from Mine’s webshop – hopefully more will become available in due course… 

...and it's not just me who thinks these puzzles are brilliant! - Read Kevin's thoughts over here... 

(*) At one of my earliest IPPs one of the veterans asked me which puzzle that I’d acquired over the course of the magical few days I would choose to keep if I was only allowed to save a single puzzle? It was a brilliant question! And one that we generally discuss every year now… This year it would have to be Slide Packing!

Thursday, 15 September 2016

IPP36 - the rest of it... and then some.

Sunday is the puzzle party – usually one of the great highlights of my IPPs – however this year it was preceded by a bit of a chest issue that kept me up all night and saw me needing to head to the Emergency Room in the morning for some drugs and a cortisone drip… 
Osho insisted on driving us to the hospital [Thanks Osho!!] and made sure we were getting helped and much interpreting help from Tetsuro who stayed with us the whole time we were there and made sure that we got everything we needed – Thank you to both of these puzzling friends who gave up the first few hours of the puzzle party to make sure that I was OK. (And to Lixy for getting me sorted at the hotel!) 

While the drugs were doing their thing, I went back to bed and then made it down for the last hour of the puzzle party. Much concern was expressed and also a fair amount of relief to see that I was vertical - thanks all! 

In spite of “missing all the good stuff” (not really!) I managed to pick up a fair few nice little trinkets, including a copy of the Imaginary Cube puzzle from Saturday’s lecture and a few little packing puzzles from Kotani-san. 

Gill ushered me back to the room for some more rest before allowing me downstairs for a few of the afternoon’s lectures. Takashima-san gave a really poignant lecture on puzzles in wartime showing that puzzles literally transcended the war with both sides using the same puzzles for their propaganda messages. That lecture really struck a chord. 

I ended up missing a few of the other lectures that afternoon while I caught up on some of the sleep I’d missed out on the night before…

At the awards dinner we were treated to a truly world-class act from Yosuke Ikeda – well worth watching the video link on that page! We were all thoroughly delighted – everyone in the audience had a permanent look of absolute wonder on their faces – you just had to smile all the way through his act… after the act, the applause was rapturous!

The Obligatory Renegades Photo!

Nick’s traditional awards show followed with the two Penta packing puzzles doing really well and an Honourable Mention for Mike’s Toolbox. It’s a good night for puzzles!

After the formalities wind up there are the usual long sad farewells to folks that we probably won’t see for another twelve months… but it’s been great to catch up again and to puzzle together. 

That evening Mine puts a note on FaceBook to say that the Penta packing puzzles will be for sale in Hakone on Tuesday… and we just happen to be heading there on a bus with a hundred or so puzzlers! 

Monday, and the drugs are starting to help, a bit. 

We have an 8:30 bus call before we head east wending our way to Tokyo. Our first stop is at the Giant Kite Museum – where they just happen to have a pretty awesome collection of impossible objects of every single persuasion, from traditional Japanese bottle stuffing, to modern puzzles like Strijbos’ impossible aluminium dovetails. 

Several impossible objects are for sale from Osho and a friend who’ve driven ahead of us to make sure they were all set up before we got there – grateful puzzlers did what they normally do in situations like this and bought many, many things from them!

Next was a stop at the Toyota Car Museum with some lovely specimens for the petrolheads to drool over – loved the blue Bugatti! Light lunch at the museum before we headed off to the next Toyota museum – this one specialising in the future technologies being developed – and outside their auditorium they just happened to have a fantastic Patrick Hughes perspective painting to mess with your head… 

Another hour or two in the bus took us to our hotel for the evening – easily the dinkiest hotel (and rooms) I’ve ever seen. A bunch of us head out in search of food and find a great little restaurant that had a table for ten(!) available. We settle down for an extremely varied dinner before Gill and I fade early – still trying to catch up on the sleep we’d missed on Saturday night. 

Tuesday sees a reasonable start with everyone keen to get on the buses and head for Hakone. We make one stop on the way there – at a services with a great view of Mount Fuji … and it’s not covered in cloud! The Tourism gods must be smiling on us today! 

When we reach Hakone there’s a disorderly disgorgement of puzzlers as everyone tries to get to Izumiya first! 

There’s a serious gaggle around Mine’s table outside of Izumiya where he’s selling ready-made bags of puzzles in two sets – I opt for Set A as I’d missed out on last year’s puzzles and that gives me a set of them as well as this year’s designs. I am delighted – happy to have already got what I really came to Hakone for – the puzzle boxes will be a bonus!. 

I picked up a couple of the more recent Karakuri boxes and then Gill and I spent the rest of the wandering around the village, having lunch and chatting…

We visited the new Karakuri Museum – well worth a visit – there’s a Kamei secret door to get into the exhibition and woe betide anyone who tries to sneak around the back and get in without going through the secret door… Strayer, we’re looking at you! 

Inside there are some wonderful Nonomiya and Okiyama boxes, a self-opening trick box (just press a button and watch it open itself up!), several items of puzzle furniture being enthusiastically demonstrated by the staff and even some Brian Young and Frank Potts puzzles on display. As I said, well worth a visit! 

The drive into Tokyo was really interesting, especially as we entered the great city itself – where a number of subterranean expressways link parts of the city – accessed via long corkscrewing tunnels into the centre of the earth…

The bus drops us off outside one of the recommended hotels and we wander up a couple of blocks to get to our hotel for the next few days – we’re totally zonked and manage to find a sandwich joint for dinner and we crash really early…

Come Wednesday morning we realise that we’ve both picked up Chinny’s flu bug so we take it really slowly, taking in a few fabric stores that Gill’s scouted out via ‘tinterweb and I spend an hour wandering around the local Tokyo Hands. Dinner is in the hotel because we literally can’t face going out… damn flu!

Thursday sees another late start and we managed to head to Akihabara and find Torito where Meiko and Susuma are back at work again after taking a couple of days off to enjoy IPP36 (in fairness, they worked pretty hard there too!). I pick up a few small goodies there before we decide that we’re running out of ‘nergy and we need to get back to the hotel… and sadly we have to cancel our date with the Pawligers that evening at a Ninja restaurant in Akasaka… we have take-out in our room instead.

…and Friday is pretty much completely filled with travelling home – which takes us about 24 hours all told… but then we’re home with the pup and we can both convalesce a bit before work beckons on the Monday morning. 

Even though things didn’t really go all that smoothly for both of us on this trip, we still got to spend time with some brilliant friends from around the world, got to play with some fabulous new puzzles, bought a few, swapped a lot and wouldn’t trade it for the world… same again next year? 

Of course!