Glückspilz

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Glückspilz (German for someone who always has luck) is yet another Jean Claude Constantin stunning and original design. This one belongs to a special category among Packing Puzzles, where an extra piece needs to be accommodated to an already packed frame with not much free space to work with. I particularly like this type of puzzles, mainly because the solution is often quite elegant and unexpected.

The name of the puzzle fits perfectly with its shape and pieces. Glückspilz is actually a combination of two words: Glück, which means luck or fortune, and pilz, meaning mushroom. So, for the overall shape of the puzzle, Constantin made it in the shape of a four-leaf clover - a traditional symbol of good luck. Inside the frame, and already packed, are four distinctly-shaped mushrooms occupying four larger slots that follow the contours of the clover's leafs. A fifth mushroom with a bigger stem than its counterparts is also provided but, as you can immediately see, it can't possibly be fitted with the presented configuration. It's up to you then, to find the correct way to pack all five mushrooms inside the frame.

Getting all five pieces inside the frame is no picnic. This is rated as a level 7/10, and I completely agree, because it's not extremely difficult, but still a bit challenging nonetheless. Apparently there's at least two solutions, since mine is a little different from PuzzleMaster's. At any rate, both solutions leave almost no wiggle room for the pieces to move, even though there'll still be empty spaces.

As a hint for solving the puzzle, don't start by packing the four main mushrooms in the frame. First and foremost, you should try to find a good spot to place the special mushroom - the one with the bigger stem - and then work around it, placing one piece at a time to see it fits tightly in any of the remaining four open spaces. There's a good dose of trial and error involved, but nothing frustrating. Carefully study the shapes of each individual mushroom and the space available. For most people, this should be solvable within 30 minutes.


Closing Comments:

I always have great things to say about Constantin's designs. The man just can't make bad puzzles. Glückspilz is a perfect example of his craftsmanship and original ideas. For fans of this category or puzzles in general, this is indeed a magnificent gift.

Availability: As of writing this review, the Glückspilz puzzle is out of stock at PuzzleMaster. However, because Constantin's puzzles are so popular, you should find it again in the store soon.

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Equal7

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Gravity Puzzles are not a recent invention. In fact, one of the first puzzles in this category, the Bloxbox, appeared in 1972 and was invented by Piet Hein, the inventor of the Soma Cube. Equal7 was designed by Vladimir Krasnoukhov in 2012 - notice that I'm not saying "invented" because this concept already existed - and it gives a new twist to the sliding blocks/gravity puzzles by adding a much more difficult challenge.

Equal7 is to a regular gravity puzzle what a Rubik's Cube 5x5x5 is to a Rubik's Cube 3x3x3. That's a simple analogy to make you see how difficult and more demanding the Equal7 puzzle really is. There are many different challenges, but fear not, as there are easy levels, as well as medium and hard ones. Are you good at addition?

The Equal7 puzzle is a cube measuring about 5cm in diameter. Inside it are seven special dice, with each face marked with one to five dots - the face where six dots should've been is just blank. The empty space allows for the dice to slide and move across the cube by tilting it, creating a dynamic environment where each face of the cube is always changing with each move you make.

The idea is to get the same number of dots on all six faces of the cube at the same time. As mentioned above there are different challenges, each one asking you to get all faces of the cube with a different number of dots. The easiest difficult level is to get all six faces of the cube with exactly 10 dots. Level 2 requires you to have all faces with 11 dots. Level 3 with 12 dots. And finally, the hardest level is for you to get exactly 7 dots on each face of the cube. Doesn't seem logic, having the hardest level with the fewer number of dots, but believe me, it's very difficult.

(Click to Enlarge) - Notice the painted die in the front
The cube has a special feature which allows the proposed challenges to be a little "different" - not sure if I should classify them as easier or harder. Since each of the cubes' faces can be divided in four, which carry four dice, there are three faces of the cube where the space of a die is already painted with a specified number of dots. Any die can be placed behind this space, but it will not be visible. Since the total of dots in that space is already pre-determined, you can anticipate which dice should be used for the other three spaces.

Adding this constraint can be viewed as making the puzzle both easier or harder, depending on your interpretation of the puzzle's concept. On one hand, you don't need to worry about that space, since any die can be placed behind it, but on the other hand, it restricts the number of possibilities, thus making it harder getting the right die for the other three spaces. Whichever your interpretation, though, one thing is certain... Equal7 is a great puzzle, capable of challenging even the sharpest minds.

Closing Comments:

Equal7 by Recent Toys isn't a puzzle for mathematicians only, and even though it seems intimidating, it can be extremely fun to play with. The movement of the dice sliding inside the cube is very smooth and satisfying. The different levels of difficulty allows for everyone to try it, even a beginner.

Availability: The Equal7 is available to purchase at PuzzlesdeIngenio.com for €11.50.


IQ-Fit

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SmartGames has already quite an impressive catalog of games. There are so many choices it's hard to pick just one good game. Among this immense collection, there's a range of games that's a delight to any puzzle enthusiast, simply called IQ. This series, designed by Raf Peeters - Who else? - already has six different designs (so far), all quite interesting and addictive, especially if you're into packing puzzles. The one featured today is the IQ-Fit with 120 challenges to solve.

The IQ-Fit is a little different from its counterparts, more specifically in the nature of its pieces, as they're in 3D. Usually, the IQ games are played on a flat surface (2D), but how does that work with 3D pieces? That's what's so interesting about the IQ-Fit - There's a "twist" to it...

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 41 (Level Junior)

Like all the games in the IQ series, the IQ-Fit features a small game board with a convenient closing mechanism, perfect to take with you on your travels. Inside the game board, you can store all the pieces neatly in a rectangular frame and the booklet with all 120 challenges - enough to keep you busy for a long while.

The pieces are what makes the IQ-Fit so unique. Each of the 10 pieces have two protruding sides, one ball on one side and two on the other. Also, some pieces have a total of six balls, others seven balls. There's no two of the same pieces, even though some may appear identical when viewed on one side. Each of them have a different color, so it's easier to differentiate between them. All challenges occupy an area of 10 x 5 units when solved, with extra balls having to be fitted inside the holes of the game board. No protruding balls are allowed outside the edges of the game board and all holes should be covered with pieces.

These IQ games are also quite easier to understand than the others in the SmartGames range, because there's less rules to worry about. Simply set up a challenge and play. The first challenges are extremely easy with most pieces already on the board, but they're very useful to better understand how the game works. As you progress through the five difficulty levels, less and less pieces are placed on the board at the beginning of each challenge, thus becoming increasingly difficult. All challenges have one solution only, so think wisely before placing a piece in the board. Do you have what it takes to tackle all 120 challenges?

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 91 (Level Master)

Closing Comments:

All of the games in the IQ series may seem similar at first, but it's quite the contrary. Each and every one of them has its own unique characteristics and special features that makes them intrinsically different from each other. In my opinion, the IQ-Fit looks like one of the most interesting in the series so far. If you're a packing puzzle fan, you shouldn't overlook this one.

Availability: IQ-Fit is available at PuzzlesdeIngenio.com. You can also browse for other SmartGames.

Links:

SmartGames Official Website


Triangle 7 Step Yosegi - Japanese Puzzle Box

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If there's one thing that truly defines exquisite Japanese craftsmanship, Japanese Puzzle Boxes must be a good candidate for such a recognition. These delicate works of art have been fascinating puzzle enthusiasts all over the world for the last few centuries, and with hundreds of different designs available in all kinds of shapes and sizes, it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer variety, especially when you're starting your collection. Yes, once you get one, it's almost impossible to settle for just the one and you'll almost immediately start pondering about the next acquisitions.

With this one, I have now four Japanese Puzzle Boxes, as you can see below, and the triangle one is the largest so far. Japanese Puzzle Boxes usually have a distinct way to be named: a few words are used to describe the characteristics of every specific box. Since the majority of puzzle boxes have a rectangular appearance they usually don't use any words to describe that characteristic. However, when they move away from the usual shape, they have to describe it - In this case, the name starts with "Triangle". Next, there's a number, which always indicate the minimum number of steps required to open the box. And the last word, describes the pattern used in inlay work for that box - Here, the pattern is Yosegi. Usually, there's also a number accompanied by the word "sun" or "mame". This indicates the size of the box. 1sun = 3cm and 1mame = 1sun. The triangle one doesn't have this particular description, because it's a special shape, measuring about 11.5cm (4.5") in diameter - Just shy of 4sun.

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One thing that I found common among most Japanese Puzzle Boxes is that they're usually pretty easy to solve. Even if you have a 50+ step box, they usually require a straightforward sequence of back and forth similar movements. This is not necessarily a bad thing, depending on your point of view, but what I think is: if you like, or collect, Japanese Puzzle Boxes, their difficulty level must be among the least important factors for choosing them. Having said that, I do wish they were a bit more challenging, but it's not a deal breaker for me. I just love their gorgeous designs and intricate patterns. If I were to collect difficult puzzle only, I probably wouldn't have half the puzzles I currently own.

Another subtle detail I noticed on my Japanese Puzzle Boxes is that their sliding panels can be quite easily spotted, as the pattern is slightly misaligned with the rest of the box. Now, I don't understand much about crafting, but would that be so difficult to achieve, having to perfectly align the sliding panels with the rest of the box pattern? This is not an isolated mishap, because I see this in all my four boxes, so I believe it's fair to assume it's a general thing common to all Japanese Puzzle Boxes.

(Click to Enlarge) - Misalignment Close-Up
Now, focusing more on the Triangle box itself. It's a 7-step, so a total of seven steps are required to fully open the box. As mentioned above, I didn't have to search that much to find the first sliding panel, since it's fairly easy to see the misalignment in the pattern. Finding the next steps weren't so obvious, but I managed to open it within five minutes. It's always a pleasure to see the box opened, though, no matter how easy it is to solve. There's a space inside large enough to conceal a peace of jewelry or something similarly sized, and because it's not very difficult to open, it could be used as the perfect gift-box - No wrapping necessary, since the pretty pattern already does that job.

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Closing Comments:

There's a lot of different puzzle boxes out there, but Japanese Puzzle Boxes are a whole different breed. Their unmistakable and mesmerizing patterns invoke special feelings among collectors that are difficult to explain, but I'm sure you'll understand them once you own one - Be warned, though. You won't be satisfied with only one.

Availability: You can get the Triangle Japanese Puzzle Box at PuzzleMaster. If you want to check out other designs by these talented Japanese designers, click here.

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Ladybird

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Over the years, I've come to associate coin puzzles with Robrecht Louage. No wonder, as every year Robrecht participates in the International Puzzle Party and enters one or two new designs featuring coins trapped in mazes. This year, at the 34th IPP, and with the collaboration of Michel van Ipenburg, the Ladybird was added as the newest member of the coin puzzles' family...And what a member! 

This is why I love Robrecht's puzzles so much. When I think he can't do better than last time, he outdoes himself time and again. It's difficult to choose one single puzzle as his absolute best, but at least Ladybird is up there as one of the best. Why? First, the design. You can't have a great puzzle without a proper and original design. Then, there's the actual puzzle itself. If it's too difficult, it may frustrate most people and they might give up on it. But, on the other hand, if it's too easy, people don't feel challenged enough or they don't feel they've accomplished anything. You gotta find the perfect balance.

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Speaking of design, the Ladybird is a great achievement in this department. Again, one of the best by Robrecht. Also, this is one of the biggest, if not THE biggest coin puzzle yet, with measurements of 13.2cm x 11.5cm (5.2" x 4.5") (without the antennae). The materials are pretty much the same as its predecessors, the main material being trespa, with a protective acrylic panel. Unlike previous coin puzzles, the back of the Ladybird puzzle was also decorated with the bug's red and black motif, for a truer large scale representation.

As for the puzzle aspect, two similar rotating mazes in two layers make this a very fun challenge to play with. There's a 1€ coin in the top layer that needs to be aligned with the hole in the acrylic in order to remove it. For that, you need to rotate each maze, independently, while pushing or pulling on the two antennae so you can navigate both mazes back and forth. Since each maze is slightly different from one another, you have to be constantly moving them so the two paths align with each other and thus, creating a path to free the coin.

This one took me a while to solve, and it's one of those puzzles that makes you think you're very close to the end, but blocks your very last couple of steps. There's a total of 160 moves necessary to solve the Ladybird, although I reckon it took me a bit more to reach my goal, and only after 20 minutes or so. Returning to the start position is a lot easier, though, so you can easily start from the beginning and try to solve it quicker the next time around.


(Click to Enlarge) - Start Position (Left) and Solved (Right)

Closing Comments:

Robrecht Louage's Ladybird is an incredible puzzle. It nails almost every requirement of what makes a great puzzle without compromising functionality. The mechanism is simple, but works flawlessly, and being a classic maze without a complex concept, it's a nice puzzle for anyone to try.

Availability: You can contact Robrecht directly at «rlouage(at)telenet(dot)be» to ask for a copy of Ladybird or any other of his original designs.


Quadrillion

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Packing Puzzle fans rejoice! Meet Quadrillion, a wonderful new puzzle game for one player, from the genius mind of Raf Peeters from SmartGames, which might be the best packing puzzle I've ever tried. With millions of challenges available and a stunning presentation to go with it, Quadrillion is the ultimate game for a bored puzzle fan.

The premise of the Quadrillion game is quite ambitious, to say the least. Four magnetic grids that snap together in countless different ways can provide you with a whopping 4+ million DIY challenges to solve - That's enough challenges to last about 7 and a half years while doing one challenge per minute. It hurts your brain even just by thinking about it. With all these incredible facts, it's easy to understand why this game is so fascinating.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 6 (Start and Solved)

Each of the four grids has a diameter of 4x4 units. They can be arranged in any way, as long as they are joined side by side at half their diameter or at the same height. This is due to the magnets inside the grids that only snap at those positions. When you have your desired configuration, all you have to do is to fit the 12 pieces on the board. Most of the pieces are pentominoes (5 units), but there's a piece with four units and another with only three units.

There are a few obstacles that will make your task a bit more difficult, though. Each grid has one or two (black or white) dots on either side that cover the empty spaces. You cannot put any piece on top of these dots, but all the remaining empty spaces need to be occupied by puzzle pieces. Also, any given piece can occupy empty spaces on multiple grids. In other words, you don't need to place a piece exclusively within the limits of one grid - Think of any board as a unique frame without inside edges. Just an exterior contour to define its shape.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 50 (Start and Solved)

The pieces of the Quadrillion game are what makes it visually so appealing. Each of the 12 pieces have a distinct color, and their round shapes are easy to handle. They're also rather big and made from strong and durable plastic, almost indestructible. When you solve any of the countless challenges, the colorful effect is quite beautiful.

If millions of challenges weren't enough for you already, included with the game is a booklet with 60 challenges divided in five difficulty levels, to get you started. When you manage to master all of these, you can create your own challenges, since there's still over 3999940 available challenges. The difficulty ranges from easy (Starter) to extremely difficult (Wizard). The first challenges have most of the pieces already in place at the board, but the harder ones have only one and even zero pieces, so you have to figure out where each piece goes. Also, an interesting fact to take into account: every single one of the 4+ million challenges have at least one possible solution, and many of them, the custom (DIY) challenges can reach thousands of solutions. The ones included in the challenge booklet, however, have only one solution each.

(Click to Enlarge) - My Own Challenge (Start and Solved)

Closing Comments:

Quadrillion, for all the incredible facts stated above and some more, can be easily considered a masterpiece. With a dynamic game board, with millions of challenges to last for a lifetime, Raf Peeters' Quadrillion is indeed the ultimate packing puzzle. Probably the best logic game by SmartGames yet...

Availability: You can get a copy of Quadrillion or any other SmartGames product at PuzzlesdeIngenio.com.

Links:

SmartGames Official Website


Alles Für Die Katz

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Picture Frame Puzzles are among my favorite type of Packing Puzzles. Yes, most of them are quite difficult to solve, but they're also the type of puzzle that gives a lot of room for creativity. You can do just about anything with a laser cutter and any theme will make a perfect Picture Frame Puzzle. Jean Claude Constantin, once again, does not disappoint and gives us, cat lovers, a stunning puzzle with nine of these lovely felines in all sorts of cute positions, the "Alles Für Die Katz", which literally means "Everything for the Cats". Can you put a stop to the chaos and rearrange all of the cats in the frame?

The design, starting by the frame itself, is in the shape of a cat's head. The contours of the frame are irregular, which makes it even more challenging, and the area is just enough to pack all nine cats inside with almost no wiggle room left. Each cat shape is made from a different kind of wood, so the end result is a colorful mix of cat breeds that just stands out from many other wooden puzzles. The size is a little small for a Picture Frame Puzzle standard, about 16cm x 13.8cm (6.3" x 5.4"), but still big enough to comfortably play with it.

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Like every Picture Frame Puzzle, there's all sorts of subtleties in the design of each piece that should get the most out of the little space you have in the frame, by joining the pieces at specific positions. These little tricks are what makes Picture Frame Puzzles so fascinating. It's the way the pieces seamlessly fit with one another - Like a perfect harmony between design and functionality, that so few craftsmen can achieve. What do you get from this fine art? A gorgeous puzzle, but also a devilishly difficult one.

As far as difficulty goes within the Picture Frame Puzzles I've tried so far, and there have been a few, Alles Für Die Katz is among the most challenging ones. I've dedicated about two hours now, trying to solve this one, but so far no luck in succeeding getting all cats in the frame. I'd like to warn you that the puzzle comes already solved out of the box - or wrapper - so I'd advise you to unwrap it upside down or just ask someone to do it for you. Honestly, it doesn't matter much, because once the cats are all outside the frame you'll have trouble to remember all of their original positions. And if you attempt to solve it a few hours or even days later, you'll be wishing to remember how they were arranged in the first place, because it will be one very tough nut to crack - or to pack...


Closing Comments:

If you know someone that loves cats, you can't go wrong with this puzzle as a present. It's a wonderful puzzle, although extremely challenging, but a perfect center piece in any coffee table or desk...or collection.

Availability: Alles Für Die Katz can be found at Brilliant Puzzles for $25.95. If you fancy Constantin's puzzles, you can check out other designs by him here.

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City Maze

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With today's technology surrounding us everywhere we look, it's only natural that logic games will evolve to more modern themes as well. To tackle that need, prolific designer at SmartGames, Raf Peeters, invented a very clever single player puzzle with 120 different challenges to play, the City Maze (The GPS Puzzle), to put your orientation skills to the test.

The idea behind City Maze is very simple. The concept is based on the principles of GPS directions used on modern devices - One destination and a starting point. What you see is a grid with an overhead map of a city with streets and highways. To guide you around, colorful arrows, red and blue, placed strategically around the grid, will make sure you will get safely to your destination without getting lost.

The game consists of 10 double-sided pieces, made from slightly transparent plastic, which creates a stunning visual effect: two crosses (used to signal the destination), two straight arrows (used to signal the start of your journey), and six arrows of varying shapes to help you navigate around the grid. You will be using either the blue or the red sides of the pieces in some challenges, or both. Not all pieces will be needed for all challenges, though. Some will only need a couple of pieces, others will make use of all of them. The game board also comes with a lid so the pieces don't get easily lost, which also makes for a great travel companion.

(Click to Enlarge) - Set A (Challenges 20 and 56 Solved)

You start by choosing one of the challenges provided, and here is where things get interesting right away. You are provided with not one set of challenges, but actually two, each one with 60 challenges. These two sets are called A and B, and they're only different in the colors they use. The A set, for example, consists of challenges that use the two colors at the same time, whereas the B set only makes use of one color at a time - You can either have a challenge with only the blue side of the pieces or the red side. Neither set is more difficult than the other, in my opinion, just different approaches. You could argue that deciding which side of any particular piece to use would be a tad more difficult, but I reckon they both start easy enough for you to get the hang of it. You could start with the B set for the simplicity of it, but it's not a requirement. I personally liked the A set more for its diversity and fun factor.

Understanding the dynamic of the City Maze can be a bit overwhelming at first, but that's why the first few challenges are very basic - to help you better navigate the city in those more demanding challenges. The first piece is where your journey begins (the straight arrow with a circle). If you're playing with two colors it doesn't matter which color starts first. What you need to do next is follow the path in a straight line right until you encounter a piece signaling the changing of direction. By strategically placing the pieces around the game board you create the path to your destination. A path can only be created by pieces of the same color - Two colors mean two paths and two destinations.

Like any other puzzle by SmartGames, the challenges provided are divided by five levels of difficulty. It goes without saying, the level 5 (or Wizard) is a hell of a challenge, but that's why these games are so popular. It caters to any skill level from 7 to 99 y/o.

(Click to Enlarge) - Set B (Challenges 5 and 46 Solved)

Closing Comments:

City Maze by SmartGames is a great tool to exercise and keep your brain healthy. It has plenty of variety in the form of a whopping 120 challenges, which is a rare sight in multi-level games, and it's challenging enough for even the most experienced puzzler. Definitely among the best by Raf Peeters.

Availability: You can get a copy of City Maze or any other SmartGames product at PuzzlesdeIngenio.com.

Links:

SmartGames Official Website


Beziehungskiste

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Jean Claude Constantin has a tradition of naming his puzzles with German words, and the 'Beziehungskiste' puzzle is no different. If my German doesn't fool me, 'Beziehungskiste' means 'relationship crate' and, judging by the presentation, it can be used as a perfect gift for your better half. Even better, you can hide a nicer surprise inside and ask that special someone to try and open it.

Note: I've come to the understanding that there's a second meaning to the word Beziehungskiste, which is when a couple is hitting a rough patch, or a tricky moment,  in their relationship - Thanks Goetz, for the help!

The puzzle is a simple Trick Box, which basically means there's usually one or two not-so-straightforward moves necessary to open it. In this case, you'll only need one move to unlock the box, but the mechanism is a bit tricky to figure out at first. The design is stunning and uses two wooden colors for an enhanced effect. There's an engraved floral pattern that makes it look like a jewelry box and in the center, an aluminum plate with the name of the puzzle. The box measures 11cm x 8.5cm x 4.4cm (4.3" x 3.3" x 1.8"), so there's enough room to put some jewelry or other similar small things inside.

The mechanism, unfortunately for me, is not new. One of the Trick Boxes in my collection, albeit with a different design, uses the same exact trick to lock the box. Because I already know how some Trick Boxes are opened, I tend to try those tricks first, and got lucky with the first couple of moves.

The mechanism itself can be very tricky if you don't already have some experience with this type of puzzles. The way to open it is very specific and you need to use both hands, so don't think it's a walk in the park. The puzzle is rated as a level 3/5, but in puzzles like these, I think the difficulty level is very relative. It depends very much on your cunning, your ingenuity, and stuff like that. Some people might be able to open it within a couple of minutes of studying it, others might take hours. Once unlocked, the replay value is basically zero, because you will always remember how it's opened, but you can always trick others into try it for themselves, as seeing them struggle with it can be quite fun as well...

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Closing Comments:

In the end, whether you spend minutes or hours with this box, your a-ha moment will always be guaranteed. It's a great feeling when you finally discover how the mechanism works and using it as a gift box for something special can be even more satisfying. Highly recommended for curious minds.

Availability: You can get your Beziehungskiste box at Brilliant Puzzles for $28.95 USD. Also, you can check out other interesting puzzles by Constantin.

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6 Bottles

Posted on by Gabriel | 2 comments
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Jean Claude Constantin is among a small group of elite designers that make the best n-ary puzzles currently in the market. Very popular among experienced puzzlers, n-ary puzzles are some of the hardest puzzles you can attempt to solve, especially if said puzzles require hundreds of steps to be solved.

Why are these puzzles so hard, you might be asking? Simple. You need lots of concentration, and that's very hard to do when we're talking hundreds of steps that need to be performed in a specific order. Lose your train of thought for a moment and you'll struggle to resume the solving process. Add that to the fact that most puzzles lack a simple way to be reset, and you're left with a hell of a challenge.

6 Bottles is my latest n-ary acquisition. The puzzle has a very original and interesting design. I haven't seen anything closely resembling it in the n-ary family. There are six identical bottle-shaped pieces that slide vertically and a bar that moves horizontally. The movement of the bar is restricted by the position of the steel balls that allow only one bottle at a time to move freely up and down. The bar itself has two slots, one deeper than the other, which also allow two bottles to be moved down at different lengths. The idea is to get five of the steel balls in the lower left slot of the five leftmost bottles, and the sixth ball in the special slot located at the far right. Once all the bottles can be pulled at the same length outside the frame, you'll be able to slide the bar all the way and remove it.

This puzzle belongs to the 3-ary, or ternary group. The number in the "ary" word refers to the states a puzzle has in its solving process. For example, the binary puzzles, which are the simplest - but not necessarily the easiest - have only two states (on-off). The difficulty, besides its n-ary group, is also given for the number of steps the solution has - the more steps, the more difficult it is.

Fortunately, the 6 Bottles puzzles is not that difficult because it doesn't have a large number of steps - still, 252 is challenging enough. The puzzle is rated as a level 9/10, but honestly, I don't believe it's that hard. It's an 8 at the most, and that's being generous.

Putting it back in its original state can prove to be equally challenging, if not more, since you'll have to perform all the steps backwards. This is why I'd love for this type of puzzles to have an easy way to be reset...

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Closing Comments:

6 Bottles can be a great puzzle to train for harder and demanding n-ary puzzles. It's not overly difficult, so you can easily understand how these puzzles work and know the logic behind them. As a Constantin fan, I can easily recommend this puzzle to anyone, collector or not.

Availability: The 6 Bottles puzzle can be purchased at PuzzleMaster for about $50 CAD. Click here to browse many more Constantin's interesting designs.



πano (Piano)

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πano is a really interesting design by Jean Claude Constantin. It's not a perfect representation of a piano, because of the arrangement of the keyboard keys, but nevertheless it can be instantly recognized as such. The name makes a play on words with the mathematical constant π, but I'm not entirely sure the solution has anything to do with it. It's still a nice design touch, though.

πano is comprised of 17 pieces (not to be confused wit the representation of 32 keyboard keys), each grouping two or more keys at a time in a single piece. The pieces can be divided in two types, the white keys and the black keys - No piece consists of a mixture of both.

Design-wise, and besides the not so perfect representation of a piano, the puzzle is very well done. The colors used make a distinct contrast between the two types of pieces, which are laser-cut. The photo is a little deceiving, because the puzzle is a little shorter than I was expecting, measuring 26.1cm x 6.2cm (10.3" x 2.4"). It's still a nice puzzle, but I would've preferred a slightly larger one.

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The puzzle comes unsolved and no solution is provided, not in the package nor on the website. To solve it, you have to remove all the pieces from the tray and rearrange them so all pieces stay within the boarders of the piano's frame. You can use both sides of the black pieces, however, the white pieces are only marked on one side, so you can only use them that way.

The puzzle is rated as a level 9/10, but after solving it within 10 minutes, in no way I find it that difficult - It's a 7, at the most. Don't try to make sense of the arrangement of the pieces compared with a real piano, because you'll fail miserably. The only think you need to worry about is to make sure the white pieces are placed in such a way they always create an empty space large enough for the black pieces. From there, you just need to make slight adjustments as you try different combinations. I don't know how many different solutions are there, but judging from one comment on the store's website, at least three different configurations are possible. Can you find one?



Closing Comments:

Constantin's πano is a real treat for music lovers. I used to play the piano when I was younger, and when I saw this, many great memories came flooding back. It's a great puzzle for any collection, especially if you're fond of keyboard instruments.

Availability: PuzzleMaster is the place to find the πano and other great designs by Constantin.

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Up & Down

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(Click to Enlarge)
What I like most about sliding puzzles is how versatile this type of puzzles can be. I lost count a long time ago how many different concepts using sliding tiles I currently have in my collection, let alone the ones I know about but don't own yet. Jürgen Reiche from Siebenstein-Spiele is a master at designing these amazing sliding puzzles, and Up & Down, released in 2010, is a great example of his genius.

The design is a little different from the traditional 8-Puzzle, or 9-Puzzle, or 3x3, where the 9 is usually absent, but not always. In this case, the 9 is indeed absent, and instead of the usual single empty slot there's actually two empty slots, one in each side. The frame slides up and down - hence the name - and whenever you push the frame to the top or the bottom you can slide one tile to the available free space. There's a catch, though, since you can only have one tile occupying one slot at a time. Also, when you have one of the side slots occupied you can't move the frame, only the tiles in the middle.

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The goal of the puzzle is to reorder the numbers from 1 to 8 as seen in the photo below. The logic required to solve any slide puzzle is basically the same, no matter how different they may appear. However, even if you know the logic, it can still be quite challenging to solve a sliding puzzle until you know how the mechanism affects the movement of the pieces.

The Up & Down puzzle is rated by the manufacturer as a 7 - the hardest on their scale of 1-7. Honestly, I didn't find the puzzle that challenging. I'd rate it as a 4, tops, since it took me about 5 minutes to solve it. The idea to solve it is to get the first set of numbers (1-3) in their corresponding positions. The rest becomes easier, as you'll only have five tiles to worry about afterwards. I believe it's possible to arrange the tiles in other configurations - like the first three numbers on top - but I haven't tried it yet.

(Click to Enlarge) - Solved
Closing Comments:

Up & Down is a nice change from other more traditional designs. It's not as challenging as they put it, but it can still bring you some fun. If you're like me and you're crazy about sliding puzzles, give this one a try and I'm sure you won't regret it.

Availability: You can find the Up & Down by Siebenstein-Spiele at Brilliant Puzzles for $36.95 USD.


Fifteen Puzzle

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The Fifteen Puzzle is, to this day, one of the most recognizable puzzles of all time. With its origins dating back to 1880, the original designer is still a topic of debate, although many say it was invented by Sam Loyd, one of the greatest American puzzle inventors.

The version you see in the photo, by ThinkFun, is actually a remake of an old puzzle called "The IMP" from 1933. Made from stainless steel and decorated with enamel (melted powdered glass), the puzzle keeps the original design intact and true to its origins. The result is a retro-looking puzzle, and due to its small size (6cm - 2.3") it's perfect to take with you on long travels. It comes with a travel case and an instruction booklet with over 30 challenges to solve.

The sliding movement of the tiles, contrary to what's advertised on the package, is not very smooth. In fact, the small sliding squares keep getting jammed and stuck all the time with each other, which is a little frustrating and distracting, when you're trying to solve a specific pattern, needing to concentrate and try not to lose your train of thought.

Despite the fact that it was a bit difficult to move the sliding tiles, it didn't deter me from solving several challenges that came with the puzzle. I love sliding puzzles, and whenever I get the chance to play with one, it's always a pleasure. The challenges vary slightly from one another, with variations in order of sequence from top or bottom, etc... They don't differ much in terms of difficulty, though.

If you know how to solve a classic sliding puzzle - whether it's a 9 or a 15 puzzle or any other combination - you won't have much trouble to solve any of the 30+ challenges available to you. It's the first time I've seen such challenges compiled for a sliding puzzle, actually, so I had a blast solving many different patterns and sequences.

(Click to Enlarge)

Closing Comments:

The Fifteen Puzzle is the real deal when it comes to sliding puzzles and a classic in its own merit, which was responsible for so many other variations you see today, with images and symbols and many other designs. If you want the original with a touch of modernity, the ThinkFun version is the way to go.

Availability: The Fifteen Puzzle is available at PuzzleMaster for just $16 CAD. You can also get a comprehensive study on the puzzle by purchasing the book by Jerry Slocum - The Fifteen Puzzle Book.

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Magic Domino

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Vanishing puzzles have been around for over five centuries, but they weren't so popular until one man came around and change that completely. His name was Sam Loyd (1841-1911) and he created one of the most recognizable Vanishing puzzles ever, called Get Off the Earth, which was invented in 1896. He also created other interesting designs, and since then other designers followed in his footsteps. One of this designers is Jean Claude Constantin and the puzzle is called Magic Domino.

The principle behind the vanishing puzzles is quite simple and deceiving. Each puzzle is divided into smaller pieces that compose a picture. When you rearrange the pieces in a specific order it's possible to make some objects in the original configuration disappear. This trick seems like pure magic, but it's far from that. It's merely a well designed puzzle with every little detail carefully thought out to play with your mind.

The Magic Domino are exactly like the above description. There are two sets of domino pieces, one with eight white pieces and another with seven dark brown pieces. The goal is a little more complex than the vanishing puzzles, but still similar. The idea is to swap the brown domino pieces in the tray with the bottom white pieces. Since there's a difference between the number of white and brown pieces, you need to rearrange all the square pieces inside the tray so they can accommodate the eight dominoes.

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The puzzle is way more difficult than I thought. It is rated as a level 8/10, and while I expected some challenge I didn't think it was that hard. It took me a few sessions and the total time must be around three hours, more or less. You might not notice this right away from the pictures, but the white pieces are slightly smaller than the brown ones. This is a key to solve the puzzle and I didn't notice it at first.

Rearranging the brown pieces at the bottom was relatively easy compared to the challenge at the top. You just need to make a slight change to the rectangular. The 12 square pieces at the top, however, seem much more complicated to swap around. It's only 11 pieces actually, as the piece that reads "Magic Domino" doesn't have any indent cut into it - Could've been even harder, but the slight easiness was more than welcome. Still, finding a correct arrangement was a pain, but the result is very rewarding.


Closing Comments:

Constantin's Magic Domino is the first puzzle of this kind - not a picture, that is -  that I know of, so far. It's a brilliant puzzle and I really recommend it to anyone that knows Sam Loyd's puzzles. It provides a great challenge and, of course, it's a must-have in any collection.

Availability: You can buy a copy of Magic Domino at PuzzleMaster for $31 CAD. For other Constantin's designs click here.

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