Laser Maze

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Laser Maze, by ThinkFun, has captivated my curiosity ever since I first saw it, a couple of years ago. It's easy to get me excited about any type of logic games, but by adding lasers, my interest has increased even more. Now, I have finally got a copy, and it has far exceeded my expectations so far.

Invented by Luke Hooper, the concept of the Laser Maze isn't entirely new to me. I remember playing with something similar on the PC several years ago, which consisted of bending light with mirrors. There's also an interesting iPhone game called Reflection Connection that uses the same principles. Nevertheless, playing with the real thing is much more fascinating. Without going into any inaccurate facts, I believe this is the first electronic logic-game (multi-challenge), but if it's not, I will say that this is the best one I've ever played with...

I was actually surprised when I first heard about the Laser Maze. I thought, "how can they commercialize a toy with lasers?", "is it safe for kids?" - Well, as it turns out the laser can't harm your eyes or skin, under normal circumstances, because it's a class 1 laser - Not enough power to do any damage, whatsoever. Any kid aged 8-99 can safely play with Laser Maze without worrying about safety precautions.

The game comes packed with all sorts of cool light-manipulating objects: a laser, mirrors, beam splitters, a double-mirror , the works... To get you started, a collection of 60 challenge cards is included, divided in four difficulty levels, from beginner to expert (15 per level), but even after you run out of challenges to solve, you can try to create your own ever-more-complex light-bending displays.

I'll be honest. Understanding how the game works and interpreting the symbols in the challenge cards can be a little discouraging and frustrating at first. I suggest you read the instructions that come with the game and start with the first challenges, so you can familiarize yourself with the concept. After doing that, I was breezing past the first difficult level. It gets harder as you progress, but not immediately, so you can proceed at your own pace.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 8 (Left: Start; Right: Solved)

The goal of the game is to place the tokens as indicated on the chosen challenge card. Each card will tell you how many tokens and targets you're supposed to add to the game grid. This is where it becomes tricky at first: to determine which tokens to use, where to place them and figure out their orientation, which is sometimes undisclosed. When you think you have all worked out, just activate the laser and see if all your targets are light up. If not, you need to make some adjustments in their placement or their orientations. Note that you can only see the laser when it hits one of its targets, and never its path, as it's suggested on the game's package photo. But you already knew that if you know how lasers work, right? Anytime you get stumped in one of the challenges, you can always flip the card and see its solution.

The game works like any other type of light were to be used. The mirrors and double-mirrors will bend the light in a 90º angle, although the beam splitters have a really cool effect where one beam is split in two: one is bent like any other regular mirror and the other goes straight through it in the same direction that hit it. The checkpoint is simply a transparent piece of glass that lets the light go in a straight line.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 50 (Left: Start; Right: Solved)

Closing Comments:

Playing with lasers has never been more fun! The Laser Maze game has easily climbed to the top 3 of my favorite logic games of all time. It's one of the absolute best games by ThinkFun, and it shouldn't come as a surprise that it has won the Best Toy Award by the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio. If you're remotely interested in logic games and/or lasers, you should definitely give this one a try.

Availability: I got the Laser Maze from the Spanish online puzzle store PuzzlesdeIngenio.com. Worldwide shipping available. You can also browse other games by ThinkFun.

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Cast U&U (錯)

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Hanayama seems to release Cast Puzzles faster than I can get them. It looks like my Cast collection is always incomplete... My latest effort in keeping with the tradition of adding puzzles to a never-ending collection is the Cast U&U, an intriguing design by Kyoo Wong, who also designed the recent Cast Delta. The theme for the U&U is "complexity", but it might as well be complication, since it gives you no clues or hints for the solution. The puzzle was presented at this year's 34th IPP and was one of the winners of the Jury Grand Prize award.

The Cast U&U is comprised of two almost identical U-shaped bolts and four almost identical nuts. These subtleties in the design are so small that you need to study each part very thoroughly. The two pieces have a natural silvery color, much like any other metal bolts, with no special coating - It would be scratched very easily otherwise. The size is quite small, but average for a Cast Puzzle, each part measuring 4.5cm in diameter (1.8").

The first thing you notice when you study the puzzle for the first time is that the nuts can rotate freely up and down the bolts, but they can't be removed. This immediately tells you that the solution must make use of the right positions for each nut. The bolts are not entirely round, they're actually flatten on both sides. The aperture between the two ends of each bolt is so narrow that you can't separate them by simply pushing them out.

Hanayama has rated the U&U as a level 4/6, but after having solved it within 10 minutes, I reckon it's not that challenging. Even putting it together again is not that difficult, although you have to keep the nuts correctly aligned, just like for when you solved it. The difficulty of the puzzle is pretty much finding the correct alignment of the nuts, which is easily overcome by a careful examination or at least some trial and error.

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Closing Comments:

Hanayama has yet again produced a great addition to the Cast Family. The U&U is a pleasure to play with, but that's already guaranteed with any Cast Puzzle. With 62 different designs already in the series, it's becoming increasingly difficult to choose the best ones. Nevertheless, this one belongs at least in the top 20.

Availability: The Cast U&U is available at PuzzleMaster for $12.95 CAD. You can also find all the others of the Cast series.

Links:

New Hanayama Website (in English)

Hanayama Cast (in English) - Very useful website in English, with plenty of information on all things Cast.

Hanayama's Factory Visit (Many thanks to Roxanne Wong for sharing these pictures)


IQ-Splash

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Continuing with the IQ series by SmartGames, this time I present you the IQ-Splash. This game is actually one of the exceptions among most designs launched by SmartGames, because it wasn't developed by Raf Peeters. Its origins go back from 1989 and it's also known as Lonpos - Cosmic Creature, for its irregularly-shaped pieces resembling a creature from outer space. The name chosen by SmartGames invokes another resemblance as well, as the pieces also look like small puddles of water. It doesn't matter how you see the pieces though, since this is quite a challenging game.

The game is presented in its original box with the Lonpos brand, and inside you can find a small booklet with 107 challenges divided in the usual five difficulty levels. On the backside of the box lid there's also four additional challenges to get you started. Unlike other SmartGames, the booklet doesn't provide you with solutions for its challenges, so you're on your own, for better or worse.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 24 (Left: Start; Right: Solved)

The design of the game is, in my opinion, perfect. It comes in a small box with a simple closing mechanism, which is very convenient for your travels. The IQ-Splash consists of 12 irregular pieces, each in a different color and also a different letter. What's interesting is that there are six pieces that look different if you flip then on their vertical axis. To help you distinguish between these pieces, a triangle or a circle is shown together with its corresponding letter. Another design feature is the raised points on each piece, which helps to stimulate the nerve endings of your fingers.

All the design choices above were made especially to help the brain development in children, because it strengthens visual, spacial and logical thinking skills. It can be, nevertheless, a great exercise for both children and adults, and especially elderly people, by keeping the brain healthy.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 42 (Left: Start; Right: Solved)

From all the IQ games so far, this one seemed the most challenging, because of the irregular shape of the pieces, which makes it hard to visualize where each piece goes. The game is fairly easy throughout most of the challenges presented in the booklet, but the last level (Wizard) becomes extremely difficult to solve, since only two or three pieces are already placed in the game board. Solving time for the Wizard levels is about 20/30 minutes. There may be more than one solution for some challenges, so it's always worth another try looking for an alternate solution.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 88 (Left: Start; Right: Solved)

Closing Comments:

The IQ-Splash is a welcome addition to the IQ series. By including it in SmartGames' catalog, a popular brand, much more people can experience this great game that has been around for 25 years now. It's definitely a challenging game, but the easier levels make sure that everybody gets a fair chance at learning it and progress to more demanding levels at their own pace.

Availability: You can find the IQ-Splash at PuzzlesdeIngenio.com, as well as many others from SmartGames.

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Snowflake

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I've been pointing out for a while that both Jean Claude Constantin and Jürgen Reiche (from Siebenstein-Spiele) have very similar designs, but I've always been able to distinguish them apart. Today, though, was the first time I mistook Constantin for Reiche, and the culprit was the Snowflake, a beautiful and elegant puzzle with a snowflake-like pattern on both the frame and its pieces. I like and respect both designers, so if they come up with similar ideas, my collection thanks them.

Like the name suggests, the Snowflake puzzle has an intricate pattern similar to the ones found in nature. All made with laser-cut wood in two different tones, Snowflake consists of 19 different pieces packed in a symmetrical frame. In its solved state the puzzle doesn't show any empty spaces and, at first sight, it's really difficult to see the edges of each individual piece. The goal is to take out all the pieces and then find a way to fit them all in the frame again. Prepare for one hell of a challenge...

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This puzzle is rated as a difficulty level 9/10, but so far, it might as well be a level 10, as I haven't been able to solve it yet. The structure of the pieces is very complex, which hampers the solving process and makes trial and error your only option. Each hexagonal piece has three types of edges: a straight or flat edge; a pointy edge; and a dented edge. Any of the 19 pieces you choose will have a different combination of these types of edges, therefore making the solution extremely difficult.

To make matters worse, the pieces are single-sided, meaning you can't use the backside in the solution, since it's not decorated with the engraved details. I can't be sure of how many solutions are there, but if I had to bet, I'd say there's only one, given the shape of the unique pieces and the way they interact with each other.

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Closing Comments:

Whether it's a Siebenstein-Spiele puzzle or a Constantin one, you can be sure of one thing: their puzzles are very well made and challenging, and will be an excellent addition to any collection. As for the Snowflake, this one is highly frustrating, so go for it only if you're very patient.

Availability: You can find the Snowflake puzzle at PuzzleMaster for $30.99 CAD. If you like Siebenstein-Spiele, then check out their other designs.


Rubik's Rings

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The original Hungarian Rings is one of the most recognizable puzzles of all time. Its simple design and colorful appearance have fascinated enthusiasts all over the world since 1982. There have been many different variations, mostly flat (or 2D) puzzles, but one stands out among all of the previous ones. It's the Rubik's Rings, invented in 1999, which are pretty the same as the original Hungarian Rings except the rings intercept at an angle, making the design much more elegant.

With the rings intersecting at a 3D plane, the puzzle looks more complex, but in reality it's slightly easier to solve than the original version, even though the mechanism is the same. The main difference is that the Rubik's Rings have only three different colors (blue, red and yellow), whereas the Hungarian Rings have four colors. Another difference, which is more subtle, is how the balls move. In the Rubik's Rings, they are harder to move, but there's a reason for that - It's so that the balls don't move unintentionally. The Hungarian Rings had a very loosely mechanism, which sometimes had the undesired effect of moving the balls by accident.

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The number of balls is also different between the two puzzles. The newer version only has 34 balls, while the original has 38 balls. Even though there's a difference in four balls, the total number of positions is enormous between the two versions: the Rubik's Rings has "193,413,243,572,640", but the Hungarian Rings has a staggering "75,406,424,215,922,599,800" - That's a pretty scary number...

The goal of the puzzle is very straightforward. Simply mix the balls as much as possible and then try to regroup them in the same colors. Red or blue go in either of the sides and yellow goes in the middle. That's because there are 12 yellow balls, and 11 blue and 11 red. Mixing the balls is easy and fun, but as expected, solving it is much more challenging than just rotating the rings. If you have experience with the Hungarian Rings, you'll find this one very easy. If you never solved the original version, however, it might get quite frustrating returning the balls to their original positions. I can get you a hint, which is to solve first the yellow balls, and then separate the red and blue ones. It will get easier with practice, so just keep trying until you succeed.

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Closing Comments:

The Rubik's Rings are, to me, the best Hungarian Rings variation. It's actually less challenging, which can be good for many of you, but it's also a more interesting and beautiful design. Definitely recommended for any enthusiast.

Availability: You can get a copy of the Rubik's Rings at PuzzlesdeIngenio.com for just €9.95.


The Orchestra Pit

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Dave Janelle from Creative Crafthouse may very well be the best craftsman at creating stunning Picture Frame puzzles. His portfolio features almost 50 designs already, and choosing the best looking one is a near impossible task. At any rate, The Orchestra Pit is a serious contender for the most beautiful Picture Frame puzzle yet.

Dave chose to include in this design 13 different instruments that you'll probably find an any orchestra pit. Some of them I didn't even knew their names: Bass, Cello, Drum, French Horn, Harp, Oboe, Piano, Sax, Timpani, Trombone, Trumpet, Violin and Xylophone. The pieces are made in different hardwoods, displaying this way a multitude of colors which gives it a more elegant look. 

Each piece is cut very carefully and precise, and features very fine details that otherwise wouldn't be possible. Only one side of the pieces is etched with the characteristic details, so you can only use that side when you're solving the puzzle. This version of the puzzle comes with a protective wooden cover, and measures 19cm in diameter (7.5") - A nice feature of Dave's puzzles is that they're quite large, which enhances their overall presentation.

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As you may already know, the difficulty of any of these Picture Frame puzzles can be rather challenging, and The Orchestra Pit doesn't disappoint in that regard. In Fact, this is one of the hardest I've tried so far, and as of writing this review I haven't been able to solve it on my own. You can see the solution below that I had to photograph, but even if you see the solution and attempt to solve it later on, it may prove to be a pretty frustrating task. Please, note that the puzzle comes shrink-wrapped in its solved state. If you don't want any spoilers of the solution, be sure to unwrap it upside down.

One of the main features of Picture Frame puzzles is the way the pieces interact with each other. Some pieces are quite big, so more difficult to pack; others are small and slim, which make them easier to cram in smaller spaces. Since there'll always be empty spaces in the frame, even when all the 13 pieces are tightly packed, you need to make the most out of every sharp edges and crevices on each piece, connecting them like a jigsaw puzzle - A very difficult jigsaw puzzle, I might add.


Closing Comments:

Picture Frame puzzles are perfect coffee table puzzles. Put them visible on a table at any social gathering and see everyone eager to try their luck. The Orchestra Pit is a beautiful work of art in its own right, even if you're not into puzzles, so this one is highly recommended.

Availability: The Orchestra Pit is available at PuzzleMaster for $32.99 CAD. Click here to browse other puzzles by Dave Janelle.




Temple Trap

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In an ever growing market filled with multi-level games, what ultimately distinguishes them between one another is their theme, and how well that theme is thought-out. We, like in early age, have our preferences when it comes to role-playing, and some games are better than others at interpreting our imagination. Does SmartGames and Raf Peeters' Temple Trap succeed at this? Keep reading and find out...

Temple Trap, like the name suggests, puts us in the role of an Indiana Jones-type character. The adventure consists of navigating a shifting maze full of perils and escape it without getting trapped. The game features eight sliding pieces that need to be constantly moved around, so your pawn can go from point A to point B without falling into the water filled with crocodiles. The first twelve challenges are easy enough to get you acquainted with the game and learn the ropes. As you progress, so the difficulty will increase as well. Can you manage to solve all 48 challenges and be a true hero of the jungle?

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 16 (Left: Start; Right: Solved)

As always, there are a few rules to keep in mind when you're attempting to solve a specific challenge. 
  • The only allowed move for the pieces is to slide them from one spot to the other. You can't exchange two pieces at opposite sides, for example, or lift them. 
  • Your pawn can only move within the path provided by the pieces. No jumping over the water.
  • There are some pieces with holes and some without holes. Your pawn has to move from one spot with a hole to another with a hole as well. The pieces without holes represent a second level. To solve any challenge you need to go to the second level by using a piece with stairs. Always.
These are the basic rules, but there are other subtleties you need to be aware of. One of these subtleties is the symbols found at the edge of every piece. These allow you to quickly identify each piece as you set up a challenge, and to help you follow the solutions in case you need guidance in any tougher puzzle.

The difficulty of the game, as you'd expect peaks at the last few challenges, the Master level. I found these last ones quite difficult, although when you reach this level you'll be prepared for most of them with the experienced gained from previous levels. Nevertheless, and even though you have plenty of challenges to keep you occupied for a while, I would've liked a few more challenges. Maybe 60, or even 100. Unless the limitations of the puzzle prevent it to have more than the included 48.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 44 (Left: Start; Right: Solved)

Closing Comments:

Whether you're a 7 or a 99 year old kid, the amount of fun you'll have with Temple Trap will be about the same, as the game will manage to awake the adventurer in you. If you're on the fence about this one, I believe there's 48 great reasons to give this one a try.

Availability: Temple Trap can be purchased at PuzzlesdeIngenio.com for about €15. You can also purchase other games from SmartGames.

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Formidable

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As a fan of the classic Tangram puzzle, I am always interested in any type of variants available. Some are really good in capturing the simplicity and yet addictive concept of creating all kinds of geometric shapes, others not so much. Fortunately, Jean Claude Constantin's Formidable puzzle falls in the former category. On a curious note, the name of the puzzle is not a German word this time - A rare sight.

With only three pieces, this puzzle couldn't be simpler. It consists of three right triangles of different sizes, made with laser-cut wood, which is lighter but of lower quality, and comes with a rectangular board with 13 shapes painted on it. This board is not part of the puzzle itself, which I thought at first. All shapes must be done with all three triangular pieces only. All four wooden pieces have a hole in one of their corners, so you can attach a string to keep them from getting lost.

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Just like a Tangram, the three pieces comprising the Formidable puzzle can make countless shapes, not just the 13 shown. Making a specific shape is relatively easy, although some of them might be harder to solve than others. I was able to make all included shapes in about half an hour, so overall I'd say it's much easier than the classic Tangram - I remember taking lots of time with just one Tangram shape, but then again a Tangram has seven pieces and a lot more possible assemblies.

PuzzleMaster rates this as a level 7/10, but it really varies depending on the shape you're trying to solve. I would actually rate it as an average of 6/10, because most shapes only require you to change the position of one or two pieces from one shape to another.

Update: This puzzle was actually developed by mathematician Georg Brügner, known as Drei Dreiecke Tangram. Constantin only presented with a different design including the board with 13 shapes.

Closing Comments:

Even though you can go through all 13 shapes pretty quickly, I find this as a perfect puzzle to keep around you for when you take a break from work. Even when you solve all included shapes you can always try to find new shapes, so there's a lot of potential in this little puzzle.

Availability: Formidable is available at PuzzleMaster for just $12.99 CAD. You can also check other designs by Constantin.

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Larva

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A few weeks ago I reviewed the Ladybird puzzle by Robrecht Louage and Michel van Ipenburg, a perfect collaboration between two respected puzzlers that resulted in a series of pretty interesting designs. Today I present you another one of those puzzles, the Larva.

The Larva follows the same principle as the Ladybird, except this time you have two sets of metal studs that you need to guide through two independent mazes instead of two overlapping ones. The two mazes are slightly different from each other, but both sets of studs need to get to the end of each maze at the same time. You move along each maze by pushing or pulling on the two vertical bars, while sliding the mazes horizontally. It's as simple as that.

The materials used in this puzzle are basically the same as well, with trespa and acrylic. This one is a little smaller, however. The acrylic frame measures 8cm x 8.5cm (3.1" x 3.3"), but the mazes extend beyond the length of the frame, both measuring 14.5cm (5.7").

(Click to Enlarge) - Left: Start Position; Right: Solved

The design of the Larva is less flashy than the Ladybird's, but that doesn't mean it's less fun. I like both design approaches. While they try to differentiate the two designs by having the mazes in a different configuration, the concept is intrinsically the same. Personally, I don't see this as a bad thing, because I liked the challenge the two of them offered. However, if you didn't like one of them, chances are the other won't make you change your mind either.

This time, to remove the coin you only need to slide one of the mazes out of the way, except they're both bound by the moves of each other. The studs follow an intuitive path for most of the time but, like the Ladybird, when you get closer to the end there's a sort of dead end where it seems you can't move either maze any more. You just need to backtrack a little to make a slight adjustment and you should be fine afterwards. Resetting the puzzle is a lot easier, fortunately...

(Click to Enlarge) - The Coin Puzzle Family
Closing Comments:

In my opinion, the Ladybird is a better design overall, but I wouldn't discard the Larva. Each puzzle has its own unique characteristics and, speaking as a collector, I would always recommend the two. You can never have too much maze puzzles...

Availability: These puzzles were made in limited quatities, so you should act quickly if you want one of these. Note also that there are two other designs by these two designers, so if you really like this type of puzzles I would urge you to get them all before they become out of stock. You can contact Robrecht at "rlouage(at)telenet(dot)be" or you can get in touch with Michel (if you don't have his contact, drop me an e-mail).


Down Under

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Down Under by Siebenstein-Spiele (designed by Jürgen Reiche) is what I like to call a dynamic packing puzzle. These puzzles have always more than one goal, which makes them much more attractive than a simple and traditional packing puzzle.

Jürgen took the usual pieces used in the majority of packing puzzles (a triomino, three tetrominoes and two pentominoes) and turned them into a whole new puzzle. Made with laser-cut wood and acrylic, the puzzle consists of six distinct pieces, all made with a different type of wood. The acrylic covers 11 of the 25 units of the frame, which means there's a few holes in it that will help you move the pieces around, but it can also be a way to prevent some moves.

When you receive the puzzle, you'll see the T-shaped piece on top of the other five pieces. Removing the T piece will reveal that the other pieces are packed in such a way that they can't move, although there's some empty spaces available. The empty spaces equal the same area of the T, so there's at least one way to fit all the pieces in the frame without empty spaces left.

The main goal of the puzzle is to get the T inside the frame with the other five pieces, but there's also a couple other challenges you can attempt to do. But first, the main challenge: Removing the T is easy enough, but getting the other pieces out requires a careful sequence of movements, since the openings in the acrylic are narrow. Equally challenging is replacing all six pieces on the frame. You need to pack them in a specific order, so it's best if you already know how they're going to be arranged.

I suggest you try to solve the puzzle outside the frame first, and when you manage to solve the 5x5 square with all the pieces, think of a way to pack each piece at a time to recreate the same pattern you did before. If you're having trouble fitting the pieces inside the frame try to rotate your piece configuration by 90 or 180 degrees. The first couple of pieces can comfortably be rotated inside, since there's still a lot of room to shift them around. With each additional piece packed, it becomes harder, so choose wisely which piece goes first.

The other challenges seem interesting as well, although I didn't have time to solve them yet. They consist of getting fewer pieces inside the frame in such a way that they can't move in any direction. Do this with five pieces, then with four, and also with only three pieces. There's at least one solution for each.

I noticed that the puzzle currently on display at Brilliant Puzzles is a little different from mine. The frame has straight edges instead of concave, like mine, and the acrylic cover is mirrored from mine, although it doesn't affect playing at all. Also, the pieces have only two tones and mine has six. If you're picky about your puzzles, make sure you contact them before placing an order to know which version you're gonna get. I personally prefer the one I got, for obvious reasons, since it looks much better.


Closing Comments:

Down Under is a lovely puzzle. Although it's rated as a level 4/5, I reckon it's a little easier than that, but still challenging and fun enough to entertain you for a while.

Availability: Down Under is available at Brilliant Puzzles for $25.95 USD. You can also get other designs by Siebenstein-Spiele.


MindJewel

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MindJewel is yet another interesting puzzle released by the Dutch company Recent Toys. Invented by Alexander Polonsky in 2012, MindJewel is an Assembly colorful puzzle where the idea is to dismantle it and then reassemble it into a closed shape, a dodecahedron jewel.

The concept used in the MindJewel is similar to another one used in the Elastic Cube, where an elastic rope is used to join the pieces together into a continuous string. After the puzzle is disassembled, which is not that difficult, you need to figure out how to connect the pieces into the original shape, which is a little more challenging and fun.

Mindjewel is composed by 12 pentagonal pyramids, all connected by an elastic rope from one end to the other. The puzzle comes in its original state, so its easier to visualize how it's supposed to look like when solved. At first, it might look like the puzzle doesn't come apart, but when you study it in more detail, you'll discover that the first piece comes off pretty easily, followed by the others in quick succession. In no time, you'll have the dodecahedron shape undone and all the pieces laid out in a zig-zag line. Now the real fun begins, as you struggle to put the puzzle back together.

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The design of the puzzle is also quite interesting. Measuring about 9cm in diameter, each of the 12 pyramids is made from a transparent plastic in three different colors (red, green and blue), giving the puzzle a shiny and translucent appearance, reminiscent of a real jewel.

This puzzle looks a little more challenging than the Elastic Cube, but not that much actually, as both puzzles can be easily solved with a little patience. With the exception of the two pieces at both ends, in each of the remaining 10 pieces you can change the direction or the angle at which the elastic can be connected with other pieces. This makes the task of reassembling the puzzle a little more difficult, unless you don't change its directions when you disassembled it. Each pentagonal piece also has a tiny hole and a protuberance on its five edges, facilitating the connection between the pieces and keeping them in place, avoiding that they slide off from the original shape.

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Closing Comments:

MindJewel by Recent Toys is a nice addition to any collection. It won't be challenging enough for an experienced puzzler to feel satisfied, but as a fun puzzle to keep around and entertain you while you wait for a doctor's appointment or a meeting, is a great acquisition.

Availability: You can find the MindJewel puzzle at PuzzlesdeIngenio.com. Click here for other designs by Recent Toys.


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

Posted on by Gabriel | 2 comments
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(Click to Enlarge)
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

Posted on by Gabriel | 0 comments
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(Click to Enlarge)
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.

(Click to Enlarge)

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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