Thursday 8 March 2012

Packing puzzle torture stage 1

I keep torturing myself with packing puzzles! Despite getting quite a bit of practice, I don't seem to be getting any better at them! I am not bad at the 2D versions - I have one lovely one to review coming later. But when it comes to the 3D puzzles, I absolutely love the look of them but am truly hopeless. I would just love it if someone could tell me an approach to go about them that wasn't just a brute force 'try every possible combination until you are successful or go bald/gray' approach! So if you do have a method that wasn't madness then please just contact me.

Make Room STC#127-A
I had been surfing around on Mr Puzzle and drooling over all the toys I wanted when I saw this in the craftsman section of Brian & Sue Young's store (Mr Puzzle). It is available in standard and craftsman versions and, for my collection, I preferred the look of all the fancy woods. In my increasingly desperate attempts to improve my packing skills I decided that I should get one of these to practice on. Unfortunately it remained out of stock for months and months! I had almost given up hope when a news post on their site said that Brian would be making more of these again and this would be the last time he will ever make them. Of course, I had to order one immediately and it arrived last week. The Make room puzzle was designed by Stewart Coffin in 1997 and numbered as 127 in his list of puzzles. Jerry Slocum presented it at IPP21 with 14 solutions and 9 pieces to fit in the box. Brian has slightly altered it to make it more challenging!

Make Room - boxed - no clues here!
It arrived very well boxed up and wrapped in clear cellophane. Inside was the boxed up puzzle, an information card, a solution sheet and a legend naming the different woods. It is really beautifully made - the box joints are absolutely perfect and the blocks inside are lovely smooth blocks - the different colours look great. Interestingly there is a brass rod in a small hole at the front of the box - what is that for?

As usual, I didn't listen to the little voice in my head that said "go easy this is a tough one". So I just upended it on my desk and admired the lovely colours before working out what to do first. The first challenge is to put the 8 blocks back into the box. How difficult could it be? It did arrive with more than that in place so I must have lots of room. Oh dear!!! Have I told you ever that I'm rubbish at packing puzzles? Apparently there are 30 possible ways to do this simple challenge - it took me 2 hours to find the first solution! Aaaaargh! The next problem is to put all 8 blocks in and put the brass rod in as well - this should have 4 solutions. Whilst trying to do this I have found at least 1 of the other 30 solutions to the first challenge. Eventually, I did manage this by brute force/stupidity and mostly by pure luck - I know for a fact that I cannot remember it and will never manage it again! When I say "eventually" I really mean it! There were pieces strewn all over my study for days! I think it must have taken me 12 hours in total! I am exhausted and seeing blocks of wood in my dreams!

The third challenge is truly amazing - put all 8 blocks into the box with the locking dowel too (i.e. with it not sticking out of the hole as in the picture above. There is only one solution to this and I am ashamed to say that I haven't found it! After another 8-10 hours I gave up. There is an odd set of cutouts on the dowel and obviously this plays a part in getting it to fit.

The final challenge is to put it back in the box with the dowel locking it as it was when it arrived. This shuld have 3 possible solutions. By pure luck one of the solutions I had found in challenge 1 was also the solution to this challenge. I have tried to find another but have had to lie down in a darkened room!!!

In the end, I have created a Burrtools file which gives all the solutions possible and this is the only way that I have been able to see the unique solution. It took Burrtools less than 20 seconds to find all possible solutions! Maybe I am not cut out for packing puzzles???

If anyone wants a copy of the Burrtools file then just contact me and I will email it out.

Should you buy this one? Most definitely! It is a classic coffin design and looks gorgeous with all the different woods and the brass rod. I have had many many many hours of "fun" doing this and it looks great on the shelf. The fact that Brian is not planning on making them again should also convince you to go for it.


  1. I feel your pain Kevin, My brother bought me a bedlam cube a couple of years ago and I'm still trying to do that :-( Obviously I'm not on it all the time but I would have thought by now that blind dumb luck would have produced a solution... :-D

  2. Do you know if the standard version includes the brass rod? Have you considered getting the Boston Tea Chest?

    1. Hi John,

      As far as I can tell, only the craftsman version has the brass rod. The standard version has all the pieces made from the same wood type and the Dowel as well. It has 3 aims - Firstly to insert all the blocks into the box, secondly the aim is to insert all the blocks into the box with the dowel in the box (almost impossible!!!) and finally to get them all in with the dowel locking the box (as when it arrived).

      As far as the Boston Tea chest is concerned, I have drooled over it but as the Craftsman version is sold out, I have never actually thought of buying it.

  3. Tim - Fox Point, Wisconsin6 August 2014 at 03:48

    I just started getting into these and picked up the Red Wood Packing Problem (by Winshare purchased through Brilliantpuzzles) The idea that an external block of red painted wood would fit inside a box filled to the brim with 8 other blocks was so intriguing. How satisfying it was to solve it in about an hour.... 3/5 on Winshare's scale, but at least I've gotten my start.

    1. Congratulations Tim! Yes it's a start and it is also the beginning of a slippery slope. I am awful at packing puzzles and try not to collect them anymore but all it takes is a beautiful wood and I'm hooked again. As you see from my August 3rd 2014 post I just bought a gorgeous version of the ODD puzzle and I'm off again!