Thursday 17 May 2012

Let's take it up a gear!

During my last twisty puzzle review I mentioned that there was more to talk about when it comes to cubes and here I am again with yet another of those damn twisty puzzle reviews! When Ernö Rubik first developed his (and our) beloved cube puzzle he would not have believed how much variety there was to come!

Gear cube
The gear cube caught my eye whilst surfing around some of the twisty puzzle YouTube nuts. I saw an unboxing from Kenneth (aka RedKB) and thought that this was a totally awesome (excuse the Americanism!) idea. It was designed originally by Oskar van Deventer (I have got to meet this man someday) who called it the caution cube after getting his finger caught in the gears (the original Shapeways version had very sharp edges!)

Other bloggers have also reviewed it - Gabriel was first with his review, followed by Brian and much more recently Oli has just started his trek into twisty madness and reviewed it here (He is nowhere near as crazy about the twisties as I have become!!)

This puzzle looks horrifically complex because when you turn one face the centre face turns with it. For every half turn of a face the centre turns 90º. At the same time as doing this the middle cubies rotate around so it very quickly gets to look rather scrambled and sort of shape-shifted. To see this amazing cube in action have a look at this video by by larfrtc:

Despite looking so awful, I managed to work out what was required to solve it within about half an hour of beginning my fiddling. There are no real algorithms to learn (OK there is one but it only involves turning a face by 4 half turns). This is a really nice puzzle for younger puzzlers! It is a little more expensive than a standard cube - I got mine form Puzl in the UK but it is available from Calvin's HKNowstore or Uwe Meffert.

I later read on the Twisty puzzle forums about a modification of the stickering for this puzzle which had been made by the great Tony Fisher (developer of many new cubes including the (wait for it!) Fisher cube. This apparently made the puzzle more attractive and more difficult - it had not been done this way from the outset due to the difficulty of stickering the tiny parts accurately during mass production. I duly when to Cubesmith to get some of these stickers and and now have an absolutely gorgeous looking puzzle which is still pretty simple to solve but only has a few extra steps than the original - it is well worth your while getting one of these and enhancing it this way. Here it is with the new stickers and also when scrambled:

Gear Cube Restickered
Scrambled - how pretty is that?
Now you think that you have seen it all! Well I'm afraid you haven't! Oskar then continued his development and managed to make a "gear cube for adults" (my description, not his!) - he called it the anisotropic cube because - in his words:
"The word "anisotropic" means directionally dependent. I thought this would make an appropriate name, as the way of turning this twisty puzzle is indeed directionally dependent"

What this means in real life is that the gearing only works in 2 planes, the top and bottom faces can rotate by 90º and no rotation of adjacent faces occurs. When it went on sale it was sold as the "Gear cube extreme" and is available from all the usual sites (Puzl, HKNowstore and Mefferts). I bought mine from HKNowstore and it came with a set of stickers for the tiny inner pieces too - this is now called the "Gear cube ultimate". This, again makes it look much more attractive but makes it even more puzzling. Here it is in all it's glory:

Gear Cube Ultimate
1 centre slice turned
OMG! How to I unscramble this
"So what!" you say. Well this makes the puzzle a whole lot more difficult! In fact it was so difficult that I was completely unable to solve it myself. It has a fascinating movement. In fact this was so tough that despite several weeks of trying to work out some kind of algorithm set for it, I completely failed!! Oh the terrible humiliation! In the end I gave in and had to go to YouTube for a solution. Again, the amazing Kenneth came to my rescue and he posted a tutorial video. I can now do this puzzle only with assistance from him. I can do parts of it but just cannot remember the whole thing. I just do not understand how he manages it!!!

This must be the end of the gearing up! I'm afraid not! I have one more to share with you. Oskar was at it again, this time in conjunction with Bram Cohen he produced a new puzzle, unlike all the others, which he called the Gear shift.

Gear Shift
Turning mechanism
This is effectively a geared 2x2x2 puzzle which has large and small corner pieces with differing numbers of teeth. It is available from the usual places (HKNowstore, Mefferts and Puzzle Master). The "Twist" (I do apologise!) is that the cubies can be pulled apart in either the x, y or z directions to separate it into 2 halves which can turn independently. Here is a video from Kenneth showing it in action:

This is an amazingly interesting puzzle and there are several ways to solve it - it requires a reasonable amount of thought and an analysis of the way that gears with differing numbers of teeth can interact. I managed to get 6 of the 8 cubies solved quite easily but those last two proved to be a real problem. Ultimately it actually took a week of trial and error before I had managed to work out a method of solving it.

So should you get one, some or all of these? Well I am a bit biased (no kidding!) - but trying to be objective, I would say that you should definitely get the Gear cube (treat yourself to the Cubesmith sticker replacements just to make it more attractive) and seriously consider the Gear shift. I love my Gearcube Extreme/Ultimate but it should only be bought by real puzzleholics (are you one of them???) and people who want to collect the whole lot.

As you can tell, I am having a lot of fun with my Twisty journey. They are relatively cheap, provide many different solving challenges and actually look quite attractive in a collection.

If you don't think they can be attractive then just look at this collection (NOT mine!) recently posted on the TP forum:


  1. It looks like you have well and truly gone over to the twisty side....

    1. Currently, sitting dribbling in the corner!

      Just had another delivery from Calvin. Really enjoying these Witeden crazy cubic cuboids. Whilst fiddling with the Super 3x3x8 I have just discovered that something very very strange is going on here!

      I absolutely love the mental challenge of all these different variations.

  2. I cannot match your twistyness Kevin! I definitely am enjoying reading your descent into twisty madness though. Keep it up! I mean there can't be that many more twisty puzzles out there to collect........right?

    1. "There can't be that many more to collect".....

      OMG! Have you looked at Calvin's site, or even worse the TP forums? I am totally hooked on these - they require some real thought and planning. The design that goes into them is amazing. There are lots and lots and lots...... more for me to get. Only the space in my study limits me - Oh and the present Mrs S!!

      I still love my wood and metal - but these are so cheap for the experience you get. Other people are also astounded when you show them a shape shifter.