Sunday 12 July 2015

Labyrinth from SiamMandalay

I can dismantle puzzles but really struggle to assemble the buggers!

Labyrinth Puzzle
A little while ago I received a contact from Sean Allen of asking whether I’d be interested in reviewing one of his shop’s puzzles. I have been aware of Sean for a while as he has been the author of several rather cerebral articles in various places as well as on his personal blog. His latest article on disentanglement puzzles was particularly fascinating for someone like me who is so addicted to bits of wire and string. Some articles have been on the advantages of puzzling for our brain’s health. Whilst I don’t always agree with his claims (despite wanting to) he always seemed fair and very pleasant to chat to with an interesting opinion. His shop is very nicely laid out and the aim seems to be to help local artisans in Thailand.

I insisted that I wanted to be able to give an honest review including a negative one if necessary and he had such confidence in his wares that he immediately said yes. After pointing me to a few links of some of the tougher puzzles on his site, I suggested he pick one that he thought I might enjoy. A week later a box arrived with a copy of Labyrinth in it. You have probably noticed that I have had quite a few deliveries recently and couldn’t possibly solve them all in one go and write reviews. This one went on the shelf next to me until I had time to play and then it was time to write an “affordable puzzle” review - that time is now.

The puzzle arrived in a small plastic box (not a finger-murdering clamshell) and the aim on the paper insert said:
Are you brave enough to pull apart this labyrinth and put it back together again?
So during a few days off and due to the incessant rain preventing any gardening or outdoor DIY I picked it up and had a play. Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear - I really had to! I actually expected from the picture that it was going to be an interlocking cube type puzzle and got a bit of a shock when in the process of taking it out of the box it fell apart into these pieces:

Quite a lot of interesting pieces! Nice grain on the wood
The puzzle is a 2.5” cube based on a 4x4x4 voxel grid with all the corners missing. The wood looks rather like the ubiquitous Monkeypod wood which has the advantage of a nice grain and is a very sustainable resource (I’m pretty certain that some of my home furniture may contain it). It is nicely cut and glued and pleasant to hold. It is not up to the standards of the handmade beauties that I have bought recently from Brian, Eric and Stephan but this (and most of the others on the site) is a fraction of the cost. No solution is provided with the puzzle but if you really want one the solutions can be downloaded from their solution page - the Labyrinth is rated difficult and you might well need it.

I was quite flushed with success after spending an hour on Steve’s Tripod puzzle which had vexed me since IPP last year. He had given me some clues after my exasperated article a few weeks ago and I needed every single one of those clues to finally assemble the Tripod. It is a wonderful design and I think that it will stay assembled forevermore:

FINALLY! An assembled Tripod puzzle!
Convinced that my puzzle assembly abilities had suddenly increased, I set to on the Labyrinth. I was a little horrified to find that Sean wasn’t kidding with that difficulty rating! I really struggled with it! It reminded me a little bit of a Soma cube but with slightly more complex pieces. SiamMandalay do sell a Soma cube if you want one. I think this might well have taken me a couple of hours and quite a lot of swearing before I finally had it together! If you are a little frightened then I would suggest that you remove the puzzle from the box more carefully than me and explore a little how it goes together. If you are feeling reckless or invincible then just scramble the bits immediately like I did!

I am now even more convinced than ever that I am a disassembler of puzzles more than an assembler - please note that I maintain that I am NOT a puzzle breaker! I have even had a discussion with Derek about it and he certainly agrees that it requires a very different set of mental muscles to put things together rather than take apart. He, of course, is an absolute genius and particularly good at designing interlocking puzzles - it hadn’t taken him long to assemble his copy of the Tripod.

As absolute proof of how much better I am at disassembling than assembling - I give you the 4 Keys puzzle:

4 Keys - how hard can it be?
This lovely handmade creation was a gift from the master of disentanglements, Dick Hess, at our recent Midlands Puzzle Party. I adore these and set to taking it apart the following evening and managed to get it into the 5 pieces in about ½ hour. I was quite surprised that it was quite different to a design with a similar name - the “5 keys puzzle” which I had bought a couple of years earlier:

4 separated keys - how hard can assembly be? Sob!
I left the pieces for a few hours before attempting to reassemble and OMG! What a shock! I knew how to get 3 of the 4 back in place but the first and most difficult proved to be totally beyond me. I sat with Mrs S in the living room and bravely tried to put it back in place with no success for 3 full evenings in a row. I received quite a number of Whack! Ouch!’s from “she who must be obeyed” (or she who must be run away from) and only after humiliating myself by thinking of begging Dick for a solution did I suddenly gain some insight and manage it.

I maintain that I am definitely a disassembler and not an assembler. Maybe Sean, can write an article on the skills required for each type and how I can enhance my sadly missing skills? So if you are an assembler or want to be one and would like to try a very nice and very tough puzzle from Thailand then I can wholeheartedly recommend the Labyrinth as a really good challenge for a reasonable price.


  1. I will definitely NOT be trying that one, although it looks very nice. I am tip toeing my way into geometric take apart and burrs with levels I can count on two hands ...

    1. Hmmmm! The aim of the review was definitely not to put you off! It's tough but not completely impossible! If I did it then almost anyone can!

    2. I thought puzzlers loved a challenge! ;) Although i'd understand if you wanted to give the Thai "cocktails" a miss. - love your blog concept Boxes and Booze!

      Thanks for the review Kevin! Will see what I can muster up - different puzzles do require different skills for sure....

  2. Don't worry I am already thinking about a Thai cocktail. I'll just have to pair it with one of your easier puzzles!

  3. Labyrinth is single color versions of Propeller Burr that I designed 25 years ago.

    SiamMandalay's Hoopla Cube is same as Tom Jolly's Caged Knot.

    1. Hi Juno,

      I am very flattered and amazed that you bother to read my blog! I hope you like it! I have quite a few of your puzzles!

      I do hope that permission was asked before those puzzles were made commercially.