Sunday 13 December 2015

Simply Amazing!

Katie Koala
Finally! I have the review I know you've all been waiting for - alright maybe one or two of you have been waiting! Yes it's Katie Koala from MrPuzzle - one of two 20th anniversary limited editions designed and made by Brian Young and Junichi Yananose. This absolutely stunning construction seems to have completely disappeared from their website and the old URL no longer works - hopefully he and the lovely Mrs Puzzle, Sue will put them back on their site for posterity. (Ed - after reading my review and commenting below Brian has put these 2 puzzles back on their website. Katie Koala is here and Six of One, Half a Dozen of Another is here)

In 2013 Brian announced that for his 20th Anniversary later that year, he would be producing 2 limited edition puzzles. The "Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other" made it as an honourable 11 amongst a few other special burrs in my top puzzles solved in 2014. The Katie Koala puzzle was delivered to me at the very end of November 2014 and got a mention in that list but could not be placed in my top 10 because I had not managed to solve her (the list is only for solved puzzles). I think I had only managed the first couple of steps by the end of the year!

Limited edition of 65 - my number is always 28
The notification went out to people on the special list in January 2014 along with an eye watering price tag. Of course, I know Brian and Sue and trust them implicitly - I clicked on the order button immediately without batting an eyelid. There were going to be a few more than usual this time because of the occasion. In view of the fact that their site no longer mentions it I will quote the original description:
There is much more going on inside this Koala’s head than a real Koala even after she’s been eating lots of gum leaves.  Not just a single puzzle. This is a collection of a number of puzzles, all complex in their own right.  The big puzzle for Brian was how to fit all the puzzling experiences into one Koala so that it didn't turn out the size of a small motor car? 
The ultimate goal is to find the 20th Anniversary token. 
Along the way you’ll have to find and assemble Katie Koala's joey named Verne; technically you’re getting two tough Koala puzzles not just one.  To find the joey you'll have to navigate literally a maze of locks that interact with each other.
The final door is actually held shut with 4 separate locks so there will be no fluke to open it.  Once you do open it you'll be rewarded not only with the token, but you'll also get to see a lot of the inner mechanisms that Brian has deliberately left exposed.  We would love to show you some of the brass work inside so you can understand where all the time’s been spent preparing this puzzle but that would give away waaaaaaay too many clues! so you’ll just have to wait until you discover it all for youself.
In the past Brian has left ideas out of puzzles to keep the cost down.  This being his 20th Anniversary he wanted to go all out, and everything he planned just seemed to work well, so he kept going.....  It’s unlikely that he'’ll ever make anything this elaborate again in a single puzzle.  
Do you have the ‘koalafications’ to tackle this one? 
The puzzle was designed by Brian Young.  Special thanks to Junichi and his wife Yukari for their fabulous collaboration on the design for the joey. 
Woods used:  Koala - Papua New Guinean Teak (Vitex) with ear trim from Silver Ash and nose, hands & feet from Papua New Guinean Ebony.  Her joey is made from Sycamore wood. 
The puzzle also includes lots of brass and magnets used to make many tools that you will discover as you progress.
Size:  Height 233mm  Width 150mm at the ears Depth 125mm
The production of these beauties really took it out of him and he did release news that the delivery would have to be staggered and would take all of 2014 and what is more, there would be no 2014 limited edition. In fact Brian did not know when the next LE might be coming! He said:
Brian always knew it was going to be a mammoth project but it’s only now that’s he'’s about half way through that he realises just how long it’s going to take to finish this LE set. 
The schedule has been revised and Brian now expects that in the first quarter of 2014 he will be able to complete about 12 puzzles. 
He will then break to work on IPP exchange puzzles that he committed to last year. After IPP he'’ll resume completion of Koalas through 2014/2015.  Even at that point to finish the other 53 Koala’s he estimates there’s in excess of 7 months full time work for one person to finish them.
Mine arrived at the end of November 2014 - just in time for a mention in my puzzles of the year but not rated in the list. During 2014 Allard posted a "not a review" but as far as I can see it has not been fully reviewed anywhere yet. There were whispers of Katie at puzzle parties and she even appeared in some Koala porn photos:

Ahem! Disgusting isn't it?
There are some spoilers further down the page behind buttons - if you don't want to see it then don't look!

By February of 2015, I had managed a few more steps but was seriously stuck! I had "ripped" Katie's ears off - this required quite a sequence of tools and using them in rather unusual ways. I had managed to achieve one of the moves incorrectly and had not set things up adequately for the next move to be done and this was one reason I was stuck. I did not realise it and was held in this position for a VERY long time! I asked both Goetz and Sue for a little help and they sorted me out and got me back onto the correct track (it was a huge long sequence of emails from Goetz and I am very grateful for his time and expertise) but there was just no way I could find the next move. I really did not want to ask for more help (no solution had been published at that time) so Katie went back on display looking like she had been in a rather rough fight:

Poor Katie! She's keeping tremendous company though!
Katie stayed on display in her deaf condition for months and months! I would pick her up and try to find the next move every few days or weeks but could never seem to work out what was happening next. Goetz suggested that I needed a very bright light to allow me to see what to do next. This meant to me that something needed to be done in a hole and I needed to see what was happening in that hole. My torch was no help - every orifice I looked in was dark and showed no possible way to use the tools I had. In desperation, I found a special tool that I had acquired from work:

A useful light source
The light wand pictured above is used by my orthopaedic surgeon colleagues for shining down long bones (usually the femur) to allow them to see right down inside during big redo joint surgery to allow them to ensure that every last bit of infected cement and tissue is removed. After one of these had been used a few years ago for teaching purposes by a colleague, I appropriated it for my DIY toolbox. I have used it behind plasterboard to chase wires around when installing spurr points and never expected it to be of use in puzzling. I was aware that no external tools should be used in solving Katie but a light source was allowed (I checked with Sue). Nothing was immediately apparent but after a movement I suddenly saw something. A rather long sequence of movements was required and then my lightsource revealed a new place to use a tool. Hmm! It was a rather long way away so I had to make a longer tool with what I had. Brian's work with brass pieces is amazing and everything just screws or slides together to be used in combination. All of a sudden Katie had some labour pains!

Giving birth
What a tremendous relief it was to get this far - it had taken me 5 months! Now I was expecting to suddenly see a joey - Verne is his name but inside the pouch is a very immature koala baby rather like with the real thing:

Apparently patience is required - the baby needs time to feed and grow into a recognisable koala joey. Verne has magnets and needs to be formed into the correct shape. First of all I had no idea what shape to aim for and the magnets were infuriatingly repelling every single shape I attempted to make. I am rubbish at assembly puzzles! For storage I wanted to keep the joey in the pouch until he matured but I couldn't even get him back inside! Let's just say that burrtools came in handy.

It took me another 8 months to finally solve this section! I received the solution booklet in May 2014 and filed it away not daring to look at it. Eventually I had to have a peek at it and just looked at the intended shape of the joey and earlier this month I finally got it solved. Only look if you want to go aaah!

At last it was solved or was it? Reading the blurb from Brian the "ultimate goal" was to find the commemorative token. There was no sign of it in the pouch or in the space left by the pouch. There must be another compartment. The next step is a stroke of utter genius - the magnets in Verne can be used to unlock a panel - imagine how a growing joey travels with his mother and you will get an idea of how the next step works. A little click and the puzzle is finally complete:

It has only taken me a year!
This has been a tremendous journey, a voyage of discovery just as Brian and Juno intended. I got lost along the way and it has taken me a whole year to solve. It is simply amazing and I can only say that it is the most complex discovery puzzle the world has ever seen. It is a telling sign that after over a year and a half has passed from the initial release of them, not a single one has been put up for sale! I would guess that they would have increased in value enormously but noone has even dreamed of selling it. Along with my Opening Bat, my Hales puzzle collection and my Stickman puzzles this is one of my most prized posessions!

Thank you Brian, Juno and Sue for a tremendous experience and a puzzle to be treasured for the rest of my days!


  1. Wow! That report of your long saga with Katie Koala was very entertaining. Someone should write a book starting with "every orifice I looked in was dark and showed no possible way to use the tools I had." Discovery puzzles must be challenging to design and to make them beautiful as well is certainly an art form. Looking over the puzzles on Mr. Puzzle's website now...

    1. Remember Pete, that I am a doctor! There is no orifice that I haven't looked in (that includes humans as well as Katie Koala!

      If you are starting to branch out into sequential discovery puzzles then say goodbye to your bank balance!

  2. Kevin, great write up about Katie Koala. When I knew about it, it was too late for me to pick up one from Brian. I suppose my only other option is the second hand market...I will try very hard not to let the 2016 special puzzle elude me next year.

  3. Very interesting article! I think I'm one of the less puzzler who was actually notice Katie very early, but the price is really far beyond my budget and so I had to give it up. I watched the solving sequence, and I'm sure this is a very funny, challenging puzzle from Brain!

  4. thanks for pointing out that Katie was temporarily hiding up a gum tree. she's back online now on our Limited edition archives page. Brian.