Sunday 2 June 2019

Thinking Outside the Box? Not Always That Helpful!

Or Laszlo Does It Again!
A TIC, a Packing Puzzle and a Dexterity Puzzle All in One!

Rollercoaster by Laszlo Kmolnar
Very nicely made by Brian Young
My friend Laszlo Kmolnar is one of the best puzzle designers around today. This blog is littered with posts gushing about his wonderful puzzles and he has made my top ten of the year with a few of his wonderful designs and I suspect that this one will make it to that exalted list at the end of 2019. Let me say up front that this is AN ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL PURCHASE! Before you read on, you MUST go and buy a copy from Brian and Sue Young's MrPuzzle site - it is available in 4 different kinds of wood:

  • Blush Alder - This is a hardwood with a pinkish brown colour. It weighs lighter than the heaviest wood like Jarrah. 
  • Saffron Heart - This wood grows in Australia and Papua New Guinea. The wood has a distinct yellow tinge to it.
  • Jarrah - A dense and heavy wood grown mostly in Western Australia this wood varies from light to much darker red in colour.
  • Black Wattle - A lovely brown wood that mostly has darker streaks in it.

I think that mine is Jarrah and there is the 67 x 67 x 67mm perspex box. I bought my copy from Wil Strijbos when he was visiting the UK for a Midlands Puzzle Party and he may have a few copies left if you are ordering something from him anyway. When bought from Brian it apparently comes with the solution - mine from Wil did not! I try never to look at a solution and if you do buy from Brian then throw the leaflet away! DO NOT be tempted by it - you DON'T need it! This fabulous puzzle is only $19US as I write and so an absolute bargain.

As you can see it consists of just 3 oddly shaped pieces of wood which must be placed completely within the 3x3x3 box with no piece protruding out. The box is rigid, does not dismantle and has a single 1x1x1 hole in a corner to allow the pieces to be placed inside. Don't dismiss this simply because the box is perspex - it has been beautifully made too and actually looks lovely in itself.

Very clear - box and instructions
On the MrPuzzle site, it also says to solve without putting your fingers inside! OMG!
A simple puzzle I can hear you claim? Only put 3 pieces in a regular box? That must be pretty easy! Hell! No! This little bastard kept me busy for 6 months! There is a lot more to the solving of this puzzle than you might think which is why I am so overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Brian Menold made a copy last year with a wooden box that I think must have been almost impossible to solve - the inability to see through the walls of the box will have made this immeasurably harder. This puzzle was an entry in the IPP design competition last year (2018) where it missed out on a prize (I suspect this will have been because of the sheer number of amazing designs that were entered).

New to puzzling - look at that smile!
I have carried the puzzle with me everywhere for 6 months and only just solved it last week! Many many people have been consumed by it and all have failed. They don't let me loose in the Day surgery suite very often but every single time I go down there, I am immediately asked to hand it over and the nursing staff spend a whole day playing with it. I love watching the annoyed looks on the surgeons face as the pieces clunk about in and out of the box! It drives them mad hearing the nurses have some fun. I have given it to a few of my anaesthetic trainees to keep them occupied whilst I write my chart or prescribe the post-op medications. The premise of this is so simple that no-one can resist the temptation - even a new trainee who has never tried puzzling before.

In general, I am not a huge fan of packing puzzles because there seems to be too much random trial and error during the solution process. The Rollercoaster, on the other hand, will never be solved by random movement. It requires thought© and purposeful movement with a decent amount of dexterity to solve this - no chance that you will manage it by accident. Not only is it a packing puzzle, but it is also a dexterity puzzle as well as a wonderful Turning Interlocking Cube (TIC) too. Yep! As if that weren't requires rotational moves too. Brian and Laszlo are going to force you to make rotational moves of pieces through a small hole and barely within reach. Yay! Bastards! 😂

The first of the Aha! moments occurs early on when you realise part of the order in which the pieces must be placed in the cube, then another Aha! moment arrives as you work out the specific orientation that the large piece requires when inserted. Having made what you feel is good headway with discoveries, then you hit a wall! I did! Many many times.

Time to "think© outside the box"? I thought so too - this is often helpful for these puzzles but remember that Laszlo has a history of making "out of the box" thoughts unhelpful! Obviously, a 3x3x3 cube has 27 voxels inside but this puzzle has pieces with only 15 voxels which means there will be lots of empty space inside when it is complete. This also means that there are dozens and dozens of ways that the pieces can be fitted into a 3x3x3 shape when you do not have the constraints of the walls and the single hole to work through. After a month or two of thinking outside the box and not really getting anywhere plus allowing everyone who wanted to try it a good while to play/fail, I went back to thinking inside the box...that didn't help much either!

Another difficulty with this is that the 2 small pieces look very similar and when you think© that you have an idea, by the time you have made a first move or two, you are completely confused about which piece should be where and oriented in which direction. I took to drawing weird little stick diagrams on pieces of paper that I would leave lying around. At this point, you have a real idea of what to do (or so you think) and then you find that the little buggers move around in the box completely of their own volition and nothing you can do will keep them where you want them! So, you cannot work out what to do, cannot keep track of which piece is which and then cannot control where they go whilst in the box.......Aaaargh!!! This is AWESOME!

Having described what sounds like a nightmare, you have to realise that all this contributes to something that needs yet more Aha! moments. The first 2 or 3 are not enough! I continued to get nowhere and increased my frustration very frequently when the pieces would spontaneously rotate whilst I was trying to manipulate them within the box and frequently I would find myself unable to advance any further and then couldn't pull the bloody pieces out again......Aaaargh!!! Again! I must have come close to a heart attack on several occasions.

Last week I attended a rather good Anaesthesia conference and, as I usually do, took a few toys to play with on the train and in my hotel room in an evening. I failed every time but on the train home where I met one of my orthopaedic surgical colleagues by coincidence, I threatened him with it and when he started to cry (I tortured him for a year when he was a trainee!), I let him off and played myself. Much to the bemusement of a young lad further up the train, I had my final Aha! moment during that journey and managed this:

Yes - it can be done - this picture is of no help to you whatsoever!
The elated feeling lasted for days! Interestingly, the challenge does not end there! Disassembling it is still tough as the pieces rotate and block you without you being aware of what has happened and then eventually when you do take it apart, it is still damn tough to redo the puzzle. After another 5 or 6 solves, I had got to the point where I have worked out the quickest and most efficient method of packing the pieces inside. Phew! The next challenge (which is incredibly tough is to do the whole thing without sticking your finger inside the box! It can be done but be prepared to lose a lot of hair in the process! Yet another challenge - is there no end to them?

When I told Derek (the genius) about my eventual solution, he was rather impressed - at that point, he told me that it was a really difficult puzzle that he had solved with the aid of Burrtools. I have to admit that with the rotations involved, it had never occurred to me to even try using that miraculous program.

This puzzle is simply awesome! It should definitely be in any serious puzzler's collection and everyone should take some real time to actually think© and come up with the solution. There are quite a lot of Aha! moments to find and the final feeling of success is amazing! Don't be tempted by Burrtools - just solve it...even if it takes 6 months!

It is still available from Brian and Sue and maybe Wil still has a few copies - go and buy it. You will see why it will be rather high up my top ten of this year.

I think I need a rest now! Maybe something easy like a twisty puzzle?


  1. The exchange version of this puzzle, as well as the design comp version, had the additional restriction that you were not allowed to "touch the pieces when they were inside the box". This made the puzzle even harder, and I don't think it needs to be any harder. I just used BurrTools.

  2. Nice write-up. This one completely eluded me - I'll have to go back to it.

    How does one use BurrTools to assist with a puzzle like this?

    1. Good point! Since BurrTools cannot do rotations, it is not clear how to use it to help solve this puzzle. Figuring out how to solve it using BurrTools I consider part of the puzzle!

      If you enter this puzzle in BurrTools it will tell you it is unsolvable. To make progress you have to understand grouping pieces. Send me an email if this does not help.

    2. Thanks for doing that George! I have been a bit busy at work the last week.