Sunday 26 July 2020

Those Japanese Chaps Are Really Devious!

4L Basket
5L Box
I am really not sure that I should be writing such a provocative title!!! But in the puzzling world we all know that the Japanese designers, craftsmen and puzzlers are extreme examples of the best on offer! Every time I buy something from one of them, I get a top notch experience and appreciate their devious thought processes - so, in the face today's politically correct thought police, I stand by my statement! 👿👿👿

I know that you all are desperately waiting to find out about my latest escapades! Otherwise why else would you be back here week after week reading my drivel? I'll start with my rower... Man! I became very unfit! 3 months of lockdown where all I could do was walk a bit and work my arse off at the hospital prevented any real exercise being done and then 2 weeks struggling with a life-threatening virus and the de-conditioning associated with that have left me in a very poor physical state. I have tried to use the rower every day if possible (work permitting) and it is coming back slowly. Mrs S has even suggested that on a work day, I get up at 5am to workout before I go to work. I'm not sure whether she is being kind or is trying to cause me a heart attack whilst she is sleeping. Whack! Ouch!

What about the Lock out puzzle by Andrew Coles? Well it took me a few days to pick all the celery out of the keyway after Allard suggested that was the solution and I have worked to find the solution every day. BUT... I have so far been completely unable to find anything new. There are some holes (I'm not sure whether they were made by Andrew or by the lock manufacturer) and that is all I have found. I think Andrew has just given me a lock with the wrong keys as a joke! I will keep trying.

Easy peasy? Not for me!
Today I have to write about a couple of puzzles that I have been playing with from Japan. Every year a bunch of puzzles from the IPP which have been much sought after due to several of them being big hits in the design competition - some of my all time favourite puzzles (including the 4L packing puzzle) and the Caramel box came to me that way. Unfortunately, the IPP has had to be cancelled this year and as a result extras were produced and sold direct as well as making a whole load available via Wil Strijbos (helping maintain his name as the premiere puzzle pusher). I placed an order within at most 5 minutes of the announcement being made and was very lucky that the puzzles that I wanted were not going to be in short supply and were not going to a country that had imposed virus-related import restrictions. I received my wonderful new toys relatively quickly and set to playing with them.

I knew that 4L Basket was going to be fun - it had won the Puzzler's award as well as the Jury 1st prize at the Design competition in 2019 and I had a brief play with Allard's copy at the last MPP and failed to solve it after a ½ hour helping me decide that I definitely needed my own copy. I tried a few of the tricks from the 4L packing puzzle but that didn't help me at all - It was definitely going to be fun. The 4L Basket was a design by Koichi Miura who has also designed several others that I have reviewed and enjoyed. It has been beautifully made from Walnut, Oak and Padauk. Like the 4L there are 4 L-shaped pieces to be fitted into a box but this time the L's are all identical and simple Triominos, the box has 2 identical entry paths separated by the handle of the basket which cannot move and has 2 holes in the sides beneath the handle. I was able to work out a few possible ways to organise these pieces inside the 2x2x3 cavity - so how can you manoeuvre the pieces past the blockage caused by the handle? Even with a little Thought© it is clear that rotational moves will be required but the tolerances of the box are such that it is quite tough to find any possible rotations for anything other than the first piece. The rotations that I had tried with other puzzles had not worked with this one - even the genius, Derek Bosch had not found this straightforward.

Rotations required - not too tough but very clever
I played with this on and off (along with a few other toys) and realised that you needed to use everything that you were given to get the positioning just right. After a week of play, I had a lovely Aha! moment and packed the L's inside the basket. It is actually not as complex as you think (certainly nowhere near as tough as the original 4L puzzle) but you really do need to think why everything was designed the way it was.

A simple packing puzzle? The fixed cubies in the box say no!
The 5L box is another fabulous design from Hajime Katsumoto which also won the Jury 1st prize in the 2018 Design competition. I had never actually seen a copy of it but knew straight away that any puzzle designed by Hajime-san was worth buying. When it arrived, I was absolutely staggered at the sheer beauty of it. I am not sure what it is made of (I am certain that there is a fair amount of acrylic in it but the outer surfaces of the box have a shiny wood grain effect and I cannot tell whether this is a wood inlay or just a really gorgeous acrylic). The wooden pieces look like either Redheart or Padauk. Again, there are 5 triomino L-shaped pieces which need to be fitted into the box and then the lid shut over them. This is very reminiscent of the absolutely amazing Slide packing puzzle by Hajime-san which also won the Puzzler's award in 2016 as well as a Jury honourable mention. Making this much more difficult is the fact that a cubie is stuck inside the box in one corner and another is attached to the lid preventing it from sliding all the way out and also restricting where the pieces can be placed inside.

There are a few ways that 5 L-shapes can fit into the 3x3x2 cavity even with the restrictions placed but the fact that one of those restrictions has to be allowed room to move for the lid to close makes this a really interesting challenge. I played with this one for several weeks and just could not make the jump in thought that was required. It was sitting on top of a sleeping cat with me staring at in disbelief at the difficulty level when the cat turned over, causing the puzzle to roll onto its' side. Ooh! That is interesting...a whole new way of looking at it. I had, until that moment, been trying to solve it with the lid upwards - seems like a logical approach? With the puzzle on its' side I was forced to think a little differently and suddenly an idea sprang into my currently blank head - what if I try...? YES!!! That is really lovely - it is actually not as tough as I thought - I just needed to think differently - there is a lovely sequence of moves and it is solved with the lid shutting beautifully. It is not even trivial to remove the pieces once the puzzle has been solved and sat for a while.

No clues here - a really fun puzzle!
I was chatting to Derek at the time and was slightly horrified when he told me that he had managed to lock his copy up entirely. It had never occurred to me that could happen. Luckily he managed to unlock it reasonably quickly and I gave my advice to think in another orientation - hopefully that will do the trick for my mate.

If you get a offered a try of these puzzles then jump at the chance - they are a very simple premise with only a small number of very basic shaped pieces to fit in a small cavity. Despite the simplicity, they are a wonderful challenge which may take you only a few minutes or if you are thick like me, then may take you many hours over a number of days.


  1. used fresh celery, right.

    1. Of course I used fresh celery! What kind of monster do you think I am? Plus Mrs S would never have old celery in the house!

  2. >...such a provocative title!!!

    At least you didn't use "inscrutable" anywhere in the post

    1. I may be dense when it comes to puzzles but I’m not stupid or crass!

  3. What a good cat! -Tyler.

    1. It’s highly likely that all of my toughest puzzle solved were entirely due to the cats! I’m not very bright you know!