Sunday 30 April 2023

Complex Heaven and "Simple" Hell from Japan

Aris 3 from Osanori Yamamoto
I follow Osanori-san on Facebook where he shows off a curious mix of beautiful Japanese countryside, delicious looking Japanese food and fabulous puzzles that he has designed and made. Usually my fix of his designs comes from the incredible Pelikan puzzle workshop - he creates fantastic packing puzzles with interesting openings like the Aris 3 above (the Palace puzzle is still available from Pelikan) or fun framed burr puzzles (the Typhoon S1 is also still available from Pelikan). Recently I saw some new designs and contacted him to see whether he would sell them directly to me (Pelikan cannot make everything he designs) and, to my delight, he agreed. This time the cost for one puzzle was matched by the price of the postage and so I added an extra puzzle to the purchase to make it worthwhile. Mrs S was not terribly impressed but she does like to get value for money and couldn't fault me for my reasoning. 

There is something about Yamato post... it is just super efficient! I have stuff ordered from the US and it takes weeks (in fact my order from Cubic Dissection seems to have been misled by customs here 😢). My order from Osanori arrived 4 days after he posted it. This seems to happen for almost all Japanese post - it's amazing. The puzzles always arrive with an alternative packing which os quite neat. This one required a rotation to remove all the pieces. I have 3 relatively complex Walnut pieces to fit into my box in such a way that the openings are completely filled. This time the box has some diagonal edges which significantly inhibits sliding movements and also enlarges the area that must be visibly filled. This was going to be a real challenge.

As usual, I start looking for cubic shapes and realise that there are a LOT of them. After I had solved the puzzle, I went to Burrtools to model it and found that there are 65 3x3x3 cubic shapes that can be made from these 3 pieces. Thank heavens for the restricted opening that creates shape constraints. The requirement for a 2x2x1 top face and diagonally opposite 2x2x1 at the bottom of a column significantly reduces the assemblies to choose from. I had found 6 or 7 myself and BT tells me that there are 14. You would think that having a puzzle with 14 possible assemblies to work through would be a hellish puzzle but no...Osanori has thought about it and the most complex shape has been designed such that possible ways it can be inserted into the box is very restricted. I quickly found that only one assembly seemed to have this piece in a suitable orientation. I was off! Time to work out the sequence of movements. Oh boy - this was really quite a challenge. I usually try it outside the box, first of all simulating the disassembly of a supposed finished puzzle and I really struggled - I just didn't have enough fingers/hands to hold the pieces in the positions they needed to go. I thought about asking Mrs S to hold a piece whilst I moved the others around it and quickly thought better of it - she was unimpressed with my deliveries and I didn't want to risk a Whack! Ouch! In the end I had to abandon my approach and decided to just go straight for an assembly. It looked great as I got all three pieces partially into the box with various tails hanging out through the orifices. It looked like I just needed to "do the usual dance" to  settle them into place. Improved really hard to do it and I even abandoned that approach for a while thinking it was the wrong assembly. I went back to forming cubes again and could not find a better one. After 4 days of trying, I finally upset the sleeping cat by shouting my success. 

There was one particular move I had missed. The pieces pirouette around each other whilst the complex one moves in and out in different directions making room. The disassembly level is 16.2.7 which is an astoundingly difficult level for such a seemingly simple design. This was puzzle heaven!

Gem by Osanori Yamamoto
What was the extra puzzle that I chose to "make up the postage"? It was this gorgeous creation. Osanori gave me a list of other puzzles that he had ready in stock and I went through his FB page to look at the pictures. The Gem was one that he had shown off back in August 2022 and I recalled thinking it looked interesting and very pretty at the time. When I told Osanori-san that it was my choice as extra puzzle, he seemed pleased and said that it was his favourite puzzle.

When it arrived, I was staggered by the beauty of it - the picture doesn't show it's sheer vibrancy very well. The other impressive feature of this one was the texture of the finish on the pieces. They are just silky smooth. The only other craftsman I can recall who finished wood like this was my friend John Devost who (when he was crafting) used a triple buffing technique which left the pieces of wood so delightful to touch. Alas, I no longer have any of John's toys in my collection. I knew that this one was going to be wonderful just from the sensation alone.

The 3 rings of wood need to be inserted into slots in the cube with one at 90º to the other 2. I immediately saw a problem - all three pieces are 2 voxels thick and one of the slots is only a single voxel wide. There was a lovely aha! moment as I found that for just one of the pieces and nice sequence of rotations allowed an insertion of one of them. Interesting. Next it was time to work out the other 2. What relative positions should they be in and how to get them to interlock with the other piece? 

Absolutely delightful sequence
The solution took me only about half an hour but again a lovely aha! moment made better by the silky smoothness of the pieces and how they glide over each other. I could see why this was one of Osanori-san's favourite puzzles. It is delightful. Another piece of Japanese puzzling heaven.

My friend Neal, might have sent me some new Tics and I had better play with them to justify their arrival before Mrs S breaks them up into matchsticks! 😱
The 6 Dessert TICs designs from Laszlo Kmolnar - Mrs S is going to murder me!
Made by Jeff Baz and Matt Hochberg


  1. Fun stuff! Any advice on where to purchase the Mine jigsaws? I'm intrigued.

    1. I’m afraid it’s only possible via his Facebook page. He has been asked to do it by email by other puzzlers and he doesn’t feel able to do it that way.

    2. I will reach out to him there. Thanks.