Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Hanayama Cast Elk

Cast Elk
This is the last of the little batch of cast puzzles that I got from Puzzlemaster. It is level 6 (out of 6) or 10 out of 10 on the Puzzlemaster scale. As usual there is no solution provided and if you need one (as I almost did!) you can get one here.

The puzzle comes very nicely packaged and consists of two rather beautiful shiny metal shapes which look like deer antlers (hence the name Elk) it even has the face on it. It is surprisingly robust and a decent weight. The two pieces look absolutely identical (apart from "Hanayama" on one hub and "NOB" on the other. The NOB is there because of the designer (Nobuyuki Yoshigahara) who recreated this from a classic British design. The pieces are interlocked and the aim is obviously to disentangle them - the exit point is pretty obvious, it has to be between the 2 antlers of each piece - so how difficult can it be? Surely not worthy of the hardest possible score!

I just love these 2 piece puzzles! They look so easy and they certainly are easy to understand but can be really tough. Here is an article discussing the merits of 2 piece puzzles and their difficulty. The Cast Elk is certainly really easy to pick up and play with for a few minutes at a time. In fact, Cast Elk is one of my absolute favourites so far. I have read of people taking several hours to solve this one and thus, I picked it up with some trepidation. Because the pieces are so similar there is no real way to formulate a plan. Initially you wander about exploring the limits of the possible moves. I kept finding myself with no obvious progress and after 30 minutes gave up with a view to possibly downloading the solution.

Later I came back to it having had a brainwave! After trying to implement my brainwave I realised that the pieces have subtle differences and from this I tried my technique in 4 different positions (yes the successful one was the last one!) This got me to a position which was one step away from the solution and suddenly it was apart!!! Putting it back together was trivial as you just reverse the process. The whole thing took me about 45 minutes.

Two near identical pieces!
As always, I don't consider a puzzle solved until it has been done several times and a FULL understanding is achieved. I really thought I knew what was required but found myself unable to repeat it. Eventually, after about 4 or 5 hours(!) I managed it and now realise that there are 2 particularly crucial moves that must be done just right to open it. After this epiphany you will be able to disassemble it in seconds. I can now see why it was so awkward and marvel that such a simple structure can be so puzzling.

If you want a high difficulty cast puzzle then this one is great - I highly recommend it.


  1. I remember solving this puzzle by mentally thinking about it in reverse: "If these pieces were apart, how could they possibly go together?" It still took several hours, mostly due to the pieces being slightly different. This puzzle is still hard years later! It is a hard solution to remember.

  2. After playing with this puzzle for about half an hour I read this review. Your comment that the puzzle is not symmetrical lead me to the solution, reassembly and repeat-ability within another five minutes. I am not sure if I should thank you or not.

    1. Just knowing it is asymmetric wouldn't really give too much away! I'm impressed you solved it that quickly!

  3. I solved it in less than two minutes lol. I'm only 17 too...

    1. Congratulations! Age is not a help particularly!

  4. Funny how kids think thier ages matters



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