Sunday 13 May 2018

When is a Box Not a Box?

When it's an Assembly Puzzle!

It's NOT really a box!
The MPP guys are all out in Spain with Nigel at a 3 day extravaganza known as the Spanish puzzle party #1 and I am all alone back in the UK (Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear, I didn't mean to ignore you!) I am writing a blog post so that you all have something to read this weekend whilst Allard is gallivanting. Why am I not there? Unfortunately, I could not get those days off work and the cost was prohibitive for me when I consider that I have just been to Ikea for a puzzle display purchase which was never going to be cheap. Plus, Mrs S had just been absent in Edinburgh visiting her family and I couldn't immediately abandon her on her return - the fear of a Whack! Ouch! is just too great! From the pictures appearing on Facebook, the guys all appear to be having a great time.

Today, yet again, I am blaming Allard! A few weeks ago he wrote a review of a lovely little cube-shaped wooden thing from Japan. He had spotted in on Torito's site and combined an order with Big Steve. It is called the Kopa (or KO) box but don't be is NOT really a box! This is an assembly puzzle which just happens to be cube-shaped and has a cavity. A puzzlebox is defined by being an article intended for storage of items which needs an unusual sequence of moves to open it. This puzzle is has a central drawer that can be removed but there is no bottom in the drawer so anything stored will just drop out when it is pulled. Plus, a very big PLUS, this arrives in the disassembled state (as in the photo above) and the aim is to form a cube. It almost has maze-like properties.

The puzzle easily comes apart to reveal these pieces
The two outer pieces just pull apart and the central drawer can slide out. one outer piece and the intermediate are eternally linked by a dowel which sits in a square track around the edge as you can see above. When Allard was so enthusiastic about it, I contacted my usual puzzle pusher and asked whether he had any spare copies lying about. Of course he had one and Allard brought it back for me on his way back from Wil's King's day gathering. It duly arrived here and I couldn't resist settling down with it that very evening whilst "she who frightens grown men" and I watched some TV. Whack! Ouch!

The first thing I realised was that this thing is beautiful and then I realised that it wasn't going to be a pushover - it does slide together quite easily if you take the drawer out:

Easy peasy! Only if you don't include the drawer.
As soon as the drawer goes in the puzzle becomes much more difficult and just as Allard said, after about 10 minutes I was convinced that it was impossible. Sneaky bugger has got me to buy another impossible object! You can reach a stage where it is almost there but there is a cm or so still showing and no obvious way to get past this. I reread his review and realised I was at that early denial stage and that I should keep going. Now with this puzzle, nothing is hidden, there is no secret hidden mechanism. The entire thing is based upon 2 dowels moving around the edges of fact, there are 2 pairs of these dowels which seem to interact. This puzzle won't be solved by randomly moving the pieces because there are not many moves possible.

There are actually 2 really nice Aha! moments here. The first is when you notice a feature and have a sudden realisation that it could possibly go together if you can organise the captive pieces with the free piece in a certain way. How on earth can you make that arrangement? Think laterally? Think sideways? Backwards? What about inside out? Well, there is a particular thing that you need to do and suddenly a whole new set of possibilities opens up. Even then, I couldn't close the cube (NOT a box). The next Aha! moment is just as delicious...a sequence of maze moves lines it all up and suddenly with a lovely craftsman made slide it forms a cube with the drawer inside:

I have to say thank you to Allard for introducing me to this lovely and very clever NOT box/cube. It is a genius idea and beautifully implemented as one would expect from a Japanese craftsman. All in all, it took me about 45 minutes and Mrs S was actually impressed when I showed her the genius idea. She even told me that I was obviously brighter than I looked which is quite a compliment from her except, now that I think about it, this does imply that she thinks I look rather dim! I think I hide my lack of brains quite well! At the moment, both Wil and Torito is out of stock of these but I think Endo-san is being encouraged to make some more. If they do come up for sale then they are well worth your hard-earned cash.

When is a Cube not a Cube?

When it's a Shapeshifting Cubic Cuboid!

The Duo Axis Cube
A recent purchase from Calvin's HKNowstore included a bunch of cubes made by MF8. For some reason, my usual twisty supplier is unable to get MF8 puzzles but I can heartily recommend Martin's Puzzlestore for almost all other manufacturers. One of my recent purchases was one that I had seen back in 2014 on both HKNowstore as well as the Twisty puzzles forum and had been fascinated at the look of it but not really that interested in purchasing as it was nearly $200 as a handmade mod. I had completely forgotten about it when I recently saw that it had been mass-produced by MF8 and I added it to my "must buy" list. In that intervening 4 years I had completely forgotten even what was the nature of the puzzle.

After opening my nice package and admiring the contents, taking my photos and frightening myself to death with the Son-mum cube and especially the Unicorn cubes, I put the Duo Axis cube in my work bag to show off to my surgical colleagues who I am gradually convincing that I am extremely crazy but gifted. Whilst we were waiting to be given permission to start a case (we needed a post-op critical care bed), I took it out and investigated what it was. I could not recall the exact nature of it but knew that it was related to the Axis cube that I enjoyed in the past. One of my most read posts is my "Twisty puzzling advice to a beginner" discussion which focussed on where to go after one has mastered the basic odd and even order Rubik cubes. The shape modifications are a really fun challenging next step on your puzzling path and the Axis cube is a fun one to try and is now available as a 3x3 as well as 4x4 versions.

Too many layers
Looking at the puzzle above something did not look quite right - there were too many layers and some odd diagonal pointing pieces that didn't seem to line up with anything when turned. Over a few minutes of showing this off to my rather horrified spinal surgeon, we both came to different conclusions: I realised that this puzzle was NOT a was a cuboid modified into a cube and axis transformed at the same time! My colleague realised that I was completely nuts! Both of our realisations were correct! The puzzle we have here is actually a 3x3x5 cuboid which in my discussion of the classification of cuboids is a shapeshifter which will be made even tougher by the Axis transformation. Having realised the nature of it, there was nothing else but to scramble it:

Holy crap!!
Once I had scrambled it for a while I saw that those diagonal parts that would not line up with anything were not separating from each other (the 2 middle yellow parts - one with mf8 on it are 2 of them). It actually required me to use some simple 3x3 algorithms to make these line up and then I could get a full scramble. It looks really fearsome like that and luckily also quite attractive as it may be staying that way! Having seen the look of horror on my surgeons face, I then went off and anaesthetised my patient and only much later did I get time to play.

This "NOT a cube" is a really fun challenge for any twisty puzzler who has gone just beyond cubes and simple mods and is looking for something extra. As soon as you have mastered the basic cuboids (Floppy cuboid, Domino cuboid and Shapeshifter) then you are ready for this. The puzzle turns beautifully and is only spoiled by a tendency of the centre caps to fall out (which is easily fixed). Those split axial pieces add a nice extra challenge to it and the solve proceeds logically. It is very important to keep the base puzzle firmly in your mind because after any turns of an algorithm it is impossible to look at the puzzle and see what is next. This needs a good mind's eye. I definitely think that this is a great next challenge for anyone who wants something extra.

Congratulations to AJ and MF8 for some great challenges - this, and the other 3 above look fantastic. I do hope that some of AJ's other mods are mass produced because he makes some stunning puzzles which are just out of reach when handmade.

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