Sunday 24 May 2020

Haym Designs a TIC-in-a-box

and I Wonder Whether Brian Had Made It Impossible!

Y Pack
This gorgeous puzzle is called Y Pack and it was made quite a while ago by my good friend Brian Menold and sent to me back in the BC era (that's "Before Coronavirus"). It has been sitting on my desk and my living room puzzling tray for a very long time taunting me. In fact it taunted me in 2 phases.

Designed by Haym Hirsh, whom I have only interacted with on Facebook, I have never actually tried one of his puzzles before and had been keen to remedy that situation. When Brian made such a gorgeous version, that sealed the fate of my bank balance yet again. My copy is stunningly made from a really deeply coloured and heavily grained Padauk with pieces made from Spalted Alder (this also adorns the corners of the box). It is a "simple" packing puzzle - place the 5 Y-shaped tetromino pieces inside the box. Only 5 identical pieces? How hard can it be? I expected to solve it in 15 minutes or so! Erm....WRONG!

Of course, I am generally rubbish at packing puzzles which won't have helped me but for some reason, this took me quite a lot of hours! I just couldn't seem to see the wood for the trees/puzzle pieces! Brian wrote this about it:
"While Haym Hirsh has become known to my customers as the designer of the inelegant series of puzzles, he has now busied himself coming up with a few different types of designs. This one, a rather difficult packing puzzle. I spent 3 weeks trying to solve this and finally had to give up in the interest of production time. Several rotations, (one which is particularly tricky) must be accomplished. But the restricted opening only allows pieces to go in one way! Hmmmmmm."
Having bought it and put it on my "to be solved" mountain (yes, there is quite a large backlog of puzzles I either haven't had time to work on yet or have been totally unable to solve - hence it's a mountain rather than a pile). I started work on it in February and conveniently forgot Brian's 3 weeks and giving up thing. I realised that this is actually only a four piece packing puzzle because the final piece just needs to be able to drop in place through the gap - the key is to make it so there is space left from that first four pieces of packing activity. Right! Easy! Arrange those 4 pieces with a nice Y-shaped gap at one corner.

Interestingly, there is loads and loads of room - the space to be filled is 27 voxels and the 4 tetrominoes will fill just 16 of them (adding the final piece still leaves 7 empty voxels). With so much space, there would be a lot of choices to place the pieces and I quickly got fed up with trying to find dozens and dozens of arrangements of 4 Y pieces that can fit in a 3x3x3 cube. Time to Think© again (sigh! Bloody Allard and his insistence on using my brain!) Having thunk outside of the box, I started thinking inside it and realised that the entry hole was very limiting. This would seriously cut down the ability to fit those 4 pieces inside and in fact it made me realise that rotations were involved. I know that you all were instantly aware of the need for rotations but I had forgotten the puzzle description and not reread it.

I adore all the TICs by Andrew Crowell and the other incredible designers so was sure that this "TIC-in-a-box" was going to be a fun challenge once I had realised what it was. There are considerably less possibilities than I had originally thought and I searched for what is possible in the constraints of the small box - in fact I eventually (I think I was 2 weeks into puzzling at that stage) worked out there was only one placement of the 4 pieces inside that would work. Thank heavens that Brian had cut small circular holes in 2 of the faces to assist with manipulation of the pieces inside. There are several rotations possible if you manipulate everything into just the right has to be millimeter perfect to get it to work.

Like Brian, I had a wonderful Aha! moment after about 3 weeks:

3 weeks this took me! OMG - I am exhausted!
I took some photos and put it down for a day. I have recently started storing many of my puzzles in the unsolved state so that I can have fun playing with them again in the future by reattempting them from the unassembled state. So I decided to take this one apart again for storage and also maybe to torture a few friends at work. The first piece gets tipped out quickly and then I "just" undo the rotational moves I had done on the way in. I had only done it the day before so shouldn't be a problem...WRONG! Again! I just never learn do I?

Brian had mentioned that there is a really tricky rotation and yep, he's absolutely correct. It is so tricky that I couldn't find it again. There are other rotations possible with relative ease which did confuse me a lot - it actually made me completely forget that it had been tricky to find in the forward direction. After 2 days, I had a bit of a panic - I was completely stuck! I could only get one piece out of the bloody box! Aaargh!

I was not going to be beaten easily...I was going to solve this thing! Sob! It took me another 3 weeks to dismantle it. There are indeed several rotations involved but one in particular is simply "perfect" - it is so well hidden in plain sight and needs to be manipulated with absolutely pinpoint accuracy for it to be possible. I very nearly tried force on several occasions but the thought of damaging one of Brian's incredible creations stopped me.

I think I may have to buy a few more of Haym's creations. I am aware that I have missed out on subsequent packing puzzles and I hope that Brian makes them again in the future. If you get the chance then don't hesitate - empty you wallet in Brian's direction - you cannot have too much good wood!

Thank you Brian and Haym for a wonderful frustrating 6 weeks! It did take my mind of the Coronavirus for a few hours at a time.


  1. LOL. This puzzle was my nemesis for way too long. Sat on my side table mocking me, and every time I picked it up I eventually realized I was trying the Same. Old. Things. Haym got me to look at it with fresh eyes, AND mentioned some were made to very tight tolerances, to where one required move *might* need some "encouragement" to complete. OMG. I must have been at that point many times and just moved on because of the usual "no force" rule.

    I recently went to remove the last couple of pieces to appreciate it again, and ran into the same exact issue you did. I could NOT find a way to get them back out! At this point I am declaring victory and will revisit it "some time" in the future for the disassembly challenge.

    GREAT puzzle. VERY challenging. I have Snake Pack and Snake Pack 2 to face next, after a break to do a few other kinds of puzzles. Gulp.

    1. I am so pleased that I am not the only one!

      Unfortunately, I missed out on the 2 snake pack puzzles but I will try and get future designs.