Hanayama Cast Puzzles - The Best Mechanical Puzzles of All Time?

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I've been a blogger for over eight years now, and one of the perks of this hobby is that a lot of people write to me on a regular basis, whether it's to exchange ideas, commenting about a particular post, or simply to ask questions about these wonderful objects we like to call...mechanical puzzles. One of the questions I was asked a while back got me thinking about puzzles in a different way, looking for characteristics and special features that distinguish them from the average-looking puzzles.

- "What company/craftsman makes the most beautiful puzzles?"

The question couldn't be simpler, but the answer, however, is very subjective and will vary greatly on the person who answers you. Nevertheless, the query didn't deter me from trying to come up with a good response - After all, I love to discuss all things puzzle. Mind you, the topic is about the most beautiful puzzles, not the best - Although some puzzles can belong to both categories.

Since there's no definite answer for this question, and the exercise would be a moot point if I were to stick with one single entity, I will try to enumerate several unique key points inherent to that subject, in a series of articles (each focusing on a different company or craftsman) and let you, the reader, decide for yourself.

So, what better way to start this series of articles than with one of the most recognizable puzzle brands in the world, the Cast Puzzles from the Japanese company Hanayama? If you ever visited a puzzle store (online or a physical shop), chances are you've probably seen a few of these Cast Puzzles, also because they're always the featured brand.

Believe it or not, Hanayama is not just Cast Puzzles, although that's what gets them the most recognition within the puzzle community. But why are Cast Puzzles so popular and so high in demand? What makes them so appealing and fascinating, or put simply, so beautiful? One short answer would be that they're not just puzzles...they're works of art. They're an expression, a product of their designer's creativity, genius and inventiveness. At first sight, some of them don't even look like a puzzle at all.

Each Cast Puzzle is carefully chosen after much consideration and only the most talented designers can aspire of having their designs picked up for that coveted metal-cast version. Most of the puzzles that Hanayama adds to their ever-growing catalog are presented in the annual IPP (International Puzzle Party) by their own designers, but not necessarily in metal, because in many cases they're yet to be acquired by the Japanese company. Frequently, although not surprisingly, a lot of these designs end up winning awards, which adds up to their prestigious reputation among the puzzle community.

The story of the Cast Puzzle series begins in 1983, with the launch of the first three puzzles: Key, ABC and Star. Curiously enough, it's the year I was born, so maybe that's why I like them so much. Since then, Hanayama has been releasing an average of 2 puzzles a year and now totals over 60 different designs.

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Now, any good article that talks about Hanayama and doesn't mention Nobuyuki Yoshigahara (a.k.a Nob) is not complete or it's inaccurate. Nob is the father of the Cast Puzzle series, developing new designs and improving existing ones when they didn't met the company's criteria (the three puzzles above were developed by him). Over the years and up until his passing, in 2004, he was responsible for bringing many other designs to the Cast Puzzle family. He also influenced lots of other designers to share their ideas and concepts, thus enriching the company's catalog, like Oskar van Deventer, Akio Yamamoto, or Vesa Timonen, who are among the biggest design contributors.

The name Cast Puzzle derives from the actual process used to manufacture each and every single puzzle, and considering they're made from cast metal using only different combinations of alloys and coatings, the variety of colors and surface types is rather impressive, to say the least. A typical Cast Puzzle is usually quite small - smaller than a regular Rubik's Cube - and fits comfortably on the palm of your hand. There are exceptions, though, as you can see from the Cast L'œuf. Since it's made entirely out of solid metal - no hollow parts - its weight feels often times surprisingly heavy.

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A regular Cast Puzzle doesn't follow any specific design rules. Some are beautiful and exquisite representations of already known objects or animals, like the Cast Seahorse or the Cast Violon; others are completely abstract, like the Cast Radix or the Cast Baroq. Hanayama simply doesn't overlook any detail and 99% of the puzzles don't show any kind of imperfections. There seems to be a common rule among all Cast Puzzles, however. A requisite, if you will: their solution is never straightforward, but always ambiguous, cryptic and vague.

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The goal of any Cast Puzzle is elementary: take apart and put back together again. It doesn't get simpler than this...And yet, some are extremely difficult to disassemble and even harder to reassemble. To make matters worse, Hanayama doesn't include a solution with their puzzles. You're on your own to try and figure out how to solve them. Each one has its own theme, its own personality, as if they were telling you a story of how they came to be and how you should approach them. Fewer words can often say more, and in this case it couldn't be truer. One word is exactly what you get from Hanayama to solve their puzzles.

The Cast series have been increasing in popularity over the years, but not just among puzzle fans. Non-puzzlers also seem intrigued and tempted by these enigmatic objects, mostly because a Cast Puzzle is a type of brainteaser that promotes discovery and exploration, a careful analysis of all its parts, and that's innate to any curious-minded person. They can have the ability - probably more than any type of puzzle - to get anyone addicted to them. They're the perfect object to get everyone involved and engaged in a social gathering with family and friends.

You'd think that all these premium features were exclusive to a very expensive type of puzzles, but that's actually another explanation for why Hanayama's Cast range is so popular - They're the best and most beautiful puzzles that $12 can buy.

Final Thoughts:

It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and therefore subjective to one's taste...Be that as it may, for over 30 years now, millions of beholders seem to agree with one thing: Cast Puzzles are fascinating, charming and eye-catchingly beautiful masterpieces that need to be experienced in order to be fully appreciated and enjoyed. It would be an almost impossible task to choose just one Cast Puzzle, so I have gathered below 10 of my favorite ones.

Availability: You can get any Cast Puzzle at PuzzleMaster, or if you're crazy enough, why not buy the whole set.

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Drops - Learning a New Language, One Drop at a Time

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Learning a new language can be described as like solving a difficult puzzle - There are a lot of pieces around and you need to find them and put them in the right place in order to solve it. This daunting, and sometimes overwhelming, task can be quite discouraging and stressful at the beginning, but the more pieces you find, the more everything starts to come together.

The process of learning a completely new language can be either boring or fun, depending on the tools you're using. The bottom line is that if you're not having fun, you're doing it wrong. And this is where the app Drops comes in.
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Drops is a language learning app that makes the otherwise tedious learning process, fun and engaging while playing word games, which enriches your vocabulary in an effortless way. All this in bite-size sessions that have a minimum of 5 minutes a day for free, or any time you like if you go for the premium option.

The app features over 30 languages, of which I'm learning Japanese (the easiest of the bunch...), and the words are categorized by specially curated topics that range from Foods to Animals to Music to Sports, etc... Anything related to daily life, you will find represented here.
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The app's presentation is what really shines here and what makes it so immersive and fun. The design is simple and clean, but effective and practical. The topics are well organized and easy to access at a distance of a "swipe". Besides the main feature, you also have two other interesting features that you can access if you decide to go for the premium: the "Tough Word Dojo", to master those complicated words that are hard to memorize, and of course, all the words that you've already learned or at least appeared to you in previous sessions, can be accessed and reviewed in the "Collection", which features an illustration alongside its definition.
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The concept of Drops, which lends its name to the app itself is brilliant. New words drop from the top of the screen in a sort of bubble accompanied by an illustration that describes that word, and here you have two options: either drag down and drop it to learn it or drag up to skip it if you already know it - Simple as that! After this, you play several different short games to help you memorize that word until the next one drops. The games can be as simple as dragging the word to its corresponding definition to a "word search", where you have to connect all the right letters that form that word. Another game consists of choosing which of the two words (the left one or the right one) is the correct definition. Each game only lasts a couple of seconds, but that's enough to get your brain going.
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Closing Comments: While Drops is not a dictionary or a grammar book - and it's not trying to be one - it can be a truly helpful tool in complementing your studies. Whether you're taking a break from your classes or just brushing up your vocabulary, Drops will fill that need. In the end, with each new word you learn, you're getting that much closer to fluency. After all, learning a new language is like finding the ultimate key to decipher a previously coded message... And it's so deeply rewarding.

Availability: Drops is available on Android through the Google Play Store or on iOS through the App Store


Cast Trinity

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It's that time again... Another Cast Puzzle, another adventure. And what an adventure the Cast Trinity is. This is one hell of a challenge, and it's not by accident that it won this year's IPP 38 Jury 1st Prize. One thing that I have to mention though, is that I prefer the look that it had when it was presented at the IPP, with the three distinct colors (copper, silver and gold). It look absolutely gorgeous. Hanayama went for a more subdued presentation, with just one color (bronze) for all three pieces.

Designed by Kyoo Wong, the Trinity, as its name suggests, is comprised of three similar pieces, although at close inspection they each have unique features. At the starting position all three pieces are interlocked with each other, so separating them seems quite a complex task. It's rated by Hanayama as a level 6/6, and I completely agree with them. The design is very elegant, maybe sort of reminiscent to a mixture of the Cast Radix and the Cast Baroq.

The Cast Trinity does have one thing that is quite unusual for a Cast Puzzle, and that's because it has multiple combinations you can make with the three pieces. With that, you're not limited to a unique solution, and that's a good thing. If you mess up the original configuration, it's not like that's the only one you can make. I think this makes it a tad easier than say, the Cast Vortex (one of the hardest Cast puzzles ever, in my opinion). But, it's only slightly easier. It's still a very difficult puzzle to solve.

Just like any other interlocking puzzles of this nature, the Cast Trinity is probably even more difficult to put together. When you're taking it apart, you don't notice the order that the pieces are separated, but putting it back together should follow a certain set of movements. I'm still trying to put it back to its original state, but I'm no closer to it than when I started.

Solution: You can download the solution for this puzzle here.

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Closing Comments:

The Cast Trinity doesn't disappoint in any way. Looking at it, you'll know immediately what awaits you - a great challenge. Maybe the color choosing by Hanayama could've been different, but that's just a minor observation. If you like tough puzzles, you can't go wrong with this one.

Availability: The Cast Trinity is available at PuzzleMaster for $15.99 CAD. Check out the store for others in the Hanayama Cast Series.


Bram's Magic

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Ever since the invention of the Rubik's Cube there have been countless toys that tried to replicate the success it had, all that enthusiasm around it. It's difficult, however, to replicate not only the success but also the era that made it all possible.

Today, we have many distractions, not only in the form of other toys, but other forms of entertainment as well. Many possible Rubik's successors may pass under the radar because not many people knew about them to begin with. This is, in my opinion, what may happen to Bram's Magic. A one of a kind toy/puzzle that may be a victim of today's many distractions and a saturated market.

Put Bram's Magic in the golden 80's and you could've witnessed a major icon being born. Unfortunately, we're in 2018 and Bram's Magic is just another novelty among others. Nevertheless, that shouldn't put you off trying one of the best puzzles I've had the pleasure to play with in the last 10 years. It's that good!

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Bram's Magic is the combination of the brilliant work between two geniuses in the puzzle community, Bram Cohen and Oskar van Deventer. If you love puzzles and you don't know who they are, you probably have been living under a rock for the past 15 years or so. They're two of the most prolific puzzle designers in the world, and this puzzle may be their best work yet.

This lovely invention has everything you could ask for in a puzzle: a challenge; fun to play with; easy to understand; flawless and smooth movement; and most of all, hard to master. And yet, once you pick it up it'll be very hard to put it down. Its mesmerizing twisting movement, combined with the shapes and patterns you can create, make for a very satisfying experience, indeed.

Like any other good puzzle, there's a main goal between all that fun, and that's to try and get one of the sides all white and the other all blue. Sounds simple enough, but that's actually as hard as a puzzle can get. You'll need to understand the puzzle's movements and patterns very well before you can attempt this daunting task. One simple movement and all your previous hard work can be undone in a matter of seconds. You have to predict what a specific movement will do - what shape you must go for in order to get the pattern you want. This is one really tough puzzle... But darn if it isn't fun!

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Closing Comments:

Bram's Magic is so good, a genius couldn't come up with it on his own. That's why it was invented by two geniuses. If you don't like a tough challenge, you can just play with it as a fidget toy... for hours on end. I know I've been having a great time with it. Highly recommend it to anyone, even non-puzzlers.

Availability: Bram's Magic is available at PuzzleMaster for $24.99 CAD. A similar and cheaper version is available for $19.99 CAD, made by ThinkFun.


5x5 Sudoku - Vol.1

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It's been over one hundred years since the first 9x9 magic square puzzles started to be published in newspapers, though the name Sudoku has been in use for just about 30 years. Countless variations have been invented and refined - some crazy difficult, others much more accessible to the masses. The Sudoku variation I've discovered recently is definitely for the more casual puzzle aficionado, but can still offer some challenge for the seasoned puzzler.

5x5 Sudoku is just like what its name suggests. Unlike a classic grid of 9x9 cells, this new variation has a length of only 5x5 cells. The grid is divided into five subsections, or regions, with a central cross, resulting in a visually appealing symmetry.

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The paperback book, authored by Christopher Thomas, is nicely presented with 200 puzzles, each page containing one single large square with a puzzle. However, with a more economical approach, the book could've easily featured 800 puzzles in it. A suggestion for later volumes in the series. I can understand the design choice, though, as you are able to concentrate easily on one puzzle at a time. As this is the first of several planned books, you'll start slow and easy. Expect a higher challenge in the coming volumes. Solutions for each puzzle are provided at the end of the book.

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Like any other Sudoku puzzle, you start with a partially completed grid with eight numbers neatly and sparsely placed on the grid. A well-trained eye will surely notice the well planned symmetry of the starting numbers, as if a beautiful mathematical dance was being carried on between the puzzle and the solver. Only one solution per puzzle is possible.

I've solved almost half of the available puzzles, so far. Even though they're easily solvable within 5 minutes or less, this variation is really fun. With less numbers to think about (you only use numbers from 1 to 5), and with a less crowded grid, you'll breeze through the 200 puzzles in no time. Maybe those 800 puzzles wouldn't be so bad, after all...

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You'll find on the photos that I've not written on the book. I personally don't like to write on the books. I've even made an Excel file on my phone specifically for this book so as to not spoil it. You can also do the puzzles on a paper notebook or something, if you also don't like to write on your books. In the end, you'll find that you can reuse the book and solve all the puzzles again whenever you like, since there are no marks on it that prevent you from doing so again and enjoy it a second, or third, or how many times you want. You can even lend it to a friend. Just don't forget to tell them not to write on it...

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I have no specific strategies to solve a Sudoku puzzle. But then again, I'm a casual when it comes to Sudoku. I like to take my time and discover how to solve the puzzle on my own without thinking too much about special tactics and strategies. I've been playing it for years, and that's how I intend to keep doing it.

Closing Comments:

I was pleasantly surprised by this new Sudoku variation. It's a simple and yet addicting puzzle, great for a short break from your daily life. If you like the classic Sudoku, you're gonna love the 5x5 Sudoku. Can't wait for the next volumes.

Availability: You can find the 5x5 Sudoku vol.1 on Amazon for just £6.99.

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Magnetic Match Rings

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If there's one thing that most of us find fascinating and intriguing at the same time, is magnets. One way or another we marveled at how two seemingly uninteresting objects can attract or repel by way of an invisible force. How can a small object have so much force that it can easily win gravity, the force that keeps all things on Earth from falling into space? This fascination transcends all age groups, and whether you're 4 or 104, the "attraction" we feel by this subject won't get weaker as we age.

Thinking about this topic, Popular Playthings created a game that shows us how fun playing with magnets really is. Packed with 40 different challenges, Magnetic Match Rings is an educational tool that teaches how magnets work, but also how to manipulate them in order to show a specific pattern, improving hand-eye coordination and visual matching skills. If you're a seasoned puzzler and you're looking for a challenge, this is not for you, though. There's no actual difficulty here, just plain science.

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The game is rated as a difficulty level 7/10, but to be honest, I don't know how it can even have a difficulty rating. In order to solve any of the 40 challenges you always have a 50/50 change of getting it right. If the rings are not snapping together, they will absolutely repel each other. There's no other possible outcome. This is supposed to be a fun and educational game, not a puzzle. That's why I don't agree at all with the rating. If you approach it with the correct mindset, you're in for a treat. Otherwise, you're going to be disappointed.

With the rating out of the way, let's get snapping.

The game features 10 colorful ring magnets and a stand with a post that helps keep the rings in place when stacking them. Just choose one of the 40 challenges and start stacking. If the magnets attract, they're going to snap together as a unique object. But, if they repel each other, they will produce a nice effect, as they will float above the other magnets. You can also try to create your own patterns, since the possibilities are way more than just 40.

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Closing Comments:

The Magnetic Match Rings game is a nice and fun way to play with magnets. There are a lot of magnet gadgets on the market today, but this is the first time I've seen one like this. And it definitely deserves your attention. Just don't expect to get challenged by it and you'll have a great time. It's just a fun game to play with.

Availability: You can get a copy of the Magnetic Match Rings at PuzzleMaster for just $16.99 CAD. Check out other interesting games by Popular Playthings.


Spinning Wheels

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Rotational/Rearrangement puzzles are quite common to see. But how many are made by Jürgen Reiche's company Siebenstein-Spiele? This German puzzle manufacturer makes gorgeous puzzles at an affordable price, which in my book is always a plus. Their presentation is always something to contemplate, as they use different wood colors, many times in combination with acrylic, for maximum visual impact.

Spinning Wheels is a very nice puzzle that appears to be rather easy to do, but still can transform into an interesting challenge. Rotational/Rearrangement puzzles use basically the same logic as a Twisty Puzzle (Rubik's Cube), only it's presented in 2D. If you have experience solving cubes and other twisty puzzles this won't be too difficult, but fun is guaranteed.

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The puzzle features four overlapping wheels, each with four numbers, and each sharing two numbers with its adjacent neighbors. The idea is to rearrange the wheels so that each one shows the numbers from 1 to 4 in sequential order and counter-clockwise - Not sure if clockwise is solvable.

If you tried a similar puzzle before, you know that you need to have the wheels properly aligned to have smooth movements, which is not always achievable, since the pieces are a bit loose. To be fair, a puzzle with tight movements also jams, so it's something you have to live with when dealing with mechanical puzzles. Overall, it has a satisfying movement.

As previously mentioned, this is not an easy puzzle to solve. It's rated as a level 9/10. By nature, Rotational/Rearrangement puzzles are always difficult, so that's a given. But in general, as far as this type of puzzle is concerned, it's not the most difficult I've encountered in this category. Took me about half an hour to solve it. If it had a couple more wheels, then it would have been one hell of a challenge. As it is, I'd rate it a 7/10, and not more.

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Closing Comments:

Spinning Wheels by Siebenstein-Spiele is a great introductory puzzle for the Rotational/Rearrangement category. It's challenging enough to prepare you to other, more challenging puzzles. As an added challenge, try to get each of the four numbers in groups, instead of sequentially (like 111, 222, 333, 444).

Availability: Spinning Wheels is available from PuzzleMaster for just $29.99 CAD. Siebenstein-Spiele also has many other interesting puzzles on offer.


Eingeengt 2

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If packing puzzles weren't difficult already, there's another type of puzzles that promise to elevate the difficulty to much higher levels. These are called constrained packing puzzles and, like the name suggests, you are constrained by a limited number of moves as you try to pack the pieces inside the frame in a specific order. Eingeengt 2 is one for the courageous puzzle solver...

Eingeengt 2 was designed by Jean Claude Constantin and, as you might've guessed by now, this is the second design of this type. You can check out my review for that one from six years ago. Back then, I loved the idea and concept of the constrained puzzle, and this time it's no different. It's a really clever design, which defines what a great challenge should be.

The new design features seven pieces, one more than its predecessor, and a different way to constrain the pieces. The acrylic cover of the frame has a shape cut that only lets one piece at a time to be fitted, and even then, you must slide the already fitted pieces around so that it allows for the remaining pieces to be placed. The solution is sequential, and only a careful planned strategy will solve it.

The puzzle is rated as a level 8/10, like its predecessor, but to my experience this one is much more difficult to solve. It's at least a level 9/10, in my opinion. It has a higher number of moves and the one extra piece is enough to exponentially raise the overall difficulty.

Closing Comments:

Despite it's higher difficulty, Eingeengt 2 is a superb puzzle. It's not like many other packing puzzles where the solver attempts to solve it at random. There's a logic solution behind it that must be discovered, and that makes the puzzles quite fascinating. A must for experienced puzzlers.

Availability: Eigeengt 2 is available at PuzzleMaster for $18.99 CAD. Many other interesting puzzles from Constantin are available.


Euro Falle 02

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After having reviewed the first in the series of the Euro Falle puzzles, this time I concentrate my efforts toward the Euro Falle 02, a lovely trick puzzle with a hidden mechanism. Designed by the founder of Siebenstein-Spiele, Jürgen Reiche, this is yet another one of his genius creations, which I'm sure you're gonna love it.

Slightly bigger than its predecessor at 9.4cm x 4.3cm (3.7" x 1.7"), the Euro Falle 02 is still a tiny puzzle, but the challenge it will give you will be anything but that. Even though this is rated with the same difficulty as the first puzzle (7/10), I can definitely assure you that's not the case. It's at least a level above, which I'm sure you'll find out once you discover its solution.

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As mentioned in my previous review, there are at least six different designs for the Euro Falle puzzle, each with a different hidden mechanism that keeps a coin trapped inside. So far, this is only my second puzzle in the series, so the comparisons will have to be made with just the first one, which I already solved.

Design-wise, I prefer the Euro Falle 02, because it has a nicer overall appearance and shape. The difficulty has increased, but so has the elegance of the solution, which is among the best I've seen in any hidden mechanism, not just by a Siebenstein-Spiele puzzle. I really loved the solution. I discovered it by accident, just by inspecting it and fidgeting with it, which will happen naturally if you don't give up on it and keep insisting on studying every detail about it. It's such a clever design.

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Closing Comments:

Euro Falle 02 is a fantastic puzzle. At first sight it looks like nothing moves and it's impossible to remove the coin. However, the beauty lies in discovery and happy accidents (Bob Ross pun). I highly recommend this one, especially if you're into hidden mechanism puzzles. Bravo, Jürgen!

Availability: The Euro Falle 02 is temporarily out of stock at PuzzleMaster, but do check back again soon, as it will surely be back in stock in no time. In the meantime, you can browse other great designs and creations by Siebenstein-Spiele.


Euro Falle 01

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Puzzle Boxes and Trick Puzzles are some of the most fascinating objects you can encounter as a puzzle solver. These puzzles have a secret that needs to be discovered, and it's up to you to find out how they work. One of these intriguing objects is called Euro Falle 01 (translated as Euro Trap), and it's designed by the German Jürgen Reiche and produced by Siebenstein-Spiele.

As the name indicates, this is the first in a series of puzzles that has at least six different versions, each one sporting a different design and opening secret. The goal, as you can guess, is to free the 20c Euro coin from the trap. There's also another 1c coin on the back of the puzzle, just to make your task a little more fun (and possibly, more complicated).

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This is a rather tiny puzzle, measuring just 5.3cm x 3cm (2.1" x 1.2"), which fits perfectly in the palm of your hand. Not much space for complex mechanisms, but don't judge it by its size. Rated as a level 7/10, you'll have to put your thinking hat on. Made with a combination of laser-cut wood and acrylic, the puzzle looks gorgeous even at this size.

Solving this puzzle is a mixture of past experience with puzzles of this type and a bit of luck/cunning. To be honest, I wasn't anywhere near at solving the puzzle when, purely by accident, I found the main mechanism that keeps everything locked. In all fairness, I wouldn't have discovered it if I wasn't so persistent at inspecting the puzzle from all angles, so the luck part played just a small role in the solving process. It was a nice Eureka moment, when I saw how to free the coin, which is what these puzzles are all about.

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Closing Comments:

Euro Falle 01 is a great puzzle that can be solved by anyone with a curious mind. It also keeps me interested to explore the others in this series and to try and solve them. Not bad for a small puzzle.

Availability: The Euro Falle 01 puzzle can be found at PuzzleMaster for just $16.99 CAD. There are also many others by Siebenstein-Spiele to discover.


An Easy One

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If you get a puzzle which goes by the name "An Easy One", you should be very suspicious. It might be the designer wants to have a laugh at your expense. Don't say I didn't warn you...

Designed by the German Jürgen Reiche, An Easy One is a great packing puzzle to test your solving skils, or just to keep your brain in good shape. Similar in concept to the classic Four T's, which has had countless versions over the years (here's one), An Easy One by Siebenstein-Spiele has a different approach, but if you solved the Four T's you can easily solve this one.

With a diameter of 7.8cm (3.1"), the puzzle is rather small, which is perfect if you want to take it with you on your travels, or show it to some friends to torture them. There are five pieces, four identical L-shaped ones and a small square. The idea is to fit all four pieces plus the square inside the frame.

As mentioned above, if you have experience with this kind of puzzles, you already know how the solution should look like. Accomplishing this won't be difficult, but the final pattern is always nice to see when you finally put it all together. This is rated as a level 7/10, but I think in all fairness, it's not that difficult.



Closing Comments:

This turned out to be "An Easy One", after all. Well, maybe for a seasoned puzzler. But if you are new to packing puzzles, don't dismiss it. I really like this type of puzzles, even if it's just to add them to my never-ending collection.

Availability: You can find this "Easy One" at PuzzleMaster for just $14.99 CAD. You can also browse many others by Siebenstein-Spiele.


Svetnashki - Blue

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It's been 8 years since I first reviewed the original Svetnashki and its other versions, the puzzle that uses polarized light. A simple explanation just doesn't make it justice, though. It was already one of my favorite puzzles back then, and eight years on, it's still an absolute favorite, probably in my top 3. It was invented by Vladimir Krasnoukhov.

What fascinates me in this puzzle is the simple process in which a clear or transparent tile can be transformed into a dark tile by what appears to be a magic trick. When a tile passes through one of the polarized filters in the back of the puzzle, it appears as clear or dark. There's no magic involved, though, just pure science. If you want to know more about the science behind this concept, check out this link.

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Over the years, as I gathered more and more puzzles in my collection, I always found myself returning to this simple puzzle time and time again. The fact that there's no right or wrong solution is also quite appealing. You make your own patterns. There's a couple of simple challenges, though, like having all the tiles appear as clear or all as dark. When you master these two challenges, you can make any type of pattern the 4x4 grid allows. Think the 4x4 grid is too small? You can also get it bigger, in a 6x4 or 6x6.

I already had in my collection the white 4x4 (my first Svetnashki), the bigger 4x4, the double-layer 4x4 and the larger 6x6. Each, a blast to play with. Since blue is my favorite color, I had to have this one as well, and because it's small, it's great to take it with me anywhere. It's a great puzzle to relax.

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Closing Comments:

If you still don't have a Svetnashki, please consider your collection incomplete. This is an absolute must-have in any respectable collection. I promise you, you won't be disappointed. Playing with light has never been as fun as this.

Availability: You can find the Svetnashki Blue at PuzzleMaster for just $17.99 CAD. For other versions, check out this link.


Cast Chess - Queen

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If the King is the most important piece in the game of chess, the Queen is without argument the most powerful. This statement is also true in the Hanayama Cast Chess, as the Queen is, by far, the most challenging one in the small collection of six. If you're solving them one by one, I recommend leaving this one for last.

Although the mechanism in each of the six puzzles is unique, the designs are somewhat similar and differ slightly from one another. This is what makes this Hanayama series so compelling and rewarding. Each puzzle will offer you something different. However, the slightest variation can sometimes mean a different approach when it comes to solving a puzzle...And the Queen stays true to this concept.

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Also, in my opinion, the Queen is one of the most beautiful puzzles of the Cast Chess collection, alongside the Knight. The detail in the crown is simple, but stunning. The shiny silver color makes the design stand out even more.

Compared to the King, the mechanism of the Queen is closer to it than the other puzzles in the series. It also has a spring mechanism, but instead of pushing, you need to pull. There's a couple of extra movements, which is what makes this puzzle much more difficult than the others.

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Closing Comments:

Being harder to solve than any of the other puzzles in the Cast Chess family also means that it's that much more rewarding when you finally solve it. With the collection now complete, I can safely say that these are now my favorite Hanayama puzzles. They're a masterpiece by both Hanayama and the original designer, Marcel Gillen.

Availability: The Cast Chess Queen is available at PuzzleMaster, together with all the others in the Cast Chess series.


Cast Chess - King

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The King - It's the most important piece in the game of chess. Guarding it at all costs is a must if you want to be a great player. But what about as a puzzle piece? Is it also the most important one?

Hanayama has created a superb collection with these six chess puzzles, each representing a different piece of the original game of chess. As a series, the Cast Chess puzzles are all equally impressive and important, as each one has its own secret to discover and open it. Hidden inside, a special coin awaits for you to release it, but only after you find out how the hidden mechanism works.

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Surprisingly, the King is one of the easiest to solve out of all six puzzles. Maybe not that surprisingly, as analogous to the simple movements of the King in chess. Could just be that the designer, Marcel Gillen, wanted to stay true to what each piece represents. Also true to their counterparts in chess is the relative size of the pieces, as the King sits comfortably as the tallest piece in the series.

Without revealing too much about its solution, the King has a spring mechanism that you manipulate by pushing on the top of the puzzle. It's, in fact, one of the first things you notice about it. The rest is just a simple movement and the puzzle is open. Be careful not block your mechanism, because there's a real chance of that happening.

Solution: If you're having trouble with the solution, you can download one here.

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Closing Comments:

As far as puzzles go, the Cast Chess King is not very challenging. But, because it's part of a collection that you don't want incomplete, it's still worth getting. It's a great puzzle for beginners and a great gift for any chess lovers.

Availability: PuzzleMaster is the place to get anything puzzle related, whether it's the Cast Chess King or any other in the Cast Chess series.


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