Circular Bean Tower

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The Babylon Tower, the Missing Link, the Whip-It...What do they all have in common? Why, they were all released in the same year, of course, in 1981 - The golden age of the Rubik's Cube. Ever since then, countless variations were made, in all sorts of shapes and sizes, some of them were pretty good, others, should've never seen the light of day... Unfortunately, the Circular Bean Tower by Muzi (a.k.a Capuzle), belongs in the latter group, but keep reading to find out why.

The design of the Circular Bean Tower is nothing short of ambitious: comprised by twelve columns and five rotating discs, for a whopping 60 beans total, you can be sure to have a huge challenge on your hands. To get an idea of the sheer size of the Capuzle, the original Babylon Tower had six columns with six rows, which added up to a total of only 36 balls. In theory, the difficulty is about twice as hard, but add the fact of the poor movement of the puzzle and that adds up to an infinite amount of frustration.

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The goal of the puzzle is similar to any cylindrical sliding puzzle: remove the purple bean with a star and with the empty space you'll be able to mix the puzzle by rotating any of the five discs back and forth, and moving the beans up or down the columns. When you feel the puzzle is well mixed, try to get each column with a single color.

The problem with this puzzle is its movement, which is very stiff. The rotating discs move relatively easy, but trying to get the beans up or down the columns is a major headache. Some beans can move effortlessly, but most of them get stuck and you need to apply a generous dose of force. Now, clearly the puzzle was not very well though-out, or the quality of the materials is subpar, or both. I can still give it the benefit of the doubt, as my copy could've been a faulty sample, but I'm sure there's more copies out there like mine and if so, let me know your experiences with this puzzle. As you can expect, I didn't spend much time playing with this puzzle, because it's basically impossible to find the patience and work around a stiff mechanism.

(Click to Enlarge) - The Cylindrical Slide Puzzle Family
Closing Comments:

I really wanted to like the Capuzle, because the design is very interesting and ambitious, but the poor mechanism eliminates all the fun out of it. Had the mechanism been functioning 100%, it could've been one of my favorite sliding puzzles. As for now, it will just be another puzzle taking up shelf space.

Availability: The Circular Bean Tower is available at PuzzleMaster for $11 CAD.


Caged Golf Ball

Posted on by Gabriel | 2 comments
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If you're an avid puzzle collector, like myself, you're bound to come upon similar concepts and ideas over the years, albeit sometimes presented with a different design, but still the general idea is there. This is exactly what the designer of the Caged Golf Ball - unknown to me - did. Is it worth it even if you already own a similar puzzle? Read on to find out.

The Caged Golf Ball, as the name suggests, has a trapped golf ball enclosed between four wooden bars, apparently making it impossible to remove the ball, unless some kind of trick is to be performed. This is partly true, however it's not a trick per se, but a well known and simple force of physics that will certainly amaze anyone.

The puzzle is made from monkeypod wood, a common type of wood used in more affordable puzzles, but don't be fooled by its low price tag. To be honest, I really like this kind of wood. It has this pleasant smell that will perfume any cupboard you put it in, and for an affordable type of wood, it gives a nice quality to the puzzle without appearing too cheap. It measures 10cm x 7.6cm (4" x 3").

Without revealing too much about the solution of the puzzle, which can be quite challenging for a casual puzzler, I can give you a hint that its principle is similar to a well-known Hanayama puzzle, the Cast News. If you haven't solved it yet, well, then I recommend starting with the Hanayama puzzle, since it's easier to perform the required moves, because it's made of metal.

The wooden mechanism, as it's expected, doesn't work flawlessly, and even if you're doing the right moves, it may still prove inefficient. If you think you're doing the correct movement, keep at it and eventually you will unlock the mechanism and reveal the secret of the Caged Golf Ball. The difficulty of the puzzle is rated as a level 2/5, and this is true if you're an experienced puzzler, but if you're not, it can be as challenging as a level 4/5.

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Closing Comments:

The perfect gift for a golf aficionado, the Caged Golf Ball can still be a great challenge for anyone interested in puzzles. Responding to the question above, yes, if you're a puzzle collector it's really worth getting this puzzle for its original and unique design, but if you know the basic principle behind it from other puzzles, or you're not into golf, then it's up to you, since it won't give you a proper challenge.

Availability: As of the time of writing this review, the Caged Golf Ball is currently out of stock at Brilliant Puzzles. However, if you still want to check out other golf related puzzles, there's a few options available here.


Our Common Goal

Posted on by Gabriel | 2 comments
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Our Common Goal is yet another interesting puzzle from the German manufacturer Philos, designed by Logan Kleinwaks. I'm a sucker for pattern puzzles and this one captured my attention right away because of its high contrast of light and dark shades made by hevea and samena woods.

The puzzle features 16 identically shaped pieces, although there are seven different patterns of light/dark parts glued together. The goal of the puzzle was somewhat confusing to me at first. I thought the pieces had various ways to be put together in various patterns (7 to be exact), but it turns out that there's only one pattern you're supposed to do, which is the one that is already shown in the picture on the package, and it actually comes packaged in its solved state - shame really, because the explanation makes you think that there is 7 different patterns to build, but they're referring to the patterns on the pieces.

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So, the goal is to remove the pieces from the tray, mix them, and then try to make the requested pattern. Don't be fooled by the fact that the puzzle comes in its solved state, because it will be quite challenging to return it to the original pattern. It is rated as a level 8/10, and I reckon it's pretty accurate, given the unusual shape of the pieces and how they must be packed in the tray. On top of that, you have to keep in mind which pieces to use at a certain time to make the original pattern.

The puzzle is more or less a 2-in-1 puzzle, as it's first and foremost a packing puzzle. Even though the pieces are identically shaped it's still challenging to pack them all in the tray. Try to do that by just packing the pieces and not minding the pattern. You'll see that it's not that easy. Now, try to pack them, this time carefully selecting the right pieces for each spot.

After solving the main - and only - challenge, I tried to make other patterns that made sense geometrically, but all I could come up with were random configurations. I still believe that with lots of patience and a careful analysis of the pieces it's possible to make other symmetrical - or at least less chaotic - patterns. If you put your mind to that, you might have a serious challenge in your hands. Are you up for that task?

(Click to Enlarge) - Some Random Pattern
Closing Comments:

Our Common Goal by Philos was a bit less than I was expecting, but still was quite a challenge. It is really well made, something already to be expected from the German manufacturer, and it could be used as a nice center piece to decorate a coffee table or a shelf.

Availability: You can get a copy of Our Common Goal at PuzzleMaster for $28.99 CAD. Check out other designs by Philos if you like their puzzles.


Flower

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Clever Toys is a Czech based company that produces quality wooden puzzles, some of which using colored beads. An example of that is the Flower puzzle, made entirely of wood, even the beads. It's supposed to be a tricky one, but is it that difficult? Read more to find out...

The Flower puzzle is comprised by a hardwood frame, nicely polished, and three sets of seven beads, each kept in place inside three ring slots. What surprised me in the design of this puzzle was that the beads were also made of wood - usually they're made of plastic. And they're actually natural wood colors, not painted as you'd first think.

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The puzzle moves by way of a rotating wheel at the center which makes the beads swap places with one another, thus mixing it. Inside each ring you can also rotate the beads freely. The center wheel only moves three beads from each ring at a time, so you must choose carefully which beads you want to move before turning the wheel. There's a small wooden handle at the bottom of the frame to make turning the wheel much easier. The movement is smooth, it doesn't jam or anything, unless you have the beads misaligned.

(Click to Enlarge) - Bottom side

The difficulty is surprisingly easier than I was expecting. Rated as a difficulty level of 9/10, I thought this was going to be one hell of a challenge, but I solved it in about 5 minutes or so. And yes, I had it pretty well mixed, so it couldn't have been an easy to solve pattern. I honestly believe the puzzle is no harder than a level 7. I also have solved another one of their bead puzzles (seen below) and the difficulty was about the same.

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Closing Comments:

Overall, the Flower is a very fun puzzle to play with, despite being not so challenging. It's an original concept,  simple but fun and entertaining. The company has a few other designs featuring beads, all very interesting and deserving of your attention.

Availability: You can get the Flower puzzle at your favorite Canadian puzzle store, PuzzleMaster. Check out other designs by the Czech company.

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IQ Steps

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I'm always excited when I have a new puzzle game from SmartGames. It's because I know for sure I'll have lots of fun with a new concept I haven't tried before - something really difficult to achieve for a games designer when you already have a vast catalog of different ideas.

IQ Steps, not surprisingly, is yet another superb addition to the SmartGames' catalog and the IQ series, designed by Raf Peeters. This series is a collection of six compact travel games, each bringing you a different type of challenge, but equally demanding. The IQ Steps, nevertheless, is actually one of the most challenging of the IQ series yet. Is it a bad thing? Not in the least, the tougher the better...

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 10 (Start and solved state)

The IQ Steps is, so far, the only one that requires the pieces to be placed in a correct sequence, not randomly fitted in the game board. This, in addition to the unusual shape of the pieces, makes the game very difficult to solve, even on the easier challenges. In fact, even when you're setting up a challenge it's difficult to figure out the correct sequence for the pieces, and that is in itself a challenge, before the real one even begins. At first, you only need to place one or two remaining pieces to the set up, but getting there requires some patience. On the harder levels, you not only need to place most of the pieces and figure out where to place them, but also finding their correct sequence.

Comprised by eight distinct pieces in bright vivid colors, each one occupying two layers with five or six rings joined together in different arrangements, the pieces overlap each other in the game board, which is why they need to be placed sequentially. It's a very entertaining game, like discovering the sequence of a secret code.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 33 (Start and solved state)

With 120 challenges to solve, distributed by five difficulty levels, you have more puzzles to play with than the average logic game - a very welcome addition. To play any challenge the right way you have to respect some basic rules: Since the pieces have to be placed in a sequence, you need to place them one at a time; You can't lift any piece that has already been placed on the game board; Two layers is the maximum height permitted and any piece that stacks on top of another in more than two layers is not allowed. Like many other games, IQ Steps has only one possible solution for any given challenge.

(Click to Enlarge) - The IQ Puzzles I Currently Own
Closing Comments:

IQ Steps is one of my favorites from the IQ series. I guess I say that a lot when it comes to SmartGames, but it's true. Every new game I try adds a different idea and a new way to interact with puzzle pieces. Their games challenge you in ways you weren't expecting, and for that I can't wait to play with the next puzzle from SmartGames.

Availability: SmartGames' puzzles and games are widely available on any decent puzzle stores. Amazon and PuzzleMaster are just two great examples where you can get what you're looking for.

Links:

SmartGames Official Website

A couple more challenges:


(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 68 (Start and solved state)

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 117 (Start and solved state)


TransylvanyArt - Romanian Puzzle Boxes

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Transylvania - A land of mystery and fascination, mostly known through the 1897 Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula. It's only fitting that what I'm about to introduce you is also something that fascinated people all over the world for centuries, which is puzzle boxes. These enigmatic and puzzling objects were first introduced as a way to keep one's most prized and precious possessions a secret.

That's exactly what the craftsmen of these Romanian puzzle boxes had in mind when they first created them in the 1700's. It was also a nice way for men to court their future wives, since they could show off their skills and ability. The tradition was kept from generation to generation by way of passing the know-how from father to son.

The modern take on these traditional puzzle boxes was done by Istvan Bondi, from the region of Kalotaszeg, Romania, who made and carved them for a while, now concentrating mainly on distributing them. A small team of makers and carvers make the boxes now, always following the same traditional hand-made methods. You can visit the official TransylvanyArt website for more information. The company also makes beautiful and detailed Chess/Backgammon/Checkers wooden sets.

(Click to Enlarge) - Views from different angles

From the colors you see on the boxes, to the different sizes and floral patterns carved on the boxes, everything was meticulously planned and designed with the utmost attention to detail, all hand-crafted and made from local maple and beech wood. An experienced craftsman can make between 5 to 7 puzzle boxes a day, and carving one box takes about 30 minutes - Steady hands, lots of concentration and perseverance are some of the skills necessary to make these boxes.

There are three different sizes for the puzzle boxes: small, medium and large. The small box measures 8cm x 6.4cm x 4.8cm (3.2" x 2.5" x 1.9"); the medium measures 10.7cm x 8cm x 7cm (4.2" x 3.2" x 2.8"); and the large one measures 14cm x 10cm x 8cm (5.5" x 3.9" x 3.2"). There are some modifications on the opening mechanism that differ from the small to both the medium and large boxes, but the same original and innovative way of opening them is common to all three sizes. The colors are more varied and there are five different ones to choose from: black, brown, blue, red and green, all available to any of the three box sizes.

(Click to Enlarge) - Left: Large Puzzle Box; Middle: Medium Puzzle Box; Right: Small Puzzle Box

The floral patterns carved on the boxes were what I found most fascinating about these boxes. The decoration, or presentation, says a lot about a craftsman's work, and here on these boxes you can witness the high level of craftsmanship, only achieved through centuries of passed-down knowledge. The overall appearance of the boxes, although merely a coincidence, resembles a stack of books on a shelf. This is most noticeable on the red box, as the side of it sort of looks like the spines of several books. Even though it wasn't the intention of the designers, I find it adds character and personality to the boxes, more style. For a more exquisite and elegant finish, the surface of the boxes is varnished with clear and shiny lacquer, which also serves to protect the wood from the elements.

Talk about books... As you've seen from the top photo, there's a puzzle that looks exactly like a book, and that one is no coincidence. Designed by another talented Romanian craftsman, these puzzle books have a totally different mechanism from the boxes, and are a little easier to open, since they only require a couple of moves.

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They share, however, the same beautiful type of floral patterns and colors of the puzzle boxes as two siblings would do. The puzzle book is about the same size as a normal book, measuring 15cm x 11.7cm x 3.8cm (5.9" x 4.6" x 1.5"). The hidden compartment is large enough to conceal many objects, like a gift to someone special.



Returning to the theme of the boxes... To open them, a little more cunning and astuteness is necessary than to open the book. The opening mechanism sort of reminds me of those secret rooms hidden behind a book shelf - How you'd reach for a particular book and turn or slide it in a way so it unlocked the door. The whole process until you finally open the box is some of the most creative and original works I've seen in puzzle boxes. You need a couple of steps for one part of the opening process, and another couple of steps to actually open the lid. This is where the difference between the small and the other two boxes lie, which is a couple of steps. It's different enough to justify the purchase of a small box along with at least one medium or large box.

Also, another interesting difference between the two bigger boxes and the small one is the hidden compartment inside the lid, once opened - There's none in the small box. This hidden compartment is found behind the mirror of the larger boxes by way of sliding it sideways. It's just another clever addition to these already fascinating objects.



Closing Comments:

I really loved TransylvanyArt's puzzle boxes and book. They're quite unique, completely different from anything I've seen, with a brilliantly clever mechanism and a gorgeous and striking design. If you like puzzle boxes, this is definitely a must-have in your collection. It's a beautiful decoration center piece, a perfect gift for a loved one, or simply to indulge yourself with a magnificent work of art. It's a masterpiece!

Availability: There's a couple of places where you can get these beautiful puzzle boxes and the puzzle books. PuzzleMaster from Canada, and PuzzleBoxWorld from the USA.


Lock Maze

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There's a series of very interesting Trick Lock puzzles by Mi-Toys that use a very clever mechanism, called IQ Locker. These puzzles are pretty cheap (about $11) and made of wood - not proper wood (laser-cut), but you can't ask much for that price. Each puzzle has a very original design, and despite the low quality materials, their mechanism works quite well.

This time I chose the Lock Maze and, as the name suggests, you'll be navigating a small maze in order to be able to unlock it. To help you navigate the maze there's a small sliding button that moves horizontally through an opening in the puzzle. Both sides of the lock are identical, including the sliding button, so you can easily change perspective, although you can't see much of the maze through the opening.

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The mechanism doesn't allow for the shackle to be completely removed from the wooden frame, but it can slide off enough so that you can see most of the maze path. In other words, don't stop right away when you first see the shackle opened, since there's more to it.

Unfortunately, the puzzle is not very challenging, and considering it's a maze, it's a little disappointing to be so quickly solvable. The manufacturer rates it as a level 2/5, but it might as well be a level 1, as I was able to open it in only a couple of minutes. Closing it is equally and unsatisfyingly easy, because there's virtually no challenge. The puzzle measures 14.6cm x 7.6cm (5.75" x 3"), and the problem of being so easy could've been simply solved by a larger maze - In my opinion it would've resulted in a much better puzzle overall.



Closing Comments:

If you're a fan of Trick Locks and like to collect them all, there's no reason not to get the Lock Maze. Also, if you're a beginner in this type of puzzles, it can be good to practice for higher demanding levels. But for seasoned puzzlers, unless you're a collector like me, it can be frustratingly easy.

Availability: You can find the Lock Maze and all the IQ Locker series at Brilliant Puzzles for just $10.95 USD each.

Links:



Hexus

Posted on by Gabriel | 4 comments
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Brainwright is a recent discovery of mine, but so far I've been quite impressed with some of their puzzles. I only have a couple of them and another few that were later "adopted" by them, like the Rudenko's Disc or the Roundominoes. The one you see above is called Hexus and it's a logic game for one player with 44 challenges.

The name Hexus comes from the shape of the pieces, each in a different arrangement of hexagons that are linked together. The seven pieces are all distinct and they can be rearranged in many different ways inside the honeycomb-shaped tray, which is itself a collection of eight hexagons adjacent to each other.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 10 (Left: Start; Right: Solved)

Besides the seven colored pieces, you can also see inside the tray a single red piece (can not be moved) and an odd-shaped white piece. This white piece is very important, because it shows the current challenge number marked on the tray, and no piece can be overlapping it. To get started, all you need to do is choose a position for the white piece and place the first pieces correspondent to that particular challenge. You can see the starting position for all 44 challenges on the back of a pamphlet provided with the game. There's no solutions included, so you're on your own.

Fortunately for you, the game starts off pretty easy, as the first few challenges only require a couple of pieces to be placed on the board, since the rest are already in their correct positions. As you progress, though, fewer and fewer pieces will be put in the board at the beginning, until you reach the final levels where you have to fit all the pieces with no help. You can flip the pieces on both sides, so you'll have more possibilities to fit them.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 25 (Left: Start; Right: Solved)

Closing Comments:

I didn't find the game very difficult, even on the last challenges. Yes, these final ones are more challenging, but with only seven pieces and a tray with a fixed shape, there's only so much you can do. To make it more interesting and more difficult, you can start every challenge from scratch instead of placing the initial pieces - Just the white one. I did find it very fun to play with and quite enjoyable, because of the unusual shape of the tray and the pieces. The pocket size allows you to carry it anywhere with you.

Availability: The Hexus game is available at PuzzleMaster for $18.99 CAD. Check out the other Brainwright puzzles and games here.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 40 (Left: Start; Right: Solved)


Tribar Puzzle

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Philos, a German wooden puzzle manufacturer, makes pretty interesting packing puzzles. Most look very simple in design and concept, but they can still offer a great deal of challenge. One of these such puzzles is called the Tribar Puzzle, and it's deceptively harder than you'd think at first.

The puzzle is nicely built with quality materials, not plywood. There's a nice contrast between the dark-shaded frame and the lighter pieces. On the bottom of the frame you can see a black sheet of something velvety - it gives a nicer finish, even though it's on the bottom - probably also to give it some friction and prevent it from moving much against a flat and smooth surface.

The Tribar Puzzle consists only of four odd-shaped pieces. There are three identical pieces, but all of them are made by gluing equilateral triangles half off-center from one of their edges. The frame is perfectly triangular, also equilateral, and the goal is to pack all four pieces inside. There's only one way to do it, excluding rotations or mirror images. You can rotate or flip the pieces in any direction you want, though.

Rated as a level 2/4 by the manufacturer and 7/10 by PuzzleMaster, I'd say that the rating is mostly accurate. The puzzle is a little challenging, especially because of the Z-shaped pieces, but with only four pieces to move around there's only so much you can do with them. It took me about 10 minutes to find the solution, so I'd say with just a little patience it's perfectly possible for anyone to solve it eventually through some trial and error. The solution is not symmetric, but makes a neat shape (not chaotic).



Closing Comments:

The Tribar Puzzle is a simple but pleasant puzzle. It's not frustrating to solve, and packing puzzle fans will thoroughly enjoy it. Philos has a lot of puzzles like this, so you only need to choose the one that most appeals to you...or get them all.

Availability: The Tribar Puzzle is available from PuzzleMaster for just $10 CAD. To check other puzzles from the same manufacturer, click here.


Vikings

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Help the Vikings escape the seastorm and return the ships to their corresponding port - This is the premise of the Vikings logic game, designed by Raf Peeters and produced by SmartGames. Simple to understand and quite addicting, this challenging game will put you right at the middle of a brainstorm.

Vikings is a very cool sliding puzzle game, although a bit different from what you're used to see in a regular sliding puzzle. The concept consists of nine sliding pieces that can rotate 360º on their own axis. The reality, however, is that it's not so easy to move the pieces, because their movements are usually blocked by the position of other pieces that overlap their path. It's up to you to find the best way to unblock each ship's path to their corresponding spot, next to the arrow of the same color.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 17 (Start & Solved)

The design of the game is gorgeous. From the beautifully made ships, each with its sails in a different color and the characteristic Viking dragon-shaped prow, to the shape of the pieces representing whirlpools, everything was well thought-out and nicely presented by Raf.

There are a few rules to keep in mind in order to play Vikings: you can only move the pieces of the board that have a ship next to it; you can't lift any boats or pieces from the board when you're solving a challenge - the only allowed move is sliding; the pieces only move in 90º increments, otherwise it will block any possible moves. These rules are very quick and easy to understand, so you can jump to the challenges right away.

This time, instead of five difficult levels, there are only four. Nevertheless, don't underestimate the game, because this is actually one of the hardest games from SmartGames. Even the "Starter" level is somewhat challenging at first, and the more you progress the more steps are required to solve a challenge. You'll find yourself many times going back and forth with your ships trying to get them to their port, only to find a blocked piece ahead of your path. Often, you'll only make progress by taking two steps back and one forward. This peculiar strategy is a necessary evil for the game, but that's also what makes it so fascinating, and so different from all the other games I've played so far.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 48 (Start & Solved)

Closing Comments:

It shouldn't be a surprise by now that I'm always pleasantly satisfied and impressed by Raf's designs. His games are designed to keep us engaged and maintain our brains healthy, and having fun at the same time. Vikings is a difficult game, but worth every minute you're playing with it.

Availability: The Vikings game is available at any Amazon, as well as many others from SmartGames.

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