Torbogen

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Torbögen, by Jean Claude Constantin, is a rather interesting packing puzzle with a very clever geometry. Made with 16 pieces, this deceptively easy puzzle is the perfect companion for someone who likes to play with patterns and geometrical shapes.

Torbogen may sound like a strange name for many of you, but if you know Constantin you know he likes to name his puzzles with German words - he's a German designer after all. The word means "archway", which the shape of the puzzle indicates if you view it vertically. Honestly, I see first an arrow, maybe because I first looked at it horizontally.

Like many of his puzzles, Torbögen is made from laser-cut wood. It's not the best of materials, but it's quite versatile and it gives a nice polished finish, while keeping the puzzle affordable for everyone. It also makes the puzzle lighter, which is good when you're buying lots of puzzles and you save on shipping costs, which in turn means more money for puzzles...

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The shape of the pieces is what makes this puzzle really shine. Not sure if there's a name for this particular shape, but I've seen it many times featured in other puzzles alongside other shapes. However, I've never seen it presented like this, since every one of the 16 pieces has the same shape, albeit in four different sizes.

Now, because the pieces are proportionally sized, you can actually build the shape of a bigger piece with other smaller pieces and therefore change the appearance of the solved puzzle, thus creating many different solutions in the process. I had a lot of fun altering the position of the pieces and playing with different configurations.

(Click to Enlarge) - Two of the many possible solutions

Closing Comments:

For better or worse, this is quite an easy puzzle to solve, since it's solvable within the first couple of minutes of your first try (it also depends on your skill level with packing puzzles), but on the bright side it gives you more time to find other solutions. It has a high replay value, which to me is always a plus when it comes to puzzles. You really get your money's worth with this one.

Availability: The Torbögen puzzle is available at Brilliant Puzzles for $25.95 USD. If you like this one, check out other interesting puzzles by Jean Claude Constantin.


Brain Dice

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I haven't reviewed a puzzle from Recent Toys in a while, so I was very curious to try their new puzzle Brain Dice, designed by Andrea Mainini. In short, this is probably the best puzzle I've seen in the last year - Very original design and extremely addicting. But, since this is a review, I'll elaborate some more on my thoughts about this one.

One thing that I always liked about Recent Toys is their ability to find new and original ideas, and transform them into superb puzzles. I have many puzzles from their extensive catalog, but finding a favorite would be a tremendously difficult task. As for the Brain Dice, I reckon it's one of the best from their entire catalog. That says a lot about it, no?

The first thing that captures your attention when you first look at the Brain Dice is its six dice, one in each side. The puzzle uses actual dice that you can see in any board game. Each side is surrounded by four arms, each with a rotating knob that shows three circles (each of the three circles can be either blank or black). You will only count the circles that are shown in black.

The goal of the puzzle is to first remove the dice from the frame and scramble them. Next, place the dice again, one by one, in the frame with the side that's facing you on the top. Finally, you need to rotate the four knobs in each side of the puzzle so that the sum of the black circles is equal to the number on the dice. It's simple to understand, challenging to solve and, most importantly, very addictive. And the best part? Whichever dice combination you have on the puzzle, there's always a solution, so you just need to keep trying until you solve it.

The difficulty of the puzzle is rated by the manufacturer as a level 4/5, and I completely agree. It's not frustratingly hard, but still challenging enough to keep you hooked and always coming for more. This is what makes the puzzle addicting, and of course, it's quite fun to play with.

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Closing Comments:

The Brain Dice is a superb puzzle and one that should not be missed by anyone remotely interested in puzzles. It's one of the best by Recent Toys in years. If you like a good challenge, this one is definitely for you.

Availability: You can find the Brain Dice on many puzzle stores. Brilliant Puzzles and Amazon are just two examples.


Peanuts

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In the world of packing puzzles, peanuts are a tough nut to crack (fun fact: they're actually legumes and not nuts), especially because of their irregular shape. Not surprisingly then, puzzles with the peanut theme are very challenging for a good reason.

Besides the Peanuts puzzle, featured in this review, I know of only another puzzle with peanuts - the Glass Puzzle Peanuts by Beverly Enterprises. Both are very challenging, although I only had the pleasure of playing with the version you see here, designed and built by Jean Claude Constantin.

The good thing about Constantin's Peanuts is that it's a flat 2D puzzle, unlike Beverly's 3D one. Nevertheless, don't be fooled. This is still quite a challenge to solve, so don't underestimate it. I know from experience that 2D puzzles can be just as difficult as their 3D counterparts, if not more in some cases.

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The Peanuts puzzle features 10 unique peanut-shaped pieces, although some of them are unusually irregular, even for a peanut...but that's what makes it so interesting. The pieces are laser-cut, so they fit perfectly inside the hexagonal frame. Another interesting aspect of this puzzle is that each individual peanut piece has its own shell that can be separate from its kernel. This doesn't exactly make the puzzle that much more difficult, since you can easily tell which shell belongs to what kernel and vice-versa, but it's nonetheless a neat feature of the puzzle. For example, you can solve the puzzle first with the shells only and then pack the other pieces at the end.

As hinted before, this is a very difficult puzzle to solve due to the irregular shape of the pieces. Notwithstanding, you can actually take advantage of the inner shape of the frame to tell which pieces fit or don't fit in a particular part of the frame. This makes the puzzle a little less frustrating, but just barely... Be prepared for a real challenge.

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Closing Comments:

Constantin's Peanuts puzzle is a real treat for puzzle lovers. It's quirky and has all the right ingredients for anyone looking for a tough but rewarding puzzle. I can't recommend enough this one. Give it a go, and I promise you won't go nuts.

Availability: Brilliant Puzzles is the place to find the Peanuts puzzle. You can also get other great puzzles by Jean Claude Constantin.


Circles

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Here's a type of puzzle that I really like, Packing Puzzles. Easy to understand, but a real challenge to solve them. Some require more trial and error than others, but the best ones are those that need planning, to think what to do before placing any piece on the frame - not mindless random packing.

Siebenstein-Spiele's Circles is a puzzle that puts an emphasis on planning, as you try to pack all 16 circles (or parts of a circle) inside the square frame. The pieces fit neatly and tight on a 4x4 grid, giving the impression that many circles are overlapping others. Only three of the sixteen pieces are actual complete circles, while the remaining are different configurations of circle cross-sections, either concave or straight or a mixture of both.

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The puzzle is quite small, measuring only 8cm x 8cm (3.15"). I would prefer a bigger puzzle, so the pieces don't feel so small in your hands, but it's still manageable. The wood used is just laser-cut wood, so to couple with its small size you have a very light puzzle. Two contrasting wood shades are used, which is always nice in a packing puzzle - or any other puzzle, for that matter.

The concept of this puzzle is not new, however. Jürgen Reiche, the designer and founder of the company, already has a similar puzzle named Euro Krisis. The difference here is that the Circles puzzle is not so chaotic, because the pieces are arranged in a regular shape, whereas the Euro Krisis had a circle frame, which meant the solution was more unpredictable...and harder.

The Circles puzzle has a difficulty level of 4/7 (as rated by the manufacturer), and I completely agree. It's challenging, and sometimes frustrating, especially when you are down to the last couple of pieces and none of them fit. But nevertheless, it's not as difficult as other packing puzzles from Siebenstein. I take it for its difficulty level that it must have other possible solutions, otherwise it would be much harder to solve.

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Closing Comments:

I would highly recommend the Circles puzzle if you can't get enough of packing puzzles, and Siebenstein-Spiele. This is a thoroughly enjoyable puzzle and, given its size, the positive thing is that you can take it with you anywhere. Definitely worth a try.

Availability: You can find the Circles puzzle at Brilliant Puzzles for just $15.95 USD. Check out some other great puzzles from Siebenstein-Spiele.


Diamant Cube

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This is a clever and new type of puzzle made by Jean Claude Constantin, called the Diamant Cube. Yet another proof that he can pretty much do any type of puzzle and still make it a great design.

The wood used in this puzzle is quite different from the usual plywood Constantin uses in his widely popular laser-cut puzzles. This is hardwood with a finish of an almost reddish hue, which gives it this gorgeous and shiny appearance. The handles on each side remind me of classic drawer pulls - They will prove quite useful when you're trying to solve the puzzle...

At first sight, this is quite an intriguing design, because you can't clearly see its internal mechanism. The cube is made by three pairs of pieces, each attached to the other by an elastic cord at opposing sides. The cord doesn't stretch much, which is a challenge since you have to take the cube apart. You need to work out, as much as you can from what you can actually see, which pieces you need to pull apart and rotate in order to remove the three pairs of pieces. Mind you, taking it apart is only part of the challenge, and the easier one for that matter. Putting it back together is much more difficult.

Each of the six pieces looks identical on the outside, but the inside is very different for each one. Several cylindrical-shaped pieces (3 or 4 depending on the configuration) are glued to the inner side of each of the six main pieces. When solved, all 20 cylindrical pieces occupy the entire area of the inside of the cube. This requires a unique solution where all the cylindrical pieces fit perfectly with the empty spaces left by the others, and so on.

As I said, this is a rather challenging puzzle, mainly because of the elastic cord, which barely stretches to a significant length so you can work comfortably with it. Many times I was afraid I was going to break it, but fortunately it seems the cord is pretty strong. You will find it even more stressful when you try to put it back to its cubic shape. It's as difficult to put the pieces in their position as it is to find the correct configuration to finally put it in a perfect cube.

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Closing Comments:

Despite it being a little confusing at first and a bit frustrating, especially the second part of the challenge, the Diamant Cube by Constantin is a fantastic puzzle and a refreshing idea that uses an unusual concept, although it's not new to use elastics in puzzles (the Brainstring is one that immediately pops into my mind). I can easily recommend this one if you're looking for something different that makes you think outside of the box (the cube, in this case).

Availability: You can get a copy of the Diamant Cube at Brilliant Puzzles for $34.95 USD. You can also check out other interesting puzzles by Constantin.


Schloß Dick (Voidlock)

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Jean Claude Constantin always excels at what he does. His puzzles are some of the most amazing concepts you'll ever find out there and a lot of them are as challenging as they come. Puzzle Locks and n-ary puzzles are a perfect combination and here, with the Schloß Dick, Constantin delivers a great looking and interesting puzzle.

This is a rather small puzzle, measuring only 10.5cm x 6.8cm (4.13" x 2.68"). I would've liked a slightly bigger puzzle, since it can be more difficult to manipulate those small sliding platforms. Nevertheless, the movement of the puzzle is still good, despite it being made from laser-cut wood (plywood).

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The Schloß Dick is essentially a n-ary sequential movement puzzle, more specifically a 5-ary (quinary). It sounds intimidating, but in all honesty this feels like a binary puzzle (2-ary if you want to be specific), and therefore it's not as difficult as it looks. The puzzle consists of four sliding platforms that move vertically, while you slide a pin horizontally to match the path of each platform. The puzzle will only be open when all four pieces are slid to the bottom.

This is rated as a level 4/5, but if you're used to sequential movement puzzles, this is easily a level 3/5 or a 7 in a scale of 10. I managed to solve it within 5 minutes, and it took me even less time to put it back together. The four platforms are all different (each has ever larger paths than the previous), but once you know the sequence it's just "rinse and repeat" until you open the lock - It's recursive mathematics, so you should be OK, even if mathematics aren't your forte.

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Closing Comments:

I really liked the Schloß Dick by Constantin. It's not a frustrating puzzle, and by solving it in such a short amount of time, you can solve it anytime you want a quick puzzle fix. The only fault, really, is its short size. Definitely worth a try.

Availability: You can buy a copy of the Schloß Dick at Brilliant Puzzles for $25.95 USD. For other Constantin designs click here.

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Cast Hexagon (巡)

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The Cast Hexagon is the latest Hanayama puzzle in the popular series. First created in 1983, the series has seen about 70 puzzles now, give or take a couple. Many puzzle designers have contributed with their creations, and Mine Uyematsu from Japan is now adding his second design to the series, after having designed the Cast Quartet. The theme for the Cast Hexagon is "Go Around".

The Hexagon has quite an interesting design, and contrary to many other Cast Puzzles, its goal is pretty clear right from the start (remove the three pieces from the frame). However, just because its mechanism isn't ambiguous it doesn't mean that it's not a difficult puzzle. Classified as a level 4/6, you can be sure that this isn't a puzzle you'll be solving in just a couple of minutes.

When seen in its initial state, all three pieces form a shape that resembles three hexagons put together. Moreover, even before you've made your first move, the pieces look like they have the same overall shape. That's not the case, as you'll soon verify after the first two moves - all three pieces have a different configuration.

Solving the Cast Hexagon requires creative thinking and finding the correct sequence. It requires a total of 24 moves to remove all three pieces, but I reckon you'll need a few more on your first time, as it also happened to me. The pieces slide quite easily around the frame, although they're locked inside the small area until you remove them. The empty space is very small, so you'll have to keep those pieces moving and rotating them quite a bit to make room for the next move. It may sometimes be a little frustrating finding that there's no space for a move you wanted to make, but just keep trying until you remove the first piece. After that it's a piece of cake to remove the remaining two.

Putting the puzzle back together can be even more difficult if you don't have a guide. Be sure to know the order the pieces were removed and you'll eventually will be able to put it in its original state.

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Closing Comments:

Hanayama never disappoints when it comes to their flagship series, and the Cast Hexagon is no different. I was a bit skeptical at first, because of its unusual design, but after playing with it, I have nothing negative to say about it, and I can recommend it to anyone who likes Cast Puzzles.

Availability: I got the Cast Hexagon from the Spanish store PuzzlesdeIngenio.com. Others in the series can also be bought here.

Links:

New Hanayama Website (in English)

Hanayama Cast (in English) - Very useful website in English, with plenty of information on all things Cast.

Hanayama's Factory Visit (Many thanks to Roxanne Wong for sharing these pictures)


Cat Lovers

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If you're a cat lover, like myself, you're in for a treat, as Creative Crafthouse's new Picture Frame Puzzle designed by Dave Janelle, the Cat Lovers, promises to deliver a good dose of fun and feline puzzling. Ten different breeds of cats are represented in this puzzle in various sizes and poses, and one unlucky little mouse, which found himself trapped among this clowder. Your task is to find a way for all of these little pranksters to get along inside the tight space of the frame. There's only one way to do this, so get creative...

Made from at least four different types of hardwood, which results in several different colors, the puzzle is a beautiful showcase of the craftsmanship achieved at Creative Crafthouse's shop in Florida. Each cat is a close representation of its living counterpart, made with spots and stripes by delicately carving the wood with subtle lines. Their Picture Frame Puzzles are also quite big and look great on display, measuring about 19.3cm (7.6") in diameter. The puzzle also comes with its own lid so you won't run the risk of losing any piece - it will only close when completely solved.

The Cat Lovers puzzle features a total of 10 different cat breeds, some of them quite exotic and rare, which I even didn't know existed. These are: Maine Coon, Korat, Kao Manee, California Spangled, Nebelung, Bengal, British Shorthair, Aegean, Persian, Peterbald. The rest are kittens, and of course there's the lonely mouse for a total of 12 pieces.

As expected from this type of puzzle the level of difficulty is very high, so you can be sure to be challenged to the limit of your skills and then some... The cats, and mouse, won't occupy the entirety of the frame's area, but the empty spaces between them will be very small. The trick here is to maximize the waste of space by finding parts of pieces that can be joined together as much as possible, as if you were solving a jigsaw puzzle. Leave the mouse for last, since it won't have any real impact in the solving process and can be fitted in one the remaining empty spaces.



Closing Comments:

Picture Frame Puzzles can be easily picked up by anybody, since the concept is very easy to understand. However, few will be able to solve one of these, as their high level of difficulty can bring along some frustration. If you happen to solve one, then you'll experience a great rewarding feeling. The Cat Lovers puzzle is the ultimate gift for all cat lovers out there.

Availability: I got the Cat Lovers puzzle from PuzzlesdeIngenio.com, in Spain.


Lock and Key

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Trick Locks have always been a favorite of mine. I love to discover their secret combinations, finding out what mechanisms keep it locked. It's always a mystery when you're trying to solve one, you never know how much time it will take you until you finally open it. Today's Trick Lock is certainly one of those that's still keeping me from uncovering its secret - but that's a good thing, it means it's a good one.

The Lock and Key puzzle is one of four Trick Locks from the IQ Locker series by Mi-Toys. These puzzles are made from laser-cut wood, to keep the final cost affordable, but they function pretty well, considering their price. The Lock and Key comes with a key (as its name suggests) and your goal is to open the lock - Simple, no? Well, not quite... This one is actually the most difficult of the series to solve, and so far I have no clue how to open it.

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At the bottom of the puzzle you'll find a keyhole, but soon you'll find out that it's not as straightforward as putting the key inside and turn. If you do shake the puzzle you'll hear something jiggling inside, letting you know that there's more to it. The description of the puzzle mentions a maze, but even knowing that it still doesn't help you that much. The key seems to push something inside with an elastic, but it doesn't look like it produces any visible results.

Compared to the other puzzles in the series, this one is by far the most challenging. The others, I had no problem solving them, mostly because their mechanism was easier to figure out. This one gives you very few hints, so you'll need some creative thinking to unlock it.

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Closing Comments:

The IQ Locker series was a pleasant surprise, because at that price I wasn't expecting much. Turns out these are very interesting puzzles, with intriguing and original designs that you can purchase for about $10.

Availability: The Lock and Key puzzle, as well as the other puzzles in the IQ Locker series, is available at Brilliant Puzzles.


Penguins Parade

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SmartGames has a new series of games that were specially made for those that like to have some fun while travelling. This Magnetic Travel Games series consists of several games in the form of a small notebook that closes with a clasp and has a magnetic board and pieces, so they don't get lost. It's a very convenient way to bring your favorite games along with you and to brighten your trips.

Based on the hugely popular game Penguins on Ice, Penguins Parade by Raf Peeters also has a unique concept for a packing puzzle and, despite being smaller, it's certainly not inferior, in terms of fun, than its predecessor. What you get is 48 challenges in four difficulty levels that promise to put your skills to the test. The game is classified for ages between 5 and 10, but make no mistake, some of these challenges can puzzle the most clever adults. I know I got my share of puzzling.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenges 6 & 18 Solved

The game consists of just six pieces of different shapes (their edges resemble broken ice) and the goal, unlike you may think, is not to fill the game board - it's a little more complicated than that. Four of the pieces have a penguin on them, placed in a different spot. The pieces have to be placed on the game board so that the penguins form a straight line (horizontal, vertical or diagonal) and they all are facing you in the same direction. In other words, you can't have a penguin facing sideways or upside down. Also, no pieces shall overlap, but you can leave "icebergs" on the board (isolated pieces). Only the penguin pieces need to be connected without any empty spaces in between them.

The challenges start out very easy and simple. At first you can see two penguins already in place and two blank pieces, but slowly, as you progress, you'll see only the two blank pieces in the board, and you have to figure out where the penguin pieces go. I did find it a bit easier than other previous games, but I believe that any puzzle fan will find it challenging enough, or at least make your trip much more interesting.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenges 34 & 46 Solved

Closing Comments:

It's a real pleasure to play this type of games. Whether you play them occasionally, to kill the boredom, or you're just addicted to them, like me, you'll always find something to challenge your mind and to help you relieve the stress of daily life. You can try to get other games of the Magnetic series, so you always have a variety of choice whenever you have to travel.

Availability: You can find any game from SmartGames at your usual puzzle places, from Amazon to PuzzleMaster.

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Bee Box

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Jean Claude Constantin has raised the puzzle designing standard so high that it's difficult to find other designers that not only are as prolific, but also as successful as the German craftsman. I've move than 100 different puzzles from Constantin, and so far I've loved each and every one of them. Today, however, may be the first day that I've seen one of his puzzles that I truly didn't like that much. The culprit? The Bee Box...

The Bee Box is essentially a trick box, which features a hidden mechanism that one needs to figure out before being able to open. This box is beautifully made from two contrasting types of laser-cut wood in the shape of a beehive. While laser-cut wood is far from being a quality material, it actually keeps the price down without losing too much in the visual and presentation department. So far so good... But the positive aspects stop here.

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What I love about puzzle boxes is the fact that I get to discover their secrets, how their mechanism works. Well, this one is nothing like that. As soon as I picked it up to inspect it, it opened right in front of me almost by itself and presented itself to me with a handful of balloons. At first, I thought the mechanism or some other part of the puzzle was broken. How can this be? Is that all there is? Is there anything I'm missing? Indeed, there was, but not what I was expecting.

Turns out, after some investigating, this is a puzzle you prepare for others to solve, not for you to enjoy. The goal is to fill one of the included balloons with air or water - yes, water is suggested, which is a great idea if you want to preserve your wooden puzzles - and put it inside the box so it will engage the lock and prevent it from being open. Now, the other person has to find a toothpick that's hidden in the outer casing of the box and puncture the balloon through one of the holes in the bottom and release the pin that's securing the lid. That's it.

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Closing Comments:

For me, puzzles are something I enjoy doing on my own. Because of this, I didn't find anything to like about Constantin's Bee Box but the fact that I collect puzzles and this one looks nice. It's a shame the puzzle's description doesn't mention any of this, otherwise I wouldn't have got it. Nevertheless, the idea is clever and if you like to present your friends with challenging puzzles, this may be a good choice. If you're like me, though, and you prefer your puzzles to be a challenge for you and not others, then you should skip this one. Sorry, Jean Claude.

Availability: You can get a copy of the Bee Box at Brilliant Puzzles for $34.95 USD. If you like Jean Claude Constantin's puzzles, you can find more here.

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8 Stars Labyrinth

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Robrecht Louage has already accustomed us with very original designs year after year. As an avid IPP contestant, Robrecht always enters his new puzzles at the yearly International Puzzle Party, and this year's Ottawa event was no different. Even though it didn't earned any award at the competition, Robrecht's latest creation, the 8 Stars Labyrinth, deserves all the credit for its originality.

If you have followed the Belgian designer's work over the last few years, then you'll immediately notice something's missing in his new design. That's right, there's no coin to be freed this time around, but even so there's no excuse why you shouldn't try this one out. For lovers of labyrinths, mazes and hidden paths, the 8 Stars Labyrinth offers you a perilous journey through an obstacle-ridden trail, which only the most adventurous puzzlers will be able to overcome.

What remains common from other previous designs is the use of Trespa - An unusual but strong material made by combining Kraft paper and phenolic resin, resulting in this light-brown color seldom seen in any other puzzles, but in reality it's a great fit for an otherwise unusual puzzle itself. The top of the puzzle is covered with a semi-transparent polycarbonate sheet, which gives this foggy appearance to the labyrinth, as if you were roaming around in an eerie mist.

(Click to Enlarge) - Seen Edge-On
To start your journey, you must insert the small metal sphere in the "IN" hole found at the right of one of the sides. I believe the name of puzzle has something to do with the number of traps you can find scattered throughout the path, which is eight, if I'm not mistaken: right after you insert the sphere there's another one by the entrance, preventing you from going back in case you ever regret entering this fiendish labyrinth; following this welcoming committee is a blacked-out stretch of the path that doesn't let you see what type of trap you're facing. Here, like the other three similar traps that await you, you need to figure out how to advance to the next obstacle unscathed. Each of these four "black" traps is unique and present you with a different challenge, so proceed with caution as you approach them; farther in, you'll see another trap just like the one you encountered when you first entered the maze. You'll need some dexterity skills to pass through this one, but it shouldn't give you much trouble; one of the hardest parts of the puzzle is the hidden labyrinth at the bottom. Most of the path is covered by a plaque full of small holes that only let you see the sphere at certain points. You have to navigate through this maze mostly by instinct until you find the exit, just before passing through the last black trap; there's a final trap close to the exit, so you need to move the sphere slowly in order to avoid the pitfall ahead.

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I was intimidated at first by all the traps found in the puzzle, especially the black ones, where I didn't know what to expect. Turns out, it was easier than I thought and I was able to solve it within 10 minutes or so. The most challenging parts were the black trap in the middle (the second blacked-out stretch) and the hidden maze at the bottom. Some trial and error should take care of it, so if at first you don't succeed...

Closing Comments:

I must commend Robrecht for not being afraid to leave his comfort zone in terms of puzzle designing and to take a chance at trying different concepts other than the usual "free the coin". The effort certainly paid off, because the result, as you can see, is absolutely brilliant and the execution of the overall concept is, as always, perfect in every way.

Availability: To get a copy of the 8 Stars Labyrinth, please contact Robrecht at: rlouage(at)telenet(dot)be. Note that the e-mail is presented that way to avoid spam. You just need to change what's inside the brackets.


Penguins on Ice

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If you find yourself struggling with the heat outside, SmartGames has the perfect solution for you with an icy adventure through the Antarctic. Designed by Raf Peeters, Penguins on Ice is a packing puzzle with a twist - a pentomino twist.

Being a packing puzzle fan, I was very excited to discover the original way the designer found to change an apparently simple game into a rather dynamic one, with its pieces constantly changing the landscape of the board, while at the same time providing a really good challenge for puzzle lovers.

(Click to Enlarge) - Starter and Junior Challenges

The game is very well made, just like any other from SmartGames. The pieces are transparent-blue, to give the effect of ice blocks, and the penguins are attached to one particular spot on each one. You can rotate the penguins in 360º, but this is not relevant for the solutions, because only their relative position within the game board is important.

The game consists of only five pieces, each one with the ability to change into three or four different pentomino shapes by sliding the two parts back and forth until you find the desired piece. The sliding movements can only be made in two opposite directions (a straight line). The pieces have a locking mechanism that alert you with a click when it's in place. Also, the game board is neatly divided into a 5x5 grid, with raised contours around each square, so the pieces fit perfectly without moving. You can see in the example below one of the pieces with its three different positions.

(Click to Enlarge) - Same Piece with 3 Different Positions

The rules are simple: Just choose any of the 60 included challenges in the booklet and heed the position of the penguins in the picture - Note that the penguins are stationary within each piece. The only way to change their positions is to rotate horizontally any given piece. Next, you need to find a way to arrange all five pieces inside the game board, while still making sure that the penguins match the same positions of the corresponding challenge. You can choose the positions of the penguins that don't appear in the challenge you're currently solving.

The first challenges start off quite easily, with the shape of all the pieces already outlined in the game board and a couple of penguins in place. As you work your way through the 60 challenges and four difficulty levels you'll see that fewer pieces remain outlined and more penguins start to show up for the party. The last challenges are really tough, and you'll find yourself continually changing the shape of the pieces to see which ones fit in a particular spot. All challenges have only one possible solution.

(Click to Enlarge) - Expert and Master Challenges

Closing Comments:

The design of Penguins on Ice is pure genius. It's incredible how such a simple concept of sliding two parts to make different shapes can turn an ordinary game into an extraordinary one, becoming a great brain exercise in the process, while providing a completely fun and cool experience. This is now one of my favorites from SmartGames.

Availability: You can find any game from SmartGames at your usual puzzle places, from Amazon to PuzzleMaster.



Plexi Puzzle - Iamond Hex

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Brainwright has been issuing lots of great puzzles lately. I commend their creative department for discovering and bringing these magnificent puzzles to the masses, which otherwise could remain unknown for many of us. Fortunately for me, I already know about Kate Jones' work and her fantastic contributions to the puzzle community over the last few decades. First produced by Kadon Enterprises, the Iamond Hex puzzle is now reissued with a new look, more affordable, but all that made it a great puzzle is still present in all its glory.

Made with 12 dissimilar acrylic pieces in three colors (yellow, red and blue), the Iamond Hex  puzzle features all kinds of shapes made possible by joining six equilateral triangles at different angles (hence the name Hex). No two pieces are the same and they all interact with each other in different ways. This makes the puzzle quite versatile, so you can create countless patterns and figures beyond the main puzzle featured in the provided tray.

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There are many solutions for the main petal-shaped puzzle. By mixing and combining the colors in different patterns, you can find a total of 55 solutions, some of which are very difficult to solve, like getting all three colors grouped. Kate Jones' puzzles are always a joy to play with, because of their many solutions and possible shapes you can create with the puzzle's given pieces - They give you a lot of bang for your buck, and are worth every penny.

The Iamond Hex comes packed with lots of challenges, like symmetrical shapes and other interesting puzzles using only some of the pieces. For example, with just four pieces you can create double-sized models of each of the 12 hexiamonds. Which pieces to use will of course be up to you to find out. An even more difficult challenge is to make a tripled model of 9 of the hexiamonds, since three of them are not possible. Doing all of them will certainly keep you busy for a while, if you don't give up by then.

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The most interesting challenges, however, are the symmetrical shapes you can create out of the tray. There are hundreds of possibilities to discover, and included in the booklet are 15 for you to solve. Be warned, though, these are very difficult, because you won't have the tray to guide you by limiting the edges of your puzzles. This is why the symmetrical shapes are so challenging, but also so addicting.

Finally, if you like to play strategy games, you can play a couple of them, included in the booklet. Rules and explanation of the games are easy to understand, so anyone will be able to enjoy playing with friends.

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Closing Comments:

Whether you like to play solo or with someone, you can be certain that you will thoroughly enjoy Brainwright's Iamond Hex. There are hundreds of challenges and solutions here to make any puzzle fan happy for a while, and for under $20, it's difficult to find a better choice to occupy your free time in the next few weeks.

Availability: I got my copy of the Iamond Hex puzzle from PuzzleMaster, which is available for just $16.99. Check out many other interesting puzzles from Brainwright.

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Cerebral Rings

Posted on by Gabriel | 0 comments
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The Cerebral Rings by Mag-Nif is actually a version of a puzzle believed to be around since the 17th century. It is said that the original, or an early version was found among the effects of astronomer Johannes Kepler. It is not clear, however, if he is the actual designer of the puzzle or if it was one of his colleagues.

This is an interlocking puzzle made by just three identical pieces. They are so well joined that you need the correct sequence of red buttons (one of four positions) in order to separate the pieces. The puzzle consists of a circle made by six stacks of rings, which at first sight seem to be impossible to separate. The buttons, or plungers, can be pushed up or down along the length of the stack to allow the pieces to be unlocked and separated. The movement of the puzzle is quite smooth, but it releases this strange paste that is probably used as lubricant. You will need to wash your hands afterwards, that's for sure.

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The solution is quite intriguing, since there isn't any indication or any form of a hint as to whether you're pushing the buttons in the right positions or not. It's a bit frustrating at first, because the puzzle doesn't give you any feedback - It's like going through a labyrinth completely blind. Even though this seems discouraging and intimidating, I actually found it easier than I was expecting.

The Cerebral Rings are described as having hundreds of possible combinations but only 8 solutions. I wasn't able to find all eight, but found two without much effort just by fiddling with the puzzle for about half an hour. As you move the buttons around you have to keep checking by trying to pull the pieces apart until they give in. I found that trying to put the puzzle together as one piece is a little easier, but still a challenge. If you don't change the positions of the buttons it's easy enough, but if you do move the buttons after you separate the pieces it can be quite difficult to put it back together.

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Closing Comments:

The Cerebral Rings by Mag-Nif is a different kind of interlocking puzzle, but it's an interesting one. I wouldn't say it's a great puzzle, because of the lack of feedback it gives as you're trying to solve it, but considering the design and how different it is from everything else out there, it's definitely worth a try.

Availability: You can buy a copy of the Cerebral Rings at Brilliant Puzzles for about $15 USD.

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