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In honor of the recent IPP 32 that took place in Washington DC a couple of weeks ago, which unfortunately I didn't attend to, I decided to review one of the past winners of the 2001 Puzzle Competition, the Arrow Case by Dai Nagata (a.k.a Edi Nagata). He also entered another puzzle in that same year, the Pencil Case, although it was the Arrow Case that won the Jury's First Prize.
The Arrow Case is no more than a simple packing puzzle where the pieces don't occupy the entire area of the tray, but sometimes simple is perfect, and this is one of those cases. The puzzle has only four arrow-shaped pieces and two distinct frames on the tray for two separate challenges: One is square shaped, easier to solve, and the other, a N-shaped rectangle is a much harder and complex challenge. Both frames require all four arrows to be neatly packed with little to no space left to wiggle around.
What captured my attention right away in this puzzle was the colorful arrows. Each one has a different color, which in turn, make a great contrast with the black case. Both the case and the arrows are manufactured in MDF board, which by the way makes the puzzle very light weight. The case measures 132 cm (5.12") and the N-shaped frame measures 11.9 x 8.9cm (4.69" x 3.50"). Also, each arrow measures 4.7cm in width and 5.9cm in height (1.85" x 2.32").
Like most packing puzzles, at least the best ones, the solution is most certainly counter-intuitive and will leave you scratching your head in frustration. The easy challenge, where you need to pack the arrows in a squared frame is pretty straightforward. Here, you probably won't spend more than five minutes to discover the correct arrangement, but it might take you by surprise... The real challenge however, is to pack the arrows inside the N-shaped frame. There are two opposite small triangles at the edges of the frame that will interfere with your efforts and block your movements, but the trick is to take advantage of these very same parts.
I have lost count how many times I tried to solve the puzzle until I finally managed to pack all arrows, but it must have been a few, since I always came back to it whenever I felt a bit of confidence, only to see it shattered moments later. This puzzle is not even supposed to be this hard, though: Sloyd, the online store where I got it from, classifies it as a medium difficulty level, so it's not as if you're before a herculean task... I guess this puzzle almost got the best of me, but I was eventually able to get the best of it instead.
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The Jury's First Prize at the 21st IPP was definitely well deserved. Mr. Nagata designed a brilliant and a very original puzzle worthy of every prize, and he didn't stop there. At his website, you have available five other similar puzzles where you also need to pack identical pieces into a case. I highly recommend this one to any packing puzzle fan.