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What happens when you combine a widely known concept with style? - Splinter Spierenburgh's latest maze puzzles answer this question quite gracefully. Splinter is a Dutch engineer with a great passion for mazes. Before venturing into the physical world of mechanical puzzles, he self-published an e-book with 20 mazes, which you can buy here, for just €2.
His first three puzzles (MazeRoll, MazeBall and MazeCone) are 3D-printed by Shapeways and their design is reminiscent of Egyptian patterns - simple, yet showing a visual and geometric brilliance seldom seen in puzzle design. Today, I will be focusing on the MazeRoll, which I found to be a fascinating little puzzle.
With a length of about 14cm and a 4.5cm diameter (5.5" x 1.8"), the MazeRoll is more than just a simple maze puzzle. Thanks to its clever internal mechanism and design, which I will explain in more detail below, there are exactly 384 possible combinations, although 48 of them aren't solvable. The combinations are grouped by three levels of complexity (easy, moderate and difficult), so it can easily cater to all types of puzzlers out there.
The MazeRoll consists of four disks, each with different paths that, when connected, form a unique maze. The goal is to make the small sphere go from one end to the other. Simple, right? - What's interesting about it, though, is that the disks rotate, but not to a full 360º, because they have small pins that restrict some movements. Add to this the opportunity to rearrange the disks in dozens of different combinations and you have a real challenge in your hands.
Another great feature of the MazeRoll is that once you solve a particular maze you can easily return the ball to the start of the maze thanks to an internal straight path that goes through the entire cylinder. This way, you can try and beat your own time or someone else's.
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Setting up the puzzle with a new maze couldn't be easier. The cap comes off effortlessly and the disks slide off with ease from the central shaft. Here, you can just randomly rearrange the disks to try your luck or use the MazeRoll configuration guide to choose from any of the possible 384 combinations. The disks are labelled with letters, even a 5-year-old could assemble it. There's plenty of challenges here to keep you occupied for a very long time.
I tried several different combinations in all three difficulty levels and at first I thought: "How hard can it be to navigate the ball from one end to the other? The maze looks quite easy". Soon enough, my thoughts proved to be quite wrong, actually. The overall appearance of the maze does make it look easy, and the pattern looks the same all around at first glance, but when you first try to get that small sphere through those apparently similar square spirals, you're in for a treat... The first time I tried it, as I like a good challenge, I went straight to one of the difficult mazes.
The real challenge began when I tried to pass the ball from the first disk to the second. Those internal pins that prevent the disks from rotating fully surely did their work. I hit several dead ends and had to go back and forth between the four disks until I was finally able to bring the ball to the exit. I probably took around 10 minutes or so to solve the first maze, and even though it doesn't seem much, compare that to about a minute or less it takes to solve one of the easy ones and you can see how hard it gets. With practice, though, you can reduce that time, as you become more familiar with the workings of the puzzle, but keep in mind it never gets easy, just "easier".
(Click to Enlarge) - Left: Moderate Configuration; Center: Hard Configuration; Right: Impossible Configuration
If you ever got frustrated by the hidden-maze puzzles out there, i.e. the Revomaze or Dael 'O Ring, the MazeRoll is recommended for you. If you just like mazes in general and can't get enough of them, then the MazeRoll is most definitely recommended for you. If you even remotely like anything that can challenge your mind and keep you busy for a while, I can't see any reason why you wouldn't like the MazeRoll. The design is flawless and the Shapeways quality is unquestionable. The price tag might be a bit high for some, especially the casual puzzlers, but to me that's the only drawback. My only request, if these puzzles ever get mass produced, is to have the choice of more colors - It would be great to have an orange/blue color combo.
Availability: You have two options if you want to get a copy of the MazeRoll or any of the other two mazes from Splinter: The first is to order directly from Shapeways. Note that these puzzles come in a model kit and you have to assemble them and make some final touches in order to make their movement smoother. It's also the cheapest option; The second option is to get them already assembled from MFAVE with all the extra work done. This is a bit more expensive and also takes more time to ship, so unless you really don't want to deal with Shapeways, go for the cheapest option.