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How many different concepts can a puzzle designer come up with? - Apparently, not even Jean Claude Constantin himself could answer that question, since he's one of the most prolific puzzle inventors and manufacturers I know of. He doesn't seem to run out of ideas and most of the puzzles I own from him are completely different from the other in every way.
Today's puzzle, worthy of an IPP award, is Prison Block. A simple concept to understand, and yet a bit challenging to solve. What do you have to do? - Just try and free the block from the frame imprisoning it, and put it back as it were. Be careful though, because if you happen to remove the block without fully understanding its mechanism you can have some trouble putting it back again in the frame. I know from experience...
There are two versions of this puzzle, the one you see here in wood made by Constantin, and another one in aluminum manufactured by Eureka, which for reference is about twice the price. Honestly, although the aluminum one looks shinier, I very much prefer wood for my puzzles - You can't replace the feeling of open your puzzle cabinet and have that pleasant wood smell. The wooden version has about 11.5cm (4.5") in diameter. I'm not certain if the aluminum version has the same dimensions, but they shouldn't be that different.
The mechanism is quite ingenious and a little tricky to understand at first. All you can see and feel is the block moving freely inside the inner edges of the frame. A more thorough inspection, however, reveals a couple of details you may have failed to notice the first time you picked it up. One of them is the difference in thickness of the block's tips, while the other is only perceptible if you slide your finger under the inner edges.
Even after you have noticed those details on the puzzle, it's still far from being solved. There's a couple more things you have to do in order to free the block, but I'll leave those for you to discover yourself. The difficulty is not that high, though. It is rated as a level 2/4, which is average, but solving time can vary greatly on how well you're used to this type of puzzles. It took me about 10 minutes to free the block, but I removed it without really knowing what was going on inside. Took me another few minutes to put it back, and only after a couple more tries I was able to fully understand its inner workings.
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With a highly clever design and mechanism, Constantin's Prison Block is a brilliant puzzle among his best, actually. Whichever version you end up choosing, you'll certainly love to discover its solution. The nature of the puzzle means you will probably play with it only until you have solved it, because it's like knowing a card trick. Once you know how it's done...