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Hirokazu Iwasawa is a regular participant at the annual IPP since 2004 and is known for his superb designs, some of which have won awards, like last year's Puzzlers' Award winner, the Square in the Bag. The puzzle I'm reviewing today is not from the IPP competition, but it's definitely worthy of the same recognition.
The 3M Puzzle, as the name suggests, consists of three M-shaped pieces that need to be packed inside the box. It sounds easy enough. It's just three pieces, right? - Well, these three pieces are all you need to test your patience, since the solution is very unusual.
The puzzle, which is produced by Philos, comes in a nice small wooden box, with measurements of 6.8 x 6.8 x 7.2cm (2.7" x 2.7" x 2.8"). Be careful though, because the puzzle is packaged in its solved state. My advice, if you want to avoid spoilers, is to ask someone to remove the pieces from the box for you, or turn the box upside down and scramble the pieces with your eyes closed. I understand they need to save packaging space, but these type of puzzles should be packaged in another way. Part of the fun with puzzles is to solve them on your own. There's no worse feeling than to unpack a puzzle and see the solution shoved right in front of your eyes. It's happened to me before.
When you have all three pieces out of the box the fun starts. How do you get them inside again? This is actually a very hard puzzle, and judging from PuzzleMaster's rating of 9/10 it's somewhat intimidating. The packaging also shows a level of difficulty, a little different from PuzzleMaster's, with a level of 3/4. Knowing what I was up against with, I proceeded with caution.
The pieces are all identical, so no need for a particular sequence. Each pieces has a small square glued on both sides, which is going to block many of your moves. I started by trying to pack just two of the pieces to see how they interacted and which positions were possible within the box's edges. After some experimentation, and only a few minutes, I ended up with an interesting arrangement. Now, all I had to figure out was how to add the third piece to the already complex arrangement. It wasn't that hard, actually, although it required some dexterity and good hand coordination.
The small squares are certainly a pain to deal with, and to place all three pieces you need to arrange them partially outside the box. I can describe the solving process as some sort of a Coordinate-Motion puzzle, where all pieces need to be assembled simultaneously in place. After solving it, I think the level 9 is maybe a bit too much. I consider it more an 8/10, although it's highly dependable on your skill with packing puzzles.
Solution: PuzzleMaster doesn't provide a solution for this puzzle, but if you need help solving it you can check out a photo of its solution here.
I really liked the design of the 3M Puzzle. It's simple and yet can be rather challenging. It's not a good puzzle for solving over and over again, because once you know the solution it's hard to forget about it, but since it's quite affordable it's a nice addition to any collection.