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If there's one type of puzzle that I like more above all others is Packing Puzzles. These are so varied in shapes and sizes that you could focus your entire collection on them and still have thousands of different designs to chose from. There's one designer/craftsman that is a master in creating Packing Puzzles, who goes by the name of Jean Claude Constantin. His designs differ so much from each other that it's hard to believe one man can come up with so many ideas. In fact, I know that he is currently producing an average of about 70 unique designs per year. That alone is enough to put him in the top of the most prolific puzzle designers out there.
One of the latest additions to my collection is the Escher Cubes, an impressive wooden puzzle with a mesmerizing design inspired by one of Escher's patterns. In short, this has to be one of the hardest Packing Puzzles I've tried in my three-year blogging career. I'll explain in more detail below.
The design is stunning and makes this incredible 3D visual effect of cascading cubes. At first sight, it looks like the pieces are divided into single units, but a close inspection reveals something much more interesting. The edges on some of the units seem to show a bold line around them. This is how you differentiate where each piece ends and the other starts.
The puzzle itself consists of 12 distinct laser-cut pieces, each with a different arrangement of five units joined together. The pieces themselves are laser engraved with the pattern only on one side, so that means you can't flip them and use the other side. At the center, you'll notice one single unit with a metal pin attached. What makes this puzzle so darn difficult is that there are these holes scattered around the base of the tray where you can place the single unit. The object is to place all the pieces into the tray so that no empty spaces shall be visible. Sounds difficult? It should be... There's a total of ten holes dispersed by the tray, so in theory, ten different solutions, although there could be multiple solutions for each of them. I can tell you right now, finding just one is a hell of a challenge.
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I've been solving Packing Puzzles since I started my collection back in 2008, and since then I have acquired enough solving skills to solve any of them, no matter how difficult they are... Or so it seemed. I have spent, over the last few days, several hours trying to solve the main challenge, which is placing the single unit at the center and place all the pieces around it. I eventually managed to accomplish that, but since there are more challenges, I wanted to be able and solve at least another one. My efforts, unfortunately, were in vain, as I couldn't solve another challenge before this review. I even tried to solve it without placing the single unit first, to see if I could end up with one empty space that could match one of the hole's positions, but no luck whatsoever. I ran out of patience for now, but I refuse to give up. I want to see, at least, another challenge solved before I store this puzzle in my collection.
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So, does the fact that I had a stressful time solving this wonderful puzzle, been enough to change my views about it? My answer, not one bit. The puzzle is beautifully designed, only possible by the genius of Constantin, and its quality is unquestionable. If you like an almost impossible challenge, go for it. There are hundreds of different ways to fail...
Availability: I got my Escher Cubes from Brilliant Puzzles, but it's currently out of stock, so check back their website often, and it should be available again soon. In the meantime, you can always browse others designs by Constantin here.