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This is a long overdue review I've been wanting to write for months, ever since I got this puzzle back in June, but time and other puzzles kept me from doing it... Until now. Modern Times has got to be one of the most strikingly beautiful puzzles from Jean Claude Constantin I've seen so far. The concept isn't new, although it does add a couple of new elements, but when I look at its visual appearance I don't really care if it's revolutionary or not. It's Gorgeous!
The first thing that surprised me about Modern Times was its size, which is bigger than I was expecting. This actually happens to me a lot when I'm browsing for puzzles, since their size is the last thing I check. I basically take a look the photo and its description. I sometimes get surprised too, but on the bad side. Not this time though, as the puzzle measures a good 14cm x 14cm (about 5.5").
The puzzle is made by a combination of laser-cut woods in various colors, with each wheel having eight different colors. The top of the puzzle is protected by acrylic and to complement the design a sheet of reflective paper, resembling brass, is also used. The aspect of the puzzle reminds me of some sort of a clock mechanism from centuries past, where you'd have to manually wind it.
Playing with this puzzle is a pleasure and the movement is really smooth. Note that in order for that to happen the wheels' teeth need to be properly aligned. You don't touch the actual four main wheels though. The movement is done by turning the smaller wheels that are placed at three different positions and you can only move two of the bigger wheels directly, at the top right and bottom left. Another interesting design feature of the puzzle is that the wheels' teeth don't cover all their perimeter. Some of those areas are flat and will keep the wheel from moving relative to the others. This particular fact makes the puzzle quite complex to solve, but that's also what makes it so fascinating.
Modern Times can be classified as an Edge-Matching puzzle. Each wheel has two adjacent neighbors and the colors that are touching each other have to match. Sounds simple, but when you combine this simple concept with a complex mechanism you're in for a rather challenging puzzle. Just a few moves are enough to completely mess up the arrangement of the wheels, but remaking the original pattern is anything but easy.
Anticipating the movement of the wheels and predicting where each color might end up is also a complex matter, due to the gaps in the wheels' teeth, which vary from wheel to wheel. A closer look at the puzzle reveals that one of the wheels actually has all its teeth so it will always move when you turn its connected smaller wheel. Playing with all these constraints and variables is fun but also a little frustrating, especially when you have almost all the colors in place and need to move a correctly placed wheel, just to make a mess out of it in the next steps.
Solving time is hard to measure, because it depends on how well you understand the movement of each wheel. My solving time is nothing to be proud of, since it took me a couple of weeks to finally solve it. I have made an effort since then to solve it a second time, but I have yet to find patience to completely solve it. I actually find it more fun just to fiddle with it without any particular goal.
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Constantin has so many great puzzles that it's hard to pick just one to be your favorite. If I had to choose, however, I reckon Modern Times would be a perfect candidate. I keep it proudly on my collection as one of the top 10 puzzles among over 1000 so far. This is why I collect puzzles.
Availability: I got the Modern Times from a German Store, IQ-Shop.de, but as of the writing of this review it's out of stock. You can also find in this store other unique Constantin designs. PuzzleMaster currently has it in stock, here.