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Robrecht Louage has already accustomed us with very original designs year after year. As an avid IPP contestant, Robrecht always enters his new puzzles at the yearly International Puzzle Party, and this year's Ottawa event was no different. Even though it didn't earned any award at the competition, Robrecht's latest creation, the 8 Stars Labyrinth, deserves all the credit for its originality.
If you have followed the Belgian designer's work over the last few years, then you'll immediately notice something's missing in his new design. That's right, there's no coin to be freed this time around, but even so there's no excuse why you shouldn't try this one out. For lovers of labyrinths, mazes and hidden paths, the 8 Stars Labyrinth offers you a perilous journey through an obstacle-ridden trail, which only the most adventurous puzzlers will be able to overcome.
What remains common from other previous designs is the use of Trespa - An unusual but strong material made by combining Kraft paper and phenolic resin, resulting in this light-brown color seldom seen in any other puzzles, but in reality it's a great fit for an otherwise unusual puzzle itself. The top of the puzzle is covered with a semi-transparent polycarbonate sheet, which gives this foggy appearance to the labyrinth, as if you were roaming around in an eerie mist.
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To start your journey, you must insert the small metal sphere in the "IN" hole found at the right of one of the sides. I believe the name of puzzle has something to do with the number of traps you can find scattered throughout the path, which is eight, if I'm not mistaken: right after you insert the sphere there's another one by the entrance, preventing you from going back in case you ever regret entering this fiendish labyrinth; following this welcoming committee is a blacked-out stretch of the path that doesn't let you see what type of trap you're facing. Here, like the other three similar traps that await you, you need to figure out how to advance to the next obstacle unscathed. Each of these four "black" traps is unique and present you with a different challenge, so proceed with caution as you approach them; farther in, you'll see another trap just like the one you encountered when you first entered the maze. You'll need some dexterity skills to pass through this one, but it shouldn't give you much trouble; one of the hardest parts of the puzzle is the hidden labyrinth at the bottom. Most of the path is covered by a plaque full of small holes that only let you see the sphere at certain points. You have to navigate through this maze mostly by instinct until you find the exit, just before passing through the last black trap; there's a final trap close to the exit, so you need to move the sphere slowly in order to avoid the pitfall ahead.
I was intimidated at first by all the traps found in the puzzle, especially the black ones, where I didn't know what to expect. Turns out, it was easier than I thought and I was able to solve it within 10 minutes or so. The most challenging parts were the black trap in the middle (the second blacked-out stretch) and the hidden maze at the bottom. Some trial and error should take care of it, so if at first you don't succeed...
I must commend Robrecht for not being afraid to leave his comfort zone in terms of puzzle designing and to take a chance at trying different concepts other than the usual "free the coin". The effort certainly paid off, because the result, as you can see, is absolutely brilliant and the execution of the overall concept is, as always, perfect in every way.
Availability: To get a copy of the 8 Stars Labyrinth, please contact Robrecht at: rlouage(at)telenet(dot)be. Note that the e-mail is presented that way to avoid spam. You just need to change what's inside the brackets.