Nifty Fifty

Posted on Apr 17, 2012 by Gabriel | 0 comments
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(Click to Enlarge)
Today, I have chosen to review another great design by Jean Claude Constantin. If you read my blog regularly, then you know I'm a big fan of his puzzles and I'm yet to find one that I don't like. As of now, I have about 30 of his creations and from what I gathered, this number doesn't account for more than 20% of all his designs. That says a lot about the sheer variety of puzzle ideas he came up with all these years.

The puzzle I have is called Nifty Fifty, and for those who do not know the meaning of this term, check out this page, as the design is reminiscent of a stock market chart, seen by the shape of the pieces as well as the horizontal and vertical lines engraved inside the tray. Measuring about 14.5 x 7.5cm (5.7" x 3"), this very original Packing Puzzle has only four laser-cut pieces, each with a different type of wood, and although similar in shape, they all have a different layout. Your task to succeed in the "stock market" is to get all four "lines" to fit inside the "chart". Easy, right?

The inner edges of the tray also have the same shape as the pieces, except they don't match exactly the outline on any of them. This is also true for the pieces themselves, because you'll only get partial matches between them. The rest of the space in the tray is wasted space. The trick is to arrange the pieces in such a way that you waste the minimum space possible. 

(Click to Enlarge)

The Nifty Fifty is rated by PuzzleMaster as an 8/10 and, for what it's worth, it may as well been a 9/10, because I lost count to the number of times I've tried to solve this until this week, when I finally succeeded. Contrary to what it looks like at first sight, the puzzle is deceptively hard. Despite the unusual irregular shape of the pieces, each one has only four possible orientations, and even counting with a few adjustments inside the tray for every orientation, the total number of possible arrangements is not that high (a few hundred, maybe).

So why is it so damn hard to solve? - Well, unless you follow a strict systematic approach by writing down every arrangement you've already tried - and believe me, that's also quite exhausting - you're bound to lose track of what you've done and repeat many of your moves. My strategy is just to write down each piece you've tried first, followed by the second, and so forth... That way, you can keep track of what has and hasn't been tried. I'm not sure how many solutions are there for this puzzle, but judging by the nature of the pieces and the time it took to solve, I'd say it must be one or two, at the very most. To see the solution (only as a last resort), check out this link.

Closing Comments:

The Nifty Fifty is one of those puzzles that's simple enough for anyone to try their luck, but few will be able to solve it. The concept is rather original with the stock market theme, and also, design and quality-wise, the puzzle is superb, but that's what we've come to expect from a Constantin's design. A must-have for any packing enthusiast.

Availability: The Nifty Fifty is available at PuzzleMaster for $17 USD. There's another puzzle available, also by Constantin, called Aladin, which uses the same type of pieces, but with a different design. Honestly, I liked the Nifty Fifty idea better, because of the striking resemblance of a stock market chart.


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