Modern Times

Posted on Nov 19, 2013 by Gabriel | 8 comments
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(Click to Enlarge)
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.

(Click to Enlarge) - Mixed Up
Closing Comments:

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.



George said...

My copy of this puzzle is incredibly stiff and for this reason I've never played much with it. I wonder if it is possible to oil it or something because right now the wheels barely turn, and you have to exert a lot of force.

Gabriel said...

Hi George. I believe you can loosen up the screws on the back of the puzzle and make the wheels turn better, unless they are bigger than normal within their enclosing.

George said...

I tried it and it does help! The natural way to use this puzzle is to grasp it with your right hand and use your index finger to turn the top right gear. When I do this with my puzzle, my right hand pinches the front and back plates together and the wheel can't turn. However if I do not grab it this way, and am careful not to press the plates together it works. The problem is it is not easy to hold the puzzle without pinching the front and back plates together at all ...

Gabriel said...

Probably not the best way, but you could try to have it resting on a flat surface and hold it by its edges just so it doesn't move while rotating the wheels. You could also try to take it all apart and reassemble it back to see if the parts move better afterwards. Would lube solve this problem? Not sure how it would behave on wood though.

George said...

The problem is that the front and back plates are too close together, which pinches the gears. I added some strips of cardboard under the front plate, and now the puzzle spins much better! I screwed it back together so the cardboard won't fall out. Kind of ugly looking, but it works now. It would be better to slide the cardboard under the gold layer, but this appears to be glued down.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Gabriel,

Just a quick question: all eight colors can be matched or there is a limited number of solutions? I'm asking because I just unpacked my fresh copy of this puzzle and I noticed that the four wheels have already been set in a matching position.

Best regards,


Gabriel said...

Hi Louis, I'm not sure if there are more solutions than the one you've already seen. I couldn't solve it a second time to prove it, but I would assume it may be possible.

Anonymous said...

Damn. Why would they send me a puzzle already solved? :/ This means that I'll have to tear up the shrinkwrap and mess up the wheels for good because the puzzle itself was supposed to be a present.

(The colors are arranged exactly the way they appear on this picture, btw.)


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