Posted on May 31, 2019 by Gabriel | 0 comments
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Which company/craftsman makes the most beautiful puzzles?

...The eternal question...

So far, I've been focusing on companies that make wooden and metal puzzles - my favorite - but there are other companies out there that make beautiful puzzles with other materials, for example, Plastic - such a simple and common material, used in pretty much everything you see around you, and that includes puzzles, Twisty Puzzles, to be more specific.

(Click to Enlarge) - Meffert's Puzzles in my Collection
Now, if you're an aficionado of Twisty Puzzles, chances are you've probably heard about Uwe Mèffert (or his company, Meffert's), and if not, well, you can't call yourself a true aficionado. Over the last 34 years - 1981 was the year his first-ever puzzle, the Pyraminx, was produced - Meffert's has done more for the Twisty Puzzle community than any other company, and dare I say it, it's today's most popular Twisty Puzzle brand, even more than Rubik's.

The reason why Meffert's puzzles are so popular is mostly due to his close relationship with the community's top designers and how well they all work together. He not only invents and makes his puzzles, but he also mass-produces other designer's puzzles. In turn, these top designers have themselves a close relationship with all the puzzle community, they participate in the forums, they take and give advice on puzzle making and designing, they get feedback and, ultimately, they inspire a new breed of designers that, in the long run, will be the future of the Twisty Puzzle industry. In short, there's isn't any other company with a practical and efficient business model as successful as Meffert's.

As mentioned above, Meffert's first puzzle was the Pyraminx, which is also his most popular puzzle, having sold millions of copies - only the original Rubik's Cube has sold more. Since then, Meffert's has produced more than a hundred different Twisty Puzzles - many of which essential to any starting collection - some variations, and other types of puzzles as well.

One of Meffert's most recognizable features in his puzzles is the fluorescent sticker colors. Its six-faced puzzles have a color scheme of green, blue, pale orange, bright orange, yellow and pink. Such bright colors make Meffert's puzzles stand out among other more bland-colored puzzles. It's like your Meffert's puzzles are the stars of your collection.

Fluorescent colors are nice, but Meffert's puzzles would be too generic if they'd make all their puzzles look the same. Variety is the key word for the success of Meffert's - A lot of variety. Another popular material used in Meffert's puzzles is tiles. These colorful plastic tiles are glued on the surface of the puzzles and are a nice alternative to the stickers, since they can't be peeled off. Not that their stickers peel off that easily, though.

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I have some old puzzles from Meffert's that still have their stickers in very good condition. And the tiles give the puzzles a totally different look. Some prefer stickers, others prefer tiles. Some of Meffert's recent puzzles don't have neither stickers nor tiles. They're just made using colored plastic parts. I used to prefer puzzles with tiles, but now I'm not so selective and I think it depends greatly on the puzzle it's for.

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In the subject of colored parts instead of stickers or tiles, Meffert's has gone even further and some of its puzzles now use metallized parts. These puzzles have a striking beauty, as they're coated with chromatic colors - the puzzles aren't made of actual metal - and are actually some of my favorite Twisty Puzzles. They're quite reflective and have a shiny and smooth surface, just like a mirror.

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Another rather popular type of puzzle that Meffert's brought to us, in collaboration with prolific designer Oskar van Deventer, was the gear puzzle. Ever since the introduction of the Gear Cube in 2010, dozens of other impressive designs were developed by Oskar himself and other talented designers, inspired by his original creation.

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The gear puzzles offer a completely different challenge, because when you rotate one face, it affects the movement of all the other parts in the puzzle. The first Gear Cube was relatively easy to solve, but the movement of other more complex puzzles can be extremely difficult to understand and solve. I only recommend gear puzzles for experienced cubers.

Contributing for its ever more popular brand, Meffert's created in 2010 the Jade Club - An exclusive membership that includes two very special puzzles, not available anywhere else, and discounts on recently released puzzles. These two puzzles are called Jade Pyraminx and Jade Cube, and they look absolutely gorgeous.

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No stickers have been applied. The surface of the puzzles have this soy-milky color (it's difficult to describe) and on each of their faces you can see a different type of symbol, raised and painted in pale colors. Meffert's later released another "Jade Puzzle", in 2012, called Chopsticks. It's not as good-looking as the previous two, but the design is still quite impressive and creative.

Some of Meffert's puzzles acquire over time some rarity and can even reach prices in the hundreds of dollars in auction. This is sometimes due to the limited production numbers, and when they're all gone you can't get them the regular way, hence the crazy high prices. It can also be a smart investment. If you buy several copies at the time they're released and let them gain rarity over time, you can get a nice profit.

Final Thoughts:

With the current business model Meffert's has, it will be a long while before we see the number of new puzzles dwindling. Always at the forefront of new ideas and concepts, at the same time keeping close to the people that know a thing or two about Twisty Puzzles, Meffert's has a bright future ahead, and I'll be sure to keep an eye out for what's to come.

Availability: You can find dozens of Meffert's puzzles at PuzzleMaster.


Meffert's Official Website


Posted on May 28, 2019 by Gabriel | 2 comments
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The GearShift is quite a striking puzzle. With just four gears, which complete an image of an Ouroboros, you'll be puzzled for a while trying to put it together.

Although not exactly the same, the concept is similar to Constantin's Modern Times, where you also had to spin four gears to create a pattern. The idea in these puzzles is that the cogs in the gears don't complete an entire circle. There are gaps which allow them to rotate independently from the other gears at certain positions. With these movements you'll be able to recreate the original pattern. Sounds easier than it actually is.

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Although the puzzle is made from plastic, the movement is surprisingly smooth. The hardest part is definitely the solving process, which will take some practice. You have to figure out how all the gears interact with each other and at what points they can be rotated independently. Understanding this logic is the key to solve it.

I did find it quite challenging, since you have to be very careful not to mess up what you already did while trying to get the other gears in place. Sometimes you need to undo what appears to be a half solved puzzle so that the other gears can be rotated. It might feel a bit frustrating at first, but with patience you'll eventually solve it. It has a difficulty level of 8/10, and I think it's a correct classification. It's a difficult puzzle, but by no means impossible to solve.

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Closing Comments:

This is puzzle you can solve multiple times and still have fun every time. Even if you're not attempting to solve it, just playing with it is quite stress-relieving. There's also another version with Disney characters.

Availability: You can get your GearShift at PuzzleMaster for just $19.99 CAD.


Posted on May 17, 2019 by Gabriel | 3 comments
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Which company/craftsman makes the most beautiful puzzles?

- Over the last few months, I've been trying to answer this question and every time I attempt to do so, I come up with several more candidates for that prestigious title. And you know what? No answer is wrong. Each one of us have our own preferences. There are many talented puzzle designers out there that fulfill our requirements of what truly makes a beautiful puzzle. My job is just to focus on one of them at a time and hope I make them justice by showcasing their fantastic work and, who knows, maybe helping you to discover a new artist you didn't know about.

My previous articles have highlighted the creations of the highly popular Hanayama's Cast Series, the magnificent Japanese Puzzle Boxes and the prolific Jean Claude Constantin. This time, I will focus on another incredibly talented puzzle designer and maker, Václav Obšivač.

Born in 1962 in the Czech Republic, Václav Obšivač - better known in the puzzle community simply as Vinco - is an avid fan of skiing and biking, but what gets him the most recognition is his exceptional craftsmanship working with local wood. His puzzle-making adventure started in 2001, and since then, he has created countless designs, many with several versions featuring different types of timber.

Vinco mainly makes two types of puzzles, each one quite impressively made: packing puzzles (2D and 3D) and coordinate-motion puzzles. He has also ventured intro other types of puzzles, but I will focus more on the two mentioned above, since they're the ones that have been fascinating more puzzle enthusiasts all over the world.

First, let's start with the coordinate-motion puzzles. The term invokes something that seems difficult to achieve, as if you needed to be extremely dexterous to solve it. Well, in fact, it's not far from reality, because you do need some dexterity skills to solve these puzzles, especially when you're reassembling them.

So what exactly are coordinate-motion puzzles? As the term might've suggested already, you need to coordinate all your moves simultaneously in order to take apart or put together all the pieces of each specific puzzle. Each move will affect all pieces in the puzzle at the same time, and any other moves will result in no progress whatsoever. The best example to explain this is a figure, seen below, where all three pieces have to be pushed in at the same time, thus locking the puzzle until an opposite move can take them apart again. (figure courtesy of John Rausch from johnrausch.com)

(How Coord. Motion Works)
From this simple example you can then move on to much more complex structures and interesting shapes, naturally with more pieces. This is exactly what Vinco excels at better than anyone, and to prove it you can see below a few extraordinary examples of some of the most impressive geometrical shapes he makes.

(Coord. Motion Puzzles)
Not only do Vinco's designs impress visually, but the texture of each puzzle is also remarkable. To get a perfect finish on his puzzles, Vinco polishes and waxes each one so the pieces slide easily on and off the puzzle and have an extra smooth surface, but also to protect the wood itself against dust and other elements.

Vinco's coordinate-motion puzzles are strikingly beautiful. What contributes most for this is the high contrast between the various types of wood used in his puzzles. Vinco does this very effectively, from two up to several different colors, depending on the design and shape of the puzzle he's working on. The contrast always helps in the solving process, as the lines that separate the colors are usually the edges of pieces that move. You just have to discover in which direction they slide away from each other.

Another popular type of puzzle Vinco excels at is packing puzzles...extremely difficult packing puzzles. Just like its coordinate-motion brethren, this type of puzzles have a very distinct way of being made. Vinco takes small oddly-shaped pieces and glues than at different angles, resulting in even odder and bigger pieces. As expected, these puzzles are very challenging, perhaps harder than his coordinate-motion range.

(Packing Puzzles)
Vinco's packing puzzles may not be as visually attractive to some as the above examples, but in my opinion they're as impressive as any of his other types of puzzles. Packing puzzles come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and Vinco's are no different. Whether it's a 2D or a 3D puzzle, the design always gains from Vinco's great sense of style, with his contrasting wood colors and odd shapes. No two pieces are the same, which means that the patterns created are some of the most remarkable currently seen in the market.

There's another puzzle type by Vinco that I find quite fascinating, which is the interlocking spheres. Currently, I don't own any of these, but judging from the eye-candy designs and shapes, I can only imagine they're as extraordinary and beautiful as any other I've tried from this talented craftsman.

(Interlocking Spheres)
Final Thoughts:

Vinco is among the best puzzle makers around, and when it comes to wood puzzles it's almost impossible to find any faults or imperfections in his work. He's very passionate about what he does, and that's clearly visible with his incredible works of art, worthy of every penny they cost. If you have yet to discover the works by Vinco, please do yourself a favor and buy one, or two, or three...as many puzzles as you can and enrich your collection. You'll certainly not be disappointed.

Availability: You can find many of Vinco's puzzles at PuzzleMaster.


Vinco's Website

Cast UFO

Posted on May 14, 2019 by Gabriel | 0 comments
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(Click to Enlarge)
It's not everyday you review a puzzle from outer space. If you don't believe aliens exist, wait until you try to figure out how to understand this unknown technology and solve it. The Cast UFO by Vesa Timonen promises to keep you guessing for quite a while...

The design is really attractive, as it made in the shape of an UFO, with six pieces forming a complex structure that will surely be a test to your skills. The silver color adds to the mystery, but also gives this extra shiny and reflective appearance. It's a really beautifully made puzzle.

The pieces in the center sort of remind me of the Cast Marble mechanism, where you could rotate the sphere freely, but there was only one way to align the pieces so that they would be removed. However, the Cast UFO has four pieces in the middle, and aligning them seems to quite frustrating. Besides having to guess the correct alignment, you also need some dexterity, because it's very easy to move the pieces accidentally. It's like trying to move with suit shoes on an ice skating rink.

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The two main pieces can and will be separated, but only after you solved the problem with the pieces in the center. This mechanism could most certainly be used as a lock against burglars.

The difficulty is rated by Hanayama as a level 4/6, but since I'm yet to solve it, I'm most inclined to say it feels more like a level 5/6. I know it's a matter of time, and that by continuing to try different combinations with the pieces, I'll eventually solve it. But the guessing work is there, and that's what makes the puzzle so difficult and frustrating.

(Click to Enlarge)
Closing Comments:

Design-wise, the Cast UFO is among the best Hanayama Cast puzzles. The mechanism feels a bit too loose and relies too much on dexterity and trial and error, and not very much on logic, as I am accustomed to see in other Cast puzzles.

Availability: To find a copy of the Cast UFO or any other Cast Puzzle, stop by PuzzleMaster.

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