Posted on Jun 27, 2019 by Gabriel | 0 comments
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Which company/craftsman makes the most beautiful puzzles?

Another article, another contender for the coveted title. This time I return to the theme of wooden puzzles by the hand of one of German's leading manufacturers, Siebenstein-Spiele. The company started out as a board game developer and manufacturer over 20 years ago, and in the recent years branched out to the design and crafting of quality wooden mechanical puzzles that are both interesting items of exquisite craftsmanship as well as beautiful decorating objects.

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The company founder, Jürgen Reiche, is a jack of all trades, designing, manufacturing and distributing his work all around the world, at the same time competing in an ever-growing market full of great choices. To do that, he needs a constant stream of new ideas and fresh concepts in order to attract new customers, puzzlers that are always hungry for unique and fascinating new challenges.

Siebenstein-Spiele's puzzles are easily recognized by their laser-cut wooden pieces and natural colors. Their designs often combine various types of wood with acrylic and metal parts, giving different contrasts and textures to an otherwise bland and banal puzzle. Reiche cares a lot about presentation and that is clearly witnessed in all his creations, no matter how simple or complex a design is.

I usually say that Jürgen's designs have some resemblance with Jean Claude Constantin's, but I don't mean it in a derogatory or mean way. Quite the contrary. Jean Claude Constantin is my favorite puzzle designer, and despite the similarities between the two craftsmen's work, I always welcome Constantin-like puzzles. The two designers are German and have been working with puzzles for many years, so it's quite possibly they've known each other for a long time and took inspiration from each other's work. Whatever the reason, puzzle fans all over the world are the ones who benefit from both craftsmen's creativity and ingenuity.

Even though Siebenstein's puzzles have this high quality, their price is anything but expensive. Yes, you may find some of their puzzles with a high price tag, but the majority of them have rather reasonable prices, considering what they offer in terms of challenge, appearance, and of course, a rewarding and satisfying experience. That's quite an impressive feat when you compare their puzzles with other, more expensive brands.

Like any good puzzle manufacturer, Siebenstein-Spiele has a wide variety of designs and puzzle types that are certain to fascinate any puzzle enthusiast. If you're a true puzzle fan, chances are you're going to find something to like from Siebenstein-Spiele, whether it's sliding puzzles, packing puzzles, entanglement puzzles, or even the most uncommon and unique designs you can think of.

Packing puzzles are my favorite type of puzzles, and Siebenstein-Spiele has some very nice examples with superb designs. Take the Bermuda puzzle, or the Mephisto puzzle, for example. So different from one another, and yet both are equally remarkable, each with its own unique characteristics that make them fascinating:

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  • The Bermuda puzzle takes a simple concept (pack the extra piece), but is complemented with a gorgeous and functional design, made in the shape of seven sea creatures. Your task is to take advantage of its curves and recesses so that extra space is freed for the seventh piece.
  • The Mephisto puzzle, on the other hand, making clever use of wood and acrylic parts, gives you a totally different challenge by combining the 10 acrylic stripes in such a way that you should see four identical shapes within each of the 25 squares in the frame.
As you can see, even within the same puzzle type, the designer managed to create two completely distinct puzzles made with different materials.

Other than packing puzzles, sliding puzzles are among my favorites, and here Jürgen Reiche almost reinvented the genre by creating very unique and unorthodox designs unlike anything you've seen before. Below are two examples of this unique approach to the sliding puzzle category, the Colour Match and the Up & Down:

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  • The Colour Match mechanism works by sliding two handles horizontally. Eight discs in four different colors comprise this intriguing puzzle, although the goal is pretty simple. All you have to do is get each disc on the top row to match the same color of its counterpart in the bottom row. Also, each disc has one of two symbols, a star or a circle. For a tougher challenge, you need to get all discs with the stars on the bottom row. You can try and create your own challenges as well, by combining different colors and symbols.
  • Up & Down is yet another completely different concept, a twist on the classic sliding piece puzzle. With numbers from 1 through 8, the goal is to rearrange them in order from the left column down and to the right. The movement is quite unusual, since the frame moves up and down. As you push it to one of its two positions, you can move one tile at a time to the available free slot at the edges of the frame. You can also attempt other number arrangements.
Fortunately for any puzzle lover, though, Siebenstein-Spiele is not just packing or sliding puzzles. The designer creates a wide variety of puzzles, many of which are sometimes hard to even put in a single category. He also ventured into other popular puzzle categories such as n-ary puzzles (sequential movement), like the Auf dem Holzweg, seen below.

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Final Thoughts:

If Jean Claude Constantin is my favorite puzzle designer, Jürgen Reiche is probably a close second, for sharing the same philosophies of puzzle design and craftsmanship. His new creations always amaze me, for his unending ability to come up with something new and bold. As a puzzle collector and enthusiast, I can only look forward with high expectations for Siebenstein-Spiele's upcoming ideas.

Availability: You can find these and many other Siebenstein-Spiele puzzles at PuzzleMaster.

The Harbour Puzzle

Posted on Jun 25, 2019 by Gabriel | 0 comments
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It's been a while since I reviewed a Framed Picture Puzzle. I always loved these, though. It's a packing puzzle, but the pieces don't get to be all neatly packed with straight angles. Since there are empty spaces in between, you also need to carefully plan where every piece should go.

Jean Claude Constantin has a new series with Transport Arrangements as the main theme, with four puzzles like this, all distributed by Recent Toys. Each puzzle has its own theme and the one featured in this review is all about vessels you can dock at a harbour. The Harbour Puzzle has nine pieces, each with a different shape and color.

One negative side about this puzzle is that it comes in its solved state, which I completely disagree. What were they thinking? The moment you see the puzzle, you can't avoid not seeing it completed, which will surely affect the way you solve it later, since you will probably remember how some pieces were packed. You can ask someone to unpack it for you, though, which I highly recommend.

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The puzzle itself, however, is well built and despite being made from laser-cut wood, its quality is really good. The different wood colors give it a sophisticated look and elegance you can't get from using the same wood color. Compared to other Picture Frame Puzzles I have, the size is on the small side, but still quite enjoyable to play with.

As for difficulty, it's exactly how you would expect it with a puzzle of this type - quite challenging. You can't avoid being at the mercy of trial and error, but not as much as a convencional packing puzzle, since you do need to carefully think how each piece can be packed without wasting too much space inside the frame. The frame itself is irregular which will make it even more difficult.

Closing Comments:

Solving these puzzles is a quite enjoyable and rewarding. The replay value is low, since there's usually only one solution, but for less than $20, you get quite good value for your money, because it's still a rather challenging puzzle. There are four different puzzles in this series.

Availability: You can find the new Constantin puzzles and The Harbour Puzzle at PuzzleMaster for just $17.99 CAD. Check out dozens of other interesting puzzles from the German designer.

Slide Elox

Posted on Jun 11, 2019 by Gabriel | 4 comments
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Jean Claude Constantin has spoiled us over the years with his creations, with high quality puzzles and beautiful designs. As if all this wasn't already good enough, it seems this time he outdid himself. His new line of puzzles goes a step further in the quality department and the result pops out right in front of your eyes.

The Slide Elox is one of three puzzles currently being made with anodized metal. The other being the Nur 8 and the Farbenspiel 6x6. This material in contrast with the black frame makes an exquisite and unmatched striking colorful effect. Acrylic is also used for the sliding pieces, creating a perfect harmony with the metal and the laser-cut wood. The movement of the pieces is quite smooth against the wooden frame, providing a rather satisfying experience.

There are 16 small cylinders neatly placed around the perimeter of the frame, while inside, eight acrylic pieces have to be arranged so that the larger cylinders match with the same colors on the frame. With only a small gap in the frame to slide the pieces around, this will prove to be quite a challenge.

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Speaking of a challenge. There are actually eight of them for you to solve. Each challenge has a different starting position, meaning more moves as the level of difficulty increases, but they all share the same solution. This has been such an incredibly difficult puzzle that I only managed to solve one out of eight so far. I solved the level 2, while the level 1 has me stumped with only the two small squares being in a parity problem, where their positions are opposite one another.

Not surprisingly, this is rated as a difficulty level 9/10, as this is not your average sliding puzzle. One of the reasons is that the pieces have different orientations, where some move horizontally and others move vertically. The two small squares move more freely, but they still have their limitations when moving around the frame. It's truly a great challenge.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 1 - Starting and Ending Positions

Closing Comments:

I'm a big fan of sliding puzzles. And when you combine one of my favorite puzzle designers and a beautiful, close to perfect, presentation it all clicks together in a one of a kind puzzle. The Slide Elox is now one of my favorite Constantin puzzles.

Availability: The Slide Elox is available from PuzzleMaster for $54.99 CAD. Check out also other great puzzles by Constantin.

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