V-Sphere

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The Rubik's Cube was the first puzzle in my collection. Ever since, I collected an assortment of puzzles with different shapes, sizes and colors. Once you start realizing how many different puzzles are there, you'll certainly feel overwhelmed and spoiled for choice. Over the years, I developed a preference for sliding puzzles, but never forgot which type of puzzle got it all started.

So, it's not difficult to understand why I was so excited when I first heard about the V-Sphere, a combination of Rubik-like solving with a 3D sliding mechanism. It's the perfect combination. Now, all that was needed to prove was if the mechanism was good enough to provide a pleasurable and satisfactory experience, which many puzzles fail to deliver.

Fortunately enough, I had nothing to fear. The V-Sphere is manufactured by one of the most respectable and dedicated companies that produce twisty puzzles, the V-Cube by Verdes Innovations. Their flagship V-Cubes are some of the most appreciated and high quality twisty puzzles you can find, and so, the V-Sphere is not any different. The puzzle was invented by Greek designer George Chronopoulos.

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So, what is the V-Sphere anyway?

The V-Sphere is an intimidating puzzle with 8 spherical triangles fixed to the internal frame and six rows of tiles that cross the entire perimeter of the sphere. Each triangle has a different color and is surrounded by 12 moveable tiles, except for one triangle (blue), where it has only 11 tiles surrounding it. I would've preferred to have another color with the missing piece, like the white one for example, since I like the blue color most, but it's just a minor annoyance. The missing piece is so that there is space to move the tiles around to mix and solve the puzzle. Since the blue triangle is the one with one piece missing, you should leave it for last, as it will be solved automatically when you solve all the other seven triangles.

This is quite a fun puzzle to mix, I should say. Well, most puzzles are fun to mix and scramble, but the V-Sphere, with its smooth mechanism, adds another layer of fun to the experience. You should try and have all the colors well mixed and not have more than two identical colors adjacent to each other. Only then should you try and solve it. And that is when the real challenge begins...

The V-Sphere is hard to categorize in terms of difficulty. It will depend much on your skill level. If you've been solving twisty puzzles for a while, especially the higher difficulty ones, like the V-Cube 4 and upwards, then this should be a walk in the park. If you struggle to solve a 3x3x3 cube, then this will definitely be an interesting challenge, to say the least. Don't despair though, because I still think the V-Sphere is a little easier to solve than a 3x3x3 cube. Patience and persistence will, in the end, be rewarded.

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Closing Comments:

The V-Sphere is a superb puzzle, even if it's just to mix and play without worrying about solving it. It's a great stress reliever, and most importantly a great exercise for your brain. It is among my favorite 3D sliding puzzles, and that's saying a lot. I would definitely recommend it to anyone with an interest in puzzles, albeit a bit difficult for newcomers.

Availability: You can find the V-Sphere at JWS Europe.

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Cast Dot

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Akio Yamamoto is one of the most prolific puzzle designers when it comes to Hanayama. At least, 13 of the 70+ Cast Puzzles available are from the Japanese designer, all of them rather unique puzzles in their own way. The latest to join the family is the Cast Dot, an intriguing but fun puzzle to play with.

The Cast Dot comes in two identical pieces, one black and one silver. Quite honestly, I would have preferred to have the combination of silver and gold, like many other beautiful Cast puzzles. Nevertheless, it's a stunning puzzle. The idea is to disentangle the two pieces by figuring out how the dots interact with each other.

This is one of those puzzles that's easy to take apart, but quite a whole different story to put back together - well, most disentanglement puzzles, actually. Think of the pieces interacting with each other as folding paper. It's like doing Origami, but without the possibility of messing up the paper...

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This is a level 2/6, rated by Hanayama, but I half agree. You see, you have two tasks: one is to take the pieces apart, which is fairly easy and accomplished within a couple of minutes; the other part, however, not that easy, and definitely not a level 2. I'd say it's more like a level 4, which is already a rather difficult challenge.

I found there are multiple ways to solve this puzzle, both by taking it apart and by putting it back together. To ease your task of getting it back together, I suggest taking a photo of the solved puzzle, so you know where you should go. Since there are multiple ways of getting there, just keep trying until you reach the final position. The ride is pretty fun and not at all frustrating.

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Closing Comments:

The Cast Dot was a very pleasant surprise. I was expecting an easy puzzle, as suggested by Hanayama, but what I found was a much more challenging puzzle - in a good way. It just goes to show you that you shouldn't tackle a puzzle by underestimating its difficulty. It just might surprise you. Whether you like it or not, that depends on how you like your puzzles...

Availability: The Cast Dot and all of its Hanayama brethren are available at PuzzleMaster.


Mit Schwung

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I'm fascinated by the sheer variety of packing puzzles. The possibilities are near infinite when it comes to designing a packing puzzle. Your imagination is the limit. No wonder then that Jürgen Reiche, from Siebenstein-Spiele, makes so many of them, as his imagination is apparently limitless. Proof of that is his latest design Mit Schwung. A gorgeous and mesmerizing little packing puzzle that looks harder than it actually is.

This is a puzzle that is cheap and easy to produce, because it uses laser-cut wood, but it's also quite versatile. The designs you can do with this type of material can be much more detailed and precise. The results are stunning, as you can see, with a pattern that is not only great to look at, but also interesting to solve, because of the irregular pieces.

Sixteen round pieces make this impressive checkered design. The corner pieces in the frame are not part of the puzzle, since they're glued in place. It does make a nice effect, though. The shape of the pieces and the decision to make the design with checkered or contrasting colors makes a big difference between an otherwise bland puzzle and a great-looking puzzle. This proves that you not only need a good design, but also a nice presentation.

This is a difficulty level 5/7, rated by the manufacturer, but I'm not sure it's that difficult. Because you have a checkered pattern, no two identical colors are touching, which is going to simplify your options when trying to solve it. Each piece can be flipped on either side, so it does add some difficulty, but ultimately a very enjoyable and moderately difficult puzzle.

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Closing Comments:

Mit Schwung is a beautiful and unique puzzle, filled with character. The design is complex enough to produce a great effect with a pattern that looks simple and yet fascinating. It's a great decorative object, but even more satisfying as a puzzle.

Availability: Mit Schwung is available at PuzzleMaster for just $17.99 CAD. Check out others designs by Siebenstein-Spiele. For an even wider variety, check out the packing puzzles section.


Inside3

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Inside3 (formerly known as Insidezecube) is an intimidating and very challenging 3D maze, even for the most seasoned puzzlers. Embark on a journey to the unknown through the darkness, as this maze won't need your visual sense to be solved. Instead, you must rely on your other senses, adding a pinch of patience and large amounts of persistence.

Inside, as the name suggests is a play on words (or better, a play on numbers, as the 3 is represented as the mathematical exponent "cube", hence the name Inside "cube"). Invented by the French Romain-Guirec Piotte, this 3D maze promises to test the puzzle solving and orientation skills of anyone courageous enough to try his puzzles.

The first of six planed seasons, each with six difficulty levels, features the same number of cubes with a different color for each level. The cube you see presented in this review is the third level, or as it's called the Mean Phantom. Be sure to not underestimate these puzzles, as they will certainly prove to be quite the challenge.


(Click to Enlarge) - Both sides of the Journey

Hidden mazes or blind mazes are not a novelty in puzzles. We've seen them most prominently featured in the Revomaze puzzles, and they're popular for a reason. Puzzlers like a tough challenge, especially when you can't see what's going on inside - It deals with our imagination. The feeling of being lost, but still in control.

The Insidepuzzles have their own features that make them unique. While you're on your own to try and figure out where the small ball is at all times, you have some clues to rely on that help you on your journey to the other side of the cube. Engraved on two opposite sides of the cube are seven 2D mazes, each corresponding to a different plate or layer that's inside the cube (the sixth and last difficulty level doesn't have any maps). Each plate has a maze that connects with the other plates and so on, which in turn links the front of the cube to the back.

The engravings also show indentations that represent holes in the surface of the plates. Your task is to study and visualize all these levels working in tandem as a unique 3D maze and guide the small ball from one side of the cube to the opposite side, all of this without ever seeing the ball, except for when it reaches any of the opposite windows on the cube. There's another small ball inside the cube, and its main goal is just to confuse you (as if the maze itself wasn't enough to confuse you). The puzzle is solved when you see the ball from the narrow window of the other side of the cube. However, your journey is not complete until you return the ball back to the starting point. On the way, you'll encounter traps and dead-ends to make your journey that much more interesting. I warned you this was a hell of a challenge...

(Click to Enlarge) - The six layers (The lid functions as the seventh)

If you get stuck while trying to solve your cube, don't despair. You can open it up (only the first four difficulty levels allow for this), remove the layers and replace the ball back to the beginning. Another interesting feature about opening the cube is that you can swap and re-arrange the layers to form a whole new maze. If the original wasn't hard enough already, you can put a whole new spin to it and make it even more challenging - Now, not even the 2D maps of the layers will help you.

So far, all I've accomplished was the first part of my journey, which was to reach the other side of the cube. This wasn't done in one sitting, though, but through the course of several days. Since there are two balls in play, I'm not even sure which one reached the first half of the journey. At this point, All I care about is that one ball made it to the other side and now I have to return it to the beginning of the maze.

Closing Comments:

Inside3 is everything I want in a puzzle. It's frustrating, almost to the point of throwing it out the window, but it's also fascinating, intriguing, intimidating and rewarding. It's all of these things and more. It's because of puzzles like this one that I write about puzzles and collect them. If you're a serious puzzler, I strongly recommend trying one these cubes. But if you're a casual, no problem. You can start with one of the easier difficulties and go from there.

Availability: You can get any or all of the puzzles in the Inside series through the official website @ www.inside3.space.


Cast Infinity

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Here's a puzzle that even its name is scary. Hanayama's Cast Infinity is as difficulty as it appears. Designed by the Finnish Vesa Timonen, you're lucky to solve this one before eternity...

Named after its appearance, the new addition to the Cast family has the shape of the mathematical symbol for infinity (also called lemniscate - probably not a good name for a Cast Puzzle). Inside the frame are two discs that seem fused together and impossible to remove. There's a way to separate the two discs, however, although it requires quite a dedicated and persistent mind. This one is not for the faint-hearted.

The puzzle is beautifully made, although I would've liked to see the two discs with a golden color contrasting with the silver frame, as we sometimes see in other Cast puzzles. It's quite a small puzzle also, measuring only 5.2cm x 3.1cm (2.1" x 1.2"). The holes in the discs are quite practical actually, since you can use your fingers to try and rotate them, provided you have some room to maneuver them. Inside the frame there's a protrusion that blocks some of the movements. Because the discs also have grooves strategically positioned, it's up to you to find the correct positions to move the discs and solve the puzzle.

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All of this is easier said than done. Unfortunately, this is one of the few Cast puzzles that I wasn't able to solve on my own so far. This is rated as a difficulty level 6/6, and this time, I have to agree with Hanayama. It's really a very challenging puzzle - maybe a 7/6. Sometimes you're able to rotate one of the discs, but it's difficult to see if that movement put you closer to the solution or even further. I'm going to keep trying, hopefully not for an infinite amount of time.

Solution: If you find the puzzle too difficult, you can download the solution here.

Closing Comments:

Even though I'm disappointed to not have solved the Cast Infinity, I'm still hopeful to solve it, and for now, I have an excuse to keep playing with it. It's a beautiful puzzle and despite its difficulty it manages to encourage you to keep at it until you finally break that infinity.

Availability: The Cast Infinity is available from PuzzleMaster for $15.99 CAD. The entire Hanayama collection is also available. Check out more puzzles from Vesa Timonen, as well.


Cast Dial

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Vesa Timonen is one of the most represented designers in the Cast series, with at least 8 different Cast Puzzles in his name so far, including the beautiful Cast Square and the intriguing Cast Hook. His latest contribution to the Cast family is another interesting design, the Cast Dial.

Design-wise, the Cast Dial is absolutely gorgeous. It consists of a triangular shape comprised of two main pieces interlocked together, and two dials that rotate independently back and forth. The dials can also be rotated in any direction as one, which provides a satisfying feeling for anyone that likes to fidget with objects to keep the hands occupied. The goal is to separate all four pieces and return the puzzle to its original form. It's rated as a difficulty level 4/6.

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The triangular pieces are identical and have indentations that suggest a sliding movement, so you have a pretty good idea on how the puzzle should be solved. However, there's a world of difference between suspecting how it can be solved and actually solve it... And here lies the difficulty of the puzzle, which by the way can be a bit more difficult than what Hanayama might suggest.

Solving this puzzle proved to be a little frustrating, to say the least. The two dials can rotate independently, but it's very difficult to find a correct position for them to even get past the first step. Once you manage to have some progress, the frustration is not over yet. You still have to keep guessing as to which direction to turn the dials (or dial, since after a certain point only one dial can turn, while the other is locked in position). It's a game of trial and error until you can finally separate all four pieces. Here, you will be able to see exactly how the mechanism works, which is a plus, as getting the puzzle back to its original state is much easier.

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Solution: You can download the solution here.

Closing Comments:

Even knowing that the puzzle is rather frustrating to solve, I can still recommend this one. I like its movement and its design. Not a fan of the solving process, but two out of three is not bad. Looking forward to see what Vesa Timonen does next for Hanayama.

Availability: The Cast Dial is available from PuzzleMaster for $15.99 CAD. All Hanayama collection is available as well.


Cast Chess - Rook

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Continuing my journey of reviewing all six Cast Chess puzzles by Hanayama, my next subject is the beautiful Rook. The Cast Chess puzzles were all originally designed by Marcel Gillen before Hanayama put their touch and turned them into a special edition Cast series. These puzzles are as good as their main Cast brethren - or better, so you're in for a great puzzling experience.

Slightly bigger than the Chess Pawn, the Rook features a completely different concept and solution, so whichever puzzle you choose to get you'll have something unique and different to play with. That is why it's imperative to have all six puzzles, so you get to experience what each one offers.

Since the solution is different in each puzzle, previously solving any of the others won't help you much here. Like any other Cast Puzzle, there's not many ways to go about it when it comes to discovering how its mechanism works. Few parts move and visual clues are basically non-existent. You'll have to rely on your other senses - maybe even a sixth sense - to have any real progress.

At the top of the puzzle there's a five-point star that rotates freely back and forth, but apparently it does nothing, at least at first glance... The circular piece just below the star also moves slightly, but gives the feeling that there's something locking any further movement. And that's it! You'll need to use your creative thinking to advance any more beyond this point.

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Closing Comments:

Just like the first puzzle, the design of the Rook is rather clever and gives you an Eureka moment when you finally solve it. It certainly lives up to Hanayama's standard of delivering a unique experience with each and every one of their puzzles.

Availability: The Cast Chess Rook is available from Brilliant Puzzles. You can find there the others in the Cast Chess collection.


Cast Cake

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If you have a sweet tooth, this will be a good one for you. Hanayama's latest offering is a sweet beauty, the Cast Cake. Designed by Bram Cohen, who also designed two of the most beautiful puzzles in the Cast series, the Cast Marble and the Cast Galaxy, the Cast Cake may not be as impressive-looking as its predecessors, but its concept is just as ingenious.

With a quarter of its circumference "eaten", the Cast Cake is comprised of three identical layers. These layers can rotate independently from each other, although rotating them may prove to be a difficult task for someone with sausage fingers, since the puzzle is very small (4.1cm in diameter = 1.6"). The whole puzzle is made of a metal that looks like bronze, but aesthetically I reckon it would have been nicer to see some contrasting colors, like we've seen before with other Hanayama puzzles. Other than that, the puzzle looks pretty enough.

As you may suspect, the goal in the Cast Cake is to remove its three layers from the outer frame. You won't be able to remove them all at once, so you have to find a way to do it in a sequence. I couldn't come up with a strategy other than using simple trial and error while rotating the discs back and forth. It may not be an optimal solution, but it does get the job done.

Hanayama rates the Cast Cake as a level 4/6, and while having a hard time with it, I do think it's an appropriate rating, which is not without surprise, since Hanayama does tend to miss the mark when it comes to properly classify their puzzles in terms of difficulty level. Putting it back to its original position is way easier, since you can see the grooves on the pieces and how they fit together.

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Solution: If you get stuck, you download a solution guide here.

Closing Comments:

Being designed by Bram Cohen, my expectations towards the Cast Cake were completely fulfilled and I wasn't disappointed. Sure, the design could've used a couple of different colors, but that's merely a matter of taste and opinion. I can easily recommend this one to anyone interested in Hanayama puzzles.

Availability: You can find the Cast Cake along with the whole Hanayama collection at PuzzleMaster.


Cast Padlock

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When you think of a puzzle lock and how it should be solved, the first think that comes to mind is probably: how do you unlock it? What's its locking mechanism? It's a fair assumption, given how puzzle locks have been presented before. However, designer Jin-Hoo Ahn (who also designed the Cast G & G) takes a completely new approach and makes us think of puzzle locks in a whole different manner with the Cast Padlock. The theme for this puzzle is "obstinacy".

Although it appears like a regular puzzle lock, the Cast Padlock doesn't have a functional keyhole. You won't be unlocking it, but rather taking it apart. Four pieces make up this intriguing design, but in order to solve it, you'll definitely need some "obstinacy". What's more, the solving process is not at all straightforward, so be prepared for a tough challenge.

One aspect of the puzzle that stands out immediately is its tiny size. This a puzzle that measures only 4.3cm x 3.3cm (1.7" x 1.3"). IT's a tiny devil, is what it is...

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The four pieces that comprise the puzzle can rotate freely around the common central point. But, alas, rotating the pieces alone won't get you anywhere. You need to find an exact position that lets you separate the round semi-circles, but for that the two elliptical pieces in the middle need to be positioned correctly as well. It's a discovery journey in itself, as you learn how the inner mechanism works and keeps the pieces interlocked.

I found this puzzle extremely difficult to solve. It took me a few days to completely understand how the pieces interacted with each other. As if taking it apart wasn't a hell of a challenge, putting it together again is no small feat. This is rated as a level 5/6 by Hanayama, but in my opinion it's definitely a 6/6. If you like your puzzles crazy difficult, I can highly recommend this one, and you won't be disappointed.

Solution: If you need the solution for this one, you can download it here.

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Closing Comments:

The Cast Padlock is unique. There is no similar design out there and so, nothing to compare to or take hints from. It's a beautiful and awe-inspiring design, and therefore another worthy member of the Cast family.

Availability: You can easily find the Cast Padlock and all the others in the Cast series at PuzzleMaster.


Cast Chess Puzzle - Pawn

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For centuries, people have been fascinated with chess, a game that requires deep concentration and logical thinking. Its pieces, symbols of a society that once dominated all walks of life, represent everything, from the ordinary people (Pawn) to the highest power (King). It's no wonder then, that Hanayama decided to make Marcel Gillen's designs into a special edition collection of their flagship brand, the Cast Puzzles. For me, at least, it was enough to fascinate me all over again, just as much as when I first learned how to play chess.

The Cast Chess collection is a series of six different puzzles, each representing a piece from the original game of chess. Since the Pawn is the first to move in the "battlefield", I thought it best to start with it as well. It's a simple piece, but never underestimate a pawn...

The Chess puzzles are among the most beautiful by Hanayama. They're chrome plated, which gives them this premium and polished look. They're also about the same size as a regular Cast Puzzle, with the Pawn measuring 5.5cm x 3.7cm (2.2" x 1.5"). Each puzzle has hidden inside a coin with its respective name and symbol engraved on it, and your goal is to find out how the mechanism works in order to free the coin.

As for their difficulty level, the Chess puzzles are not officially rated by Hanayama, so it's more of an opinion based on whoever solves them. Each Chess puzzle has a different solution, so their difficulty will be varied as well. Nevertheless, expect a challenging puzzle and you won't be disappointed. I would rate the Pawn in the Hanayama scale as a level 4/6.

The Pawn has a very deceiving and clever mechanism which, even though it can be challenging to figure out, it can be solved by accident. I know, because it happened to me. I solved it, but I didn't know at the time how I did it. I had to inspect and study the mechanism to really understand how the puzzle locks and unlocks, which in itself is a challenge on its own.

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Closing Comments:

The Chess Pawn is a great start to this special collection by Hanayama. It can be attempted by anyone, even if they're not familiarized with puzzles and, as a collector, it's with great pleasure that I add this stunning-looking puzzle to my collection. Great as a gift for both lovers of puzzles and chess. Can't wait to review the rest of them.

Availability: You can get the Cast Chess Pawn and all the others in the series at Brilliant Puzzles.


Cast Mobius

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If there's one thing that I learned from almost 10 years of puzzling is to identify puzzles from the most notorious and prominent puzzle designers just by looking at them. That's what happened to one of the most recent Hanayama Cast Puzzles, the Mobius, designed by Oskar van Deventer from The Netherlands. If you don't know Oskar's creations, he is a master of mazes. Many of his puzzles involve you navigating something through a series of obstacles and paths, and the Cast Mobius is no different...well, a little different. The theme for the puzzle is "Belt" - The question is: Can you unbuckle it?

The design of the puzzle, as the name suggests, is inspired by the Möbius Strip, discovered by two mathematicians, August Ferdinand Möbius and Johann Benedict Listing. There's a ring locked inside the strip and many obstacles on its surface, which will make your job of releasing the ring that much harder. It is a level 4/6 puzzle, as rated by the manufacturer, so a moderate challenge awaits you.

The puzzle has the Hanayama distinctive feature of contrasting colors between the two pieces, with the strip being made of a material that looks like brass, and the ring made from plain old aluminum. Both pieces are well made and polished, a standard with all Hanayama puzzles.

It's hard to classify this puzzle solely as a 2D or a 3D maze. My take is that it's neither and both - Maybe the correct answer is 2.5D...

The ring has a diameter larger than the strip, so it can navigate in any direction, as long as it doesn't encounter any of the many obstacles lying around in the strip's surface. While attempting to solve the puzzle, you'll find obstacles on both sides of the strip, so you'll need to be constantly flipping the puzzle to see where you should go. Keep in mind that the exit point to release the ring is the same as the starting point.

To be honest, I didn't find this puzzle to be as challenging as the manufacturer makes it seem. The puzzle looks a little intimidating at first, but with a little trial and error you should be able to solve it in under 10 minutes or so. I think it's more a level 3 than a 4. Putting the ring back is not that challenging either. There are multiple ways to find a path to the exit, though. Some quicker than others, of course.

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Solution: You can download the solution for this puzzle here.

Closing Comments:

Even though I found the Cast Mobius a little easier than I would like, I still think it's a fun puzzle to play with, and a nice challenge, especially for anyone not that familiar with puzzles. It's one of the most impressive designs in the Hanayama series, and that's a great achievement by Oskar van Deventer.

Availability: PuzzleMaster is the way to go for everything Cast Puzzles, including the beautiful Cast Mobius. All the others in the series are also available here.


Cast Hashtag

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In keeping with the times, Hanayama's recently released Cast Hashtag is an appropriate name for this simple, yet deceptively difficult puzzle. Designed by a collaboration of two known puzzle designers, Yoshiyuki Kotani and Kirill Grebnev, this is one not to underestimate, despite its difficulty level of 3/6.

This Cast puzzle is actually known in Japan as Shift, which you can actually see in the puzzle, as the word "Shift" is engraved on two of the pieces. To be honest, I prefer the name Shift, since I'm not a fan of all this whole Hashtag thing, but I understand why they rename it. The word carries much more familiarity here in the west, and since Hanayama is a business, it makes sense.

The puzzle is comprised of four apparently identical pieces, save for some extra holes in two of the pieces. They are interlocked, but can move back and forth quite effortlessly. You need to find a way to separate these pieces, but be careful when trying to put them back together. Combine them wrong and you can lock your puzzle in a way that would make almost impossible to take apart again.

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I took the puzzle apart quite fast after fiddling with it for a couple of minutes. That part is not that difficult. Putting it back together wasn't that long either, maybe five minutes. The hard part was after I put it back to its original state.

Not sure if there's a design flaw with this puzzle or if I'm looking at it wrong, but mine seems locked and I can't, for the life of me, take it apart again. As I mentioned above, all four pieces look identical, but if that were the case, it wouldn't matter how you put them back together, since they would interact all the same. As it is, I can safely say they are indeed sightly different, because even looking at the solution I can't solve it again. Since I was solving it on my own the first time I couldn't have known that there was a correct way to put it back together and a wrong way. I would advise you to take a look at the solution once you take it apart or the same might happen to you. In the meantime, I'll keep trying to solve mine again. Maybe I'm missing something.

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Solution: You can get a copy of the solution here.

Closing Comments:

This puzzle reminds me of the Cast Rattle, another four-piece puzzle with interlocking pieces, albeit a bit more difficult.

I have mixed feelings towards the Cast Hashtag (Shift). The puzzle does look nice and has an interesting design, but if it does indeed lock on you this easily, an until I'm proven wrong, I have to disregard it as a worthy addition to the Cast family.

Availability: You can find the Cast Hashtag at PuzzleMaster for the usual $15.99 CAD. All other Cast puzzles from Hanayama can also be purchased here.


Cast Diamond

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The most simple answer is sometimes staring you in the face - This is a statement that truly describes my feelings for the Cast Diamond, a beautiful and elegant puzzle designed by American Scott Elliott.

The Cast Diamond consist of two identical parts, albeit in contrasting colors and, when solved, the two pieces interlock perfectly to show a diamond shape. It is one of the smallest in the Cast Puzzle family, at just 5.1cm x 3.9cm in diameter (2" x 1.5").

This one was a pleasant surprise in many ways, starting by the way it was packaged. As you know, most Cast Puzzles are presented in their finished or solved state, and your task is to figure out how to take it apart. There is no solution provided with the puzzle, so you're on your own. After you finally take it apart, only half of the puzzle is now solved, as you need to find a way to put it back together. The Cast Diamond, however, turns the whole concept around and starts by asking you how to put the two pieces together, since the puzzle is presented in its unsolved state. There's a reason for this, as you'll soon discover.

(Click to Enlarge) - The state in which it's packaged

Because the puzzle has a very simple solution, with basically one motion, having shown it in its solved state would be too easy to figure out the whole solving process. Instead, they cleverly packaged it so that you'll have to really discover how it works. And the solution couldn't be more deceiving.

I believe this puzzle will have many dividing opinions in terms of its actual difficulty. Hanayama classified it as one of the easiest on the entire Cast family (1/6), and I strongly disagree...as with many others in their collection, which I think are wrongly classified. Now, this may vary from person to person, and how good you are at solving puzzles, or how good you think you are... But the fact is, this puzzle is not that easy to solve, no matter how seasoned of a puzzler you are, simply because it requires an out-of-the-box thinking. It doesn't mean that it can't be solved quickly, it depends on how you look at it and think in terms of symmetry.

I felt quite stupid once I figured it out, because it really is a simple solution, a genius one I might add, and I wasn't able to see it for a good half an hour. You'll see immediately why they chose to package it in its unsolved state, because it's very easy to take it apart.

(Click to Enlarge) - In its solved state (Opposite side as top photo)
Closing Comments:

Reminiscent of the Cast Marble in terms of the solving process, the Cast Diamond has one of the most elegant solutions in the entire Cast Puzzle series. I really loved it. You can pass it around on family and friends to see how quickly they come up with the solution. Simply beautiful!

Availability: The Cast Diamond is available at PuzzleMaster for just $15.99 CAD. If you don't have any Cast Puzzle in your collection, you can get the entire series for just $799.99 CAD.

Solution: You can download the solution from here.


IQ Focus

Posted on by Gabriel | 0 comments
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(Click to Enlarge)
The IQ series by SmartGames is one of their best brands and probably the most diversified in the logic games scene. If you like puzzles, chances are that at least one of the 10+ IQ games available right now is for you. The newest member in the family is the IQ Focus, designed by Raf Peeters. A packing puzzle game for 1 player, which is surely the hardest one yet in the series. This one is only for the bravest puzzlers out there.

What, at first, looks like your average packing puzzle with several polyominoes sizes, is soon discovered to be a much more interesting and complex game. The game is comprised of ten dissimilar polyominoes, each one with a different color combination. You'd think that fitting all the pieces inside the game board would be sufficient, but there's actually a very different concept at play here. The goal is to fit all the pieces inside (of course)...but the trick is to do so in such a way that the nine central squares shall match the same color configuration shown in the challenge. This will be pretty effortless in the first challenges, but wait 'till you get to the "Wizard" ones...

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 17

This is one of those games where it's very easy to understand, but a pain to solve - in a good way, if you like a challenge. The first challenges even show you the first few pieces of the solution, so you just have to place a couple of the remaining pieces. The real challenge, however, starts when you won't have nothing but the central color configuration to guide you.

As you can imagine, only the central squares matter for the solution, so any colors outside of it won't be important. You can place a piece anywhere on the board as long as the squares in the middle match the challenge. All pieces must be used in order to have the correct and only solution.

The game box is cleverly designed with a lid that shows a transparent window the size of the central area while it blurs the rest of the game board. In order to guide you as you try to solve a particular challenge, you can close the lid and compare what is shown through the window with what you see in the challenge. There are 120 challenges divided in five levels of difficulty. If you want a challenge, go straight to the Wizard level.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 65

Closing Comments:

IQ Focus is a puzzler's dream when it comes to finding a challenge that really tests your solving skills. I wouldn't recommend it to a beginner, because frustration would kick in rather soon and you wouldn't enjoy it. You could do fine with the first challenges, but those practically solve themselves, since you can see most of the solution anyway. It's one of the best in the IQ series, in my opinion.

Availability: There are lots of places where you can find the IQ Focus or any other by SmartGames. Amazon usually carries most of their catalog.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 114


Für Elise

Posted on by Gabriel | 0 comments
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I've always been a passionate of music, besides puzzles, of course. And when there's a puzzle that combines these two passions, I got to have it. As you can see from past reviews, music has been present for a while in my blog: Cast Harmonyπano and The Orchestra Pit. So, you can see how excited I was when I saw Siebenstein-Spiele's latest design, Für Elise. The puzzle was designed by Jürgen Reiche.

A clear homage to Beethoven and his classic composition Für Elise, the puzzle will certainly inspire anyone who attempts to solve it... Or should I say, "play it". Made to look like a music sheet, the small frame only measures 9.7cm (3.8"). There are four identical pieces in the shape of musical notes, each with a different color, and the goal is to have them all fit inside the frame so that they won't overlap. It looks simple with just four pieces, but it's not as straightforward as you might think.

(Click to Enlarge)
I love packing puzzles. I must have over a hundred of them, and with each one, there's always something different to experience. It doesn't matter if you solve one or a hundred. A packing puzzle can always baffle you and put your skills to the test. Each one requires a different approach, since you're working with very different pieces. However, some of them might have some things in common...

The puzzle has a subtle feature that a distracted puzzler might overlook. Each piece has a couple of markings in one of the sides, while the opposite side is flat and smooth. What this tells you is that you can only use the side that's marked to solve the puzzle, which will limit by half the possible orientations.

This is not an overly difficult puzzle, but it had me thinking for a while. Rated by the manufacturer as a level 5/7 and PuzzleMaster as a level 7/10, this is very much so an average difficulty. Since you're working with a squared frame and four identical pieces, the logic says you're looking for a symmetrical solution, where the pieces will be displayed in a somewhat organized fashion and not haphazardly. Siebenstein-Spiele usually doesn't provide a solution with their puzzles, so you're pretty much on your own. If you really are desperate to find a solution, you can see one (and probably the only one) below.



Closing Comments:

Für Elise by Siebenstein-Spiele is a beautiful and lovely puzzle, with an elegant solution that only a music-themed one could provide. It's an accessible puzzle for all ages and skills, and will be a perfect gift for a music (and puzzle) lover.

Availability: You can get a copy of Für Elise at PuzzleMaster for just $20.99 CAD. There are other interesting puzzles from Siebenstein-Spiele available.


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