Ghost Hunters

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Do you believe in ghosts? You better, because SmartGames' latest logic game is haunted, and your task is to hunt every single one until you're ghost-free.  Are you brave enough to move forward? Keep on reading...

Made with the same high quality and effort SmartGames puts in all their products, Ghost Hunters promises a scary but fun ghost-hunting adventure. Presented in their new packaging, which is more practical and travel-friendly, the game shines with personality. The artwork is cartoonish, light-hearted, and the pieces have this translucent effect that enhances the visual effect the flashlights have on the ghosts. It's really well thought-out to the tiniest detail.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 8

The game is pretty simple to understand. There are 30 challenge cards, each with a challenge on both sides, which makes a total of 60 different challenges with four levels of difficulty. The higher the number on a challenge card the harder will be to solve it. There are only six pieces that fill the entire game board (4x4 grid), but the difficulty of this game is not filling the board with the pieces, it's how you do it by following a small set of rules: each piece contains at least one flashlight painted on one side, meaning you can only use that side for the solution; you can successfully capture all ghosts in a given challenge by strategically placing the pieces so that the transparent circles of the light beams cover every ghost; if there's any ghost left covered by the blue part of a puzzle piece or the flashlight design itself, you're doing it wrong.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 33

As usually, the game starts with some challenges that are very easy to solve, to get you acquainted with the game's rules. This means that most pieces' outlines in the starter challenges will be visible, telling you the shape and position of the pieces. Later challenges will only reveal colored flashlights but not the outline of the pieces. Some will only show the flashlights but not their actual color, just position and orientation. But the most challenging ones will only show the actual position of the ghosts. You will have to figure out the rest all by yourself. These are the ones that will put your solving skills to the test, and also your patience.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 55


Closing Comments:

Essentially a packing puzzle with some elements of pattern recognition, this game however, is much more than the sum of its parts. It's a journey of discovery, with many satisfying moments, especially when you finally catch the last ghost of any given challenge. It's quite a fun experience, whether you're a 6 year-old kid or a young at heart 106 year-old chap. It's highly recommended for the whole family.

Availability: You can find the Ghost Hunters game at Amazon or many puzzle stores around the world. Check out other fun games by SmartGames as well. They have many different games that will delight any puzzle enthusiast.


Tetrahedron In Cage

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If you've been following my blog posts for a while, you probably know that Vinco is among my favorite puzzle designers. His puzzles are made with the best quality wood materials and the finish work he applies to all his puzzles is top notch. If there was ever a reason to visit the Czech Republic, Vinco is certainly a very good one.

Tetrahedron in Cage is Vinco's take on a classic design by Stewart Coffin, the Ball Room. This is a very interesting design made with two contrasting wood types, one for the outer frame and the other for the actual pieces. It measures 10 x 6 cm (4" x 2.4").

In the original design you had four pieces made with spheres glued together in different arrangements. The idea was to build a pyramid with those pieces so that it could fit inside a square box. In this version, however, Vinco takes it one step further and makes the puzzle with only three pieces (or is it backwards?). But that's not all...Instead of having a box where you can freely touch the pieces, Vinco made a cage with the pieces already inside, and with little room to wiggle.

Vinco rates this as a difficulty level 4/5, and I completely agree. It's a little challenging to solve. You can separate the solving process into two steps: first you have to figure out how to build a pyramid out of those three different pieces. When you do, you have to actually build the pyramid with the very limited space inside the cage, since you can't take the pieces out. The openings in the sides are all you got to work with. Also, the pyramid won't fit with its base on the bottom, so you also have to work out the actual orientation, and that's maybe the most difficult part of the puzzle.




Closing Comments:

Tetrahedron in Cage is a very clever design by Vinco that shouldn't be missed. I like how it requires a different way of thinking and it messes with your spatial awareness. Definitely recommended for anyone who likes a challenge.

Availability: Tetrahedron in Cage can be purchased at Brilliant Puzzles for just $16.95 USD. Many other designs from Vinco are available.


Parking Puzzler

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At first sight, this interesting puzzle game looks like an alternate version of the classic Rush Hour game. A closer inspection, though, shows a completely different concept, and a great one at that. This is the Parking Puzzler, one of Raf Peeters latest designs, made with the quality that SmartGames has accustomed us for many years now. Is it worth your time and money? In short: Absolutely! But keep reading to find out why...

The Parking Puzzler comes packaged with SmartGames' newest box design, which to me are much more practical and environment-friendly. The smaller size box means you can easily take it with you on your travels and make the journey a little more fun. I really like the style of the game, with the clear pieces adding a touch of class and sophistication to the sleek design. The cars are the perfect size and are glued to the pieces, so even a small child can play with it (the box says 6 to adult, so keep that in mind).

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 5
This game works like a traditional packing puzzle, so if you're familiar with those you're already halfway there to understand the mechanics of it. There are six pieces (two straight ones and four L-shaped ones), each of them having one or two cars attached to them. Actually, only one of the pieces has two cars attached to it. The game board is comprised of a 4x4 grid, with 12 of the 16 spaces used for "parking" the cars. A horizontal line is used as a drive way or an access lane to the parking lot, so no cars can occupy those spaces when you're solving any of the provided 60 challenges.

So how does the game work? Simple: just choose any of the 60 challenges, which are divided into four different difficulty levels, and place the six pieces in a way that it completely matches the positions and colors seen in that particular challenge. All cars have to be in the vertical orientation, so the pieces can only be placed in two directions instead of the usual four.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 23
As you progress through the difficulty levels, the hints in the challenges also become more ambiguous. Grey cars will show only their position on the parking lot, but not the actual color. You'll have to figure that out for yourself. Black squares mean you can't have any cars on that particular space. Also, many of the later challenges only show part of the game board, so you have to work out which part it is, since it doesn't show the entire grid. There's only one possible solution for each challenge, so only when you have matched exactly what is shown in the challenge will you have solved it.

The later challenges are quite tough to solve, mainly because they don't show the entire grid. You think you're doing great and you worked out where the pieces should be, only to find out later that the pieces can't be placed on that space, so you have to shift your thinking and start again. It's a really difficult game and that will satisfy and reward anyone looking for a challenge.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 41
Closing Comments:

This game was a pleasant surprise, from the moment I unpacked it, to the moment when I finally solved a particular difficult challenge that was bugging me for a while. Everything about it was cleverly designed to make your brain think in different ways and challenge you to your absolute best. This is a must-have and a perfect gift for anyone who likes a good packing puzzle.

Availabilty: Amazon is your best bet if you want to find the Parking Puzzler or any other by SmartGames.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 51


Sudoku Bunt

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If you like both wooden puzzles and Sudoku puzzles, you're in for a treat, as Jean Claude Constantin makes yet another great-looking puzzle that promises not to disappoint fans of either category. 

Sudoku Bunt takes the basic idea of Sudoku and turns it into a beautiful puzzle by twisting the rules a little bit. The result may not be for everyone, as this takes more or less a trial and error approach, but the high difficulty level should keep you intrigued enough to keep trying, or at least keep you busy.

The puzzle is beautifully made with five different actual wood colors, not painted wood. Nine different pieces make up the total of 25 wooden chips joined in groups of two and three units each. It's made of laser-cut wood, which makes the puzzle lighter and of course, much more affordable.It measures 13.5cm in diameter (5.3").

This type of puzzles, seen in countless versions by now, are based on the original design by Mcloughlin Bros, known as The Giant Puzzle, which was invented in 1888. The goal is simple: on a 5x5 grid there should be a different color in each of the rows and columns. No repeating colors shall appear in any of the rows or columns. By order of elimination, the diagonals will have a unique color in each space as well.

The goal would be fairly simple if the pieces were individual colors, like the original puzzle. In fact, the solution is pretty straightforward once you understand the logic. In Sudoku Bunt's case however, that logic is thrown out the window because of the nature of the pieces. As you have groups of two and three colors joined together in a unique piece, the puzzle becomes much more difficult and the solution is switched from logic into trial and error. Now, if you're not that good at puzzles, this is good news for you, since you'd be in the same playing field as an experienced puzzler. To solve this, it's more like a stroke of luck than pure skill.

Closing Comments:

The clever twist in the original concept makes this puzzle a must-have for fans of Sudoku and the classic Giant Puzzle. Even though it's a bit difficult to solve, I believe it's accessible to any level of skill. It's a gorgeous design that manages to capture the attention of any curious and puzzle-orientated minds.

Availability: The Sudoku Bunt is available at Brilliant Puzzles for just $18.95 USD. There are also many other interesting designs by Constantin available.


IQ XOXO

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If there was one thing I thought I'd never do is write like a millennial. But I guess there's a first for everything, and this time, thanks to SmartGames and the brilliant design skills of Raf Peeters I'll be writing like a 16-year-old with their first crush. Joking aside, stick around, because this one is worth your time and money...like any other from SmartGames.

For anyone that has been absent from planet Earth since the past 20 years or so, XOXO means hugs and kisses. What some of you may not know, at least I didn't, is that X is for kisses and O represents hugs. Also, contrary to popular belief, the X has been used to represent kisses since medieval times. Not a recent internet fad.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 37 (Starting and solved positions)

What is quite recent though, is the game by Raf Peeters, IQ XOXO. This is a brilliant twist on the traditional pentominoes puzzle game, which has been around for the past few decades (introduced by Martin Gardner in 1965). The game features 10 different pentominoes, but instead of the usual flat surface, Raf introduced the theme XOXO and used it on each of the pentominoes double-sided pieces.

A careful inspection on each piece will find that there's an X on one side and an O on the opposite side. Another neat surprise is revealed when you first remove the pieces from the game board. At alternating intervals of 2 units the board has a small dome that fits perfectly in the O's on the pieces. That's when you realize that you can't solve the puzzle any way you want. There's a rule that you need to follow, so not every piece can fit on the board with every possible position.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 82 (Starting and solved positions)



As any other IQ game, the rules are simple: set up one of the provided 120 challenges and try to fit the remaining pieces on the board. The more advanced a challenge the less pieces it will show at the starting position. The finished puzzle will have a nice pattern of alternating X's and O's on the horizontal and vertical lines. Curiously, the diagonals will have repeating X's and O's. All ten pieces have a distinct color so it's easier to identify them when you're setting up the challenges.

Closing Comments:

I love packing puzzles. They are some of my favorite puzzles. Because of this, I particularly enjoyed the IQ XOXO and the clever twist it made on such a beloved concept. If there's a perfect gift for a young and curious mind, this has to be a great candidate for that. We need more ideas like this to pass the time, instead of the screen devices that control our lives nowadays.

Availability: You can find the IQ XOXO and many others from SmartGames at any major toy store or Amazon.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenge 99 (Starting and solved positions)



Labynary

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We all know that Constantin likes to make extremely challenging puzzles, but his latest design, the Labynary, takes the cake as one of the most confusing and challenging puzzles I've ever seen from him...Or anybody else!

Labynary is very well built from plywood slabs and acrylic on the top and bottom of the puzzle. I like the name of the puzzle, because it cleverly uses the term "n-ary", which these sequential movement puzzles are popularly known for. The puzzle has a circular shape, but the labyrinth inside is laid out in a 4x4 square grid. Scattered throughout the area of the puzzle are sliding pins that will lock or unlock the movement of any of the six sliding wood strips (four horizontal and two vertical). The goal is to free the metal sphere from the puzzle.

The movement of the strips will allow a small metal sphere to navigate through the labyrinth and eventually be freed from one of the three exit holes. These three holes positioned at the edges of the puzzle indicate the presence of three different paths, which means three mazes, or three different solutions. Sounds complicated? It should, because this is one hell of a challenge.

What makes this puzzle so complex is the number of sliding pins. With so many different things to manipulate and move, it becomes quite confusing to know which move you should make next. The puzzle has a binary concept, which means that it has two different states (1 or 0 - on or off - left or right). It seems simple, but understanding how the mechanism of the puzzle works in this binary environment will be the hardest part in your attempt at solving it. I would classify this as a difficulty level 10/10, or more likely 11/10. I don't remember ever seeing such a complex and difficult puzzle...

Closing Comments:

The Labynary will be the ultimate puzzle to test your patience levels and of course, your solving skills. Even the most experienced fans will have a hard time with this one. As a collector, it doesn't matter if it's difficult, because it's a very attractive puzzle to add to your collection.

Availability: You can find the Labynary puzzle at Brilliant Puzzles for $44.95 USD. Check out other interesting puzzles by Jean Claude Constantin as well.


Anti-Virus Mutation

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In this day and age we live in such a fast and changing world, it's hard to take some time and get away from all the technology surrounding us. Amidst all this frenetic pace, it's quite refreshing to see a company like SmartGames delivering new games every year that don't require anything else beside your gray matter.

It's often said that if something isn't broken, don't fix it. However, fortunately for us lovers of logic games, that doesn't seem to be the case with the new Anti-Virus Mutation, based on the classic game Anti-Virus by Oskar van Deventer. Instead, what you'll find is a carefully designed game by Raf Peeters, a bit more accessible for beginners, that simply took the best ideas from an already amazing game and mutated it into a very interesting alternative...or a complement, if you're like me and already own the original version.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenged 12 (Starting and Solved Positions)

There are two major differences between the two games that makes the new version really worth considering your time and money. The first is that the board is a little smaller, ideal for travelling. Also, smaller means less pieces (6 instead of 11 found in the original), and less pieces means easier to solve. That's good if you like casual games and you're easily frustrated by difficult puzzles, but troublesome for someone looking for a tough challenge. In this case, I recommend going directly to the Wizard challenges, which could take between 10 and 20 minutes each to solve. To make it a little more challenging, there are three blockers that are placed in the board to block the movement of some pieces, so you need to get around them. They are considered part of the game board, so you can't move them.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenged 20 (Starting and Solved Positions)

The other major difference between the original and the new version, and most importantly, is the way it's played. The layout of the board this time consists of vertical and horizontal movements instead of diagonal. Since the pieces are moving differently, you can expect a whole new experience, which in itself is enough to justify adding this great game to your collection. 

Differences aside, the core gameplay is essentially the same. You need to free the red virus from the board by sliding the other colored pieces out of the way. If you've played any sliding games before, you'll feel right at home with this game as well. I breezed through most of the challenges, although I'm a sucker for sliding games and I'm better at them than other types of games. What I can say is that if you like sliding puzzles and games, I can't see any reason not to get the Anti-Virus Mutation. It's more from what you love, so it's a no-brainer.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenged 34 (Starting and Solved Positions)

Closing Comments:

I really liked the new take on the original Anti-Virus, one of my favorites from SmartGames. The game is made with high quality materials and the colorful design makes it for a rather pleasant experience. I also liked the new packaging - It's more practical, it's sleek and easier to take with you anywhere. Can't recommend it enough.

Availability: You can find the Anti-Virus Mutation on Amazon or any other major puzzle game store.

(Click to Enlarge) - Challenged 45 (Starting and Solved Positions)




Newton's Gravity

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Professor Puzzle, the company that produces Newton's Gravity, has many clever designs in which a creative mind is needed to solve the problems they propose. Most of these can't really be called puzzles, as they usually require a simple trick or other clever movements to be solved. Nevertheless, like any other traditional puzzle, this one will make you think...

This puzzle couldn't be simpler. Two small wooden pieces, a cup and a bullet, work together to create a basic physics principle. However, you don't need to be a physicist to discover the solution to Newton's puzzle, but a resourceful mind will help. The puzzle is quite small and fits in the palm of your hand, measuring about 4.5cm (about 1.8") in diameter.

Newton's Gravity's goal, like its presentation, is as simple as it gets: you have to put the bullet inside the cup and then find a way to remove the bullet without moving the cup. This looks like an impossible task, since at first, your only idea to accomplish this is to tilt the cup upside down, but that's exactly what you're not supposed to do. How is this done then?

Ok, I must confess, this puzzle had me baffled for a while and I couldn't resist looking up its solution. I just couldn't figure out how to remove the bullet without moving the cup. It seemed to defy logic and rational thinking. I suspected there should be a trick involved, as some kind of illusion. Well, as it turns out, the solution is indeed some sort of trick, and knowing now how it's done, I reckon it would be a while before I could come up with such a creative solution. It's not an obvious or intuitive solution, that much I can tell you.

Without revealing much of the solution, I can say that the puzzle doesn't need to be exclusively on a flat surface. You can be holding it in your hands while performing the solution. Also, the solution involves some sort of propulsion, but that's about as much information I can give you without completely revealing the solution. It is very clever and simple, but can be quite difficult to discover it. I have to disagree with the 2/5 difficulty rating, though. I believe this is much more difficult than the designers made it out to be, even for experienced puzzlers. You won't find too many people out there that will be able to solve this in a timely manner. This is a level 4/5 at least, in my opinion.

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Closing Comments:

Newton's Gravity is a perfect puzzle for a party, with lots of friends and family. Challenging people and observing how they try to solve it is probably more entertaining than many other collective activities.

Availability: You can find the Newton's Gravity at Brilliant Puzzles for just $5.99 USD.


Uhrwerk

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Uhrwerk (German for clockwork) is yet another great puzzle from the family of sequential movement, which is a type of puzzles usually made by Jean Claude Constantin, and very well made, I might add. This beautiful contraption is sure to capture the attention of anyone because of its eccentric and unusual design.

One of the things that pops right out of this incredible design is its size. It measures about 21cm diagonally and features four big cogs placed at each corner. The material used is laser-cut wood, which is easier to work with, especially due to the small dents of the cogs. The movement of the puzzle is smooth and works flawlessly.

The design of the puzzle, which by the way, doesn't look like a real puzzle at all, but something from the mind of Leonardo da Vinci, is in itself a masterpiece of craftsmanship. The four wheels, or cogs, or discs, whatever you want to call them, work simultaneously if you rotate just one of them. Carved in the face of the wheels is a winding path that's being navigated by four small metal spheres. Your goal, however, is to free just one of these spheres (there's a larger hole in the frame), since the other three are there just to make your task a bit more difficult by blocking some of the movements.

This puzzle is quite difficult to solve, because it has a large number of movements required to free the sphere. The level of difficulty is 9/10, so this is a big challenge for the more experienced fans. The movement of the puzzle is classified as 3-ary (ternary, because of its three states). Solving it requires utmost concentration, as you need to pay attention to how the wheels turn and to keep the spheres in the correct path. It takes a while to get used to the movement of the puzzle and to find the correct sequence, but once you do it's easier to solve.

Closing Comments:

Uhrwerk by Constantin is a magnificent puzzle. You can play with it without even trying to solve it, just playing with the movement. To solve it, however, you should be an experienced fan, otherwise it can be extremely frustrating.

Availability: You can find the Uhrwerk puzzle at Brilliant Puzzles for $34.95 USD. There are also many other interesting designs from Jean Claude Constantin.


Confusion

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As a sliding puzzle fan, every new design that uses an original idea is always welcome, even it it has already been done, which is the case of Siebenstein-Spiele's Confusion, designed by Jürgen Reiche (the company's founder). A very challenging puzzle that will surely frustrate even the most patient fans.

The concept featured in this puzzle was firstly used, to my knowledge, by Hanayama with their Puzzle Impossible. Siebenstein-Spiele has also made a similar version before, which I have played and really liked called Digits - both identical in difficulty.

The puzzle is very well made from a combination of acrylic pieces and a wooden frame. It measures 13.4cm in diameter, which is nice to handle in your hands. The pieces can't be removed from the puzzle, so the only way to solve it is by sliding the pieces (or to dismantle the puzzle, but that would be cheating...). The difficulty level is a 6/7 by the manufacturer or a 9/10 by an alternative scale.

The idea behind the puzzle is brilliant and consists of using numbers like the ones you see in digital clocks and wristwatches and then changing the way they look by moving some of their segments. You do this by sliding the pieces, in two layers. The combination of the segments in both layers, when correctly displayed, will show a number, but as soon as you move one or more pieces from their space you'll see strange and odd characters, as if your watch is out of whack. The goal is to mix the pieces and then rearrange the numbers in the correct order from 1 to 9.

The bottom layer of the puzzle has nine pieces, but the top has only eight. This empty space will be how you move the pieces around the frame. You can even use a piece from the top layer in the bottom and vice versa. The number of possible combinations is staggering and because of this the puzzle is extremely difficult. You need to study the appearance of each digit and know really well which segments compose each number to understand how you can move your pieces and not become frustrated by so much confusion - hence the name of the puzzle.

Closing Comments:

Confusion by Siebenstein-Spiele is a great puzzle and one that shouldn't be missed if you like very difficult puzzles. Its design is also very attractive and will look beautiful on any shelf or coffee-table. I wouldn't recommend this one for beginners.

Availability: You can find a copy of the Confusion puzzle at Brilliant Puzzles for $30.95 USD. There are also many other puzzles by Siebenstein-Spiele.


Maischloß

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MaischloßAnother scary sequential movement puzzle from Jean Claude Constantin that will surely keep you busy for a long time. Can you open this extremely difficult Puzzle Lock?

As you can see from the photo, this is quite a big puzzle, considering that other puzzle locks are usually smaller. It measures 18cm x 11.5cm, which is rather satisfying for a puzzle that looks so stunning and intriguing at the same time. This lock consists of 20 pins - five groups of four - and each group of pins moves left or right. The pins don't move independently from each other, instead they move simultaneously within each group.

The design of the puzzle is what's most striking about it. It's made to look so complex that it will certainly intimidate even the most experienced puzzler. There are four different rectangular mazes in the form of sliding platforms that the groups of pins need to navigate. When you want to make a move you need to make sure all pins aren't blocking your movements. The two middle platforms are the most important since they're the ones that will be first removed. Only when they're out of the puzzle will you finally be able to remove the last two platforms, which are connected to the shackle. The platforms move vertically, which is perpendicular to the movement of the pins.

This is an extremely difficult puzzle to solve, a level 10/10, so only if you feel confident you can solve it should you attempt to do it. A beginner will most certainly feel frustrated in no time. This looks like one of those n-ary puzzles Constantin also makes very well (a binary puzzle for example), but this is not one of those. In fact, I believe that because it's not a n-ary puzzle it's even more difficult, because its sequence is not linear. It's more chaotic and it doesn't follow any specific rules. You will need to solve it step by step by always figuring out the next move, not by a predetermined sequence but by a random set of movements - like a maze! We all know that mazes aren't logic, so just keep trying until you can open the lock.

Closing Comments:

If you like difficult puzzles, Constantin has so many great ones for you that it will be difficult to choose just one. The Maischloß is a great choice if you're looking for a good challenge and a different concept. It has all the ingredients an experienced puzzler wants.

Availability: You can get a copy of the Maischloß puzzle at Brilliant Puzzles for $38.95. For more Constantin puzzles check out their other offerings.


PLD Box

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Fans of labyrinths and puzzle boxes have a reason to love Jean Claude Constantin's new puzzle, the PLD Box (also known as Laby Box), since it combines these two distinct concepts perfectly into a brilliant and unique puzzle.

As you know, a puzzle box has a hidden mechanism or some other locking device that needs to be deciphered in order to open it. However, this box is a little different, because the locking mechanism can be seen. It's a labyrinth, but don't think it's easier than any other puzzle box. In order to open this box you have to solve the labyrinth and remove its acrylic cover.

I was pleasantly surprised with the quality and overall design of this puzzle. It is quite big and sturdy, measuring 12.5cm x 9.7cm x 6.5cm. The body of the box is made of this lighter shade of wood, almost the same color as bamboo, but I'm not sure exactly what type of wood it is. The top of the box is decorated with a geometric maze consisting of two sliding plates that move in opposite directions. The goal is to navigate the two mazes by moving the six pins up and down while pulling on the plates back and forth. Only one of the plates can be removed, as you can see by carefully analyzing the mazes. Only one of the mazes is actually linked as one continuous path. The other maze is separated into three different path that are not linked together.

The pins can't move independently from each other. They move in pairs vertically, so you have to solve both mazes simultaneously, always planning your moves strategically. With each move you'll have to move some pins up, others down, or you won't be able to slide the plate out of the box.

The difficulty level of this puzzle is very high, because of the high number of moves involved in the solution. To remove the cover you have to repeat many of the movements, as if you were following a logic sequence. Once you understand the logic behind the maze, you'll solve the puzzle in no time.

Closing Comments:

The PLD Box by Constantin is one of his best puzzle box designs. The combination of two different concepts works flawlessly and solving one will be a great accomplishment accompanied by a rewarding feeling.

Availability: The PLD Box is available at Brilliant Puzzles for $39.95 USD. There are also many other interesting Constantin's designs.


Black Jack

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Black Jack is yet another interesting design by Jean Claude Constantin that uses multiple mazes to really challenge our minds. Are you ready to conquer another difficult labyrinth by Constantin or are you going to get lost in the winding path?

The Black Jack - curiously one of the very few Constantin puzzles that don't have a German word for its name - is actually a four maze puzzle disguised as a double maze. It consists of two wooden platforms that slide back and forth, each one having two different mazes, one for each metal sphere to navigate around. Between the two platforms is another wooden sheet with a vertical path that lets the spheres go up or down. The only way to move the spheres is by sliding the platforms so there's always a path for them to move up or down. You solve the puzzle when you finally manage to guide the spheres all the way up the vertical path and remove them through the exit hole.

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This is quite a challenging puzzle because of the four mazes. For each sphere you have to maneuver two mazes simultaneously by flipping the puzzle and check your next move. When you pull on a platform both spheres need to have a clear path ahead or behind them, otherwise your move will be blocked.

The puzzle is classified as a level 9/10, and I mostly agree with it. Its mazes aren't all that difficult individually, but by combining them into two sets of two mazes it becomes a highly difficult challenge, one that will sure put your attention skills and patience to the test. I was able to solve this one within 20 minutes, after many failed attempts. There's no easy way to reset the puzzle to its starting position, so you'll have to do it all again backwards if you want to put it back again.

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Closing Comments:

The Black Jack by Constantin is an ambitious design with a rather complex concept. It's amazing how the designer could come up with this incredible puzzle. If you are a fan of mazes, I highly recommend this one.

Availability: The Black Jack puzzle is available at Brilliant Puzzles for $24.95 USD. You can also find many other great designs by Jean Claude Constantin.


Misery

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Siebenstein-Spiele is one of my favorite puzzle manufacturers, because their puzzles closely resemble the ones by Jean Claude Constantin, which are made with many types of wood and other quality materials. Both companies produce very original designs and the Misery puzzle by Jürgen Reiche (founder of Siebenstein-Spiele) is quite an interesting puzzle, indeed.

With a curious circular shape and two hinges attached at both ends, the Misery puzzle is definitely an intriguing design, where the goal is to free the rope and bead from the frame. Made from laser-cut wood, the puzzle looks a bit intimidating at first, but you shouldn't fear it, since it's actually easier to solve than you'd think.

When you start the rope is attached at one end of the frame. There's a small path inside the circle from where the rope can move through, but for that you need to move the hinges back and forth, because they might be blocking your path. The movement of the hinges is limited, but it's enough to make the rope pass beneath them. One thing you should take into consideration, which is common among string puzzles, is that the rope is quite long and easily entangled. You should plan your moves carefully and strategically to avoid making any unnecessary knots.

The difficulty of the puzzle varies from your experience with this type of puzzles. I didn't find it very challenging and was able to solve it within 10 minutes, but it can be very challenging for beginners. I believe a correct classification of its difficulty would be a level 7/10. Putting the string back to its original state is straightforward, since you just need to reverse your previous steps and follow the curves of the puzzle from outside to inside.

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Closing Comments:

Fortunately, solving the Misery puzzle by Siebenstein-Spiele won't make you miserable. On the contrary, it's challenging enough without being frustrating, and provides a rewarding and satisfying feeling after solving it.

Availability: You can find the Misery puzzle at Brilliant Puzzles for just $15.95 USD. There's also a wide variety of Siebenstein-Spiele puzzles on offer there.


Torbogen

Posted on by Gabriel | 2 comments
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Torbögen, by Jean Claude Constantin, is a rather interesting packing puzzle with a very clever geometry. Made with 16 pieces, this deceptively easy puzzle is the perfect companion for someone who likes to play with patterns and geometrical shapes.

Torbogen may sound like a strange name for many of you, but if you know Constantin you know he likes to name his puzzles with German words - he's a German designer after all. The word means "archway", which the shape of the puzzle indicates if you view it vertically. Honestly, I see first an arrow, maybe because I first looked at it horizontally.

Like many of his puzzles, Torbögen is made from laser-cut wood. It's not the best of materials, but it's quite versatile and it gives a nice polished finish, while keeping the puzzle affordable for everyone. It also makes the puzzle lighter, which is good when you're buying lots of puzzles and you save on shipping costs, which in turn means more money for puzzles...

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The shape of the pieces is what makes this puzzle really shine. Not sure if there's a name for this particular shape, but I've seen it many times featured in other puzzles alongside other shapes. However, I've never seen it presented like this, since every one of the 16 pieces has the same shape, albeit in four different sizes.

Now, because the pieces are proportionally sized, you can actually build the shape of a bigger piece with other smaller pieces and therefore change the appearance of the solved puzzle, thus creating many different solutions in the process. I had a lot of fun altering the position of the pieces and playing with different configurations.

(Click to Enlarge) - Two of the many possible solutions

Closing Comments:

For better or worse, this is quite an easy puzzle to solve, since it's solvable within the first couple of minutes of your first try (it also depends on your skill level with packing puzzles), but on the bright side it gives you more time to find other solutions. It has a high replay value, which to me is always a plus when it comes to puzzles. You really get your money's worth with this one.

Availability: The Torbögen puzzle is available at Brilliant Puzzles for $25.95 USD. If you like this one, check out other interesting puzzles by Jean Claude Constantin.


Brain Dice

Posted on by Gabriel | 0 comments
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I haven't reviewed a puzzle from Recent Toys in a while, so I was very curious to try their new puzzle Brain Dice, designed by Andrea Mainini. In short, this is probably the best puzzle I've seen in the last year - Very original design and extremely addicting. But, since this is a review, I'll elaborate some more on my thoughts about this one.

One thing that I always liked about Recent Toys is their ability to find new and original ideas, and transform them into superb puzzles. I have many puzzles from their extensive catalog, but finding a favorite would be a tremendously difficult task. As for the Brain Dice, I reckon it's one of the best from their entire catalog. That says a lot about it, no?

The first thing that captures your attention when you first look at the Brain Dice is its six dice, one in each side. The puzzle uses actual dice that you can see in any board game. Each side is surrounded by four arms, each with a rotating knob that shows three circles (each of the three circles can be either blank or black). You will only count the circles that are shown in black.

The goal of the puzzle is to first remove the dice from the frame and scramble them. Next, place the dice again, one by one, in the frame with the side that's facing you on the top. Finally, you need to rotate the four knobs in each side of the puzzle so that the sum of the black circles is equal to the number on the dice. It's simple to understand, challenging to solve and, most importantly, very addictive. And the best part? Whichever dice combination you have on the puzzle, there's always a solution, so you just need to keep trying until you solve it.

The difficulty of the puzzle is rated by the manufacturer as a level 4/5, and I completely agree. It's not frustratingly hard, but still challenging enough to keep you hooked and always coming for more. This is what makes the puzzle addicting, and of course, it's quite fun to play with.

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Closing Comments:

The Brain Dice is a superb puzzle and one that should not be missed by anyone remotely interested in puzzles. It's one of the best by Recent Toys in years. If you like a good challenge, this one is definitely for you.

Availability: You can find the Brain Dice on many puzzle stores. Brilliant Puzzles and Amazon are just two examples.


Peanuts

Posted on by Gabriel | 6 comments
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In the world of packing puzzles, peanuts are a tough nut to crack (fun fact: they're actually legumes and not nuts), especially because of their irregular shape. Not surprisingly then, puzzles with the peanut theme are very challenging for a good reason.

Besides the Peanuts puzzle, featured in this review, I know of only another puzzle with peanuts - the Glass Puzzle Peanuts by Beverly Enterprises. Both are very challenging, although I only had the pleasure of playing with the version you see here, designed and built by Jean Claude Constantin.

The good thing about Constantin's Peanuts is that it's a flat 2D puzzle, unlike Beverly's 3D one. Nevertheless, don't be fooled. This is still quite a challenge to solve, so don't underestimate it. I know from experience that 2D puzzles can be just as difficult as their 3D counterparts, if not more in some cases.

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The Peanuts puzzle features 10 unique peanut-shaped pieces, although some of them are unusually irregular, even for a peanut...but that's what makes it so interesting. The pieces are laser-cut, so they fit perfectly inside the hexagonal frame. Another interesting aspect of this puzzle is that each individual peanut piece has its own shell that can be separate from its kernel. This doesn't exactly make the puzzle that much more difficult, since you can easily tell which shell belongs to what kernel and vice-versa, but it's nonetheless a neat feature of the puzzle. For example, you can solve the puzzle first with the shells only and then pack the other pieces at the end.

As hinted before, this is a very difficult puzzle to solve due to the irregular shape of the pieces. Notwithstanding, you can actually take advantage of the inner shape of the frame to tell which pieces fit or don't fit in a particular part of the frame. This makes the puzzle a little less frustrating, but just barely... Be prepared for a real challenge.

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Closing Comments:

Constantin's Peanuts puzzle is a real treat for puzzle lovers. It's quirky and has all the right ingredients for anyone looking for a tough but rewarding puzzle. I can't recommend enough this one. Give it a go, and I promise you won't go nuts.

Availability: Brilliant Puzzles is the place to find the Peanuts puzzle. You can also get other great puzzles by Jean Claude Constantin.


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