Give This Rubik-Solving Robot a Hand (Or at Least a Few Fingers)!

Wait a minute, didn’t you write about robots and Rubik’s Cubes just last week?

Yes, gentle reader, I certainly did.

But, as it turns out, that iconic little puzzly cube and all its twisty brethren are incredibly useful to AI and robot designers.

Not only do the acts of pattern recognition, visual assessment, and solving provide ample challenges to programmers — both in terms of speed and efficiency — but the physical manipulation of the cube itself is a frequent subject of testing.

In this particular case, a robot has been developed which can solve the cube one-handed. And, as eloquently stated in this Gizmodo article, that’s a feat in itself:

At one point in time, it was considered an accomplishment when a robot arm could pick up something as delicate as an egg without crushing it between a pair of pincers. But as researchers from the University of Tokyo’s Ishikawa Senoo Lab demonstrate — with the assistance of a high-speed camera monitoring the subtle movements — this agile three-fingered hand can manipulate and reposition Rubik’s fiendish puzzle cube with impressive dexterity.

Check it out:

This is a very different mechanical rig when compared to some of the other speed-solving rigs we’ve seen before. Instead of an elaborate array of motors and manipulators, it’s simply a few limber fingers.

This level of dexterity could prove to have all sorts of applications, from robotic surgery and meal preparation to improving bomb-defusing equipment and hazardous material disposal.

And all thanks to this twisty little puzzle. That’s pretty cool.


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This Puzzle Solves Itself!

The slow, steady march of technological advancement in all fields continues to progress, and the world of puzzles is no exception. In previous blog posts, we’ve discussed not only technological leaps forward in making puzzles (like 3-D printers), but also new developments in solving puzzles.

We’ve joked that robots are coming for our puzzles, thanks to advanced machines and AI programs that can play games like chess, Go, and Scrabble on par with — and sometimes, far better than — human experts.

It’s the same with Rubik’s Cubes and other twisty puzzles. Even though speed solvers continue to break new ground in terms of sheer speed and efficiency, we can’t compete with robots that solve cubes in the blink of an eye.

And now, it seems we’ve reached the natural end of this journey…

A self-solving Rubik’s Cube.

Check it out:

The creation of a Japanese technician and self-styled “hardware hacker,” this Rubik’s Cube is the same size as the traditional cube, but the similarities end there.

Instead of the traditional plastic network of connections that allows you to twist and turn the cube every which way, this cube is packed to the gills with electronics, wiring, a series of motors, and the interconnected pieces that give the Rubik’s Cube its signature movement and flexibility.

A marvel of miniaturization and design, this self-solving Rubik’s Cube clearly has its own built-in solving algorithm. It doesn’t simply memorize the twists employed to scramble the cube and then reverse them; the solution and scrambling are completely different chains of events.

All in all, it’s a thoroughly impressive creation. Of course, if I’d known there were going to be self-solving Rubik’s Cubes, I wouldn’t have wasted so much time trying to solve one myself!


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Fidgitz

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[Note: I received a free copy of this puzzle in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

The goal of most mechanical brain teasers is simple: complete a certain task. Sometimes, you’re twisting a cube until each face is a different color, or removing one piece from a multi-piece setup, or disassembling a three-dimensional cube entirely, or puzzling out the necessary steps to open a box.

But no matter the task, the ultimate satisfaction comes from conquering the puzzle. ThinkFun’s newest brain teaser, Fidgitz, turns that concept on its head by making the act of manipulating the puzzle as gratifying as solving it.

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Fidgitz consists of six spheres that are all connected with ball-in-socket joints, allowing you to twist, slide, and manipulate the puzzle in all sorts of ways. Each sphere is half blue and half white, and your ultimate goal is to maneuver the spheres so that the puzzle is all white on one side and all blue on the other.

I liken solving Fidgitz to solving a Rubik’s Cube, because it has the same sort of chain solving to it. Each move you make affects many parts of the puzzle, so you need to work a few steps ahead of where you are in order to make the most of each action you take.

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But unlike Rubik’s famous cube and other twisty puzzles, Fidgitz offers an immensely enjoyable level of engagement as you’re solving that’s unlike practically any other puzzle I’ve encountered. It’s fun to manipulate the puzzle, but it’s also very calming.

The seemingly infinite chain of twisting, shifting, and rotating the spheres is soothing. It didn’t matter that, at times, I thought I would never manage to get all six spheres arranged together. The sheer act of attempting to do so was engaging enough.

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In that way, it’s very similar to the bracelets and other tangle toys given to folks with anxiety or conditions like trichotillomania, where keeping your hands occupied can serve as a beneficial tool for easing nervous impulses.

As a single, self-contained puzzle, Fidgitz is travel-friendly, and whether you’re looking for a new brain teaser to challenge you or a satisfying tool to keep your hands occupied, ThinkFun’s newest product has got you covered.

Fidgitz is available from ThinkFun through Amazon and other online retailers. Click here to check out other ThinkFun product reviews!


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The 2017 New York Toy Fair, Part 2!

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On Tuesday, I gave you a general rundown of what it was like exploring the massive spread of puzzles and games on display at this year’s New York Toy Fair.

In today’s post, I’d like to highlight some of the puzzles and games that most impressed me. I think many of these will also appeal to many of my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers as well.

So let’s dive right in!


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One of the prime spots in the Launchpad area for first-time attendees was given to the team at Steamforged Games Ltd., who have brought the video game franchise Dark Souls into the board-game realm.

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Between one and four players can test their mettle against various creatures, battling to capture their souls and use them to make your character stronger and more capable. The impressive array of miniatures, player cards, and tokens makes for an interactive experience that should satisfy both video game fans and board gamers alike.

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For a more traditional family-friendly puzzle game, the crew at Befuddled Games has you covered with Kerfuddle and Tree Top Hop, both of which are suitable for solvers of any age group.

Kerfuddle combines a touch of Boggle with the ever-changing gameplay of Fluxx. Roll the dice and use them to form words, but be careful — the “Shake It Up” cards can make your word forming much more challenging.

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Tree Top Hop is a great intro game for young players, as they move around the tree top, spelling words on their cards and racing to the treasure at the center of the board. By combining word-building and strategy, this is a terrific gateway game for new players.

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Along the same lines as Kerfuddle is Twizmo! Words, except instead of dice, you have a Rubik’s Cube-style Twisty puzzle providing you with the letters you’ll use to build your word list. Designed by the same team who brought us Tak•tak, Twizmo! Words is a strong quick-play game for any Boggle fans in your household.

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Snippets takes the list-building idea in another direction. Instead of random letters, you’re given a three-letter snippet of a word, and it’s up to you to come up with as many words containing that snippet as possible. So, if you’ve got TRA, you can write down EXTRA, TRAIN, STRAP, and so on.

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And to close out this collection of word-forming games, we have Letter Tycoon, which adds a monetizing mechanic that really spices up the gameplay. Here, not only are you making money by forming words, but you can patent letters so that when other players use them, you cash in as well. It’s a really clever take on the word-building genre of games.

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We now move on from combining letters to combining jigsaw pieces. The puzzles from Palmetto Puzzle Works all center around tessellations — shapes that repeat and interlock in many different ways.

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Whether you’re trying to fit the pieces into a given space or you’re connecting them freestyle, these well-made wooden puzzles bring an M.C. Escher touch to the world of jigsaw-style solving.

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Beasts of Balance, on the other hand, has players using game pieces in a different way, as solvers stack the animal shapes and try to keep their ever-growing tower of creatures and artifacts from toppling over. The game has a tablet interaction feature that enhances both the gameplay and the storytelling aspect of the game, making the most of new school and old school puzzling.

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But if you’re looking to do some puzzly building in a different way, Maze by Seedling is a solid choice. Here, you can map out and design your own marble maze, and then tackle your own creation with a fully-functioning labyrinth board, complete with marbles, walls, and holes to avoid.

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And while we’re on the subject of do-it-yourself puzzling, the crew behind Pinbox 3000 have designed a build-your-own pinball game system that allows for infinite customization. They give you everything you need to build a functioning game, and then leave the theme, bells, and whistles totally up to you.

I wrote about this one back when it was a Kickstarter project, and it was cool to see the brand continuing to thrive and grow.

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Another gaming classic with a modern twist is Tatsu, which combines Asian-inspired mythology with backgammon-style gameplay. Designed by the same creative team as the tile-placement game Hive, Tatsu is a clever, elegant game all about strategy and guile. It’s easy to learn and tough to master, and I suspect it will do quite well.

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If you’re looking to combine strategy with rapid-fire gameplay, Tenzi is for you. In Tenzi, you’re given ten dice, and you have to keep rolling them until all ten match. It’s like Speed Yahtzee! But with dozens of additional variant games at your disposal, from stacking to scoring to rule-shifting games, this dice game has legs and is easy to tote around to play anywhere.

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If you’re looking to take your card games anywhere, the team at Narrows Hill have a great solution for you. The Card Caddy is not only a protective case for any deck of cards, but it opens up into a perfect card-dealing and sorting setup for ease of play.

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We also got an early glimpse of a forthcoming addition to the Fluxx family of card games. Since Fluxx is celebrating 21 years on the market this year, the crew at Looney Labs is celebrating with Drinking Fluxx, a spirits-soaked version of their famous chaotic rule-shifting card game.

You can mix and match the various ingredients to try to create a winning formula (and perhaps a sideline as a bartender for your fellow players). Just make sure you call a cab after playing.

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Whereas Tenzi and Fluxx are quite portable, Banana Bandits from CMON Games requires some space, since you have an entire 3-D building to set up as your game board. As you and your fellow players try to prove yourselves as worthy successors to the boss of the Banana Bandits, you’ll climb and explore the building, collect coins, and tangle with opponents, all on an impressively realized game space.

Will you be top banana, or is it time for you to split?

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And the last game I’ll be discussing today is Doctor Who: Time of the Daleks, an elaborate galaxy-spanning game where you play as one of six Doctors traveling across time and space in order to complete missions, save the innocent, thwart your enemies, and generally wreak timey-wimey havoc.

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Between the terrific miniatures and the expansive options available for players, this was one of the highlights of Toy Fair for me, and I can’t wait to see how they incorporate additional Doctors into the game later down the line.

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Obviously this is just a small sample of all the fantastic, eye-catching puzzles and games that graced New York Toy Fair this year. But nonetheless, it’s an impressive group, covering so many different aspects of the puzzle and game world, and constantly blazing new trails in terms of creativity and innovation.

I have no doubt you’ll be seeing more about some of these projects as 2017 rolls onward.

[You can check out our full gallery of photos from New York Toy Fair on Facebook by clicking here!]


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Puzzly World Records!

I was perusing the latest edition of The Guinness Book of World Records, and wouldn’t you know it, there was a whole two-page spread devoted to puzzly world records!

It seems appropriate to start with Rubik’s Cube records, since we just featured a speed solver in Friday’s post.

There are lots of world records involving twisty puzzles. The most Rubik’s Cubes solved while riding a unicycle? 18. The most solved underwater? 5 cubes in 1 minute, 18 seconds.

What about the smallest Rubik’s Cube? It’s only 10 mm, and it can be turned and solved just like a regular-sized Rubik’s Cube.

You know, friend of the blog Hevesh5 has helped set a few world records, but that should come as no surprise, really. Domino records are being set and then shattered all the time. I recently stumbled across a video where a top domino artist and his team set the record for the most mini-dominoes toppled:

And for something a little grander in scale, check out this video of a curious domino world record: the longest human mattress domino toppling:

How about the largest domino ever toppled? Prudential Financial created a domino that was over 30 feet tall, 15 feet wide, and 4 feet thick, which they toppled as the last domino in a chain where each domino increased in size until the world-record domino fell.

And for an amazing endurance test, a team of 60 people maintained a domino circle that toppled for 35 minutes, 22 seconds, continuously replacing dominoes as they fell around and around and around again.

Here’s one for the Scrabble fans in the audience. The highest opening score in a Scrabble tournament is 126 points for the word MUZJIKS (using a blank for the U), played by Jesse Inman in the 2008 National Scrabble Championship.

Speaking of personal achievements, Ashish Dutt Sharma of Rajasthan, India, created the world’s largest word-search puzzle! Inside a grid of 129,600 letters, you can find over TEN THOUSAND words on Sharma’s list.

Of course, given its size, it’s actually impossible to have a definitive list of words in the puzzle, because of the vast number of potential letter combinations in the grid. All the words that were intentionally placed in the list mix with hundreds more formed unintentionally.

[Image courtesy of Getty Images.]

To close out this rundown of world-record puzzles, let’s return to the time of King William III and Queen Mary II of England, who commissioned a hedge maze in Hampton Court Palace in Surrey, which still stands today, more than three hundred years later, as the oldest hedge maze in the world.

These are just a sample of the amazing puzzly accomplishments that have been achieved all over the world by intrepid puzzle fans. I can’t wait to see what my fellow puzzlers come up with next.


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Rubik’s Race edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of Rubik’s Cubes!

You know, every time I think I’ve seen it all when it comes to Rubik’s Cube, some enterprising solver proves me wrong yet again. I mean, in writing three blog posts a week here for years, I’ve seen a LOT of cool things done with Rubik’s Cubes.

I’ve seen the world’s largest Rubik’s-style cube being solved, a building turned into a solvable Rubik’s Cube, a new speed-solving world record of 5.25 seconds, and a Rubik’s Cube solved one move at a time by strangers across the globe.

And now, we’ve got our first cross-disciple Rubik’s race. Anthony Brooks, a Rubik’s speed solver, pitted his twisty puzzle skills against the speed of Usain Bolt from his 9.81 second run in the 100 meters at this year’s Summer Olympics.

So…how did he do?

Granted, I think it would have been a fairer fight if Brooks was running on a treadmill or something at the time, but it’s still a funny comparison. Apparently, not all contests of speed are created equal. (Says the guy who just ate eight chicken nuggets in the time it took Bolt to run 100 meters. I don’t know if that means I won or I lost.)


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