Sunday, June 1, 2008

More on the Ponoko Puzzle & Game Contest

The final puzzles for the Ponoko Design contest are posted and I have some updated thoughts (see here for my earlier comments if you missed them).

First, an overall observation on the contest. I think many of us, myself included, failed to adequately describe our puzzles and games. Zen didn't explain that there were many extra pieces, Ponoku didn't explain it was for kids, etc. Personally, I put very short descriptions on my puzzle when I could have explained much more. There was a lot of important description for WIM that I put in the pictures. With more information, some of my opinions have changed.

On to the puzzles...

Zen - Looks very nice and elegant in final form. I like the "brochure" that goes with it -- very classy. I said this wasn't a puzzle or game, but I'll revise that. There are plenty of extra pieces, which means that there is a solitaire game aspect to it. You don't have to win or lose for it to be a game. Somebody once said "it's how you play the game." I wouldn't mind having Zen on my coffee table.
Portrait Puzzle - The halftoning looks very, very nice. To be clear, it is a puzzle, just not a difficult one, at least for anyone who solves a lot of puzzles. The combination of the spiral arc and the radial lines make it an easy puzzle. But, for non-solvers and kids, it's a different story. This might very well succeed for them and there certainly is a very satisfying conclusion. If the halftone rastering isn't outrageous, I might use it myself in the future (I'm a pretty serious photographer). The high cost of the puzzle ($400) might be because of that but I actually suspect it's the curved cutting (and I hope so).
Ponoku Anyone - Looks better in final form than in mockup, but it is clearly much easier than a Sudoku. There are 29 givens plus the big help of the pairs and triples of numbers. Because the givens are glued-down (which wasn't obvious before), there is just one solution (with no givens, there would be at least 1,679,616 ways it could be assembled, and probably many more). The final photos show kids solving and I can see it working for them and it might even serve as a good introduction to Sudoku as it's definitely more tractable.
Marble Madness (watch video) - Physically, the construction looks very nice, though a bit complex. I am not sure how playable the game itself is. It looks to me like the game is mostly luck, with little potential for strategy. This works fine for young kids who just enjoy the activity, but, for them, the mechanics might be too hard. I just don't feel it completely succeeds.
Tessa - (Updated June 3rd) Looks stunning in final form. It's not obvious, but this is indeed a puzzle. The pieces are not the same from end to end, so you must find the right pieces to go in each spot. I had said this was mechanical to assemble, but that was wrong. Since the pieces all look the same, it's hard to tell if this would be fun or frustratingly difficult to put together. In any event, it certainly shows that a puzzle like this could work very nicely. Compare this with the two-color Trifolia puzzle from Kadon.
Underground Maze (and plans)- Clearly a trivial puzzle to solve, except for very little children, but I like the mechanics and the "sandwich" construction. Very cool. The same techniques could apply to more complex puzzles.
Crane Mobile and Pteradactyl - Final versions look just like the mockups, which is nice to see, though I still think they are toys, not puzzles or games. But they are nice toys, particularly the Pterodactyl. I do think kids would have fun disassembling and reassembling them.
Layer Puzzle (and here) - The description says it is a tough solve, but I am a bit dubious. In any event, I think it would be fun and I think it could be solved over and over. Looks very cool when complete (and even when incomplete).
California County Puzzle - This puzzle has not been updated (and it still doesn't do much for me).
Match the Typeface - This puzzle has not been updated (and I still have concerns that it won't work well enough for it's probable target audience -- kids).
Build (h)and Share (watch video) - This really turned out nicely and the YouTube video really shows it off. I think this is a complete success with only one slight flaw -- it appears that you can construct an unsolvable maze, especially if you're putting the pieces on somewhat randomly.
Grimly Dominoes - I just don't see it as particularly interesting, unless you're a fan of Grimlies. (I still don't know if they're some pop culture thing that I'm just clueless about.)
Erik & Styx Double-sided Puzzle - I think I've figured something out -- if I understand it correctly, the pieces are not double-sided. Instead, all pieces have part of an image on one side and are blank on the other side. When you make one of the figures, half the pieces are up and half are down. When you make the other figure, all the pieces are flipped, so that the ones that were up are now down and vice versa. The puzzle is figuring out which of the pieces go with which of the figures. If I'm right, this makes the puzzle a lot more interesting and the designer would do herself a favor by explaining this better (though I do think it would work better with stronger images). If I'm wrong, never mind.
Puzzle Box - Unfortunately, the final pictures don't show me enough to get a better (or worse) opinion. It doesn't help that everything is black, so I'll add the one comment that it would look more elegant if the levers were a contrasting color. Could be interesting, but it's hard to tell.
InterlaceCircle - This puzzle has not been updated. This is probably the best puzzle, but I just can't conclude that without seeing the final Ponoko-made version. We can tell from other entries that they didn't always come out like predicted. Sorry.
Gears - Certainly looks a lot better in photographs, but this part of the description bugs me: "It's harder than it seems, you will need all but one piece." It's just not elegant to have a piece left over. The too-tall rods also bother me and I think might make it more fragile. I think there is a clever idea here but the puzzle as a whole doesn't work. Contrast this with the Gears puzzle that Google had as part of the online puzzles for The da Vinci Code movie. Like some others, what's here lends itself more to a set of puzzles than a single puzzle.

And the winner is...

Of course, I have no idea who Ponoko will pick. But here are my personal choices.

Best Puzzle: Layer Puzzle; Honorable Mention: Interlace Circle
Best Puzzle System: Build (h)and Share
Best Game: none; Honorable Mention: Marble Madness
Best Solitaire Game: Zen
Special Honorable Mentions for Looks: Tessa, Portrait Puzzle

Updated June 3rd with corrections on Tessa puzzle.


Flights Of Ideas said...

After playing around with designs and pricing on Ponoko - it would be nice to have a comparison for how much it would cost to purchase each puzzle/game.

If it has curves and raster engraving then it probably would cost a bundle to produce.

My vote is also with the layer puzzle. Stylish and minimalist - something to have on the desk for coffee breaks.

I think that for the price "Hammer" should have added an LED base for those pretty pictures ;-P