CYE Reviews: Hanayama Puzzles
For the past several years – in the old cities of York and Edinburgh – we’ve been asking a simple question: Can You Escape? But as rip-roaringly fun as escape rooms are, sometimes you can’t get the whole team together and need a solo puzzle to tide you over. So today, instead, we’re asking: Hanayama Escape?
Hanayama puzzles are a type of mechanical puzzle – that is, involving the movement of pieces instead of sums or general knowledge – that has roots in history as far back as ancient Greece, but was popularised by the Hanayama Toy company in Japan at the turn of the 20th century. While some puzzles have different objectives, typically the goal is to take the puzzle apart and then put it back together again. Sounds simple, no? What makes the puzzles enthralling, however, is that the simplicity of the goal belies the geometric complexity and bewildering beauty of how all of the pieces interact. What’s even more baffling is that it can be so much harder to reassemble the puzzle than to take it apart in the first place, or it could be the other way around!
We deployed Agent Samurai (name surprisingly coincidental) to investigate, and now we’re thrilled to bring you a review of two intriguing Hanayama puzzles that you can buy and attempt at home. Naturally, no spoilers!
Hanayama rates their puzzles on a scale of 1 to 6, with 6 being the most difficult. They range from simple proofs of concept (introducing the idea of sliding pieces, for example) up to true mind-boggling feats of engineering. Here are two challenging puzzles as an introduction.
Hanayama Rating: Level 4
Agent Samurai Finish Time: 1:21:21 (take apart: 1:13:32 / put together: 0:08:49)
The cylinder looks quite odd, and the insides rattle in a way that isn’t easy to decipher. Parts that you’d expect to move easily get stuck, and the reason why is stuck on the inside where you can’t see it! Spinning seems to be the way to go, but translating that into success is a different story…
I got quite lucky and disassembled this puzzle very quickly, in comparison to Agent Samurai, but I wasn’t quite good enough at the fiddly manoeuvring required to put it back together in as quick a time. The cylinder definitely feels like a puzzle, but it’s not especially pretty. It reminds me a bit of board games that ask you to imagine yourself in a situation, or imagine particularly high stakes, since the presentation of the item itself is nothing to write home about.
Agent Samurai Says: “This one feels like you’re cracking a safe!”
Hanayama Rating: Level 5
Agent Samurai Finish Time: 3:02:58 (take apart: 0:10:03 / put together: 2:52:55)
In contrast to the cylinder, this puzzle looks like a modern art sculpture: it really is beautiful. The experience of moving the pieces is incredibly fluid because of the ball at the centre. It’s also not as rigid as the cylinder, meaning that when you take it out of the box you’ll immediately get an idea of how the pieces can be moved. As a result, disassembling this puzzle is a joy.
On the other hand, putting it back together again can get intensely frustrating. Maybe you’d be better than me or Agent Samurai, but there are moments you feel so close to success only to have a piece awkwardly block your way. Even in its darkest moments, though, the elegance of the design shines through. Even when I was blocked from finding the solution, I marvelled at how the pieces had been designed in such a specific way to thwart my line of thinking.
For what it’s worth, this one will also look better as a conversation starter on your bookshelf.
Agent Samurai Says: “Don’t throw it at a wall! But it does have a very elegant solution.”
Hopefully you’ve found this useful! If you think you can beat Agent Samurai, why not give these a go? Better still, you could have a go at an escape room and put even more puzzle-solving skills to the test! Book now: