Despite my earlier experience with Bits and Pieces not having very good quality products, I was happy with the way they handled my issues and decided to place another order with them. I got six boxes: Secret Chamber, The Elegant Kamei Bow Box, Secret Rectangle Box, Eclipse Box, One Panel Treasure Chest, and Secret Enigma Box. Most of them were on sale, so they were even cheaper than usual!
Secret Chamber was probably my favorite and the most challenging. It is based on a design by Jean Claude Constantin and made out of walnut and pine. I like the appearance with the decorative inlaid stripes along the outside. The knobs are quite inviting and make you wonder what they could do.
This box makes quite a racket when you tilt it back and forth and the lid will lift somewhat but not all the way off. I fiddled with this one for about an hour before I finally solved it. Unfortunately, it just sort of opened: I didn't find the 'right' solution. However, upon inspecting the mechanism I thought it was quite clever. It is based on a familiar principle, but with an added touch.
I brought all of these boxes to Thanksgiving and was surprised that somebody actually figured this one out. She had the same experience that I did though: it just opened after some fairly random rattling, though I did give her a hint that probably made her rattling more effective.
Unfortunately, somebody twisted one of the knobs a bit too hard and damaged the mechanism somewhat. I don't blame B&P for this though, I think it was a case of overly aggressive solving. No worries: a bit of glue should have it working good as new. Overall, I would say that this is a fun little box and is a good deal for the money.
The Elegant Kamei Bow Box is also quite cool. It looks pretty good with the light beech wood box contrasting with the dark bow. The inlays on the corners are a nice touch too. It was designed by Akio Kamei of the Karakuri Creation Group.
This one didn't take me too long to figure out, maybe five minutes or so, but it is a nice little box. There are two compartments that are released as solve the puzzle. I think it took a total of 8 moves to open it completely. My family enjoyed this one as well at Thanksgiving and didn't find it overly challenging. The hardest part for most people was closing it back up. If you don't follow the correct sequence, you can hit a dead end. I think most observant puzzlers won't have trouble with it though.
I was concerned that the bow might be fragile and easily ripped off, but it stood up quite well to a number of people playing around with it. This one is about twice as expensive as the others, but I think it is still a good value for the money.
Secret Rectangle Box was designed by Bob Janus and made out of beech and rosewood. It is quite small, about 3 inches long and one inch tall, but packs a nice little trick. It is also quite inexpensive, which is a good thing.
This one only took me a minute or so to solve, but I still found it enjoyable. It is fairly well made and it was pretty challenging to non-puzzlers without being too difficult. Most folks were able to get it open in about five or ten minutes.
At the price, I think it is a good deal. If it was much more expensive I would probably be annoyed that it didn't keep me busy for longer, but I can't really complain about a puzzle that they're selling for $10 (and I got it on sale for $7). Not really a must-have, but a cute little box to add to your collection. [At the moment, it doesn't look like it is on their website anymore, so I have linked to the Google cache of the product page.]
Eclipse Secret Box is a nice looking box with a fairly simple mechanism. Some might find the fact that the box is painted in some areas objectionable, but the finish is smooth and it gives it a nice contemporary look. It is sturdily made and has a felt-lined interior, which would make it a decent hiding place for some jewelry.
The solution is one that I have seen before (on a site that indiscriminately shows pictures of boxes in open positions), so I think it is probably a 'classic' design since I was unable to find the name of the designer. It didn't take me long to solve it, but the movements were nice and smooth and the overall construction of the box was quite good for a mass-produced box. Since the solution is fairly simple, it wouldn't be a bad place to store something that you want to access fairly regularly.
My family had a fairly easy time with this one. Though some who were less good at puzzles were stumped for a few minutes, most were able to open it in under a minute. I think the low price, sturdy construction, and nice appearance would be enough for me to recommend this one, but don't expect it to be particularly novel or challenging.
One Panel Treasure Chest was pretty disappointing. The appearance is decent but not great and it has a light and flimsy feel. Unlike what you would expect from the photo and the description ("maybe the included set of keys will help"), the keys were actually locked inside the box. I worked on it for about ten minutes before I decided to have my girlfriend take a look at the solution to make sure that the keys were actually supposed to be inside the box.
She confirmed that they shouldn't be needed, and I asked her if she could open it. She tried for a few minutes, and didn't have any luck. Uh oh! I took a look to see what the solution was, and sure enough it didn't work! I kept trying harder, afraid that I was going to break the box, but eventually it broke free. It was stuck shut!
Now that it wasn't stuck shut, I could see that it was a ridiculously easy box. One might accidently open it when just picking it up! I showed it to some family members at Thanksgiving, and they all found it far too easy. "Oh, that's it?" was the common reply. Don't waste your money on this one! Even at the low price, it is pretty worthless. It is a shame, because the idea isn't bad. Bits and Pieces could have improved this box quite a bit by adding magnets so that a firmer hand was required to open it.
Secret Enigma Box, was probably the most disappointing since it looked quite cool in the pictures and had a neat name. Its appearance was indeed decent when it arrived, though some of the metal inlays on the corners were marred. What was really disappointing was that there was nothing particularly enigmatic about this box. In fact, the top compartment opens immediately, there is no lock! There is a secret drawer that one might overlook, but unlocking it is quite trivial. I didn't even bother bringing this one to Thanksgiving because it was so dull. Oh well!
In all, I was fairly happy with my order: none of the puzzles were broken (though one was a bit stuck), and four out of the six I thought were good value for the money. Two were duds, but at least they were cheap duds! I'll definitely continue to buy boxes from B&P, because they're quite reasonably priced. Let me know what you think of any of the currently available ones that I haven't mentioned so far!
Next up, I'll write about a recent trip to Eureka where I got a few new Hanayama puzzles.