Puzzles, with a Twist

There’s something incredibly engaging and fascinating about Rubik’s Cube and other similar puzzles, which explains why they’re so popular. This week, we had a lot of fun trying to solve five really unique cube-type puzzles (none of which is a Rubik’s). But because kids are often better at these things than adults, we got some assistance—and insights—from Jonathan Amir, a true puzzle-solving master.

V-Cube 7 (V-Cube)

v-cube 7If solving a traditional 3×3 Rubik’s is a challenge, just looking at this 8×8 cube may make you run screaming from the room. But if you’re an intermediate or advanced cuber, you’ll love this puzzle (although even Jonathan was overwhelmed at first). As with smaller cubes (3×3, 4×4, etc.), it helps to know the algorithms, which tell you how to move the horizontal and vertical layers. This 7×7 cube has algorithms as well, but, as you might imagine, they’re a lot more complicated and require much more memorization. Jonathan felt that the cube’s pillow shape (rounded sides) made it a little harder to hold, and if you have small hands, you might find it tough to twist some of the inner layer. Nevertheless, it’s a solid challenge. For ages 8+. About $38. www.v-cubes.com/

Gear Ball (Mefferts)

gear ballEven though it’s a sphere, this puzzle has six faces and the goal is to make each one a solid color. You do that in the usual way, by grabbing the ball with both hands and twisting in opposite directions. The interlocking gear-shaped pieces make this unique puzzle look nearly impossible. But according to Jonathan, it’s easier to solve—and a lot more fun—than a Rubik’s. So once you’ve got this one mastered, you’ll be able to show off to your friends. In the meantime, you’ll have a blast.  Ages 6+. $34.95. http://www.recenttoysusa.com/project/gear-ball/

Molecube (Mefferts)

molecubeThis fascinating brain teaser looks a little like a Rubik’s, but aside from the way you manipulate it, the Moleube actually has more in common with Sudoku. The spheres come in nine colors, and the goal is to twist and turn until there are no duplicate colors on any of the six faces of the cube. Jonathan didn’t have a chance to try this one, but for mere mortals, solving it is a lot harder than it sounds. Ages 9+. About $20. http://www.recenttoysusa.com/project/molecube/

Pyraminx (Mefferts)

pyraminxThis pyramid-shaped puzzle has been around as long as Rubik’s Cube (more than 40 years) and operates on the same basic twisting and turning principles. It has four triangular faces, each with 9 pieces, which makes it easier—and quicker—to solve. It a good option for littler kids and beginning cubers, but it’s still plenty of fun for advanced players. The world’s record for solving it is 1.36 seconds, which is exactly 1 hour, 6 minutes, and 19 seconds less than it took us.  Ages 6+. About $19. http://www.recenttoysusa.com/project/pyraminx/

Cube (Boulding Blocks)

boulding blocksAside from its geometric shape and the high entertainment value, Cube has very little in common with the other puzzles here. First, designed by artist Mark Boulding, it’s visually stunning. Second, it consists of eight pieces—four black and four white—and is made to be taken apart. Third, as Jonathan discovered, unlike the twisting puzzles, there’s really only one way to solve (reassemble) Cube, which makes it less of a challenge for determined cubers. But who says you have to limit yourself to cubes? What we found especially fun is that you can assemble the pieces into all sorts of other shapes and structures. If you have more than one Cube, you can combine the pieces and build even bigger things. Ages 6+. Under $20. www.bouldingblocks.com/

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