What’s the most exclusive party you’ve ever been to? Chances are, it wasn’t puzzle-themed, but that’s exactly what the subject of today’s blog post is! The puzzle community is strong, diverse, and sometimes a little secretive. Every year some of the most renowned collectors, designers, and puzzling VIPS convene in the USA, Europe, or Japan for the International Puzzle Party. The website is password protected, press is limited, and invitations are in short supply. Yes, we’re talking about a clandestine event where puzzle collectors show off and trade mechanical puzzles and brain teasers they’ve designed or crafted themselves. Puzzle Paradise.
There are two main events for the conference: the exchange, followed by the party.
The first of the two main events is the exchange. Each conference guest who signs up brings a copy of a puzzle they either designed or produced. Then, you guessed it, they have a giant swap! Basically, if a collector arrives with 10 copies of a puzzle, they would walk away with 10 different, new puzzles from the friends they decide to swap with. It’s a win-win situation because everyone gets new puzzles, as well as the chance to advertise/share their own designs and finds. New puzzles displayed at the exchange range from new designs that need a connection to produce them, puzzles that have already been designed and have a producer, or neither! The strictest rule enforced is that you can’t bring a puzzle to swap that you could search online and find in a store. Just like their password protected website, the IPP thrives off of exclusivity. They have a good point though, how fun would it be if someone showed up with a puzzle you can buy at any old department store?
The grand finale and second event, typically scheduled for the day after the exchange, is the party itself. Collectors gather to lay out tables with merchandise and display a wider range of their puzzles and fancy gadgets. The party hovers somewhere between a swap meet and a trade show; participants will have a table-top, with puzzles for sale that they’ve created. Some guests might be reselling from a collaborator, or displaying puzzles from their collection that they’re hoping to unload for free.
After the party, as a culmination to the conference, the winners of the Nob Yoshigahara Design Competition are announced. The best of the best are decided by a jury of puzzle collectors who have many different categories to consider, most boiling down to design and ingenuity. Usually, only 5-7 puzzles out of all those submitted will be selected by one of that year’s judges for consideration. Each puzzle is graded on how inventive or ground-breaking the concept is, how well the puzzle is materially constructed (both visually and mechanically), and how fun the solving experience is. Other minor awards are voted on by the attendees. We think it’s important to note that all styles/types of puzzles have won honors at the IPP, because trends in the puzzling community tend to ebb and flow. Even puzzles for children frequently collect high honors – a good reminder for all that a high difficulty level does not guarantee the top prize for a puzzle.
The latest puzzle party was held in Kanazawa, Japan in August of 2019, and the design competition had 61 entries. The Puzzlers' Award (selected by a vote of conference-goers) went to Koichi Miura for his puzzle “4L Basket”. For this clever little pocket-sized mechanical puzzle, the goal is to put all four L-shaped triominoes inside the 2x2x3 box flat, in spite of the handle partially blocking the opening. It’s a simple, yet tricky, packing problem that reminds us packing puzzles like the Red Stone puzzle or the Sky Tower. The Jury Grand Prize, selected by a jury of chosen collectors, was given to “Slammed Car” by Juniche Yananose, and is probably the most distinguished honor to walk away from the IPP with. Made to look like a classic Australian hatchback, Slammed Car is a sequential discovery puzzle box that provides the user with tools to be discovered along the way, eventually used at different steps. Even the most experienced puzzle solvers have been stumped for days on this one according to their blogs, but they all agree it was worth the journey. We love that attitude here at Kubiya; some of the most exciting and worthwhile activities require time and patience to solve, and it makes victory that much sweeter. Slammed Car reminds us of the complexity in general of the impressively intricate Japanese style puzzles available on the market. Kubiya’s Secret Base Puzzle Box - Karakuri Special Edition Japanese Puzzle Box or the Future Secret Puzzle Box 2 Darma - Limited Edition Japanese Puzzle Box are great examples of the “sequential discovery” style from above.
Communities like the IPP have the potential to play an important role in many aspects of a person’s life, so long as they have passion inside. Communities are found with our friends, our families, our employment, our neighborhoods, and in so many other places. We find community in the sports teams we support, or the artists we enjoy, even the food that we like. It’s only fitting that the puzzle community is also a loving, supportive place for people with a unique, common bond. Having a sense of community unites us, and being a part of a strong community can give us opportunities to connect with people, to reach for our goals, and makes us feel safe and secure while sharing in the love of a really great puzzle. The International Puzzle Party serves as a yearly reminder that the world needs more parties, so best of luck to all the puzzlers submitting designs for this year’s competition.
Cheers, and happy puzzling!