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Blog posts in 2013

February — "Customs charges"

(Primarily for readers in the UK)

Well, we have had another spate of complaints from UK customers about being charged around 60% of the total cost of an order in "customs charges". I have written about this problem before (here, in 2009), but things have mostly got worse since. The exchange rate reached around 110 yen to the pound, making a 3000-yen puzzle wildly out of the £17.99 range. It has eased back to around 140 yen to the pound, but the limit for being subject to VAT has also been reduced from £18 to £15.

The real problem is not VAT: paying tax might not seem enjoyable, but at least some of it does end up doing something useful. The problem is the legally sanctioned Post Office rip-off, whereby they are allowed to name any convenient figure, and take it as "handling charges", and this amount is currently set at £8.00. It is truly mysterious that seven pounds can get a package through the "handling" in Horigome-Nishi Post Office, through the Japanese sorting system to Narita airport, paying for the fuel for a transcontinental flight, through the incoming sorting office in Coventry (I believe), through the UK distribution system, into a van, and up the drive to your front door. But hidden in this simple task is the REALLY BIG JOB! Somewhere in Coventry, the package has to be taken, oh, a long way, to a different building, or floor, or something very time consuming. Then a Person has to look at it, and read the declared value. This Person requires extremely advanced education, because they have to be able to multiply this number by another number, to convert it to sterling, then compare with another number (15.00). They have to make the tricky decision as to which of these numbers is larger, and (at least in the cases they are going to collect their £8), multiply by yet another number (the VAT rate) to compute the VAT due. That's lots of Really Hard Work. Then they have to print a label, for which they probably get the help of a computer. And in an Entirely Separate Operation, the Postman (or Postlady, as the case may be) has to collect all of this money. Wow. I expect you can now see why this costs eight pounds.

The system is implemented extremely unfairly, because it is impossible to know in advance whether you will be charged: in practice many packages over the £15 limit escape any charges, but randomly, ka-ching, twelve pounds ninety (no "please"). For larger orders there is a double bind: four 1000-piece puzzles weigh just under 4kg, so arrive in two separate "small packets", ka-ching, twenty-five pounds eighty. Can't we put them together in a single "parcel"? Yes, and if we did, you would only have to pay one "handling fee," thus saving £8, but the cost of sending a "parcel" is much higher, and to pay for the extra work of carrying, sorting, and processing one package instead of two, there's an extra 2000 yen, or £14.

So somehow, we are going to offer 1000-piece puzzles (and the small-piece puzzles up to 2016 pieces) for £14.99 plus a "shipping and handling" fee to be decided, by accepting bank transfers to my bank in the UK. (As long as the pounds remains at least at 140 yen, this should cover all of the standard Japanese retail price from 2500 to 3600 yen.) It may be a while before I can implement this properly, so please contact us first if you want to buy puzzles for the UK.

April — Anniversary sale

Incredible though it seems, the 15th of April was our eleventh anniversary, and we decided to repeat last year's successful Anniversary Sale. Meanwhile it looks as though our long struggle with ever-rising yen levels (and effectively higher prices for our puzzles) are over, meaning that prices in our customers' home currencies have typically fallen by more than 20% from the peak levels in early 2012. We hope this will continue, giving better and better prices for you, but meanwhile we cannot sustain the current discount level indefinitely. Here's what I found (my own notes!) in the module that calculates discounts...

// ****************************************
// ***SPECIAL 10th ANNIVERSARY*** : 20%
// while yen index < 400 : 10%
// while yen index < 350 : 15%
// ***SPECIAL 11th ANNIVERSARY*** : 20%

This "yen index" is a simple recipe: add the number of yen obtained at the curent PayPal rates for a euro, a pound, and a dollar. So in January 2012 it was €=94 + £=114 + $=74, total 282. It is now somewhere just below 400, so for the time being we will go back to flat 10% at the end of April; eventually it will return to the graduated discount on order size.

Don't lose out! People have asked about puzzles temporarily out of stock, or special orders... as long as you make the order in April, you will get the special discount even if you have to wait for the puzzle to arrive. (Note there will also 24 hours or so grace, to allow for timezones and stuff like that.)

As business has picked up over recent months, we'll be expanding our range of puzzles further. There are new artists coming, and in particular we'll add more fantasy art, and more of the huge range of anime characters in the Artbox range. Just ask if there are specific titles you are interested in. And there are more "small piece" puzzles: the first "tiny 1000" puzzles from Tenyo were billed as the World's smallest (1000 pieces at A3 size, 420 x 297 mm), but these were beaten by Beverly: 1000 pieces at 380 x 260 mm (standard 300 size). Now Epoch, or officially its subsidiary Apollo enters the fray with 1053 pieces at the same standard 300 size. There are so many different "small" and "tiny" pieces now that I hope soon to have a system in place to show the actual piece size for these puzzles...

May — Looking at the box (or not!) ...

But first... seen on the web

Attempt at world record puzzle ...goes wrong. (From the Guardian)

Looking at the box

To me, part of the fun of doing a puzzle is not looking at the box. I remember many years ago, persuading my Mum to take the puzzle out of the box, and give me the bag of pieces as a Christmas present. (I also don't start from the edge pieces, but that's a different story.)

Apollo "Part picture puzzle"
All puzzles like this

Epoch (together with its new subsidiary Apollo) has been generating one new puzzle "feature" after another in the last few years... smaller and smaller pieces, combination puzzles, double-sided, and more. But you will see why some of the latest ideas leave me rather bemused, because unless you look at the box, they make no difference at all!

"Find the mistake"
All puzzles like this

The first picture on the right shows a "Part picture" puzzle, in which the box only shows a part of the whole image. This will definitely add something to the difficulty if you are used to doing everything against the box. On the left is a new version of a Haruyo best-seller, this time with a subtle difference between the box and the puzzle. Well, the Japanese says 間違い探し, which is how you say "Look for the mistake!" but also how you say "Look for the mistakes!" I can only find one difference in Haruyo's Scarlet, but who knows, you might find two or more.

"Mirror picture"
All puzzles like this

Finally, the Nishino tigers on the right appear reflected in a mirror. So if you do the puzzle while comparing with the box, there will be some extra mental gymnastics to match things up. Note that all three of these puzzles are either currently available or have been in the past in standard puzzle versions, so (no more help but) if you hunt through the website you can find the completed pictures.