Sunday, 19 February 2017

The 'Paradox' Desert Island Puzzle Choice

and a Crazy Challenge from SuperAntonioVivaldi

Oli's twisty puzzles - for a non-twisty puzzler he sure does have a good collection of them!
This might be a little less coherent than normal - yesterday was a rather busy day in the Sheffield operating theatres and emergency room - after a very long and very bloody day I was so whizzy that sleep eluded me for a large part of last night! Plus of course it is not easy to write about twisty puzzles.

All you non-twisty puzzlers DON'T run away - whilst this post is about twisties it will still be of interest to you and may cause you to rethink your aversion. Keep reading!

Followers of Oli's Facebook page were offered a very interesting question a few weeks ago and I think that I had a perfect answer to it. For someone who claims not to be able to solve twisty puzzles, Oli has a pretty decent sized collection and either he never scrambles them or he actually is a closet twisty solver. The question he asked of us puzzlers was:
"If you can only choose one from the above selection then what would it be?"
You can see in the picture there are some rather lovely puzzles with varying shapes and difficulties and many would expect me to choose one of the more abstract (if that's the right word) designs. Now as a bit of a mad twisty freak (along with the general madness of my puzzle collecting), I already had pretty much all of the puzzles on Oli's shelves. I therefore altered my interpretation slightly to say which of those puzzles I would choose as one not to miss out on or which of those twisty puzzles would be my 'Desert Island Puzzle'? My choice.... nothing fancy, nothing oddly shaped, nothing with circles etc. I chose the standard 4x4 Rubik cube. Yep! With all those to choose from I went back to a standard cube. BUT I will try to convince you that with a bit of thought this can be made into a much more interesting puzzle.

My standard 4x4 - years old and on it's 3rd set of stickers
In my workbag I carry a 4x4 with me pretty much at all times - you can see from the state of it that it has had a fair bit of wear and tear. I bought it quite early on in my puzzling career and I have replaced the stickers a couple of times already. In fact I am so fed up with the state of it that I have decided to replace this cube with a nice shiny new one... this time a stickerless one so I never have to worry about the state of it again (I already have a stickerless Dayan Zhanchi with me most of the time). After a nice on line chat with my friend Marty (owner of  The Puzzle Store UK) in which he gave me some advice, I have placed an order for a nice new stickerless 4x4 and also decided to get a stickerless 6x6 too (to replace the 6x6 gift from Yvette that I unfortunately broke a year ago).

No stickers to chip and peal
I'm so pleased these are now possible
The voices are back again and I can hear you muttering to yourselves:
"why would he choose a 4x4 out of all the puzzles available? Look at all the puzzles in his collection and all the other twisties he owns!"
It's true......I might just have a few twisties:

Stuffed in a cupboard really tight! Over 100
Blush! The hand made and 3D printed ones are on display
You are right to question my sanity but not because of this. I may be considered mad when you think about the shear amount my hobby has cost me and the fights I have had with Mrs S but choosing a 4x4 as my desert island puzzle is actually a really good idea. Firstly I was only supposed to choose from the photo posted by Oli but even if I was to choose from my own puzzle collection it would remain the same. Why not the standard 3x3? I do love it and carry it with me all the time but I now prefer even order puzzles for the extra challenge provided by the parities (I discussed how parities are a thing to be revelled in here and here) and also just having a bigger cube adds the dimension of having to pair up pieces. I dont really need a massive puzzle - I do enjoy my 10x10 but it is not particularly portable and quite hard on the hands and wrists after a while. A 4x4 or 6x6 is much more manageable.

If you are on a desert island you will want a puzzle that is repeatable as you may be there a very long time. My wooden puzzles (burrs, packing puzzles, puzzles that happen to have a cavity) are all very lovely but by and large they solve just one way and once done there is no further puzzling challenge to them. What is more, there are a few burrs that absolutely frighten me to death and confuse me terribly - some have been played with and are in a configuration that I am unable to advance from and am unable to return to the beginning. It could be argued that these would provide a nice big long challenge but my experience is that after a while my frustration gets the better of me and I have to leave it alone. I personally never seem to get bored solving a standard cube - every scramble is slightly different.

This puzzle is trapped in this position!
Not only is repeatability important in terms of every scramble being different but also it is even better if there are multiple different challenges possible within that same puzzle and here the 4x4 really excels.

A standard reduction to a 3x3
Notice the large centres and completed double edges?
The usual way that a new twisty puzzler learns a 4x4 is to carry out a reduction technique.and the usual method is to reduce the 4x4 to an oddly shaped 3x3 with giant centres and edges and after that solve that 3x3. The parity comes about if one of the edge reductions has produced an edge in a conformation that is not possible had it been a standard 3x3 scramble. The challenge is to unmake that edge and remake it the other way around without ruining all your other pieces. There are a few algorithms for it but for me I always fall back on SuperAntonioVivaldi's Redbull algorithm which once done a few thousand times becomes second nature (I am much too old and cannot remember any other method).

First layer is intuitive
Second layer is F2L plus a bit
Third layer like the second
The commonest way to solve a 3x3 is to solve it layer by layer (beginner's method or more complex speedsolving approach) and I did wonder whether a 4x4 could be solved in the same way. This would be challenge number two. It is less arduous than reduction and the first part is really pretty simple. Using basic intuition and a modification of the F2L method for edges the first 3 layers are a pleasant task. At this point it does become a tremendous challenge - the top layer fix requires all the parts of the basic 4x4 cube to be done with almost no freedom to move. I love it!!! It does not require a lot of algorithms - the basics would be the flipping 2 edges method just like one would for a standard 3x3 and then maybe that a cuboid type adjacent  corner swap using 2 enlarged corners might be useful.

Just swapping 2 expanded corners will fix the edges

Looking at the pic above the back right edge is a complete red and yellow pair whilst the other 3 edges are mixed up. If I swap the 2x2x1 layer at the front with the 2x2x1 at the right then this will pair up all the other edge pieces et Voila! Sometimes they cannot be placed in that way and the very simple staple technique that is used frequently in other places... a commutator very similar to the corner piece series which SuperAntonioVivaldi calls the Swinging U algorithm.

A simple commutator (8 moves) cycles 3 edge pieces
When you have all of these under your belt (none are particularly tough individually to learn) then the best bit is that they need to be put together using a whole lot of strategy and thought. It is huge fun and a great challenge that involves more thought than simple algorithm learning. Basically you are using the same extended set of relatively easy techniques in rather wonderful ways. I have said many times before that I am too old to learn lots of new algorithms - I have learned a few basic ones and now can use them creatively with thought, planning and strategy which is what puzzling is all about.

I can tell you're all exhausted now but the delights of the 4x4 cube are still not complete. Another hugely fun approach is to solve the puzzle by reduction to a 2x2. Huh? No! It's not silly - the basic method is to reduce to a 3x3  but the parity is caused when an edge is recreated the wrong way around. If you don't recreate edges then no parity! The aim is to create eight little 2x2 blocks. This of course goes back to the time when CubeTwist produced their wonderful AI cube:

AI Cube - a 4x4 divided into an odd 2x2
A 4x4 reduced to a 2x2
Gr_cubed' AI megamorphinx
The giant cubes need to be moved to the bottom row and then the 2x2 blocks will need to be manipulated using only centre cut moves vertically and the top slice is the only single face that can turn. I seriously struggled with this concept for a very long time and my ability to solve it was very hit and miss until my acquisition of a tetrahedral modification of this forced me to reevaluate the approach or leave a puzzle unsolved on my shelf forever. After watching the video from SuperAntonioVivaldi in which he explains his approach to making a commutator for this tetrahedron, I was finally able to understand it and now my AI knowledge is complete. The AI solve of the 4x4 is definitely a real challenge for all puzzlers and very much to be recommended.

Finally an alternative to the AI solve is still to reduce into a 2x2 form but to carry out the AI component whilst ignoring the centres. This entails forming the frames of the upper 2x2 blocks and then solving the centres last. The idea sounds awful until you realise that the method used by any 4x4 puzzler to assemble the last 2 centres during a standard solution (before the edges are reduced) uses a simple method (the swinging U) to 3 cycle pieces without destroying anything else.

The bottom is solved but only the edges and corners of the top are reduced
This approach to the 4x4 can be used with other even order puzzles - the Master Kilominx is an even order dodecahedral puzzle which has the same possibilities - the parity caused by edge reduction is a fairly horrendous thing to reduce as there is no equivalent of the RedBull algorithm. Part of a challenge a long time ago was to find a parity free solution. This was the equivalent of reducing the Master kilominx to a Flowerminx (the 2x2 dodecahedral equivalent) and again proved to be a wonderful diversion.

I am also starting to drool - when Marty sends me the new 6x6, I can see that there are many many different reduction possibilities to keep me amused (even more than the 4x4) and I plan to add this to my increasingly heavy work bag to keep me busy and remind my surgical and anaesthetic colleagues that I am truly crackers! I couldn't choose the 6x6 as my choice from Oli's collection because he doesnt have one - it may be that it would end up as my desert island puzzle that isn't from Oli.

The crazy 4x4 v2 is amazing
even if it looks impossible!
Finally just to finish off and expand the theme of alternative approaches, my amazing friend Jon (aka SuperAntonioVivaldi) set a test or 2 for his subscribers regarding alternative reductions of even more complex puzzles - he set a wonderful pair of challenges (here and here) for a tremendous puzzle, the Crazy 4x4v2 (PuzzlestoreUK or PuzzleMaster). It is a real fun and beautifully made puzzle that all serious twisty puzzlers should own and solve - I reviewed it here many years ago. Basically the idea is to solve this 4x4 variant using a layer by layer approach and also try to solve it as an AI cube (just as we did for the standard 4x4).

I have spent the last month working on this and OMG! What a challenge! I have pretty much managed most of it - there is one aspect of the layer by layer that I struggle with and the AI proved a heroic task but I got there eventually! It would not be a terribly exciting blog post for most of you to describe the trials and tribulations of this but let me just say in the theme of alternative solve methods this one proved fantastic! To all you twisty it! Try it! You won't be disappointed.

Let me know below whether you try any of these puzzles and approaches and what you think?

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Gifts Provide a Real Challenge

Laurie's Three Piece Block Puzzle
Last week Allard reviewed this puzzle from Shane and I was soo soo pleased that he had also struggled with it! I saw the first person to solve it was Oli on his Puzzle Paradox FB page. It looked like he had had it for only a few hours and had managed to solve it straight away! I wasn't terribly surprised because he is a bit good at puzzling (certainly a lot better than me) but I was quite surprised that when I opened my own delivery box the same day, I couldn't even begin to repeat the feat - the first step eluded me!

Yet again, as agent 001, I was very grateful to be in receipt of one of Shane's masterpieces. It is very different from his usual work but as is usual with Shane, he was very self deprecating about the quality. There is a very good reason for his feelings about that....he compares himself to Lee Krasnow, Eric Fuller, Jakub Dvořák, Brian Menold, Brian Young and Scott Peterson! Pretty much every wood craftsman in the world looks bad next to them - these guys produce the best work most of us have ever seen and Shane doesn't stand a chance at producing stuff like that straight away at his first attempt at an interlocking solid puzzle. He knows what is required but freely states that he hasn't got time or the inclination to do that and I don't blame him. For me this puzzle is still absolutely lovely and made to fine enough tolerances that it is fun to play with and looks great on the shelf.

The puzzle is a classic from the devious design mind of Stewart Coffin and has long been the favourite of a great puzzle friend to us all, Laurie Brokenshire (one of the greatest puzzle solvers the world has ever seen). Shane wanted to make something special for Laurie but of course add his own Hales magic which of course has to be a locking mechanism of some sort - yes he looped the pieces on a chain and padlock!

Sunday, 5 February 2017

A Chomine and Pelikan Triumph is Coming Soon!

Sucrier by Stéphane Chomine
For those of you who follow me on Facebook you will have seen that I received a few packages over the last 10 days or so. The first set I showed off on my New additions page. Jakub and Jaroslav have been very busy in their "New Pelikan Workshop" and are in the midst of a production run of wonderful new puzzles from Stéphane Chomine, Osanori Yamamoto and Lucie Pauwels. Jakub has given me the opportunity to buy the set in advance to have a play with and write a review - let me say that you will not be disappointed with these as they are fabulous. Today's post is a review of the first 4 of these puzzles. Stéphane seldom puts his new designs on Ishino's site now and so it is always a fantastic surprise when some new designs get released to the world. When Jakub told me about them I jumped at the chance to buy - very occasionally I have said no to one of his puzzles and have always regretted it afterwards (yes I should have bought the How?Box designed by Peter Hajek and fabulously implemented by Pelikan but I turned it down as I don't collect boxes to allow someone else the opportunity to own it - damn that was a stupid thing to do!) This time I didn't hesitate and said yes yes yes to the lot!

When they arrived Mrs S showed the rather huge cardboard box to me and tapped her feet in disgust - "where are you going to put these?" That is a very good question as my study is now absolutely choc-a-block with new toys and I have nowhere to put them just now. The packing puzzle will just have to get a bit tighter!

Sunday, 29 January 2017

JCC Disentanglements and a Reason for Celebration

Hi guys, today I am very very grateful to the Puzzlemad Hawaiian correspondent, Mike Desilets, for helping me out whilst I am really busy - he has produced yet another really high quality guest post. This just happens to be the 400th post on the Puzzlemad website since starting out in March 2011 which is quite an achievement - I don't think I have ever stuck at a hobby for so long and I have to say that it is very much down to the wonderful community that I keep at it. Jerry has overtaken me by posting his 401st post a couple of days ago for which I give my hearty congratulations. At the bottom of this post is another reason for me to celebrate.

Mike seems to be uncannily aware when I need him and swings into action with a marvelous informative article for you (and me) to read - it is only fitting that I let him have post number 400. This article was going to be posted last weekend when Shane stepped in with his fabulous and pleasantly painful Viper which I was pleased to read also bit Allard.  The puzzles reviewed in Mike's article are some of the wonderful selection of disentanglement puzzles available from my friend Tomas Linden's Sloyd puzzle store which you really should check out (I have bought some more from him as a result of Mike's post). So without further ado I hand you over to Mike....

Aloha Kākou readers. Let me start this post by noting that, without any prior planning, Kevin and I are usually pretty well synchronized in that my occasional guest blogs arrive when he is at wits end with work and home responsibilities (Ed - indeed - I am on call today and so may well be unhappily ensconced in an operating theatre when I would much rather be reading and writing about puzzles). Unfortunately, this was not the case over the holidays. I’ve kept myself offline over the last few weeks (except for some puzzle shopping, of course), and during that time, I now learn, Kevin had one foot in the grave with his lovely (Ed - and violent) wife soon to follow (Ed - she's still there!). Seems like things have corrected themselves now, but I can’t help feel that I should have been more attentive. I also feel sorry for all his patients who had to forgo anaesthetics (Ed - corrected spelling) during their operations (Ed - the screaming was awful - I had to put my earplugs in). Anyhow, maybe this post will give Kevin a few hours to catch up on everything that was left undone during his illness.

Half Clover by Jean Claude Constantin.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Shane's Viper Bit Me and my Balls are Too Big!!!

I bet that title got you reading!!!! Continue right to the end for a full explanation!

This week, much to my surprise, having had a few very very bad days at work, I came home to a surprise package! Now that always makes my day but it especially is fun when the name on the postage label tells me it comes from my good friend Shane Hales. I am aware that he has lots of new ideas and plans to produce quite a few new puzzles in 2017 but I wasn't expecting anything quite so soon. I am so SO SO grateful that I have been chosen to be "Agent 001" and pretty much always receive the second puzzle in each line (000 remains in his ownership).

Characteristic signature
Viper is a special puzzle which shows off several things - firstly, as always, it shows off Shane's characteristic craftsmanship skills. He claims never to be up to the standards of Scott Peterson, Eric Fuller or Pelikan and I have to say that there are very few people in the world as good as that. However the drop in finish quality is not due to lack of skill, it's more due to lack of time and different priorities - I know that given time and lack of other distractions, he could produce incredibly accurate work - he has, after all been awarded The Master Carpenter Award by the Institute Of Carpenters (as a fellow of the Institute), The Master of the Worshipful Company of Carpenters, The Master of the Worshipful Company of Joiners & Ceilers, and The City & Guilds of London Institute - very few people achieve this! Second, his designs are always very novel and very interesting (Viper is pretty unique as far as I know). They are often very simple in their basic premise but beautifully implemented and well hidden which makes them all the more enjoyable. Finally, the other feature that is totally unique is his sense of humour! There are very few puzzle makers out there who actually make me laugh out loud when I attempt to solve something. This puzzle really did that just like his Haleslock 2 which also had a lovely bit of misdirection which made me laugh after I solved it.

The puzzle is made from Oak and Walnut and to my eye is beautifully made. There are tiny flaws but they are a natural part of the wood. Shane said this about it:

"Only 10 Viper puzzles will ever be made (come on, I have increased the number!)

I got the idea for this puzzle from another 80's film, Gremlins. But also if anyone ever bothered to read the notes on "my collection" page that I've attached to each photo (I know at least one person did as I had to make corrections thanks Bernhard!) then on one of them you would notice maybe a strange comment if you have a mind like that!!! (I do like a easter egg if you hadn't noticed?) But no, it gave me this idea, so from these "VIPER" was born.

I really like this puzzle, and I hope so do you !!


This puzzle can BITE you. it's not recommended for anyone under the age of 21, anyone with heart problems or a pacemaker, anyone with ophidiophobia, bad nerves, pregnant, or wanting to actually have children full stop. If you are a bag of nerves (a wimp) and you get the offer please turn it down.
(no offence will be taken! Refusal will NOT mean I won't offer you something else later)
Please do NOT stick anything inside the holes that you are definitely not supposed to........

You have been WARNED........


I have been asked several times how can I get one of your limited edition puzzles?


(Any puzzles that I have for sale will only be sold by me or my official resellers. Always check with me FIRST on who they are if you do not know them. If you get an unlikely issue with a puzzle I will only look at ones I or my resellers have sold, I have good reasons for this, DON'T get ripped off :-)

All my limited puzzles are and will always be gifts from me. With the exception of Nick Baxter's auction this year, but you all know why I did this, and I'll probably never do it again unless it's for something special, it will also only ever be auctioned or offered by me.

I have strict rules with these gifts for good reason, I spend lots of my free time and cash creating these for you, so, they can never be sold, swapped, even given away. If someone decides they don't want a puzzle anymore, just return it (I'll cover postage) and I'll send onto someone else. That's the RULES.

I'm a collector to. There are so many puzzles I want, so I feel everybody's frustration. I'm very sorry and sad about it, but its a hobby. I do it for the joy of doing it only. I don't need pressure, I give that to myself. If I didn't do what I can do then I wouldn't make any, so something is better than nothing, right?

I try to get things all over the world, to collectors I know meet others, so my stuff can be shared.

I've had people email me to nominate others (which I LOVE) for a puzzle. I chat with the very top brass of the puzzle community, with some of the founders of our community of today, and also with the newcomers, anyone and everyone. I have even been asked how I could be inspired by them, and in fact this person's inspiration went into The Goblins Door, and I thank them for that.

So far I have not receive any pressure or selfishness from our community, and thats why I am proud of being a very small part of it.

These are my gifts, because it's my way of giving a little something back to others that give us ALL so much.

I will notify the (lucky?) people I have chosen to care for this new puzzle very soon.

Have a great, safe, and puzzling 2017

The other feature that always accompanies Shane's puzzles is spelling and grammar errors and I love him for it! With little schooling, he has worked his way up to the top of a very successful building company and now is one of the most sought after puzzle makers in the world. The letters that come with the puzzles always add a smile to my face for the humour and the errors and Viper is just the same!


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