Sunday, 25 January 2015

He called me a genius!

Positively devilish - the HELLical Burr
If you follow me on FaceBook then you will have seen a late night post from me with a puzzle finally solved and an exclamation about the incredible skills of two of my friends! I posted this:
Derek Bosch - you are a genius! This HELLical burr is phenomenal - it took me quite a few hours to dismantle it! Lots of blind ends and even a loop and a hidden exit! Steve Nicholls - your 3D printing of this puzzle is nothing short of stunning! Everyone should go to http://threedyprinters.com/ to see the machine you use - I WANT one!!!
In part of the subsequent conversation that follows, Derek actually said that I was a genius too!
Kevin, you are the genius, for solving it (and remembering how it goes back together!) Even I need my cheat sheet! 
This came as a bit of a shock to me because I remain convinced that I am a puzzling amateur. Yep! I still think of myself as a newbie to this game with a bit of a fetish for burrs, twisties, disentanglements, N-ary puzzles, sequential discovery puzzles and assorted wooden interlocking puzzles. Oh dear! That’s quite a list isn’t it? BLUSH!! The present Mrs S would definitely say that I am no genius as I barely remember my own name some days and have much more purchasing power than sense!


It's Helical - such fun!
So what is all this about? You may think you recognise the puzzle at the top of the post - it is a 4 piece burr puzzle which has been twisted into a helical conformation. I wrote about the predecessor of this a long time ago - The Helical Burr. Derek Bosch designed it and won the Jury's grand prize for it in the 2013 IPP puzzle design competition. More importantly it was very high (number 3) in my 2013 puzzles of the year list! At last year's IPP he showed off a follow up puzzle which required significantly more moves which was subsequently named the HELLical burr because it was HELLishly difficult. Shortly after that, Shapeways killed off affordable puzzle production and I mourned the fact that I would probably never manage to obtain a copy. Luckily, earlier this year we heard from the equally brilliant designer and puzzle producer Steve Nicholls (one of the coproducers of the Threedy printer) and he showed off the first copy of the HELLical burr produced using an FDM printer. I drooled and told him that I wanted one as soon as he was able to produce them for sale. An email exchange took place between Steve, Derek and I and over a couple of days,  and I got progressively more excited! Between the two of them they had managed to produce an animation of the disassembly which stuttered away on my iPad and definitely did not give me much of a clue but really whetted my appetite! I was then recruited (as had occured with the original version) to use my photography and editing skills, along with my now famous kitchen granite to make a solution sheet for it. I played all keen to the boys but was actually quite worried that I would be completely unable to solve it at all!

Saturday, 17 January 2015

He's opinionated, abrasive, very talented and a friend!

Now that got your attention didn't it?
Shake Something
I'm a day early! I'm working in trauma all day on Sunday and I didn't want to miss out on producing a review for you so I used a couple of hours today to put something together for you.

I know that the twisty puzzlers amongst you immediately know who I'm talking about - it can be none other than Dan Fast aka CrazyBadCuber and also now after a career change the CrazyBadTrucker. Over the years he has appeared and disappeared (because of arguments or disagreements) from various twisty forums including my favourite Twisty Puzzle forum. He's upset quite a few people along the way so why on earth would I even think about having an article about him?

Well over the years, I have come to consider him a friend! We chat fairly frequently on FaceBook and I've always found him to be very polite. He has many reasons for his personality which the world saw in a very candid interview (now made private) that he did with Rline on the TwistyPuzzling YouTube channel and let's just say that he has really done very well for himself despite occurrences in his past. One thing to say about Dan is that when he puts his mind to something, he really throws himself into it and does it properly. He started with cubing and became a fairly good speedcuber and then moved onto other twisty puzzles and now has the most extensive collection of puzzle mods by Traiphum anywhere in the world (something I'm rather jealous of) and then he went into puzzle modification himself and made quite a few fabulous puzzles (more of that later) which have sold for large sums of money.

His recent "fetish" has been for burr puzzles and he and I have communicated a lot about these. He solves them rather like me - he basically moves things randomly hundreds of times until he finds what he is looking for and then progresses by luck! It's sad for me to admit it but whilst I adore burr puzzles and the gorgeous woods and craftsmanship, I (and he) are not particularly good at them but we just can't stop trying to solve them and can't stop collecting. I did have a small try at designing them - most modern designers have learned to utilise the incredible Burrtools software from Andreas Röver to produce more and more complex burr puzzles of ever higher level of difficulty. My ability (and time to stick with it) was very limited and I produced only a few poor designs but Dan, as is his usual, stuck doggedly with it and mastered the program bit by bit (a teeny little bit of help from me) and has designed some fabulous puzzles which have even made it to production by craftsmen. Dan is aware that not everyone wants super high level burrs but we want puzzles that are interesting in shape or solve process. Two of these I will show today.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Cast Dolce

Cast Dolce
Yet again, I have spent a fair bit of the weekend doing the much hated DIY! This meant little puzzling time and work meant I had very little opportunity during the week to try anything new (apart from my latest twisty, the Rhombic Triacontrahedron - yes 30 sides). So this morning after being sent out to do the weekly food shopping (my chore as Mrs S does most of the rest of the household chores), I decided to try one of my stash of Hanayama puzzles that I got from my last Puzzle Master foray.

With very little time available, I chose the one of the easier ones I had, the Cast Dolce which is rated by Hanayama as level 3/6 and by Puzzle Master as level 7 (Challenging) on their scale of 5-10.
This one was designed by Akio Yamamoto and adjusted by Nob to make it trickier. The aim is, as with most of them, to "take it apart and then put it back together". There's a bit of other philosophical stuff on the box which can happily be ignored.

The reviews on the Puzzle Master product page are mostly 4 and 5 stars and other bloggers have enjoyed it:
Tom Cutrofello (who usually only reviews puzzle apps enjoyed it and reviewed it here.
Gabriel reviewed it here and interestingly he found an alternative single move solution which I have not yet been able to repeat.

This puzzle is simply gorgeous - it is a nice size (12cm x 4.7cm x 4.7cm) and made of both silver and gold anodised cast metal in the shapes of the male and female symbols - the flash in the photography shows up every fingerprint and speck of dust, it looks much better than my photo really shows. This puzzle is shiny enough to appeal to anyone like me, with advanced magpie tendencies! The packaging that it came in was the standard black box and, as always, is beautifully displayed!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

An old puzzle teaches something new!

4x5x6 Cuboid
Shapeshifts on 2 faces
Yep you've seen that one before! It is TomZ's amazing 4x5x6 cuboid. I struggled this week to think of something to write about for you - I have published 2 extra posts over the holiday period and actually not done much puzzling. Then I remembered, I had actually worked on a pretty wonderful twisty and learned something rather special from it!

It had been an aim of mine for a very long time to get this puzzle and I even met and asked Tom Van der Zanden about it at the last IPP. When Shapeways effectively killed puzzle development with their "priceapocalypse", I more or less gave up on the idea! A lucky occurrence happened when a Facebook puzzle friend, Austin (yes he does actually live in Texas) had a spare one going at pre-rise prices. I jumped fast and it arrived in Sheffield in mid December. Yippee - Happy Xmas!!!

As another gratuitous twisty photo here it is scrambled! It is monstrous!!!

Fun fun fun!!! I know not al of you believe it but bear with me!
Why have I shown it again? Is there method in my madness? Well yes! This particular puzzle taught me a very hard earned lesson! When you think you truly understand a puzzle or puzzle type, another one can come up with something totally unexpected that kicks you in the butt and makes you actually go back to basics and THINK©! This one really hit me hard and took me several days to beat!

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Happy New Year - My best puzzles from 2014

I would dearly have loved to provide some up to date photos of the entire collection but my acquisitions have now completely outstripped my ability to store them! At the present moment my desk is absolutely littered with puzzles that I have no space to store. They are absolutely everywhere! I have expanded into the living room (only the most beautiful ones) and also into the dining room (for puzzles that are just too huge). The present Mrs S has actually threatened to come into my study and help me tidy it up! This thought frightens me to death as she may choose to get rid of a few of them!

Every year Peter Hajek sends an email to the IPP puzzlers asking for their top 3 acquisitions of the year - he then produces a book giving the results which he distributes to everyone. It makes for a great read and is a wonderful resource for us all. This year his email request set me to thinking about my best puzzles of the year. It has become a bit of a tradition for me to give a summary of my favourite puzzles but I only include the ones that I have both acquired AND solved in the year up to this point. This task is made much easier using my database but on looking back I see that there are a few that I might need to alter my ratings.

So in sort of reverse order (although many were very difficult to place above or below the others):

Almost made it to the top 10 - lots of burrs!
During 2014 I developed a very rewarding friendship with several designers and craftsmen who have kept me amused with many burrs. There are so many that I find it impossible to choose any one (or even two or three) that should appear in my top 10 puzzles of the year so I have a few honourable mentions to describe first.

11a) Six of One, Half A Dozen of the Other
Complete with Limited edition medallion
Designed by Junichi Yananose and made by Brian Young
I received both 2013 limited edition puzzles from MrPuzzle just a month ago and have only solved this one so far. It looks just like a 6 piece burr but is actually 12 pieces and solves in a very unique manner. It is not particularly difficult but is extremely clever and a joy to play with. The wood is a much deeper colour than the picture reveals and it still sits next to me to be played with regularly.

11b) Gobi
Simple 12 piece burr?
Of course not!
Goetz has produced a page specifically for a wonderful group of puzzles. Both Stephan Baumegger and Alfons Eyckmans have begun designing and making burrs of various sizes that have special shaped pieces hidden inside and the aim is to release those pieces by dismantling the puzzle. Gobi (by Alfons) was special for several reasons - it was beautifully made by Eric Fuller and unusually, it contained 2 pieces to free. What is more appropriate in a desert than a nomad and his camel. The very special feature of this one was that the nomad had to be moved independently within the puzzle at several times to unlock other moves. Eric's superb craftsmanship meant these moves were entirely possible using gravity alone. I actually have several other burrs in this group and all are wonderful.

11c) Doors and Drawers
Is it a door or a drawer?
Superb!
A joint effort by the New Pelikan Workshop under the stewardship of Jakub Dvorak and Mike Toulouzas produced a combination of a framed burr and a packing puzzle. Stunningly made and a joy to solve. Not too difficult but requiring the ingenious use of gravity and friction as well as basic burr solving techniques. My review gushed about it here.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Owl in a Cage

Owl in Cage - sooo cute!
This is just a quickie today - I have spent the last 2 days working on my end of year summary for your delight and delectation! Every year I (and many others) get an email from Peter Hajek who collates responses on the IPP community's thoughts on their top 3 puzzle acquisitions of the year. He produces a wonderful book from everyone's replies which he distributes the following year. His email always forces me to get off my lazy backside and actually think about what I have bought and what I enjoyed. It's always a struggle to produce a top 3 for him and I then continue to produce a top 10(ish) list for you all to read about on New Years Day. It has seriously taken me one hell of a long time to write that post and thus not much time left for this one - Mrs S has just started to growl at me about the time I've been spending on my blog and I really don't want to suffer another laser burn for New Year!!

A very long time ago I bought a few "caged critter" puzzles, made by the Czech company Hryahlavolamy, from Wil Strijbos and really enjoyed the rather new challenge. So much so that I have in my collection the Canary in Cage, the Cylinder in Cage and the Dino and Box in Cage as well as the more conventional metal Man the Torpedo puzzle. I wrote about them here. At some point a few years ago there was a whole series of similar, very gaudy, plastic Japanese caged puzzles which I did not buy at the time (for which I am now kicking myself).

My Canary in cage got damaged by a cat some time ago but I have managed a repair and put it away for safety. When perusing Puzzle Master for my last order I noticed that they had a few of these puzzles in their "other wood" section. They have the Canary in Cage for $15, the Dragon in Cage for $20 and the Lion in Cage for $20. All are rated as 8 (Demanding) on their scale of 5 to 10. I ordered the Owl in cage (which was also $15) and which has subsequently disappeared from Puzzle Master's website. I suspect that I must have got the last one! I dare say that with these having been imported from Eastern Europe, they may be in limited supply so if they are of interest to you then get the last few quickly. Hopefully the owl will be available again in 2015.

It arrived simply wrapped in cardboard with bubble wrap around it ensuring that it did not get damaged in the post. The instructions were simply to free the animal from the cage. Made entirely from wood, the cage is 8.8cm tall and 5.6cm diameter and the owl is a rather charmingly crafted and quite lifelike.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Merry Christmas everyone - Xmas wishes do come true

Golden cube extreme
As you would expect, working in frontline health services has been just a touch busy these last few days/weeks and so my Xmas post to you is actually being written on Xmas day - I have to thank the present Mrs S for being so tolerant of my obsession! She admits that as far as mid-life crises go (I'm 48 years old) this is better than getting into motorbikes, golf or getting a girlfriend!

In fact I have to thank her for a whole lot more - her Xmas presents to me were the fulfilment of several long standing Xmas puzzling wishes. She okayed and paid for (sort of) a few of my most recent puzzle acquisitions, all of which I have been desperate to obtain for a very long time!

At the top of the post is a VERY special hand-made puzzle from the Grandfather of twisty puzzle modifications, Tony Fisher. The original Golden cube was designed first in 1999 but only unveiled at the Dutch Cube Day in 2002 and finally mass produced by Uwe Meffert in 2009. It is a simple Skewb but with the "ghost cube" modification added to make all parts different and to offset the pieces away from their final positions to allow turning. They have long since sold out and they now only are found at auction for many $100s (one sold for over $800!) and have always been unobtainable for me. Very recently Tony announced a new run of handmade versions would be available in very limited numbers - of course I had to have one and asked Mrs S' permission to spend a fairly large amount of money - she said it would be part of her Xmas present -Yay!!! Finally a week or so ago, I finally got my hands on it and it was put away until today. Frankly, it frightens me to death - it is just a Skewb but oh, so much more difficult than a standard Skewb! This new version has been called the Golden cube extreme by Tony because it has been "corrected". The original mass produced version had an error in production which meant that they were slightly easier than he originally intended - this version has corrected that slight shape error, hence the "extreme" label. At last I have a Golden cube and it's a Tony Fisher original too complete with covered signature!!! Thank you to my lovely wife!

Borg Box
I was very excited when the godfather of puzzle blogging, Brian Pletcher, announced that he was working on reproducing the incredible Stickman Borg Box in printed plastic. I was not sure whether it would ever be possible but after the initial announcement, he showed off his amazing baby and then asked if others in the puzzling community would want copies! As you all know by now, I do not collect puzzle boxes unless they have something else special to them (N-ary or sequential discovery) and the Borg box has been one of the few boxes I have lusted after for quite a few years but when they have come up at auction the prices have been way way out of my reach! I contacted Brian about getting a plastic one and wanted to wait a while before getting one - my hand was forced by the great Shapeways Priceapocalypse when all multi piece prints effectively trebled or quadrupled in price and it arrived just last week. Mrs S squirrelled it away for Xmas! I will not be allowed to play with dye and I'm hopeful that my friend Adin, who did such a wonderful job on Allard's copy can be cajoled into doing just one more copy! What do you say Adin?

TomZ's 4x5x6 Cuboid
Just 3 turns!
Another puzzle I have lusted after for a very long time was TomZ's 4x5x6 brick cuboid. I just adore twisty puzzles and in particular, I lurve the cuboids. One of the more challenging of them is the brick group which take the form:
N x (N + O) x (N + E)   or   N x (N + O) x (N + O1 + O2) where O is odd & E is even
The mass produced ones have been the 2x3x4 and the 3x4x5(both by MF8) and they are both wonderful challenges but I have longed for a bigger version for ages. I actually met TomZ at the London IPP and expressed a wish to buy this puzzle at a later date from him when my finances had recovered from the IPP hit but again the Shapeways death blow put a stop to it! Until a puzzle friend Austin announced on the Puzzle Photography Facebook Group (join us, we have a fun time) that he had a spare one available for sale. Again, I groveled to Mrs S and another puzzle was added to my Xmas present pile. It arrived just days ago and I can't wait to play. I think I will need to play at work rather than at home as there seems to be quite a bit of powder in it (look closely at the pics!) and Mrs S will not be happy if I drop powder everywhere/anywhere! Thank you Austin and Mrs S!

Katie Koala - the greatest discovery puzzle ever made!
Finally and not one of this year's Xmas wishes but one of LAST year's ones - I am addicted to the work of the amazing Brian Young - MrPuzzle and when he announced and started selling his 20 year anniversary limited edition, I immediately jumped and ordered one despite the price! This was a mammoth task for him and Juno to work on and I knew it would be quite some time before my batch would be available. It was my hope that it would arrive in time for Xmas this year - and it did! I have had mine for 6 weeks now and have managed to find only the first few tools and managed just the first few steps! What an incredible puzzle!!!! Thank you Brian, Sue and Juno!

So finally, I hope everyone has a great Christmas and gets lots of puzzles to play with. Remember that puzzling doesn't have to be a solitary thing - we are a community, so make sure you share and spread the joy of puzzling. Even with the present Mrs S, this puzzling is still something we do together (as long as there's no jingling!) and allows us to chat and be companionable whilst we follow our own hobbies.

Thank you Mrs S for some great Xmas presents and for everything else you are to me - after 20 years of being married I am still grateful every day:
You're my downfall, you're my muse
My worst distraction, my rhythm and blues. 
'Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I'll give my all to you
You're my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I'm winning
'Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you
 Thanks to John Legend for these words - perfect in every way!

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Curvy Copter 3 - A fab puzzle improved by commutator theory

Curvy Copter 3
Some considerable time ago after I decided that a general puzzler should also be able to do twisty puzzles, I branched out and discovered the hugely fun world of twisty puzzles beyond the standard cubes. I have written about the options open to puzzlers wanting to branch out here. One of the very first "non-standard" puzzles I played with and then raved about was TomZ's Curvy Copter. This fantastic edge turning puzzle rapidly became one of my favourites because it can more or less be solved intuitively and is a great introduction to other edge turners including the marvellous Gem series from MF8.

Now 3 years later MF8 have released a new puzzle which they have called the Curvy Copter 3. This was designed by them entirely independently and only after they saw the similarity to TomZ's earlier Curvy Copter and subsequent Curvy Copter 2, they decided to name it after his initial puzzle as a mark of respect. The first release was as shown in the picture above, made from coloured plastic with no stickers (I love these because they look pristine forever) and a black plastic with stickers is shortly to be available. I would consider one of these an ESSENTIAL addition to a twisty collection and if you want it then it can be bought from the usual Chinese/Hong Kong stores for example HKNowstore where I got mine.

So what makes this one so special? As you can see from the picture it retains many features of the parent puzzle - it is an edge turner but now the cuts are deeper than before and actually cross midline making the centre cubies and petals which get moved around. The edges, corners and pentagons remain as before. It also jumbles as the parent did (jumbling occurs when it is possible to partial turns to line up planes of the cuts and then swap pieces completely out of their normal orbits and even out of position.

Scrambled
Scrambled AND jumbled
So what does this add to the original that excites me and warrants a whole new blog post? The presence of the centres and petals is completely new and it requires a whole new approach to that part of the solution. No longer can it be solved algorithm free, you need a technique for moving particular pieces around without destroying other parts of the solved cube. Yes what you need is a dreaded........ COMMUTATOR!!!!!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

The Tree Puzzle

The Tree Puzzle - Not very tree-like in this pic!
I guess I should apologise for being so late!

The present wife was off up in Scotland visiting the outlaws and left me to work and do a list of chores. I had been hoping to have a nice bit of "boy time" to myself - to eat stuff that was fattening, drink too much and play with toys and surf the Internet but unfortunately it was not to be! I had a horrendously busy time at work at the end of last week, I then spent most of Saturday doing my least favourite thing in the world - writing the 3 consultant on-call rotas for the anaesthetic department (it took 6 hours) and then spent all day Sunday in the mayhem of the emergency operating theatres in Sheffield (let's just say that the average number of legs per person in the city is definitely less than 2!!! So my chance to write a blog post for you was removed - Sorry again! Be careful out there in the ice cold weather - you really don't want to have to meet me professionally in an unplanned manner!

Sort of tree like!
Seeing as it was coming up to Xmas I had chosen the Tree Puzzle because of the resemblance to a Christmas tree. My picture above does not look much like a Xmas tree because it is so hard to get a decent photo of these wire puzzles. So instead I have nicked a pic from Puzzle Master to show the similarity. This is one of my favourite types of puzzle - a wire disentanglement and I actually expected it not to take me too long because it looked similar to something I had done before plus it was obviously N-ary in nature and they tend to be pretty logical. So I put it in my workbag midweek last week and hoped to quickly knock off a solve and review in a quiet moment. I should have known better! This puzzle is rated by Puzzle Master as a Level 10 (Mind Boggling) on their scale of 6-10 points and I reckon that the true rating is pretty close (maybe a 9.5).

It arrives in a nice clamshell pack and is a good handleable size - 17.5 x 9.8 cm. As with all the Puzzle Master own series of disentanglements, this is very nicely made from strong wire and beautifully anodised (hence the difficulty taking photos). The aim is to remove the shuttle (i.e. the tree trunk) from the main part using no force at all. There was one review on the product page which gave it 5 stars. That's good enough for me! No solution is provided for it but it can be downloaded from here for free.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

So 'painful' that my brain 'ruptured'?

It's Painful by Yavuz Demirrhan!
Many of you crazy puzzlers out there will be well aware that there has recently been considerable clamour by the puzzle purveyors to separate us from our hard-earned cash. There have been 3 auctions, Wil willed us to buy something, there was a further outbreak of Cubic dissections and then we all "wondered" how Brian Menold did it. Sorry about the puns! Now, having had a small hiatus from purchasing, I came back with a vengeance and managed to obtain something from an auction and from Wil, my twisty craving was fed and then I topped it off with some more wooden beauties.

I couldn't afford a copy of everything unfortunately (as I know some of you out there are prone to buying the whole lot!) so I tried to be selective and get what I thought might be interesting and/or beautiful.

Starting with this gorgeous piece from Brian Menold - he has recently become a full time professional puzzle maker and is gradually expanding his repertoire and using more and more beautiful woods. The quality of his work is now up with the very best and I chose just one from him this time. I had to make do with only the one for purely financial reasons - I would have bought several had I been able (yes they are THAT good). Yavuz Demirrhan is one of the most prolific puzzle designers in the world now (with 388 designs on Ishino's site). He is a good friend who specialises in interlocking puzzles with very unusual shapes and solution sequences. I adore the burr puzzles that are being designed by Alfons Eyckmans and Stephan Baumegger but Yavuz' designs are really different - he tends not to go for the really high level solution - the aim is to make something interesting. I have quite a few of his puzzles now and I have never been disappointed. It was tough to actually settle on just one but out of them all this had the nicest combination of woods and interesting shape with medium difficulty level.

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