Sunday, 4 October 2015

Not today I'm afraid!

Hello everyone. I'm very sorry to disappoint you as I know that many people come to my site religiously on a Sunday for their weekly fix of puzzle madness. There won't be a blog post today as my poor mum sadly passed away yesterday. She was far too young and vibrant to be taken from us but at least the pain she was suffering has now ended.

My family and I will be taking some time to mourn her passing and hopefully I will be back to puzzling for you soon. She thought I was absolutely crackers and felt very sorry for the present Mrs S (the one and only!!) but she certainly read my posts and for a while I was sure that most of my ½ million page views were her.

Take care everyone and be sure to enjoy your families whilst you have them with you.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Cast Keyhole and Keeping my Mind Busy

Hanayama Cast Keyhole
Recently things up here have gotten very fraught for me - my Mum who you all know has been ill, had a crisis and went from ill to near terminal and I had to make a lot of calls and rush down to London. Luckily she is now being well cared for and seems comfortable. I thought for a while that she wouldn't last long but she's a tough old boot and is hanging in there just now. I've been a doctor for many years (25) and am surprised at my own response to it.

You would have thought that with all that going on, I wouldn't be writing a blog post or even playing with a puzzle at all but I certainly have found that in times like these I need something to occupy my mind to stop me dwelling on the terrible occurrences of last week (even medical professionals feel the stress when it is one of their own) - solving something fun and writing a blog post is a bit cathartic for me and very therapeutic. I definitely would not be up to doing a Revomaze but I find that a simple little puzzling diversion is just the ticket. I rummaged in my "to be solved" stash from Tomas at Sloyd and found the Hanayama Cast Keyhole. This puzzle is a beautiful little thing designed by the Finnish Vesa Timonen and is available at the bargain price of €14.95 from Sloyd. I guess that if you live in North America it might be cheaper to get it from Puzzle Master here for $12.95.

It arrived in the usual Hanayama immaculate black packaging and the instructions on the box say simply to take it apart and then put it back together again. The puzzle is 6.9 x 2.6 x 4.5 cm and made from lovely shiny gold and chrome metal. I took the photo before I had even played with it at all because these puzzles do get marked by fingerprints immediately and they do get scratched during play - the gold one in particular will look very scratched fairly quickly.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Pole Dancing - Earned me a Whack! Ouch! and Worse!

Pole Dancers
Despite being on annual leave this week, I have actually not had much time to do that much puzzling and don't have enough time or energy to write much today. This is partly because my fitness drive started this week (and nearly killed me) and also the stress of my mother's illness has left me more sleep deprived than ever. My concentration ability has not been great as a result. I also was forced by "she who must be feared and cringed from" to tidy up my study - the results of which can be seen on my New additions page here. At least after many hours of tidying I have made a bit more space for any new toys that might be coming my way Whack! Ouch! No dear! I promise I am not expecting anything at the moment! Apart from...... Whack! Ouch!

I seem to have an awful lot to go!
My mojo seems to have abandoned me! I continued to work on Wil's exchange puzzle and finally after several days managed to solve the first 2 challenges in a way that was repeatable and that meant that I understood them. Remember that it is important to be able to solve a puzzle repeatably before you can claim that it is conquered and the challenges in Wil's leaflet are surprisingly difficult for such a simple design. Number 3 is killing me and I haven't even begun to use the extra piece yet. I have also singularly failed to solve Allard's exchange puzzle!

Luckily a few days ago, Steve sent me a copy of his IPP exchange puzzle - It is called the Pole dancers and was designed by the helical genius, Derek Bosch. I have reviewed every single one of these puzzles so far and could not resist playing with this as soon as it arrived. Unlike all the others in the series, this consists of 3 pieces instead of 4 and the core is a solid stick - hence the name as the other 2 helical pieces seem to dance around the central pole. Steve printed it himself on one of his Threedy printers and used a pair of beautiful vibrant colours. The layers have been beautifully smoothed so I assume that he also used an acetone vapour chamber to produce such a spectacular finish.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

The Ball and Chain is Going to Cause Much Pain!

Wil's exchange puzzle
They say that "absence makes the heart grow fonder" and it is true....but ONLY up to a point. The current "ball and chain" skipped up to Edinburgh to visit her parents and left me alone for a few days. Now normally this would be an excuse for me to veg out, play with my toys, drink loads and loads of red wine and gin (No! Not mixed together!) and generally be a slob. But unfortunately, I had had so much to drink the previous weekend at the gin festival and then the following few days as an organiser and attendee at a major medical conference (VASGBI annual scientific meeting) seemed to include a fair bit of booze too. So when Mrs S left, I decided I had better give my liver a rest - I really don't want to have to carry it around in a wheelbarrow! Luckily for me I had a series of deliveries whilst she was away that involved her least favourite of my toys - yes there were a good few disentanglement puzzles and you know that if I jingle I automatically earn a Whack! Ouch! Or a burn from the laser burning stare! So last night whilst sitting companionably together watching the last night of the proms on TV I started to make some annoying noises and the fondness that had accumulated immediately vanished and pain ensued! Sigh!

Bastard evil puzzle!
I would like to say that the "wife induced" pain is the main reason that I have singularly failed to solve Allard's evil puzzle but I can't really blame "her" entirely! I have sort of worked out what is required and my friend George Bell has confirmed my thoughts (remember to go and buy a copy of his exchange puzzle here if you missed it last week) but for the life of me I cannot seem to get the pieces into the correct position to allow the first critical move to be done! My eternal shame is compounded even more having just had an email from Shane showing his copy in pieces - he confesses that he is rubbish at these and so I (who am supposed to be moderately experienced) am feeling rather ashamed of myself! I will continue to blame Mrs S so as not to destroy my self image. Whack! Ouch! Ooh! Sorry dear!

At the top of this post is a recent purchase from the latest update courtesy of Wil Strijbos. As soon as I saw it I knew that I just HAD to have a copy. First it is a disentanglement, second it has multiple challenges and third it is just beautifully made and has a reset mechanism (which is just as well). It has the look of a Jean Claude Constantin production and was given away at the Ottawa IPP by Wil as his exchange puzzle. It comes with a leaflet displaying 10 possible challenges and says that more are possible:

Drool! Lots of puzzles in one!
The reset mechanism is by pulling the pin out of one of the balls and releasing the string. It arrived in the position for challenge 7 (which is the Ottawa exchange puzzle) but I decided to start at an easier one - namely number 1 (the top photo is actually that configuration). I have spent 3 days playing with this damned thing and have managed to dismantle it twice and still have absolutely no clue how I managed it! I have had to use the reset mechanism to put it back to the beginning each time because having taken it apart I couldn't even reverse the process. The actual shapes of the pieces are not complex and the string is not long so getting knotted up is not a problem. This puzzle should not be as hard as it is but I have found that (like Allard's puzzle) the crucial moves that I want to take are blocked by the narrowness of the metal U. Last night having received pain for Allard's puzzle, I quickly moved onto this one and even with wooden parts it still was noisy enough to earn me another Whack! Ouch! Lord! I'm covered in bruises! Can you imagine what state I will be in by the time I have solved Allard's puzzle AND all 10 challenges? I have to say that this is an absolutely BRILLIANT design - if disentanglements are your thing then get one NOW!

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Exchange puzzles cause a LOT of Whack! Ouch!

Errm! It's Housing Crunch by George Bell
It has been quite a good week for me in terms of puzzle acquisition and solving - yes I know it seems to you all that every week is a good week for me but I promise that I don't receive new toys every day (or even every week). If I was to start collecting at that rate Mrs S would give me such a hard Whack! Ouch! that I would be incapable of doing anything for months afterwards and may even end up in the ICU - she IS a very strong and violent girl (remember she IS Scottish! Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear!) I really am not terribly bright - you would think I would have learned by now!

Two prototypes
Earlier this week I received a copy of a puzzle from George Bell. Over the last 2½ years I have helped him test his prototypes for the IPP puzzle exchange. He contacted me in February 2013 and asked if I would help and critique the puzzle he was designing. He did say:
"There are only five pieces, how hard can it be?"
I am not stupid enough to fall for that one again - my experience (and many others I have tortured) with the Symmetrick puzzle with only 2 pieces has showed me that number of pieces is NO guide at all to difficulty! Despite my protestation that I was terrible at packing puzzles, I did seem to provide useful feedback. The first one to arrive was the one with the rectangular shaped tray. When I got it, I struggled a bit initially (I did say that I was bad at these) but found a solution after about half an hour of random movements - I wish that I had better techniques than that! Much to my surprise (and George's I actually found a second solution which he had not expected. George paid me the huge complement of letting me know that I had actually solved it quicker than one of our puzzling doyens, Dick Hess! I made a suggestion about how he might prevent the second solution and he went away to think about it. The puzzle was not used as his exchange in London in 2014 and I assumed that he must have struggled to find a way to make it work properly. I was, of course, wrong. If you ask Mrs S she would tell you that I am almost always wrong! but if I was you I would keep as far away as possible from the violent Scottish girl! Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear! I don't know how she keeps managing to creep up on me so quietly.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Coordinated and Interlocked with a Pelikan

The attendees of the Taiwanese Puzzle Party
Not my usual top of blog post photo above! I'm first of all sending you off to read a fascinating blog post on Rox's site. It was written by my good friend Otis Cheng for the mf8 forum in Chinese and then he translated it (for me) to be a guest article here which I was going to publish this coming week. Roxanne, being the cheeky minx that she is, hijacked it before I could get to it but it makes such great reading that I need to send you away from my site to hers for a jolly good read. The Hong Kong and Chinese puzzlers all had a wonderful trip to Taiwan and attended several days of events which looked absolutely marvelous. I followed their escapades on Facebook with great interest and was delighted to be able to put faces to some of the very famous names in the puzzling world. I even got to see a photo of a very good friend!

Now to the main subject of my post this weekend - last week I noticed with huge interest when Jakub Dvorak of the New Pelikan Workshop posted some gorgeous pictures of new puzzles that he and his partner Jaroslav Švejkovský had manufactured and were about to bring out for sale. Of course I couldn't resist buying all 3 of them and this week they arrived much to the disgust of the present Mrs S. Luckily for me she had been on her own little shopping trip on the internet and couldn't really complain at me too much or deliver a Whack! Ouch! After placing my order, I was amazed that it only took 5 days for the puzzles to arrive here from the Czech Republic. As always beautifully boxed and safe from damage. If you are thinking about getting into wooden interlocking puzzles then you cannot beat Pelikan for quality and value for money.

Co-Mo Cross

Saturday, 22 August 2015

The Naga Puzzle - Another Unexpected Gift

How can this be the work of a beginner?

The Naga Puzzle
We have a post a day early this week because I have to work all day tomorrow in the Trauma operating theatre and won’t have time to write anything for you. Luckily the present Mrs S knows how important my blog is to me (and hopefully to you) so she has allowed me time on Saturday away from DIY etc to produce a review of something very special.

I do tend to consider myself very lucky. I have a very tolerant wife who puts up with this truly ridiculous hobby of mine with only the occasional Whack! Ouch! I have great friends in the puzzling community who are happy to discuss my obsession with me and share their thoughts and even let me play with their new toys and I even have the great good fortune to be in contact with (and even be great friends with) some fantastic puzzle designers like Shane, Wil, Steve, Stephan and Alfons.

The Hales Puzzle collection - I am honoured
She won't let it be on display!
One of my greatest puzzle friendships has been with Shane, who initially contacted me to discuss the blog, collecting and solving puzzles and over a period I discovered that he was a Master woodworker (with a certificate too!) and I sort of encouraged him to turn some of his ideas into a real puzzle. It started slowly but Hales Puzzles was established and his work is now highly sought after. In fact, his work now stands on display on the sideboard of my dining room with huge pride (although that hideous dirty case from the Pentagon has been put in the loft on pains of another Whack Ouch!).

I have always hoped that someone else would do what Shane has done so generously but because puzzle design and production is so difficult, it could not happen frequently. Steve Miller sent me his Spam puzzle last week and I investigated it with trepidation - it had a curious smell of burnt wood which luckily was not from some explosive that he had set up but actually came from laser cut and engraved wood. The Spam puzzle will prove to me an absolutely horrific challenge for even the most ardent of packing puzzle fans - thank heavens I didn't just up-end the tin and shake it all out. It would probably be a pile of sticks forever more. I think even Dave Holt (THE metagrobologist) who adores packing puzzles might even be stumped by it!
What is so tough about it?  Remember that Steve is an evil genius! At the top of the tin I have removed the title spam and you see just the top puzzling layer - each layer is about 5 mm thick! Just look at this:

Just one layer!
Now imagine upending a tin containing 15 layers! Each with a different way of dissecting a slice of "spam" up into many pieces with many different orientations and shapes, some of which are very small! Yet again, thank heavens I didn't up-end the tin! Phew! Have a look at my New Additions page to get a view of true horror!

2 Piece cube
Earlier this year I was contacted by a new designer called Carsten Elsäßer from Germany who wanted to gift me a new design of his so that I could play with it and review it for him. At that time I had no real expectations of quality from him and was absolutely amazed when the Two Piece Cube arrived. Not only was it simply gorgeous, but it turned out to be a really clever puzzle with a nice Aha! moment. Then, when it came to the second and third challenges it revealed itself to be a truly elegant idea. I took this to the last Midlands Puzzle Party and a few people attempted it. What amazed me most was when the Puzzle solving machine that is Louis Coolen sat down and played with it. Of course he solved it! But he had a big smile on his face when he realised the nuances of what is required. Approval from Louis is a VERY big thing - he really appreciates elegance.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Double Lock

Double lock puzzle - looks horrendous
Today's will be a pretty short blog post unfortunately! I am absolutely shattered - my mother has become quite ill (still at home for now) and I decided to drop in on her yesterday without warning so I could assess her myself and establish whether I would need to kick the arse of the NHS! The vagaries of the UK motorway network meant that my journey from Sheffield (about 160 miles) took 5½ hours and nearly ruptured my bladder! Steve!!! I might have needed your assistance with that! (He's a urologist!!). Needless to say a repeat journey home taking 4½ hours today has left me just a tad fatigued! So today's post is a quicker than usual one.

This is another of my beloved disentanglement puzzles from Tomas Linden's Sloyd store. I had basically chosen a whole bunch of the toughest ones I could find on his site and intended to work my way through them. This one is the Double Lock puzzle which is available in the Eureka Mini-string series. They are beautifully made, well packaged and an absolute bargain at €5.04 each. You cannot go wrong with these puzzles. I have also realised since I got them both that the Summer Holiday puzzle in the Bon Voyage series is the same puzzle and a bit cheaper at €4.90! It serves me right for not looking at the puzzle itself before buying and just looking at the difficulty level!

Reef knot
It arrives in the same small green box as last week's Hemi-sphere's puzzle with the only instruction being a diagram showing that the solved state has the 2 reef knots undone and the wooden ring removed from the puzzle. Dimensions are 4 x 4 x 2 cm when scrunched up but it spreads out well when you lay it all out to examine it. The difficulty level on the box is 3 stars out of 4 and on Tomas' site it is described as 3/3. Puzzle Master only stock the Bon Voyage puzzles as a whole set  but within that it is rated as 8 (Demanding) on their scale of 5-10. This should be a piece of cake right? Just you wait and see! No solution is provided but if you find that you really need one then it is available to download from here or for Summer holiday here.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Part 2 of the "Two fer" in Honour of IPP35 - a BOX!

Not just any box! It's the Stickman Edelweiss Puzzlebox

It's not a box! It's a packing puzzle!
The decision on the winners of the 2015 IPP design competition should have been decided by now so I can safely publish my review of my latest toy!

At this time of the year certain select people on the Stickman mailing list will receive an email informing them of the availability of a new puzzle box. The number made has increased recently but it is still a pretty limited edition run. I have been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of the list for a few years. I reviewed the Pirate’s wallet chest last year and reviewed it here. I had heard rumours of a collaboration between the Stickman (Robert Yarger) and the incredible William Waite this year and was very excited to receive an email again a few weeks ago. It was in my inbox when I woke up in the morning and before I had even eaten my breakfast some PayPal electronic money was sent! It's such a shame that PayPal money ends up being real money!

Now you all know by now that I don’t collect boxes (I have been threatened with a lot more Whack! Ouch! occasions if I do begin collecting boxes) so I can hear you all screaming at me how can you possibly justify these? Not only is it a box but it is a pretty expensive box! My excuse is that I CAN buy a box if there is some other puzzling aspect to it. Last year’s puzzle was a sequential discovery puzzle and this year it is a 2D packing puzzle (hence the connection with William who specialises in this sort of puzzle). Therefore I CAN justify it. Plus of course, I can justify it because IT’S A STICKMAN! So the Stickman Edelweiss Puzzlebox #28 was purchased and on it’s way across the pond to me.

Perpetual Hinge
remains unsolved
My friend Shane got his copy first and immediately set to work and sent me tales of woe at how difficult it was and how much he was struggling to solve it. That didn't surprise me - I have a Perpetual hinge which I have owned for 3 or 4 years and have yet to solve it. Stickman does describe it as "Difficult" which gives me a small excuse. I refuse to look at the solution so that might stay closed for a few more years yet!

The customs officials held my Edelweiss puzzlebox hostage for a few days and extracted their ransom before it finally arrive chez moi. The first thing I did was admire the fantastic woodwork and finish. Mine appears to be made from Walnut and Maple with a very nice laser cut laminated wood on the top and bottom forming a pattern. It is hexagonal in shape and layered too. The diameter is 12 cm edge to edge and it is 7.5cm high. There are different pieces on the top and bottom. The bottom revealed that mine was limited edition number 73 out of 100.

Bottom of the Edelweiss Puzzlebox/packing puzzle
The instructions say there are:
2 secret compartments which become accessible only after fitting the pieces into the tray to produce either a flower or a snowflake.
Flower and snowflake solutions vary somewhat in difficulty, but both are extremely challenging. As an aid to solving this puzzle a simpler 3-section puzzle is also included on the reverse side, and its solution will provide the correct position of all pieces.
I was not sure that I understood the instructions but I sort of realised it was a tray packing puzzle (which I am rubbish at) but like Shane I threw caution to the wind and removed all the pieces from the top. I decided I was not going to use the clues on the 3 pieces below for help  and set to trying to put it back together. At this point I gained a little idea of the internal mechanism - the pieces sort of “snap” into place in the tray and also when you put them all in a heap they link together. Yep! There are magnets inside these beautifully made pieces. They must interact with something under the lid to release a locking mechanism (although for the life of me, I could not envisage how that might work).

Lot's of pieces - different colours and some even etched
Like Shane, I struggled to get the pieces back into anything resembling a flower or snowflake - I am so bad at this sort of thing that it took me 3 days to make anything that would fit in the tray. Having finally made a shape that would fit, with great glee I tugged on the tray in the opening direction and……. it was still locked! Hmmm! Now I was really stumped. I tried different orientations and it didn't work. I then decided that there must be another way these pieces went together so I took them all off and tried again - another day went by and I couldn't find an alternate assembly! Oh the pain!! Now I was buggered!

So I eventually decided to try to solve it using the simpler 3 piece puzzle and put them in place in LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of different directions and orientations and NOPE! Still locked! I'm not good at combinatorics but I think there are 72 different ways to put the 3 pieces in the tray and I really struggled to keep track of what I had tried. I gave up in disgust! What next? I was stumped but still determined not to look at the instructions. I was discussing my failure with Derek last Friday evening and was pleased to hear that he had the same problems as me. He made a little suggestion which I’m not sure he really meant but something inside my tiny mind clicked and I tried something new. Suddenly the first compartment was open and I was able to see the locking mechanism. Very clever and actually a very simple locking mechanism but really not an easy thing to fathom or solve  intuitively. I took a quick pic and emailed Shane who was rather stunned that I had managed it (not as stunned as me). Having done one side, I put it down to eat dinner with Mrs S - I couldn't risk another Whack! Ouch!

Try balancing puzzle pieces
on that!
After eating and cleaning up, with thoughts whirring in my head I sat down in the living room to watch some TV and continue puzzling in the pleasant company of Mrs S and a cat or 2. It is unbelievably difficult to solve a tray puzzle with a cat on your lap but I was determined to finish it.

After a bit of thought and some fiddling I was delighted to have the second compartment open and a second mechanism was revealed. I idly wondered why there was any need for a second mechanism at all - it is not like Rob to put anything unnecessary into one of his masterpieces. I sat and examined all the pieces I had in my lap and thought for a while. I then had an incredibly amazed moment of understanding - 2 mechanisms are required for a very unusual reason. And I cannot tell you that reason without giving too much away but needless to say, I was amazed that he had carried such a thing off - in Yiddish it would be described as Chutzpah! When any of you who own this puzzle open yours, you will realise what I mean and maybe one day I can reveal why.

Opened both compartments - NO hints given in this picture!
Robert and William have this entered into the IPP design competition and hence my delayed publication of this review. By the time you read this (and when I have woken up on Monday morning) the world will know whether they have won. I think it does stand a good chance - it has the right combination of beauty, craftsmanship, cleverness and also simplicity! I love it and am very grateful to have had the opportunity to solve and own it. I think this will live outside my study with other spectacular puzzles!

Part 1 of a "Two fer" in Honour of IPP35 - Hemi-spheres Puzzle

Hemi-spheres puzzle - looks simple doesn't it?
Last year was my first ever attendance at the international puzzle party and I had the most amazing time finally meeting puzzle friends from all over the world. I dragged the present Mrs S with me and she had a good time too (even if it was non-puzzling) - I was very proud that there were barely any Whack! Ouch! episodes at all (except when she discovered how much I had spent!) This year the IPP is, at this very moment, being held in Ottawa and unfortunately I could not afford to go and had to pull out at the last moment before the booking deadline. I was absolutely gutted and I miss all my friends dreadfully.

I know that at least 3 of the puzzle bloggers are out there just now and so the reading matter for those of you who are also unable to attend will have been a bit sparse. So today, I am giving you a “twofer” to make up for it! Yes it’s going to be two blog posts today instead of my usual one. The first (this one) will be my usual regular affordable and easy to obtain puzzle and the next will be a really special puzzle which is more expensive and much harder to come by. The second puzzle is actually an entrant in the 2015 IPP design competition and I don't want to spoil the entrant's chances of winning by publishing my own review too early. The judging should all be done by 18:00 Ottawa time which will be 23:00 here in the UK (BST) and so the second part of the "two fer" will be published at that time.

This is one of my alternate weeks so I have to start with an affordable puzzle for you. Again I am dipping in to my disentanglements from Tomas Linden’s Sloyd webstore. This puzzle is a real treat which I enjoyed immensely. The Hemi-spheres puzzle from Eureka puzzles in their Mini string range is very affordable at €5.04 and nicely packaged in a small dark green box. It was designed by Bernhard Wiezorke (whom I have never heard of before but I plan to keep my eye out for him in future). The difficulty rating on the box is 3 stars out of 4 (although as far as I can see there are no 4 star puzzles in this range) and I actually think it might be a bit simpler than that rating - maybe a 2½. Removing it from the box reveals a complete loop of a good quality string, a wooden ring on one end which has a strange loop of the string through it - I guessed that this odd looping must be important in the solve process. In the middle is a brown wooden sphere with the string entirely passed through the centre and at the other end to the loop is a nice pair of maple hemispheres pointing away from each other.


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