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.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Cast Galaxy

Cast Galaxy - my goodness it's a tough one to photograph!
Big box from Puzzle Master
This is the first puzzle from my recent Puzzle Master delivery! Yep! I couldn't resist it and just had to get some more wonderful toys to play with and to review! Recently the postman has had quite a bit of extra work and not just because Christmas is coming but because I have had a bit of an ahem.... rush of puzzles to the head! The big box from Puzzle Master will keep me busy for quite a few weeks.

One of the first that I couldn't resist ordering is one that I have "sort" of solved before! I have absolutely no recollection of how I solved it and, until now, have not actually owned a copy myself. The Cast Galaxy was designed by Bram Cohen (yes, the same brilliant man who produced Bit-torrent) and was entered into the IPP Design competition in 2013 where it received a Jury honourable mention (there are quite a lot of prizes in the competition and I really don't understand what they all are for). Shortly after the competition, it was announced that Hanayama had done a deal to have it mass produced as one of their wonderful Cast puzzles. Congratulations Bram! It seemed to take ages after the announcement to reach the market and when it did, it sold out really really quickly and so I had to wait a while to actually obtain a copy.

Asian packaging only
Oddly, it does not seem to have been released with the European/US packaging yet. The version I got was the only Cast puzzle to have come in the Asian packaging (this time a green box) and apart from the name, I have absolutely no idea what the instructions say. I have to assume that it says the same as all the others - that you have to "take it apart and put it back together again". If there are any other aims then I do not know what they are. As you can see from the box it is rated by Hanayama as a level 3 out of 6 and Puzzle Master has rated it as level 7 (Challenging) out of 10 on their own scale. Taking it out of the packaging, you are immediately struck by just how beautiful this puzzle is - it is shiny shiny shiny and because of all the curves and the way it moves it just screams out to be played with!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

New Modders of the Cube (or new kids on the block)

A new cuboid
Recently Shapeways has implemented what we are all calling the "Price-apocalypse" by increasing their prices for multipart prints by 3-4 fold. This has effectively made 3D printed twisty puzzles a more or less unaffordable prospect for the foreseeable future and this means that we need to consider alternative methods of obtaining new toys to play with. The present method is to take an existing puzzle and use saws, knives and filling material to create something new. Over the last year or so I have managed to obtain a few quite modifications of twisty puzzles from various people foremost of whom is Traiphum (the ultimate puzzle modder). I think it is time to inform you who those geniuses are and encourage you to try and get puzzles from them!

Above we have a new cuboid (a 5x5x2) which was hand made from a 5x5x5 cube by an young Australian craftsman called Nathan Wilson. He posted on the Puzzle photography Facebook group that he was going to make some 5x5x3 and 5x5x2 cuboids and asked whether anyone would like to buy one. Of course I jumped at the chance and a month or so later it arrived! This is a masterpiece of cutting and filling. When turned, you can see how much has been shaved off and it is amazing that it is still stable.

When scrambled it looks like this:

Much easier than you would think!
Being of the form N x N x (N + O) where O is any odd number it is part of the Domino group of cuboids and the easiest of all to solve. It probably only took me about 1/2 an hour to solve (partly because my first solution produced an edge reformation parity which I took a while to recognise and beat. This is a wonderful puzzle and I look forward to seeing more of his work.

My next puzzle modder has been around for quite some time - Rex Rossano Perez who lives in the Philippines and is part of a group of puzzle modders there. He is a prolific collector, solver and puzzle modder and over a year ago made a Halfminx for me in return for me providing him with a few other puzzles.

This is literally just a megaminx cut down and filled at the base until there are just 3 moving faces. It was initially described by Aleh Hladzilin in 2009 and I am ashamed to say that this is one of my twisty puzzle nemeses! I have managed to solve monsters like Eitan's star and the Master curvy copter but even with the apparent simplicity of the Halfminx, I just cannot do it. I suspect that the simplicity is the problem - I am just too limited in possible algorithms! Luckily, it is quite pretty when scrambled as that is the way that it has to remain:

Beautiful colours!
Finally amongst this golden group of talented craftsmen is a craftswoman from the Netherlands! Her online name is Katten Vriendin which she uses on both Facebook and on the Twisty Puzzles forum where she is particularly active. We have been friends quite a long time on line and met for the first time at the last Midlands Puzzle Party. Whilst there, I was amazed by and finally solved her beautiful Deceptive Siamese Cubes:

Looks like Siamese cubes? Looks can be deceiving!
After having such a wonderful response from me, she decided to make one for my own collection and it sits next to me as I write taking pride of place amongst my bespoke twisties. It effectively is just a 3x3 supercube but is incredibly confusing to solve and the workmanship is just stunning! If you ask her really really nicely she might (only might) make one for you too!

OMG! The workmanship is stunning!

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Lucky Clover

Lucky Clover
Looking at the picture above you could be forgiven for thinking that it is another Hanayama puzzle - but it is not! This is the last puzzle I have left from my previous Puzzle Master delivery and luckily, as I have just published in my New additions page, I have this very week had another consignment delivered to regale you with.

This one had interested me for some time because of the extreme difficulty level - 10 (Mind Boggling) on Puzzle Master's odd 5-10 scale and also because it is nice and shiny for the magpie in me. The designer is the great master Oskar van Deventer and was entered into the Design competition of the 24th International Puzzle Party in 2004. Apparently it was mass produced by Bits and Pieces but you cannot tell this from the packaging which only has Puzzle Master's own branding on it. It is nicely packaged and explains that the aim is to take it apart and put it back together again. There is no solution provided with it but it can be downloaded for free from here.

It is not as nicely made as the Hanayama puzzles and the surface of the puzzle is easily scratched. Gabriel reviewed it here and seemed to enjoy the challenge. There has been one complaint by a reviewer on the product page that their copy broke. I am surprised by that because it does seem very robust to me. Another reviewer mentioned an alternative solution using force and I would suspect that this might cause a breakage. There is absolutely no need for force - everything just slides apart!

Not so pretty now!!
The packaging holds it into shape very well and it is important to be careful initially as just picking it up causes a jingling noise and a horrible mess!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

It's good to have puzzle friends!

It has nearly killed me!
I don't know whether you have noticed but I have really lost my puzzle mojo recently! The present Mrs S (and even the postman) had noticed! Postie had realised that the constant stream of parcels Chez moi had definitely decreased and seemed to be pretty much limited to clothes and other "stuff" for the first wife and definitely no new puzzles for me!

Even "she who must be feared" actually commented that I seemed to have stopped playing with any toys recently - I usually annoy the hell out of her by constantly fiddling with something during our quiet time together in an evening. To my shame, I can confirm that I have barely solved anything in ages and yep, hardly picked anything up and fiddled either! The only toys I have picked up have been those I have solved already and needed to remind myself of in order to assist people who have contacted me for help. I really seem to have run out of steam! Why? Well work has been frenetic and some health issues which have been a cause of concern have combined with the chronic changes in the NHS to make me feel pretty low recently. When I have added this to worsening of my insomnia (currently at 3 hours sleep a night instead of the usual 4) I have just not felt the urge to puzzle at all!

Wurmm - it should be easy!!! But I'm not very bright!
I was alerted to something very cheap on eBay by my friend Michel and it has been my only purchase in 2 months - The Wurmm puzzle pictured above is a fun and cheap little thing that can be found on eBay and is available from Puzzle Master too if you feel that way inclined for a meagre $8.

The rationale is to wiggle the wurmm through the apple and at certain points inside it is possible to rotate the wurmm to a different direction and then continue. The aim is to remove the wurmm from the apple to make it edible. I got mine with the wurmm at the exit point and promptly wound it on and rotated a few times. Movement is fairly slick and I expected that it would be pretty easy - after all, it is only a level 7 (Challenging). I'm not convinced of that difficulty level at all - because I have totalled about 4-5 hours on this thing so far and managed nothing more than going round and round in circles but never getting to the exit point!! My mojo seemed to have deserted me completely! Sob!!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Alles Schiebung and keeping track of the collection

Alles Schiebung
I was rather shocked this morning when I logged on to my usual Sunday morning puzzle surfing to see that Jerry had reviewed the very puzzle that I was going to just yesterday. Here is his review if you want to read something short and succinct. I decided not to let this put me off and carried on reviewing it as planned because the puzzle is just THAT GOOD!

Hendrik Haak is one of the doyens of the European puzzle scene, having participated for many years at IPP and feeling the need to burden his already busy life running his own business with the need to run a ver successful online puzzle store - The Alles Schiebung (transl All Shift) was his exchange gift at the London IPP this year. I was assisting the amazing Goetz Schwandtner in the exchange and when I saw Hendrick give his puzzle away I made a particularly big circle around his name on my record sheet to remind me that I would need to add this to my puzzle bounty before leaving the IPP.

It was designed by Jean Claude Constantin and has the classic great look of Jean Claude's N-ary puzzles EXCEPT that nothing is lined up in a row (all the sliders are rotated around a central point), you can't see the inner workings to help you know what moves to do because they are stacked on top of each other into 3 layers and there's a hidden ball bearing inside which stops the sliders moving if the puzzle is not held the right way up for each move! If this wasn't enough, the ball bearing falls out about 3/4 of the way through the solve and leaves you wondering where it came from and at what point to put it back! So basically this is an N-ary puzzle that is like no other I have ever seen! Yet another reason for everyone to try and get one! If you want to buy it then it can be bought direct from Hendrik at this link and is probably also available from Wil Strijbos if he is your usual supplier. At €40 this is a very good deal.

I have had this lying around my living room ever since the IPP in August and keep picking it up - not because I cannot solve it but because the movement and process is so different from all other N-ary puzzles that it makes a great worry bead to solve and resolve multiple times. It is also attractive enough that "she who must be feared" doesn't object to it lying around in sight.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Cubic loveliness - a great investment?

My last 2 cubic lovelies!
Eric Fuller has, over the last few years, managed to obtain a fairly large part of my savings! He can be found at 2 places on the internet - his puzzle shop & his own hosted auction site (next auction due in Feb 2015). He's one of very few full time puzzle makers in the world and seems to make a pretty decent living at it. In fact he's done such good business (not all from me) that he has managed to employ an assistant to help in the workshop. Over the last year or so, prices have risen (due to the increased cost of wood and cost of living) but I still keep coming back and buying more. The only thing that has changed is that I only buy 2 or 3 puzzles each time instead of the usual 5 or 6! I attempted to buy 3 items last time and lost one by having it snatched from my basket just as I was entering my purchase details so ended up with just the 2 lovely puzzles above.

But having watched the last auction at which quite a few of his older puzzles were sold from his own personal collection for absolutely staggering sums of money, I am beginning to wonder whether I should just buy everything that comes for sale straight away as an investment! The increase in value on most of his puzzles has been amazing and certainly would have made better returns than almost all of my other savings! The only problem with that approach (pointed out by my wife, I might add) is that in order to cash in on my collection, I'd need to actually sell something! This is a something that leaves me in a cold sweat at just the mere thought of it!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Cast Ring II

Cast Ring II
Having recovered from yesterday's horrendous rota writing episode and completed today's DIY chores, it is now time for a puzzle review - again, one of the more affordable puzzles. Today it is another from my Hanayama stash, the Cast ring II. I do not own the Cast Ring I and chose this one because of the high difficulty rating - it is level 9 (Gruelling) on the Puzzle Master scale and a 5 out of 6 from Hanayama.

As with all the others, it arrived in the lovely black Hanayama packaging and when I picked it up I realised that "ring" is a bit of a misnomer! I had not really looked at the full description on the product page and did not see the size. This is only a ring in terms of shape - you are NEVER going to be wearing this on your finger! It is enormous! The dimensions are 4.4 x 3.9 x 1.5 cm making this even bigger than your thumb but not big enough to be worn by a girl as a bracelet (Rox wore a fabulous huge Oskar 3D printed puzzle ring as a bracelet at the IPP - to the right is a photo of it on Oskar's table at IPP). I noticed that as soon as I took it off the backing card that this puzzle is extremely unstable - it just wants to spring apart. I therefore kept one of the wire ties on it for storage and photography purposes.

Quite a size disparity!
This is the 3rd puzzle ring in my collection. I have a 6 band gold one which I seldom wear but play with intermittently to keep my memory up to date. Many puzzle rings on the market are based on a similar mechanism of interlocking and it is useful to be able to do them for the occasional time when confronted by exasperated friends and colleagues who have a similar ring but cannot reassemble it. Over the years I must have done 15 or so for people! The other is a jigsaw ring in 3 colours of gold designed by the amazing Danish Jeweller, Georg Jensen. It is not in any way puzzling but I have been told many times by colleagues that it is wholly appropriate that I should wear it. This is my preferred ring to wear because it was bought for me by the present Mrs S (doing OK for a first wife!) for our 10th anniversary - she received something equivalent with diamonds in!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Thank you thank you thank you!

Incredible numbers!
I am supposed to be writing the consultant on call rota today - this one includes Xmas and the New Year and is a bit of a nightmare! I am very easily distracted so I thought I would take a small break and post this screenshot from my phone!

I cannot believe that so many of you read my rubbish and keep coming back! I don't think that it is all due to my mother as she really doesn't approve of my puzzle fetish!

Yesterday I passed the 400,000 page view mark! Thank you everyone for visiting and keeping me going!


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