Sunday, 29 March 2015

A gift out of the blue!

2 Piece Cube - Home made but very high quality
Just a quickie this weekend - unfortunately I have to work and won't have much time for writing a long review.

One of the things I love about the puzzle world is the people within it! They are always helpful and often go way beyond what one would expect to provide assistance or advice. I regularly am contacted by puzzlers for either advice or for help solving puzzles and do my best to provide what they need without giving too much away and spoiling a puzzle. I was completely surprised when I received an email from Germany, from a relatively new puzzler by the name of Carsten.

My first contact with him was about the Angel box combination plate code and must have been rather unsatisfactory for him because as far as I can tell the plates and codes were assigned randomly. After that we had no contact until earlier this month when he contacted me to inform me that he had designed a puzzle himself and would like to send me a copy. Why? because:
I would like to send you one of them as a little thank you for your great blog which helped me alot finding my way through the jungle of countless puzzles out there!
Aw shucks! Blush! This really filled me with emotion - I do this because I love to puzzle, I love to communicate and I love to help people. I never expect anything in return. I returned his offer saying that it was totally unnecessary but I did give him my home address and thought nothing more of it. Well at couple of weeks later a very big box arrived from Germany and I was completely mystified as my tiny memory had no recollection of anything being on its way. Finally it dawned on me what was inside and I was staggered at the quality of this "home made" puzzle.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Pelikan is reborn and they are truly great!

I couldn't resist these three!
Over the years you have seen me receive and review many many beautiful puzzles made by the New Pelikan workshop. I have also collected many from the original workshop under the care of Josef Pelikan. Most of the originals were sold via Bernhard’s amazing website, Puzzlewood. But after the sad premature death of Josef the company was taken over by two of the original employees, Jakub Dvořák and Jaroslav Švejkovský who continued to turn out some absolutely stunning puzzles. They still work with Bernhard to produce some specials - don't forget to buy the amazing Doors and Drawers (a collaboration between Pelikan and Mike Toulouzas) which I reviewed last September and may still be available from Bernhard and also more recently the incredible Walton cube currently available which I still need to buy when my finances recover a bit.

The only downside to buying from the New Pelikan workshop was that their website was really useless and impossible to tell what was available and how much anything cost. I advised Jakub about it repeatedly and the answer was that it was a work in progress. Now finally you all can see their wares easily and order from them with ease. Due to the vagaries of international postage you still need to order by email rather than a shopping cart but this, for me, actually makes for a much more personal service.

The new website:

is absolutely stunning and shows off the available puzzles in all their glory with detailed information and prices. The one thing you will all see immediately is that the prices are VERY reasonable indeed! This does not mean that the puzzles are made cheaply! Absolutely not! The workmanship is definitely first rate - the finish is wonderful and the fit of the pieces is as perfect as it is possible to be! One new feature with the current batch of puzzles is that the name of the puzzles is deeply engraved into the wood. I don’t think it is laser engraved either because there is none of the characteristic burning or smell of laser work. I assume it is done on a computer controlled mill.

Engraving on the puzzles
Recently (as you have all seen) I have spent quite a lot of money with a few other craftsmen and had to limit myself to just 3 of the 6 available puzzles. I chose the ones with the highest difficulty level and most interesting design to me.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Cast Plate

Hanayama Cast Plate
Unfortunately this weekend has passed in a haze of office work and DIY rather than puzzling - unfortunately writing a lecture, getting my paperwork up to date and regrouting my bathroom had to take priority - she TOLD me so in no uncertain terms and backed it up with a few lashes of the 'Cat O'Nine tails' tongue! So this afternoon I needed a fairly quick and easy puzzle to review.

Luckily, I still have one or two fairly easy ones left in my stash. The last Hanayama puzzle left unopened is the Cast Plate. This little beauty is just a level 2 on Hanayama's own 6 point difficulty scale and level 6 (Tricky) on Puzzle Master's odd scale. I did not expect to be stuck for long and would be able to write something for you fairly quickly and then could continue my chores (sob!)

As with all the Hanayama puzzles, it is beautifully packaged and the instructions are simply to take it apart and then reassemble it. With only 2 pieces this should not be too much of a challenge. This is a new version of a truly classic puzzle which has been around for hundreds of years in a number of forms. The version by Hanayama was (re)designed by Nob Yashigahara in collaboration with Jerry Slocum. In fact it appears to have been the last puzzle that Nob designed - it actually says "Nob's last present" on the back of the disk to commemorate this fact. If you want some more information then just have a look at Rob Stegmann's treatise on them - he has quite a few and has a magnificent write up (in fact he has a magnificent write up on just about everything!)

Cast Medal
These all share the same common feature they are in reality maze puzzles. The aim is to walk the ring from hole to hole on the plate to try and edge towards the exit point and remove it. It has the same idea as the similar difficulty level Cast Medal which I really enjoyed (and reviewed here at the end of 2013) because of the little extras within the solution. The puzzle is beautifully made and looks like it is made from old iron. I doubt it will rust however! Gabriel reviewed it back in 2012 and Brian did too in 2010. No solution is provided but Rob has put one on his page or you can download the official Hanayama solution sheet here.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Blood, sweat and tears PLUS I'm on Fire!

Yes! You are going to get 2 posts for the price of one today! At least you will if I can write this before Mrs S drags me out of my study to cook dinner! First up, I am going to give a quick resume of how I went about solving one of the most complex twisty puzzles produced this year, Eric Vergo's Pentagram puzzle. After that, I really think I should highlight one of the best new sequential discovery puzzles produced in a long time - The Fire puzzle from Pyro Puzzles designed and produced by the incredible Stephen Miller.

Pentagram - looks innocuous!
Scrambled hell!
Bauhinia dodecahedron
This puzzle was produced by MF8 after Eric Vergo produced it several years earlier using a commercial 3D printing service. It is another dodecahedron in the series which I discussed at length back in May 2014. To reiterate a little, the first dodecahedron was very similar to the 3x3 cube in that it was face turning and could actually be solved using only minor modifications of the cube techniques. Later on the clever designers produced the Starminx 1 which was a corner turning dodecahedron and, similar to the Dino cube, it was a fairly trivial thing to solve using intuition alone. Last year they produced a corner turning dodecahedron where the cuts were curved and cut deeper into the mechanism - this was the infamous Bauhinia dodecahedron which caused so many of us such incredible difficulty. You can see the curved cuts on the picture going from corner to corner tip and the particular challenge with that puzzle was how to get all those tiny star tips into position. Eric's achievement was to make the cut even deeper and instead of going from corner to corner tip, it encroaches into the adjacent face and this produces not only the star tips but also corner pieces which need to be positioned and oriented.

Obviously the the solution of Pentagram shares some processes in common with the Bauhinia but you must remember that I am a puzzler who wakes up each morning with no recollection of what I did yesterday and many times cannot recall my own name!! Yes, I am not terribly bright and it tells you that I have absolutely no recollection of how the Bauhinia was solved - Whilst I solved most of it alone, I did rely heavily on a couple of algorithms from my friend Rline who has the most incredible blog and YouTube channel. I was determined this time to solve this one by myself and this is a quick run through of some techniques I used.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Wise Up - He snatches defeat from from the jaws of victory

Wise Up
Pentagram
Why the title? The jaws of victory refers to my epic battle involving blood, sweat, tears and swearing with Eric Vergo's Pentagram twisty puzzle over the last 10 days. It is a corner turning dodecahedron with fairly deep cuts so that, unlike the Bauhinia and Starminx 1 (also corner turning), it has corner pieces. I received it in a recent batch from Calvin's HKNowstore and after stickering it, I began taking notes and hunting for my own algorithms for it. I gradually found various algorithms to allow me to move specific piece types without upsetting others and despite a partial inadvertent scramble during my exploration, I was ready to play! I solved my partial scramble and hence proved to myself that I had it right and scrambled it properly. Oh boy! I was totally unprepared for the battle that would commence! Not only was the turning poor due to so many pieces meeting at a point, but those points gradually sharpened themselves as they moved. During the multiple attempts at solving it I got stabbed quite badly and bled profusely over myself and my puzzle! I kept losing track of my setup moves during the solve and had to start again at least 8 times (once was really close to the final solution too)! I was nearly ready to give up when a final push last night snatched a victory for me!

Phew! I was ready for something a little less painful and hopefully a bit more easily successful! Lord! was I wrong about that!

I adore most puzzles (except packing puzzles and dexterity puzzles) and deliberately don't collect boxes to save the tattered remains of my finances. But one of my favourite types of puzzle is the disentanglement group - they are such a varied group and such a huge challenge at a very affordable price that I just cannot resist them. My favourites are the wire puzzles but having had a bit of success with the string puzzles that I got from Markus Götz I decided to try a few more.

The Wise up puzzle was designed by Markus (you can almost see his signature design in it) and manufactured by Eureka games and I got this from Puzzle Master in their "Other wood" section. It's a level 9 (Gruelling) on Puzzle Master's 5-10 scale and I have to say that this might be an underestimate of the difficulty. It is made of a plain wood (possibly maple) post with a nice sturdy thick string and coloured wooden bits as well as an anodised wire ring. The aim here is to remove the red ring from around the post. Unusually, this puzzle is packed in a plastic tube rather than the usual clamshell box. No solution is provided but it can be downloaded from Puzzle Master here.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Puzzle brothers recognise a great puzzle

Board Burr in a Cage - It's stunning
This blog has helped me make friends all over the world - I converse with them on FaceBook and also in a more disjointed fashion using email with many people initially using my Contact page to find me. For quite a few years now I have been chatting via email with a friend from the Far East (who's English is amazingly good) and he gives me lots of advice for puzzles that he thinks are worthwhile for my collection and he has even sent me quite a lot of puzzles to try of his own creation. I am always delighted to hear from him and usually learn something new from him when we chat.

A few weeks ago I made a purchase from one of my favourite craftsmen who I really try hard to support, Brian Menold from Wood Wonders and posted my pictures of my new arrivals on my New Additions page and on my FaceBook wall. Within a few hours my correspondent contacted me to congratulate me on my choices - it would appear that we both bought the exact same 2 puzzles from Brian and this (along with another similar coincidence from a year or so ago) makes us not just Puzzle friends but also Puzzle Brothers - we are both able to discern puzzles of great quality and with great puzzling value! Needless to say, I am delighted to have my choices confirmed!

The first puzzle for me to review is a gorgeous construction - it is the Board Burr in a Cage designed by Stéphane Chomine. The cage is made from Granadillo (aka Brown Ebony) and the burr pieces are made of Walnut with Olivewood caps. You will agree that it is stunning - the picture doesn't show the size; this is a pretty big puzzle at 9.6cm on all sides and is a really good weight. I am really glad for the size because board burrs tend to become rather unstable during the solution and a tiny puzzle would be very hard to manipulate.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Funzzle puzzle - Epsilon!

Funzzle - Epsilon
Returning to my more mass produced puzzles - I planned to "quickly" solve and review one of my Puzzle Master stash for you today. I say quickly because yesterday (on Valentine's day) I abandoned the beloved Mrs S to attend the 17th Midlands Puzzle Party at Allard's house and left her feeling rather sorry for herself - yes I had finally gotten over my Manbola but it had mutated and infected her and she was feeling shocking! Mutated into something FAR more virulent - the deadly SHEbola! In fact whilst I was away she was obviously feeling in need of medication and I found an 'empty' this morning. This either means she had hit the bottle in Valentine's day grief or just needed something to help her sleep through the tidal wave of mucus that comes with the 'bola variety of illnesses!

Having said that I wanted to turn out a quick solve and review, I have to sheepishly admit that this one wasn't quick at all! In fact it took me a couple of hours! My last blog post was about caged burrs and mentioned the fabulous constrained burr set from Eric Fuller and I therefore decided to follow it up with something similar which is open for everyone to buy at a reasonable price - this is the Epsilon puzzle. I leapt immediately when I saw this new series of puzzles available at Puzzle Master - they appear nicely made from bamboo and are therefore from a sustainable wood and look to be reasonably cost effective at just $14.95.

I had seen this first at last August's MPP just before the International puzzle party when my friend Otis Cheng showed it to me having brought an early version over from one of his friends in China. I had a quick play at the time but did not have time to solve it then and forgot about it until I saw it on the Puzzle Master site. I remember that it was a level 1 puzzle which leans that the first piece just slides straight out and with many burrs this can often mean that the rest of the puzzle tends to be fairly trivial. Believe me, this one is anything but trivial - it is a real challenge and really took me a long time! Puzzle Master have rated it as Level 10 (Mind Boggling) and I have to agree - it is certainly a level 9 -10. It is nicely made from Bamboo and finished fairly well. Certainly not a patch on the amazing hand made puzzles by Eric Fuller, Brian Menold, Stephan Baumegger or Alfons Eyckmans but it is a fraction of the price. It has coloured pieces as well to enforce a particular assembly and measure 6 x 6 x 6 cm. The puzzle was designed by Mr Y Gong Yong Ming and appears to be based on a design by Yavuz Demirrhan (attribution has been given on Puzzle Master's product page). There has been some controversy on the internet about this series with claims of plagiarism but I have kept away from that discussion. It seems to be have been commissioned by Puzzle Master for their own sales and is very nicely packaged:

Well presented

Sunday, 8 February 2015

A Burr so Tough it had to be Caged!

Trichromat by Yavuz Demirrhan - Stunning!
Constrained burrs!
Quite some time ago I was completely enthralled by the stunning caged burr series designed by Logan Kleinwaks and beautifully made by Eric Fuller - I reviewed them here in an article extolling the virtues of 6 piece burrs "with a difference". I have always loved the burr puzzles but ever since obtaining and solving that series, I have been especially interested in burrs that have something extra to make them interesting like these.

2 creatures inside - Gobi
Not long ago I wrote about some burrs from Alfons that, apart from having unusual numbers of pieces, also have other pieces inside (usually animal figures) which interfere with the solution. Most recently I played with Gobi (still available for sale) designed by Alfons and made by Eric again. It was so good that it was mentioned in my best of 2014 puzzles list. So adding constraints or adding extra internal blocking pieces to burrs of various sizes really make them more interesting for me. Another feature of some of the more interesting puzzles that have intrigued me has been the return to a 6 piece burr but one in which the burr pieces don't interlock properly instead they are held together by the addition of a cage around the outside.

The picture at the top is the Trichromat burr designed by the incredibly talented puzzle designer from Turkey, Yavuz Demirrhan. What you may not know, is that Yavuz is also an entirely self taught but highly skilled puzzle maker. I receive regular (several a week) Facebook updates from Yavuz about his new designs usually in the form of screenshots of Burrtools creations or just diagrams but a couple of months ago I was astonished to see a gorgeous wooden thing rather than a diagram! After a short exchange of FB messages it was on its way to me - and I must say for a very reasonable price!

The Trichromat puzzle is made of Wenge, Padauk, Walnut and Maple and looks stunning! Interestingly it is waxed rather than lacquered (European craftsmen seem to prefer wax or oil) and it smells absolutely wonderful! Looking at it reveals that it is nothing more than a burr with 6 non-interlocking pieces held in a cage BUT the quoted difficulty level is 44.1.3.1.2.2. which means that it is a significant challenge.

One of my earlier attempts at solving this sort of design was the Neighbourhood by Stephan Baumegger - it looks very similar in shape and is a similarly constrained 6 piece burr but has an easier level of  "just"(!!!) 29.2.2.2.2.2 moves. I played with and managed to solve the Neighbourhood in just a single evening of fun! So I thought I'd just follow it straight away with Stephan's next creation, the Rush hour (level 47.1.3.2.2) but after months of on and off trying I have singularly failed! It is currently in my bag with me undergoing a 6th attempt at solution!

Neighbourhood
Rush Hour
2 more caged non-interlocked 6 piece burrs (these by Stephan Baumegger)

So, having solved one caged 6 piece burr easily and failed dismally at another, it was with some trepidation that I attempted the puzzle from Yavuz. I had a quick play initially when it arrived and I got frightened off by a really complex multi-piece move that I found. I put it away for a while. But after a recent conversation with Yavuz I decided it was time to try again and hopefully not be humiliated again!

There are loads of possible moves quite early on and a few blind ends but luckily not too deep! There even appears to be a loop at some point! Lots of pieces seem to move quite a long way and after a relatively short period I had all 6 burr pieces over halfway out:

Almost there? Surely one piece will just slip out?
But alas, this position was as far as I got. Every single piece was blocked from advancing - I could only backtrack. Back and forth, back and forth, for a couple of days and each time trying something new or maybe repeating something old ands not realising it! Remember, I'm really not very bright! Then on Thursday night I was idly fiddling again whilst watch TV with Mrs S, when a piece dropped onto the cat's head on my lap! Aaaaaargh! I had no idea how it came out and had also no idea which way round it had been! So I couldn't even put it back in and try backtracking! The remaining pieces came out pretty easily and I was forced (happily) to make a Burrtools file for reassembly. There appear to be 6 assemblies possible but using the colour constraints there is only one with the level 44 for the first piece.

Having gotten it back together using Burrtools, I started again and luckily something from my random meandering must have penetrated my dull brain! After another hour of play - and this time it was proper exploration, taking note of the piece shapes and the movements/blockages, I had it apart again.

Trichromat pieces - notice how simple they are!
This time I found that I was able to reassemble it from just pieces using memory alone (I had needed Burrtools first because it disassembled by accident) and since that initial solve I have assembled and disassembled it 20 or 30 times - it is fun to wander back and forth admiring the design and smelling the lovely wood aroma. I doubt whether I could assemble it from pieces without having first disassembled it but I know that some geniuses out there insist on starting with a disassembled puzzle. I leave that sort of crazy behaviour to Laurie Brokenshire, Goetz Schwandtner and Adin Townsend.

If you would like a gorgeous caged 6 piece burr that is significantly more than trivial but not too tough for a normal human to solve and which you stand a good chance of being able to reassemble without instructions then let me know and I'll put you in touch with Yavuz (or contact him directly via FB)

Now it's time to get back to Rush hour and maybe then I might attempt the fabulously beautiful but even tougher Centauri and Odin from Stephan! These are much more difficult - they are classic 18 piece burrs which are constrained by a cage - I actually doubt whether I will ever be skilled enough but at least they look gorgeous on display!

Centauri (level 13.141.34.8.17.2.10) and Odin (level 20.10.42.10.3) - GULP!
Also in the future I should get some of a really interesting series of burrs designed recently by Alfons in which the cage itself is in pieces, mobile and dismantles along with the rest of the puzzle. I do have just one now - I posted on my New Additions page about a new burr which Alfons named after me! This one has 4 walls around it which interlock and move and will dismantle with the burr.

With a nod to the title of my post - there are so many burrs that are tough enough to require a cage! I need more spare time and more money!!!! Remember that you can buy the Trichromat now from Yavuz for a very reasonable price - you won't be disappointed!!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Cast U&U

Hanayama's Cast U&U
I was all set to write about this puzzle last Sunday when I got rudely interrupted by Derek and Steve's HELLical Burr. So I set this aside and have got to it now. Yet again my apologies - this may be shorter or lower quality than my usual writing as I am producing this from my sickbed - I have a cold and it seems to be bad enough to rename it "MANBOLA"! I seldom get ill but when I get a cold it always seems to knock me sideways!

The Cast U&U was designed by Kyoo Wong from Hong Kong, who also designed the very ingenious Cast Delta and, like his first puzzle, the U&U is a very new mechanism/idea. It was released in April 2014 and seemed to take quite a long time to reach the West. I did get to play with a prototype at a Midlands Puzzle Party which Wil was letting people play with. I only tried for a few minutes before getting sidetracked by other toys/people and on that one, found that one of the nuts would unscrew off one end. That was as far as I got.

The usual puzzle provider sold out very quickly and even Puzzle Master did not have any for ages. So I was left to reading other reviews by Jerry and Gabriel and drooling over yet another shiny toy for a while before I could get a hold of one for myself. I finally managed to get my grimy mitts on one in my last delivery from Puzzle Master and am quite pleased that I did. It arrived in the usual immaculate black Hanayama packaging and, as intended, looks pleasantly industrial! It consists of 2 double ended bolts with nuts on each end which have been intertwined. From the look of it, it could easily have been made from parts bought from a hardware store. The instructions on the box are simply to separate the 2 bolts and then put them back how you found them. Hanayama rate this as level 4/6 and Puzzle Master as 8 (Demanding) on their scale of 5-10. I think they got the difficulty level just about right - it will not take a seasoned puzzler too long to solve but a beginner might struggle for quite some time. As usual, there is no solution included but it can be downloaded from Puzzle Master here.

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!

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