Sunday, 22 November 2015

I Need to Think Outside of the Box

Road Blocks
Today's blog post is to show how two of my new puzzles forced me to change my thought processes and got me back to thinking "outside of the box".

I am pleased to say that I have survived the onslaught of the laser burning stare! In fact the present Mrs S did say to me that she had her eye on a particular handbag that she was waiting for the Xmas sale to start before purchasing. She told me the current cost and I gulped internally but didn't break gaze with her for even a second! After this complete lack of a flinch, she nodded internally and it would appear that my recent spending spree is almost forgiven as it hasn't impaired her ability to buy what she desires. She has also been watching me in the evenings and has seen how much fun I have had with them and grudgingly admitted that I seem to have gotten my money's worth. Phew!!! I haven't dared tell her about the next one that I have ordered! Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Mike Does it Again! Euro Falle 3 & 4

Aloha Kākou, gentle readers (Ed: I lurve this expression). It appears I did not fail completely in my first guest review and was even fortunate enough to receive a pat on the back from some folks I respect very much. Thanks for that! Although you may regret encouraging me, as now I will probably never shut up about this stuff. (Ed: I encourage you to carry on!)

Front of Euro Falle 3 & 4
I am especially happy to be back on Kevin’s blog because I really wanted to finish out my review of the Euro Falle series. In the interim, Jerry Loo has followed up with a nice review of Euro Falle 03  and Jeff has presented a brief sketch of Euro Falle 04. I’ll try not to retread old ground, but it’s probably inevitable. Bear with me on that. By the by, Jerry acquired his 03 the old fashioned way, he exchanged for it! That has to be a lot more fun than filling out a Puzzlemaster checkout form for the 123rd time. And no, I’m not wise enough plan ahead and start an account. Who has time for that?

Back of Euro Falle 3 & 4 (4 is on the left here)
So today I present to you Euro Falle 03 and Euro Falle 04. As you’ve guessed, these are in series after Euro Falle 02, but you will see right away that they are a different beast on a couple of fronts. These puzzles fall into a class that I, as a novice, particularly enjoy. They are puzzles from IPP that have become available on the “open market”. Not all IPP puzzles make it to the masses. But some few do, and when that happens, you should give them very careful consideration. This post aims to help you with that. As for me, I just snapped them up on impulse. That is also a good approach.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

How complex can a packing puzzle be?

It's "Odd" how you can be good at some puzzles and bad at other similar ones!
The train of thought for this blog post was started by my really good friend Dave Holt (the Master puzzler in charge of The Metagrobologist on line magazine) when he posted on his Facebook page a few days ago of a picture of the Odd puzzle by Iwahiro as an example of a puzzle that he likes to give to non-puzzlers to provide a nice fun challenge. My version above is one of the most beautiful puzzles I own and was made for me by my friend Neil from Cocobolo and Purpleheart with a box made with Katalox and Holly slipfeathers. This got me thinking whether packing puzzles were always the best thing to give non-puzzlers? So I have looked back at my collection and some of my recent acquisitions to review my thoughts on this genre and what made me buy them.

Now first I should say that I am really BAD at packing puzzles - so bad that I barely ever buy them anymore. The only time I will add one to my collection is if they fulfil one or more of the following criteria....
  1. they are designed by a friend or made by a friend
  2. have an extra something to them
  3. provide a lot of puzzling for the price
  4. they're beautiful!
Hmm! That seems to be quite a few exceptions to my rule of never adding packing puzzles to my collection. But, compared to burrs and wire things, my packing puzzle collection is quite small. A large proportion of my packing puzzles are variants of the 'omino puzzle - they may be tetromino, pentomino, hexomino, or a combination. To add interest and complexity they may have a colour scheme or pattern and if you are a real sucker for punishment they can be 3D or as an ultimate have an odd 3D container to pack them into.

CamelPak by Jerry Loo
Twiddle dum and dee
This puzzle makes it into the collection because of criterion number 1. At the last IPP in Ottawa my friend Jerry who writes a fabulous blog participated in the Edward Hordern puzzle exchange and gave away one of his own designs, a nicely made packing puzzle called CamelPak made from laser cut acrylic. At the IPP he gave a copy for me to Big Steve (that's Mrs S' name for him because he towers over me) and on returning to the UK, Steve promptly forgot about it! Some months later, when I bought the next 2 designs in Derek's helical mind-bending challenge from Steve he suddenly remembered my gift from Jerry and it was a nice unexpected bonus in the box. Thanks Jerry for the lovely gift and Steve for remembering and being so nice to me in general! I played with the CamelPak one evening whilst watching the TV with Mrs S and the cats. She was delighted when it turned out to be less noisy than some of my recent toys and Zachary on my lap was also delighted that it was less heavy, less pointy than others and that I didn't keep dropping bits on him.

The instructions on the back are: 1st challenge - pack all the 5 camels into the tray. 2nd challenge - pack 4 camels, the dog and snake into the tray. Now this has 5 deca-ominos, a heptomino and a pentomino. I usually find that the higher the number in the 'omino the tougher the puzzle but, in retrospect, I guess it should also depend on the size and shape of the tray. I played with this during an episode of "The Strain" and by the end of it, I had solved both challenges. Mrs S only gave me one dirty look when I shouted "Yessss!" after the second challenge and I am pleased to say that this is a really nice fun little challenge - it is absolutely perfect for an exchange puzzle. This is one that I now bring to work to torture people with along with his exchange from last year.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Win some, lose some, come close.....but fail again!

A puzzle for my birthday? Nope! She even made me work when it arrived!
Now if you hear lots of groaning sounds whilst reading this post you must blame the present wife! Mrs S was all very nice to me on my birthday on Friday and even bought me a very nice present (a Kindle Paperwhite and NOT puzzles). The following day it was all back to normal service again - she saw that the weather forecast for Sheffield was good for Saturday (and supposed to be bad for Sunday) and pronounced that it was time for us (me) to do the end of year gardening chores. I did protest that I had a new puzzle to play with that arrived that very morning but she glared at me until my skin began to peel off and I dutifully did as I was told. I absolutely loathe gardening! Many would say that as a very short man, I am very close to the ground and bending down to pick up fallen leaves and pull weeds should be very easy for me! Unfortunately, whilst it is true that I am very close to the ground, it is also true that my recent birthday makes me VERY old and bending down a lot and doing thousands of squats in one day is not good for someone so old! After 7 hours of it on Saturday I was ready to hide away from the "trick or treaters" with all the lights off and drink wine for the rest of the evening and play with my new toy!

Then this morning she sprung out of bed, saw that it was a beautiful day out and pronounced that I had more to do in the garden - time to scrub the patio and paths with bio washing powder to get rid of the algae. Does she not realise that Sunday is a day of rest, writing and puzzling? I moved a few muscles and realised that they hurt quite a lot but that would be no excuse. So I have been scrubbing for 4 hours today and am starting to seize up. If this blog post doesn't end then I am fixed in an agonising position in front of my computer....... please come and rescue me quick!

The topic for today is a mish mash of what happens after you get out of the habit of puzzling (or doing a particular genre) for a while and then start again. Recently after my bereavement, I pretty much stopped puzzling for a while because I had lost my mojo. Once my concentration had begun to return, I started to play again but with mixed success.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Riding Otis' Coattails - An American Chasing the Euro

Having offered the chance for guests to write something for me as far back as mid 2013, I only had one person take me up on it (in Oct 2013) until recently. Otis was very kind and stepped in when I was indisposed recently and wrote a fascinating article on a bespoke puzzle box made by a very new entrant into the puzzle world and almost simultaneously I was offered a contribution by a new friend Mike Desilets from Hawaii (lucky bastard!!) I had been corresponding with Mike since July - initially he was asking for advice on puzzle purchases and he is gradually entering my mad world. I was stunned and humbled when he also made such a kind offer. I know that writing a decent quality blog post along with the photography can take several hours and I am very grateful when someone else can take the pressure off me. I am gradually returning to puzzling at full tilt but concentration is not up to my normal standard just yet - I don't want to let my loyal readers down - I know from looking at my logs how many people visit my site around the time of a new post. So I have the first article in a series from him - I hand you over to Mike now:

Euro Falle #2 in many sides of glory!
Aloha, loyal readers. Following on the heels of Otis’s recent guest post, Kevin has been gracious enough to permit yet another guest review. Mine, to be exact. I cannot thank him enough. Although I have lots to say about certain puzzles and puzzling in general, the level of effort and commitment involved in hosting a regular blog is staggering (Ed - Tell me about it - I have many Whack! Ouch! bruises to prove it) and I don’t intend to ever go down that road. This is a great alternative and I’ll try not to botch it.

As a relative (and actual) nobody in the puzzling world, let me take just a minute for introductions. My name is Michael Desilets (Mike is fine) and I live and puzzle in Hawaii, or on whatever other Pacific island my work takes me. I am an archaeologist by trade, endeavoring to reconstruct human history from bits and pieces—the most complex and intractable puzzle ever. Quite likely an impossible object. I am not a particularly accomplished puzzler. I’m currently on a disentanglement kick (Ed - that might be partly my fault), but I do puzzle quite broadly. I must also say that I am not in any real sense a puzzle collector. I have very few items that would be considered rare or exceptional and am therefore closely akin to 99% of the folks who read this blog. That all said, I do treasure the small assemblage I have managed to acquire, I stroke and fondle them regularly, and I don’t intend to part ways with any of them. I may not be quite PuzzleMad yet, but I do spend an inordinate amount of time puzzling and thinking about puzzles. And now, apparently, I am going to talk about a few of them in public.  But enough preamble. Let’s get to the puzzles.

For my inaugural guest review, I intend to present three very interesting, related puzzles that I have just recently purchased and played with. This is the Euro Falle . . .  series? Well, with three puzzles on the market named Euro Falle 02, Euro Falle 03, and Euro Falle 04, I guess we can safely call it a series. This particular post will deal with Euro Falle 02 and (if I haven’t completely disgraced Kevin’s blog) the others will follow (Ed - absolutely!!)

The Euro Falle coin release series began not too long ago with Euro Falle 02. Euro Falle 02 is a product of the Siebenstein-Spiele shop, one of the newest puzzles in their line. I don’t know who exactly designed it, Jürgen Reiche himself I suspect, but please help out here if you are in the know. I purchased mine from Puzzle Master, where it is still listed, but it can also be found at a number of other reputable online stores (MrPuzzle,, Brilliantpuzzles). The original stock at Puzzle Master appeared to sell out quite quickly and, having dallied, I was afraid I had once again missed out on an interesting small run puzzle. Not to worry though. Euro Falle 02 was soon relisted and by then had also been picked up by other retailers. I can only assume that it has taken its place in Siebenstein-Spiele’s regular line. It should be around for some time. But don’t be complacent, especially if you are a fan of this genus.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Trials, Tribulations and Forbidden Techniques

Four Mirror One
Last week I mentioned that shortly after returning from London I received a large series of puzzle deliveries. I wasn't terribly bright because I left the delivered puzzles in a large pile in the "to be photographed and solved" area of the study where of course Mrs S happened to pass by whilst delivering an errant toy from the living room back onto my computer keyboard. Even she could not fail to notice that there was a rather LARGE pile of toys she had never seen before. I did try to emulate her "girl's" standard response of "I've had these for ages" but she didn't believe a word of it and a Whack! Ouch! was duly delivered! It's odd how with her clothes and shoes etc. the same approach works on me nearly every time!

I therefore decided that I had better actually make some headway and clear a bit of the backlog - otherwise she will have an absolute fit when any more arrive! I started with one of the beauties from Brian Menold's Wood Wonders - his 2 recent updates had produced quite a lot of stunning new toys and, whilst I couldn't buy them all, I did obtain a few special ones that I had had my eye on for a while. Brian has become a full time puzzle maker since he was made redundant so please buy what he makes so we can keep him in business - the Four Mirror One is still available. The Four Mirror One (designed by Osanori Yamamoto) was the first to be tried because I figured that it shouldn't be too hard because of it's similarity to his hourglass puzzle (the one to the left was made by Jakub Dvořák's New Pelikan workshop). This designer specialises in puzzles that have a rotational element to the solution and hence cannot be solved by Burrtools. Within a few minutes I had managed to separate the pieces and realised that they were really very similar to the hourglass (in fact the frame is identical).

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Otis is Puzzled by the Green Eyed Lady!

A great calling card!
My good friend Otis and I have corresponded via Facebook for a few years now. I did finally manage to meet him in real life at last years IPP in London and he was a delight to chat to and is also a brilliant puzzler. He is one of the few puzzlers who, like me, enjoys solving all types of puzzles including twisty puzzles. He has been very kind and has written me a guest blog post whilst I have been indisposed dealing with my Mum's illness and subsequent affairs after her untimely death. The subject of this post is one that I very rarely have a chance to write about - I try not to collect puzzle boxes to try and save my finances from total ruin. A newcomer has recently BURST onto the puzzle design and crafting scene - Tracy Wood Clemens aka "the Green Eyed Lady" has started producing beautiful and complex puzzle boxes to order. So far I have resisted the pull but after what I have seen she has made for others I am sure I will give in soon and have to order something from her.

Please have a look at my New additions page to see some pics of quite a few new acquisitions that have arrived in the last week! Mrs S has been telling me off - gently because I'm a bit fragile just now!!!

So let Otis' story be told (I have tried not to edit unless absolutely needed):

MY box was created by Tracy Wood Clemons who I know from Facebook
Yesterday an unexpected parcel came to my studio while I was working. When I saw the size of the parcel I know what’s inside immediately. That’s a puzzle box I ordered “from the green eyed lady” around a weeks ago. I say it’s unexpected because I didn’t believe that I could possibly receive it within a week! My experience told me to ship something from United State to China usually takes 10 to 14 days so I’m very surprised and also excited when I got it. Anyway this is my puzzle box “Puzzled????”

I wonder who this belongs to?
Around one or two months ago I saw a puzzle pic on facebook. It was a very good looking puzzle box which seemed challenging to solve. At that time I didn’t know who made this box and who is the owner of the box (His last name is on the box though, which I didn’t realize at the moment…...). So I left a comment appreciating the box and give a “like” for the pic. Later I received a pm from Tracy. That’s how we know each other.

She asked me if I like puzzle boxes and said that she can make one for me if I wish. Of course I wish! But as you all might know I’m rather new to puzzle community without much experience. I can’t afford to spend too much on a puzzle, especially something which seems so awesome. The other concern is that I never meet Tracy before, never heard of her and of course have never tried her works. It might be hard for me to state a price for a puzzle box especially made personally for me. In the end I gave her a price and felt a bit reckless.

Yes, that’s how you deal with Tracy. You give her a price, and then Tracy will make you something worth that amount of money. In my experience I don’t even know what my puzzle box will look like. But I don’t usually have to pay until I see the finished product. So not only are you buying a puzzle, but also the way of purchasing is very puzzling as well.

Jeff Aurand's box seemed to captivate people at the RPP
At first I didn’t dare to speak too high a price as the reason above. But soon I regretted my decision. I saw from facebook that Tracy attended Jeffrey Aurand’s Rochester Puzzle Picnic. And finally I know that the very first box I saw had been made for him. Lot’s of experienced puzzlers, including many IPP'ers,  tried the Aurand Puzzle Box and they all left very good comments about it. This is the first moment I regret!

Yet another stunning design!
Some weeks later I saw another puzzle box made by Tracy. This time I knew the owner immediately. Jim Strayers, who is a very experienced puzzle player and collector had ordered a box from Tracy too! And immediately I could see that his box looks extremely good as well. This is the second time I regret. At that point, I contacted Tracy immediately to see if she had already begun making my puzzle box. Luckily she had not yet started. So I quickly raised the amount of my price, to prevent a third time of regret.

Look at the size! It's huge!
From this pic you can see the real size of the box. It’s really quite big! In fact, this is now the biggest puzzle in my collection. Well if you don’t mind I’ll have to mention again that this is the result of my raised price ^^

Back on topic. My box is named “Puzzled????” - I consider this not only a puzzle box, but also a sequential discovery puzzle too. (editor's comment - I too am allowed a sequential discovery puzzle even if it is box shaped! YAY!) Usually the aim of a puzzle box is simply to open the box. In my case many different parts are disassembled and some become significant tools for the next procedure in the sequence.

The box contains 6 layers. Each layers is different in thickness. On top my name Otis is shown by a few pieces of wood. Yeah that’s the only request I asked from Tracy. I’m not good at designing things so better leave this part to whom good at. The first layer can turn 360 degree free, while the second layer can only turn around 60 degree. There seems to be a few cutting lines on the fourth and fifth layer so may be there’re some parts which can be disassembled. On the front corner there’s a handle rod connecting the fourth and the sixth layer. There’s a key on top of the rod, and a lock at the bottom of it. So apparently I’ll have to use the key to unlock the lock. But it seems impossible at first glance.

Look at all the layers and drawers - there's a lock too!
I tried to solve it right after I was off from work. As I said above this puzzle is a combination of puzzle box and sequential discovery puzzle, so there’re actually two goals for me to complete. At first I think to open the box I’ll have to take something apart. That’s right, actually many different pieces were taken apart. Throughout the whole process I found a few “puzzle pieces” which seems can be  matched together to make a construction. So I continue to look for any pieces I can take off, and what tools can be used to go further.

Around two hours later, I had found all the puzzle pieces and the assembly was done. Maybe I have some chance on solving this puzzle box? At this point I think I’ve completed the second task but I was not sure if the box is being opened. It seems like it is opened, no more secret compartments are possible but the padlock is still locked. That seems like it is impossible so I thought the lock might be something to just divert my attention. I was wrong!!

I should have contacted Tracy at that moment to make sure I was right. But I’m too keen to prove myself right and I looked at the solution. OK. The padlock can be unlocked. I missed this part. And I found that I did one procedure totally by luck at the very beginning. Apart from these two procedures, I had done everything right. So the box was finally opened, and I finally understand why this box is named as “Puzzled????”. I’m certainly really feeling puzzled right now!

In conclusion, I really want to thank Tracy for making this special puzzle box for me. The solving process was a lot of fun. Lot’s of different skills and tricks are required to solve this box. Thanks to my previous experience of solving many puzzle boxes, I think the difficulty of the box is "moderate". I think that a puzzle greenhorn like me can solve it within a day. The box looks awesome, the mechanism works very well and it’s just BIG. It can be a real piece of furniture or just a box sitting on your desk! I would say that the price is totally worthwhile.

So for all of you who are interested on puzzle boxes, just contact Tracy Wood Clemons via Facebook! You will be surprised at what you’ll get! I won’t be shocked to see Tracy to become a famous puzzle box master among our puzzle community!

Usually puzzlers don’t like to show one puzzle’s mechanism but consider this is the only one existing in the world I think showing a picture of the mechanism is not too great a sin. But if you really don’t want to be spoiled then you better stop reading from here.




Look at all these pieces!

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.


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