Sunday, 27 July 2014

A great discovery.......or Shane does it again!

The Parallelogram top view
Bottom view - he even provided a novel stand!
On Friday I had an absolutely dreadful day at work and trudged home at the end of the day expecting to finish the day with a very well earned glass or 2 of something with noxious chemicals in it to make life seem more tolerable. I arrived home to find Mrs S looking hot and bothered due to the tremendous airless heat we have been suffering recently! She seems nowadays not to like the heat much but it was 38ºC in our conservatory and adjacent kitchen so I cannot blame her from being grumpy. After a bit of a chat about the day's shenanigans, I went into the kitchen to find an unexpected parcel! I had to vociferously deny all knowledge - I only have one thing currently in the post and do not expect it for another week! It's true - I promise - although someone special is due to post another something special to me tomorrow!

Tearing open the package I find an envelope with an old fashioned seal on it and a wonderful new toy from Shane! This is the third in his series of puzzles and is even more beautiful than the previous 2! As before it has the name painted on it and on the reverse is his signature, my name and the serial number 001 - licensed to thrill! The theme of the shapes "The Block", and "The Circle" continue and this is delightfully named The Parallelogram. Breaking the seal on the envelope for my mission instructions, I am told that I need to "OPEN IT......." - very helpful. There's a little history too about his journey as a designer and craftsman, a mention of a future design yet to be made and the terms and conditions.

Terms and conditions? Is there a contract? Well sort of! Let me explain..... I have had at least 10 emails over the last year or so asking how puzzlers can get one of Shane's puzzles and I have had to explain that they are not available and unless he changes his mind, they will NEVER be available. Shane makes only 4 of each puzzle, 000 is for his personal collection, 001 is for me and the other 2 are given away to people he considers deserving amongst the puzzle community - they have either helped him or done a lot for other puzzlers. I am lucky enough to take on the burden of helping with that decision and they have received a very wide audience as a result. Why do I always get number 1? I don't understand it myself but I am eternally grateful to him for it. Over the last couple of years we have journeyed together through quite a few very tough puzzles and have done tandem solves on some of the toughest and "funnest" (is that a word? it is now!) puzzles ever made. We love doing them together and communicate a lot in the process. Nevertheless, I think I gain the most from our friendship but please don't tell him that!

Back to the T&Cs...... He has written in the accompanying letter that:
"This puzzle is a gift, the rules are that it can never be sold, exchanged or even given away. It MUST stay in your collection or be returned to myself."
Well, I cannot argue with that and I would never dream of letting them go - there is far too much emotional value in such a gift - I owe him much more than that! In fact these are so special that they are not just kept on show amongst my embarrassingly large collection, they are beautiful enough to remain one of the few puzzles on show in my living room - even Mrs S likes them enough for that and she's a very choosy wife (except in her choice of husband)!

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Packing puzzles I can do....Almost!

Tea for Two
Tea for Three
"Packing" or "Sequential movement" puzzles?

I have said many times before that I just cannot to packing puzzles! In fact I have actually stopped buying them.... well almost! I do still buy the occasional one if has a particular quirk to it or is made by a good friend or is particularly beautiful! So recently Satomi (who runs the Cu-Japan eBay store) informed us that she was going to get these particularly interesting puzzles from Japan. I haven't done many puzzles designed by Mineyuki Uyematsu but those that I have tried have all had something special about them that meant that I couldn't resist! For example the Lock-y-cube and Lock-n-cube that had kept me busy for so long were designed by him. Satomi does not have these packing puzzles in stock at present but she does have a whole lot of interesting stuff and they may come back.

I picked these up at the last Midlands puzzle party and barely held back from buying a whole lot more stuff which she had in stock and managed to keep them in their packaging until the following Monday when I was anaesthetising for a Vascular surgery list which consisted of several VERY long boring operations. I reached into my trusty bag and brought them out to a few oohs and ahs and pronounced that: They would be perfect to torture my anaesthetic assistant, any interested nurses and medical students who happen to be nearby. Once the patient was set with his iPod on and safely stable the puzzling began!

Sunday, 13 July 2014

EZ Galaxy

EZ Galaxy
This weekend has been a rather special one - yesterday marked 20 years to the day that I said "I do" to probably the most patient woman in the world! We have had a really lovely weekend and had a fabulous dinner, bed and breakfast stay at the Michelin starred Fischer's restaurant at Baslow Hall, Derbyshire. Just to prove how great a wife she is (I did tell the whole world and her on Facebook!), she was still happy for me to sit down and write another blog post for you all - I think, however, that it probably should be a short one! I don't want to test her patience too much!

This quick post is a review of the EZ Galaxy from the Puzzle Master metal puzzle selection. I actually used another puzzle from this series back April when I also needed to write a short post and this will be similar.

It is a very pretty shiny design by Doug Engel and is made of three colours of metal - brushed bronze, gold and gunmetal alloy, with the inner gunmetal piece taking the shape of a spiral galaxy. The goal is to take all four pieces apart and free the dark colored galaxy and then, of course, to reunite them afterwards. It is spherical in overal shape and 8.9cm across and extremely jingly!  The rating from Puzzle Master is 8 on their scale of 5-10. This should be significantly tougher than the EZ Atom which was rated a 6. There have been 2 reviews on the product page which have been generally positive and averaged at 4/5. No solution is provided but if you need it (which I very much doubt) then it can be downloaded from here.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

It's my turn for a "Me too!" review

Beautiful presentation - just exudes quality
Here in Sheffield those of us who are not cycling freaks are more or less housebound for the day! The huge invasion of Yorkshire by the great unwashed French began yesterday and their advance south reaches us today! This large bunch of cycle nutters has shut down most of the city and travel is near on impossible for 12 hours from 7:30 am. Luckily I am not on-call at work and don't need to be resident for 12 hours and therefore I have lots of time to write a post for you. Although "SHE" says that she has some DIY for me to do later - time to install a new roller blind in a bedroom. No rest for the wicked!

There seems to be a trend for "Me too" posts amongst us puzzle bloggers - My review of Wil's egg puzzle was improved upon by Jerry first and then Allard and now it's my turn to review something shortly after someone else has published. The theme here seems to be that when something truly special comes out which may be only available for a limited time, we rush to get that information to you as fast as possible - I call it my civic duty! The Popplock T9 is very limited in number and nearly sold out - if you do want one for your collection then the usual suppliers are Grand illusionsPuzzle Master and Rainer himself. As far as I know only Puzzle Master have any left.

On 30th June I received an update email from Rainer Popp that his latest trick lock was about to be released and without even hesitating for a moment I shot off an email. Some time later a confirmation email was received and at that point I blinked and focussed abruptly on the price! These are hand made metal locks of the very highest quality and you should be ready for the fact that they are going to cost a fair sum of money! BUT they are worth it! So far I have not told the present Mrs S how much, but she knows that it was a lot and my excuse (as always) is that "it's an investment and will be worth much more in a year or so". She seems to have caught on to this ploy and replied that I never sell anything though - I need another excuse now - all suggestions gratefully received via my Contact form.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

I'm back

I just cannot resist wood!
Hi all! I'm sorry for the short break - I've had a week off work and had plans to spend time with the present Mrs S - day trips, eating out, a little DIY & gardening, some puzzling and getting my office in order. Sounded idyllic didn't it? I thought so too and thats when it all fell to bits! I caught an itty bitty cold and it has absolutely pole-axed me! I have spent the best part of 9 days coughing and sneezing my lungs out and sleeping almost every moment - I haven't touched a puzzle and barely even been on Facebook! I'm not one who really believes in illness (which is awkward when you work in a hospital!) and I seldom let a cold stop me but OMG I think I have had pneumonic plague! Let me say that a combination of very strong pain killers (for tendonitis) - Tramadol, Codeine and Diclofenac plus a Hot Toddy plus a good dose of "Night Nurse" does make for a VERY good sleep - 12 hours lying in exactly the same position all night! Just make sure that position is a comfortable one or something's going to hurt the following day! Even Mrs S who, as a nurse, has no sympathy for anyone apart from those about to lose a limb, felt sorry for me! That is right up until she got it too - now I'm public enemy number 3 (just behind international terrorists and Alex Salmond)!

So before I'm either killed or cured, I thought I would review something for you to prove I'm actually still alive and before Mrs S puts me out of her misery. Some time ago, my friend Jakub at the New Pelikan Workshop emailed me to say that the puzzles he had been working on were about to go on sale. Now, as you've seen over the last few months, I seem to have sold off my organs and bought puzzles instead (maybe that's why I got sick?) so I couldn't afford to buy the whole lot he had and so chose the 3 that looked most interesting to me. Pictured above we have from the left: Space Axis, Tall Joe and Orion.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

From the sublime to the ridiculous

Mirror blocks
Boy, I have been so busy recently - work keeps me going, then there's surfing the internet for toys, buying toys, taking photos of the toys, solving those toys, keeping in touch with puzzlers around the world and then we have those amazing but very time-consuming Midlands Puzzle Parties! I attended number 15 yesterday and had an absolute ball! More puzzles were bought, some were solved and I learned NEVER to trust a magician!

Another nemesis!
Laurie Brokenshire (one of the greatest collectors and solvers in the world) was present, as well as the incredibly prolific mathematician cum puzzle designer, Dick Hess and I realised that previous puzzle party attempts to make me look foolish were as nothing compared to the combined efforts of these two amazing gentlemen! They made me into a nodding donkey, doing contortions with my thumbs and having a guessing game on what was the purpose of a plastic thingummy! I have not had such a laugh in a long time - my only consolation was that everyone fell for their pranks. I was also humbled by watching them quickly solve puzzles that I had spent months on and failed - Rox had given me a copy of the Squared Fish puzzle and after year I had singularly failed - it took Dick less than 15 minutes! There are some of my correspondents who think I am an experienced and skilled solver but I am nothing more than a rank amateur compared to them! I did not take a camera so you will need to watch one of the other blogs for that. I've had my little MPP fix of Puzzle boxes so yet again I have no need to buy any myself - Phew cos Mrs S would be very unhappy with me if I started on that route.

We even had some Koala porn!!!

So I'm left rather late on a Sunday afternoon wondering what to write about and not an awful lot of time. I therefore decided that after a sublime MPP, I would write a few lines about my ridiculous fascination with twisty puzzles and in particular about a few brilliant ones I own or have played with.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

It's not a review - its a PREview

Seen this before? Not quite!
On the 29th March 2013 I published a rather sad but also hopeful article about a puzzle that I had obtained from Hunter Palshook. Hunter had taken one of Calvin's 4x4x6 shapeshifting cuboids and pared it down and fused bits together and polished it up until he had made a 2x4x6 cuboid. This is the lowest order version of the "Ultimate shapeshifting" group of cuboids. I have described the classification extensively in my blog post here as well as a printed version in 2 editions of the CFF journal.

The Ultimate shape shifters are twisty puzzles in cuboid form with the general arrangement:
N x (N + E1) x (N + E2) where E1 and E2 are 2 different even numbers
Having 2 different even numbers ensures that it can shapeshift in every direction and it also means that it suffers from the problem of parities - it has both Floppy parities as well as brick parities. The group include the original 3x5x7 and subsequent 4x6x8, 5x7x9 and the incredible 6x8x10! The "simplest" in this group would be the 2x4x6 and when I first received it from Hunter I absolutely loved it!

But the deal all along was that if Calvin was interested in possibly mass-production then my handmade copy would have to go back. In all I owned the original (marked with the HP1 logo on it) for just under 2 weeks when it had to be returned. During that 15 months, I really missed that little puzzle! Of course I managed to obtain several of it's bigger brethren but there was something magical about it. All of a sudden Calvin made an announcement on the Twisty Puzzles forum that his mass produced version was about to be released.

Friday, 6 June 2014

An Eggcellent puzzle - Much more complex than I first thought!

The Strijbos egg - it's the one on the left!!
Last week I warned the world that Wil Strijbos was going to be releasing a very special new puzzle on an unsuspecting world and oh boy was I right! The first ones have been released and I absolutely MUST write a blog post about it!

People seem to think that working as the "trouble shooter" for Streetwise puzzles (Wil's brand name), I get lots of advance notice of puzzles coming up or even get to play with them early. I'm afraid that is far from true - I hear about them through the same newsletters as everyone else and have to rattle in my order as quickly as possible to avoid losing out! My rôle has simply been to receive emails forwarded from Wil that are asking for help with possibly broken puzzles or sometimes helping people who just cannot solve something.

We have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Egg for a year now, since Wil sent out tantalising photos of the pieces. Everyone had hoped (including Wil) that it would be ready for Easter this year and when Newsletters A-E came out in May after the Easter holiday, we had almost given up hope. But late at night (does that man ever sleep?) an email was sent out that suddenly released on the unsuspecting world the news that "The Egg" was now available. Most of the UK was asleep (including me) and I actually didn't see anything in my usual morning scan of my emails at 6am. Whilst eating breakfast I received an email from my very good friend Shane (famous for The Block and The Circle). Shane and I communicate very frequently about life, families and puzzles and it is always a delight to read his emails - I also hope for news of the upcoming Parallelogram. I opened his email at 06:30 and was horrified to read that Wil's latest newsletter did not appear to have come to me! Quickly rummaging through my Spam folders I was disgusted to see that Google had indiscriminately placed Wil's latest email there! I read through the blurb, gulped very loudly at the price-tag and promptly sent an email hoping that there would be some left. I immediately set up a Gmail rule to ensure his messages are tagged as high priority and then also set up an "If This Then That" (IFTTT) rule to ensure that if ANYTHING came from Wil I would also receive a text message informing me of it asap - do you think this might be the sign of OCD?* Later on I paid a sum of money to Wil that Mrs S still is not aware of and I don't plan to let her know any time soon! I received my tracking number a day or so later.

*Let me assure you that my OCD is actually CDO - it is VERY important to put the letters in the correct order!!

In the Newsletter we were provided with the following information:
After 3 prototypes I managed to get ready the EGG in time, at least
before Easter 2015. Still a lot of work to do, to check all the Egg’s
from the inside. I anyway from the outside they all look wonderful and
if you can not solve the EGG, who cares about the inside?
                Mmmmmmm, probably just me :)
James Dalgety's Egg
          History of the EGG:
See the picture I took when I visited James Dalgety in December 2011.
The date on the bottom from the EGG says 1986, so it is now at least
28 years ago that I created this EGG. This first creation will be also
in the collection from Jerry Slocum, Dick Hess and in some other col-
lections. Maximum production at that time was less then ten. In the
90tys last century a company tried to produce the EGG. The result at
the end was a broken EGG, too difficult to produce they told me. So
when I saw my EGG again in the collection from James Dalgety I decided
to give it a try.
With this sort of tantalising information, how could I possibly resist?

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Wire and String from Mr Strijbos

My last Strijbos delivery
You all know about my habit! I have a man who keeps tempting me away from my money! Yes, Mr Strijbos, that would be you! Recently the update that came out had a few nice bits of metal loveliness and, of course, I had to add that to my collection! The 4 piece jigsaw has been quite a hit at work and the Heart in heart puzzle was a big hit with my wife! Who knows whether I will ever get that one back.

Wil knows about my love of disentanglements and is aware that I seem to have become a bit of an expert - I still feel like a beginner but I do appear to have solved quite a lot of them now and the guys at the Midlands Puzzle Parties often give me new ones to try. Wil finds quite a few new ones during his travels and brings a few really good ones back for us to buy. One of the best I have ever tried was the 2 ring teddy which has stumped many many people - both newbies and experienced puzzlers. It was so good that it has made TWO appearances on this blog - here and here.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Cast Violon

Cast Violon
Yet again I'm late publishing! I'm terribly sorry, but being on call makes it rather hard to concentrate but luckily I am off on the bank holiday Monday and so there's still going to be an update for you. I was planning on discussing the latest heavy metal loveliness from my friend Wil Strijbos but Allard and and Jerry got there first and I very much doubt you want to read three reviews of the same puzzles in a row (especially as they are so simple as puzzles - even if they are truly gorgeous).

Instead, I went out and rummaged around in my drawer containing my stash from Puzzle Master and found something that even the present Mrs S said looked gorgeous when it first arrived - the Cast Violon. This is one of the easier of the Hanayama puzzles which I had seen before at work when one of my friends who I had infected with the bug brought it to show me. At that time I had only played for a short while and gone around in circles for a while despite it being "easy". How easy? Well it is rated as a level 2 on Hanayama's 6 point scale or level 6 (Tricky) on Puzzle Master's scale of 5-10. Usually at this level, I find them fairly trivial but I bought it because of my previous difficulty, my urge to collect them all and also because it is just so beautiful.

It arrived packaged beautifully in the customary Hanayama black box and despite the look of my photo, it was absolutely pristine (my pictures always seem to show up lots of dust and fur - probably because everything I own is now covered in cat fur!) This puzzle is not new, it was originally patented in the US in 1965, having been created by Joseph L. Litle. The Hanayama version was reconstructed by Nob Yoshigahara after playing with a wooden copy built by his close, but now deceased friend, Tadao Muroi. Nob changed the proportions considerably from the original plan and made it look more like a violin and hence the name. It is made from a cast metal and anodised a lovely reddish colour making it look almost like copper (I hope it won't go green with time).

All the reviews on the product page are 4 stars or above and it has been very well received. Gabriel reviewed it here and felt that it deserved a higher difficulty rating. Neil's review was positive and included a video to show how it moved.

No solution is provided and I very much doubt that you will need it but should you collect the solutions then it can be downloaded from Puzzle Master at this page.


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