Sunday, 20 June 2021

Making 2D Patterns With 3D Objects

Or George Gets it Right Again!

Blockistry

Look at this...yet another easily available puzzle for you to read about. By now, most of you know that I am really rubbish at pattern forming puzzles and seldom buy them so why on earth would I add this to my collection? I saw the Blockistry puzzle described by Roxanne Miller on Facebook and she described how her husband, George was enthralled by it. Over the years I have come to realise that George and I share very similar tastes in puzzles and a similar approach to puzzling as well. Like me doesn't like exhaustive searches for solutions and has a huge enjoyment working out how to get 3D puzzles modelled in Burrtools. So if he gets deeply embedded in a puzzle that would not normally be his thing (and certainly not mine) then I sit up and pay attention. Then Michel van Ipenburg sent out his monthly newsletter describing his recent puzzling acquisitions and also seemed to like this puzzle. I went to their site and was slightly surprised at the price ($49.95) for 4 blocks of wood and a booklet - with a gulp, I purchased and trusted George.

This is a far cry from the usual craftsman made work that I buy and write about. The site describes the pieces as hand made from the native tree of Finland (Birch) giving an "authentic feel of the North". Ignore the advertising hype - this is just a plain block of a white wood (it may be Birch but it doesn't really matter) and it is nicely cut with smooth surfaces, two of which have been coated with a black layer. What this is NOT, is "finely crafted"! That doesn't actually matter - the fabulous Symmetrick puzzle that I bought from another Finnish craftsman and puzzle store owner was also made from a plain pale wood and became one of my favourite puzzles of all time. But of course, Tomas does not make any claims about it being special wood.

It arrives very nicely packaged in a square cardboard box in which the blocks are nicely arranged along with a booklet of 50 challenges and a felt cloth which is the "playing board". It is actually a very nice package (certainly very portable) and quite enticing to play with. 

The 4 identical blocks are an odd rhomboidal shape with only the top surface coated in the black film. The stated aim is to make the shapes in the booklet which get progressively tougher - so what is so special? why would this interest such a seasoned puzzler like George or someone less experienced like me? Here is where the twist comes to play - the aim is to make the shape when visible solely from above i.e. to create a 2D shape using 3D objects. To make this even more challenging all 4 blocks must be used and the shape must be self supporting. This last factor really does turn up the challenge a notch. I am not sure how to describe the shapes so here is a photo that shows them of:

4 identical "blocks"
The first few in the booklet are not too tough and are really just there to give an idea about how to think about looking at the finished shape and the colour scheme from above:

These aren't terribly tough

Number 4 looks like this when solved:

Easy peasy yes? Indeed, that one was but before long the need to think as a projection onto a 2D plane began to get quite challenging...and very enjoyable. It is not something that can be done easily on your lap - you need a flat surface and certainly having a cat in the way really does make it impossible.

A later challenge like the one below requires the blocks to be piled up and yet still be stable and self supporting and the successful shape is only obvious when viewed from directly above.


Nice easy shape
Solved it - piled up pieces
One thing that the pictures above do show off is that these are not a finely crafted puzzle. They are good enough but the edges are not sharp, the coating does not go right to the edge and it makes it look ever so slightly poorer quality. BUT once you get past this, the puzzling challenges are really quite pleasant.

Viewed from in front - it doesn't look like the diagram
I have almost finished all 50 of the challenges in the book (it took me a good few hours to work them out) and will soon be heading to their Facebook group where they have been posting extra challenges each week - this puzzle will have some decent longevity, I think.

If you do get stuck on one of the challenges or want to check your solution is correct (I did because my solution did not seem to be particularly stable) then their website has a solutions page (password protected) that has cute little animated videos showing how to assemble each puzzle. Beautifully done.

Should you buy this puzzle? Despite the craftsmanship claims not quite being met, this is actually a pretty good puzzle with a really decent set of challenges. The price of $49.95 (they will quote in a currency local to you) is supposed to be a reduced price from the usual $79.95. I do not think I could ever justify the higher price but the reduced one is acceptable. If you enjoy pattern making puzzles and like the idea of using 3D shapes to make 2D patterns then you will enjoy this. Like George, I was quite enthralled.


Sunday, 13 June 2021

All at Sea and Hitting the Bottle

Ship in a bottle
It would seem that every Sunday when I write my blog post I sit down with tears in my eyes and almost unable to see. Not for any emotional reason but this is the time that I have to do one of my employer mandated twice weekly lateral flow tests. 15 minutes before I start to type, I have had a good swipe at the back of my throat (pharynx for those of you keen to learn some anatomy) enough to make me significantly gag (Mrs S uses the affectionate term "boak") and then stuffed the thing far enough into my nose to feel like I am doing a brain biopsy. At the end of this with tears streaming down my face, I sit down to think about puzzles. Yep, I'm a truly depraved individual - who could think about puzzles after that?

Recently I might have received a little package from Tom Lensch and one of the puzzles that Arrived was a puzzle from last year. Ship in a bottle was designed by Goh Pit Khiam quite a few years ago and was entered into the IPP design competition in 2003 (that time made by Walter Hoppe). Tom rereleased it in 2018 and I sort of ran out of money at that time and turned it down. Of course Allard bought a copy, described it as a brilliant puzzle and immediately made me regret my decision. On top of that, at several subsequent MPP's it had been brought out and people playing with it seemed to enjoy it and further make me regret that decision - another reason for tears! Somehow I never actually got to play with it there as I am very easily distracted by other shiny things and squirrels.

Simple instructions - turn the ship around
Well, the last year has definitely encouraged me to hit the bottle - this bloody pandemic seems to have increased everyone's alcohol intake considerably. My own personal gin collection has increased enormously. When Tom let me know what he had available recently, he said he had some new copies of Ship in a bottle available and so I jumped on board and sent some PayPal. The package crossed the pond really quickly and before I had had time to warn Mrs S that yet more stuff might be arriving the postman had knocked on the door. She then knocked on me when I got home from work. It seemed like a good idea to hit the bottle as an analgesic!

Beautifully made from Walnut and acrylic with nice brass capped screws the bottle looked lovely. Tom had sent out the ship blocks (Maple I think) outside the bottle to protect it from being broken by the pieces in transit. The "cork" in the bottle is also made from Walnut and is held in place with a magnet. Pulling that cork reveals the only way to insert the pieces into the bottle. There are gaps all the way around the outside so that fingers (or as Tom suggests a pencil capped by an eraser) can be used to manoeuvre the pieces into whatever position you wish and then slide them around each other. I started on the first position and quickly achieved this:

Ok I'm hooked - definitely floating on a stable sea
Photo taken, I take the pieces out and reverse the orientation of the bottle. Now let's reassemble that ship...oh, now I see why everyone liked this puzzle. The presence of 3 vertically oriented pieces which appear to need to be inserted last (which is impossible) suddenly presents a challenge. Allard is right again (damn him!) I need to think© outside the boxbottle and this hurts (maybe I have sampled too much brain with my lateral flow swabs?)

Like most of you, I have solved the 15 puzzle many times before and initially thought that this would help but nope, not really much help at all. There is quite a lot more to this than just sliding tiles around, the presence of 2x1 tiles in both orientations really limits your options. 

In the end I solved it in about 45 minutes (probably much longer than most puzzlers) but I was distracted by TV and a cat trying to knock the 1x1 pieces off my lap. The assembly of the ship requires a fairly long sequence of moves and provides a very nice Aha! moment. After that it's time to reset to the beginning and of course, I had completely forgotten the correct sequence and had to work it out again. Really lovely!

Oh yessss! Definitely as much fun as everyone promised
Having reassembled the ship in the start position, I tried again and still couldn't do it without a struggle - this is an absolutely delightful challenge. It's not too difficult for an experienced puzzler but still fun and will be a wonderful challenge for a beginner or a child. I think I will be taking it to work to torture my colleagues with - at least they stand a chance solving this one (I have one particular orthopaedic surgeon who starts to cry whenever I threaten him with Tomas Linden's Symmetrick puzzle - if you don't have a copy then go and buy one right now!)

Having hit the bottle and completely consumed the contents (Hic burp!) I then decided to play with my balls:

Of course they are not my balls!
I just own them
My recent bunch of puzzles from Mine included a copy of Dog and Balls that he had managed to unearth. I couldn't resist adding it to my pile especially as all men like to play with their balls. The aim is to swap the green and red balls over without lifting anything off the tray. This is not as challenging as the Ship in the bottle despite needing many many more moves. Also quite fun.

I'm not very good at sliding piece puzzles but these were very enjoyable - if you find one for sale then definitely worth adding to your collection. Now it might just be time for some more gin. Cheers everyone.


Sunday, 6 June 2021

A Cube Made of Cubes - Easy? Nope!

Key and Keyway Cube
Today's post may be a little less coherent than usual - I have spent the lsat 45 minutes trying to provide computer support to the mother out-law who lives 250 miles away and things weren't working. Eventually got it all working but I think we both left the telephone conversation rather frazzled! 

I am all too aware that I do spend a lot of time writing about puzzles that are extremely hard to get hold of for most people so every now and then when something hits my radar that might be good and is available to order then I try to get a copy to write about and encourage you, my patient readers. I was alerted to this puzzle by Michel van Ipenburg, a very prolific and hugely talented puzzler who certainly knows a good puzzle when he sees one. Our interests don't completely overlap even if he is a huge advocate of the N-ary puzzle group like me but if he advises people to buy something then I sit up and pay attention.

Nicely presented.
He showed off the Key and Keyway cube designed and produced by John Kelly in Ireland. I have not heard of John before but dealing with his site (www.logicpuzzles.ie) was delightful with quick acknowledgement of the order and updates when manufactured and delivered. At the moment there is only this one puzzle on his store but after this experience, I look forward to more. The puzzle is only 20€ plus postage and was manufactured and posted within a couple of days. When it arrived it was nicely presented in a cloth bag with a label giving description and instructions strung onto it. This string didn't last very long in my house! Unfortunately I had left the label and string on the kitchen work surface after I took the puzzle to work (I had hidden the label reasonably well but nothing can keep my pussy-boys from finding string). The following morning the cats followed me into the bathroom for our habitual ablutions and to my disgust a very loud puking noise occured behind me followed by a large amount of bright green liquid and said piece of string in the middle (completely intact). Down in the kitchen, the label was waiting to be found in the middle of the floor! Doh!

Later that day, I got to have a proper look. It has been 3D printed in a vibrant matt purple plastic and very nicely done too. The pieces are pretty solid too and don't feel completely hollow. I guess that is important so that the screws can be screwed in securely. Each cube has 3 sides which are smooth and obviously expected to be the outer faces and 3 which will have either screws in various positions or keyways pointing in different directions. The objective is obviously to build a 2x2x2 cube by sliding the screws into the keyways and pushing them into locked positions (not allowing them to just sit in the entry hole). 

I began to play whilst at work (waiting for a surgeon to decide which urgent case took priority). Quite quickly it becomes apparent that this could get quite confusing and also it becomes obvious that there is a temptation to set it up and engage the screws using rotational moves of pairs of cubes. This is NOT allowed - everything should be done with linear motions and the trick is to find which pieces engage with each other and the correct sequence to make it work. Quite often I found that I wanted to slide two cubes together but they were blocked and I needed to start again. Clever!

Still waiting for the bloody surgeon, I actually solved it and surprised everyone waiting with me. They thought it might be impossible. It had taken me about 20 minutes in all. Quite proud of myself, I dismantled it (that took a bit of doing after losing track of which face was which) and handed it to the surgeon to play with whilst I anaesthetised our first victim. He handed it back to me in pieces with the simple word "NO!" Oh well - maybe not one for the novice? Later in the week, I gave it to one of my colleagues who expressed an interest in the pieces lying on our office desk - he had a fiddle and made a shape and then handed it back with a similar expression of discontent:

It's going to be easy isn't it?
This is the best that Dr Moll can do!
I took it home that day and tried again only to find that I seriously struggled - there was obviously a lot more to it than I initially understood. The sequence must be exactly correct. This time it took me about an hour and required multiple restarts. Interesting! I had better do it a few more times. No matter what, it always seemed to take me about 45 minutes. There is definitely something complex with this that requires proper exploration and thought to solve - I have tried not to just memorise the sequence from dismantling it. It locks together and looks quite attractive - John has also provided a stand to display the puzzle once solved:

Assembled with stand
Looks nice on display
Like Michel, I have really enjoyed this puzzle. It is not made from gorgeous wood but it is very nicely printed. It is a nice challenge that requires some thought and planning rather than loads of trial and error and is a great price. I highly recommend it - you can either buy it ready made from John or can buy the stl files to print your own (obviously you will need the right screws too). I think this is suitable for experienced puzzlers and beginners alike but probably not ideal for surgeons or less than bright anaesthetists - most of you out there should be fine! Go get it here.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend guys - I now need a large gin to calm my nerves after my computer support experience earlier!


Sunday, 30 May 2021

So Gorgeous I Will Hang it On a Wall

Coming very soon from Jakub and Jaroslav

An earlier batch was also sent out

Yes, it's time again for some more gorgeous challenging new from the wonderful guys at the New Pelikan Workshop. The release that is due any time soon is a mammoth release. I guess that with no IPP they have had more time for their own puzzling production rather than producing exchange puzzles. Jakub sent them out to me in two batches to give me more time to work through them - something for which I am very grateful as the pressure to review quickly so that they can go on sale is huge. I don't want to keep anyone waiting.

Bugs

I have to start with the most striking puzzle which gave the title of this blog post: Bugs!

Bugs
The picture above does not give any idea at how impressive this puzzle is in real life! Have a glance again at the first picture in the post to get an idea of the scale of it. It is fabulously impressive - at 21 cm in each direction and 2 cm high this design by the unbelievably prolific Alexander Magyarics would make a wonderful picture to mount on the wall of your puzzle room. In fact the guys at Pelikan have drilled a hole in the back for it to be wall mounted and also made an edge holding an acrylic cover which will prevent the pieces falling out when put on display.

Wall mountable
Acrylic cover
It's a fun tray packing puzzle with a beautifully made wooden frame and 4 lovely mixed wood bug shapes to fit inside. The challenge is not enormously tough but using what looks like the "obvious" positioning won't work because the blocks in the frame prevent insertion of what looks perfect outside the box. Therefore this puzzle forces you to actually think about all the ways that the pieces might fit together. Once solved, it is really lovely(no, I am not going to show you the solution). This is a perfect decoration for anyone's puzzle cave.  Even Mrs S has agreed and I will be putting a screw in the wall very soon.

Key Trap

Key Trap
I've picked up Key Trap by Christoph Lohe first from the second batch of puzzles because it's absolutely stunningly beautiful. Everything by the New Pelikan Workshop is lovely but this is one of the most gorgeous puzzles I've seen in a long time. I also cannot resist the puzzles created by Christoph - he just seems to always find the very best sequences and combinations of moves that are possible in a shape. Here,as the name would suggest, we have a wooden lock made with lovely bevel inlays and slipfeathers in the shackle. The key is locked onto the shackle whilst being buried in the workings of the lock. Initially there is only a small amount of movement and after a little while begin to find a few more things that are possible and more wild movements are available to you. After a short while I felt I was getting somewhere and might even be able to soon remove a piece. I then tried my usual technique to aid memory of backtracking to the beginning and realised that I had got myself into a position where I was unable to remember the path and spent a rather fraught half hour trying to work it out. If you've not paid attention then the correct movement is very well hidden - it took me quite some time to find. Like most locks the key is the "key" to the solution. The position of that locked key on the shackle is the major thing to work out - you have to move it about the right way (no rotations though). Even at the end that key remains shackled in place. 

Reassembly from scratch is also possible if you are good at these. This is a fabulous puzzle - Christoph and Pelikan pull it off again!

Sudachi

Sudachi
This took me days!
Another wonderful 3x3 cube packing puzzles from the amazing brain of Osanori Yamamoto.  My copy has been beautifully made by Pelikan from Zebrano with Purpleheart pieces.The holes in the box are interesting here. The larger hole is just a single layer high but quite extensive (taking up 4/9 of the top layer) which severely constrains the possible assemblies. There are also 2 more holes in the box which must be filled at the end and these holes are the opposite corners from the main one which makes finding the finished assembly much more difficult. This difficulty is compounded by the complexity of the pieces. I struggled to get them to fit together at all initially and then getting all the opposite corners filled in any potential shape proved really tough. Having found just a few potential assemblies, I realised that every single time I would be unable to place a piece inside the box. After a few days of attempts I wondered whether Osanori-san had been up to his old rotational tricks and started looking for them. The dimensions and size of the pieces made this very hard to find but eventually I found a rotational solution and was really pleased with myself. Afterwards, out of interest I wanted to see if there were any assemblies that fitted inside but didn't fulfil all the hole filling requirements and entered the puzzle into Burrtools and to my utter horror I saw that I had totally failed! There IS an entirely linear solution to the puzzle. I made sure that I didn't look at it on my computer and spent another 3 days before finding the true solution. Either this is a brilliant puzzle or I'm really quite dense! You choose. Actually, this is a brilliant design which seriously challenged me.

Samba

Samba
At last!
This stunning creation made from Wenge and Yellowheart also comes from the warped mind of Osanori-san. I am not sure why it has that name but it may be because the pieces dance around each other during the solution. I initially thought that the enormous entry hole through which 3 rather complex pieces need to be inserted would make for a significantly easier challenge and, oh boy, was I wrong about that. Whilst it initially appears like there is a 2x2x2 sized hole for entry, it actually is even larger than that due to the fact that the bottom corner slopes gently down indicating that this puzzle is based on a much bigger grid. Obviously once solved the hole should be completely filled and that in itself is a huge problem. That sloping edge also makes movement of the pieces much more difficult. I managed to place the pieces inside the box in several different ways pretty easily (which made carrying the puzzle to work much easier) but I really struggled to find a way to leave the entryway fully filled and so I tried to think outside the box. After 4 days I had only found 2 ways to assemble a 3x3x3 cube which would fill the hole completely and none of them could be placed inside the box. I was forced to resort to Burrtools to find other possible assemblies - there were another 2. Even knowing the possible other cube assemblies still left this one as a huge challenge. Each finished cube could be rotated through 120ยบ giving 6 more assemblies to try. Finally after several more days I managed to find the solution with a sigh of relief. If anyone says that only 3 pieces makes for an easy puzzle then laugh at them - with a disassembly level of 10.1.3 this is a massive challenge. Very enjoyable and a must buy for any Osanori fans.

Dozer

Dozer - there's a surprise inside
Next to Stephan's original
Jakub and Jaroslav don't make very many burr puzzles these days but when they do any Burr fans should sit up and pay attention - they only choose the best of the best of them and this marvelous design by Stephan Baumegger is fantastic. The wood choice and finish with all the bevelling is the mark of fabulous attention to detail. Inside is a shape that gives the puzzle its' name - when Goetz classified it he was forced to enlarge his Burr zoo to include machines! I had solved the original back in 2015 after a huge struggle (I had managed to get lost in the puzzle about 20 moves in and could not find the next move for a very long time). Of course I was completely unable to remember even a single step from the solution and had to start from scratch on this one and managed to get stuck yet again about 20 moves into the solution. The movements are smooth and there is minimal catching of the pieces as they slide. I was really very pleased that Jakub had sent this to me several weeks ago as it took me several weeks to wend my way through the maze of moves. The puzzle does not have a stupendously high level (26.2.1.1.11.2) but is a wonderful challenge with lots of exploration. The blind ends are frequent but not too long and so not too frustrating. Inside is one of the most beautiful pieces of wood work I have seen from them.

There is no way I am reassembling it without Burrtools!

6L

6L by Alexander Magyarics
Another of Alexander Magyarics' packing designs - 6L does what it says on the tin...there are 6 L shapes to be placed in a 3x3x3 box through a restricted entryway. Straight away it's obvious that the entry shape cuts the possible entry orientations of the Ls and then to make things much more interesting there are 2 cubies fixed inside the box which greatly limits the possible positions and movements. I started by just randomly placing pieces inside to see how it might work out and discovered that it is easy to get 4 of the L shapes inside but then you quickly get blocked and left with bits sticking out. As always, think© outside the box and then think© inside it. We have 24 cubies to place inside a 27 cubie space and on top of that there are 2 fixed cubies inside blocking your movements. This leaves a single gap which is essential for the movement of the pieces during the solve process. With a bit of planning the possible finish becomes obvious and you only need to work out how to prepare for it. There is a lovely Aha! moment with this one. It's not as tough as some of his previous ones which is a bit of a relief. It is still fun and definitely suitable for a beginner or a child. It has been beautifully made by Pelikan and is very tactile. Solved picture might have a small spoiler so hidden behind a button:


Mousehole

Mouse Hole
No spoilers here - solved after many hours
These designs by Alexander just get more and more spectacular. Very few craftsmen would have agreed to mass produce this piece with a beautifully crafted box complete with a captive sliding arm (shaped like a mouse hole in a skirting board) and holders which are made from contrasting woods. The movements are wonderfully free and yet exceptionally precise. There are 3 moderately complex Purpleheart pieces to be placed in the box through a fairly wide opening but this entry is severely restricted by the moving arm over the top. I had left this one to the last because it frightened me a lot. In the last batch of puzzles from Pelikan, Alexander had given us a multi-challenge packing puzzle (Sliders) which had captive moveable pieces on the walls of the box which significantly hindered the ability to place the pieces. I had really struggled with most of the challenges he had set. Similarly his Wishing Well puzzle from last year had also been very difficult for a rubbish puzzler like me. I was cutting it very fine - this one was only solved yesterday, just in time for this blog post (it is always a bit embarrassing to write about puzzles that I haven't solved yet). There are 45 possible 3x3x3 shapes that have the top S shape filled but only one can be inserted into the box with the restriction provided. The solution process is considerably narrowed down by thinking about which orientations of the pieces can fit through the restriction and once that is taken into account the number of assemblies is low enough for mere mortals to manage. Still incredibly difficult and not for the faint hearted but very solvable.


Also due to be in this upcoming release but not yet solved and reviewed by me will be:

Bubble

Bubble
Another design by Dr Volker Latussek, Bubble looks extremely simple but I suspect will be a massive challenge like most of his puzzles. The drilled out hemispheres in the 4 L-shaped pieces of wood have to be paired to form complete "bubbles" . The goal is to make a free-standing structure containing four bubbles. I am looking forward to playing with this one next.

Euklid for Kids and Shrinking Soma

Euklid for Kids
Shrinking Soma
Euklid for Kids has been slightly redesigned by Dr Latussek to make it more discoverable for kids and increase the enjoyability of the puzzle for beginning puzzlers. Obviously adults will still have an Aha! moment and enjoy the beautifully made puzzle. If you missed out on either of these the first time then now is your chance to get hold of a copy.







Sunday, 23 May 2021

Noisy is OK in a Conference

A Nice Quiet Puzzle?
Helical (L) and Hellical (R) burrs
Last week
I wrote about the Brass Monkey 4 and raved about it (have you bought your copy yet? Hurry up!) but what I didn't show off was that in the same package Steve had sent me the latest 4 piece burr design from the genius that is Derek Bosch. Yeah! I know that 4 piece burr doesn't sound like much but this is one of those Helical burrs - in fact it is the "Helical burr 2" which they have decided to call "He'll lick all bare, too" - a name which makes me shudder ever so slightly and I cannot bring myself to enter it into my database like that. 

This new design is not currently on the Two Brass Monkeys store but I am sure will be there at some point - if you are in a hurry then it is available from PuzzleMaster whilst stocks last. It looks just like the original Helical burr and the name sort of sounds like it too but, believe me, it is NOT like the original puzzle! I enjoyed the original puzzle a lot and even used to use it as a worry bead. Even Derek describes this version as a BEAST - although I always thought that I should take that statement from him with a pinch of salt...Derek often admits to me that he is completely unable to solve his own designs! However, in this case the numbers tell all - Helical burr requires 11 moves to remove the first piece whilst v2 here requires 39 moves! OMG!

Just 3 moves!
I should have realised how tough it was going to be early on when after just 3 moves thisgs had moved a very long way. But I didn't get much chance to work that out early on. After my initial failure with the Brass Monkey 4, I did my usual "put it down and stare blankly at it for a while" before deciding to have a try at the Helical burr. After approximately 1.2seconds Mrs S stared at me with daggers, or maybe I should say sgian-dubhs as she is Scottish (I actually wore one of these on my wedding day as I got married in a kilt). Straight away she warned me that there was no way I was going to play with this puzzle whilst we were watching TV - it is too noisy! The 3D printed plastic is quite smooth but they layers do scrape on each other quite loudly and was making "she who scares the bejeeeezus out of me" ever so slightly annoyed. Gulp! I put it down and went back to BM4.

I do the vast majority of my puzzling in the evenings in front of the TV with Mrs S...when was I going to be able to play with this? Luckily, last week I actually managed to get some study leave approved to attend an anaesthesia conference (now that Covid seems to be improving in the UK, we are being allowed time for annual and study leave in limited numbers). Things are not quite so great here that we are all heading to hotels and attending meetings in person but quite a lot of conferences have moved to a virtual format. It's not as much fun but certainly is convenient and slightly cheaper. 

Aluminium washer cylinder
I therefore spent two days last week sat on my bum staring at a computer screen for 8 hours! Lord, that is bloody tiring! In fact the only way I could stay awake at times was to pick up various puzzles that are around me and have a fiddle whilst listening to the lectures and watching the slides. I worked my way through almost my entire Strijbos collection and even managed to solve the Aluminium washer cylinder which gave me so much trouble all those years ago when I initially bought it. Yay! The conference was proving very worthwhile! Eventually, after I ran out of Strijbos puzzles, I picked up the new Helical and figured that noisy would be OK in a virtual conference.

I knew this that this puzzle was going to be tough after Allard showed off a picture of it half solved and the comment that it was never going to go back together again. This was a little worry as I have had a similar issue with the very difficult TwiddleDum (or is it TwiddleDee?) - one of those is currently in 4 pieces and has not returned to assembled puzzle in nearly 5 years! The Helical burr 2 has a very interesting loop in it's early pathway. At least I found it interesting for the first few hours. It kind of got a bit boring at the end of my first conference day as I had traced the same path many hundreds of times and not found a way out of it at all. On day two of the conference, whilst fully fortified with coffee and a rather sugary breakfast, I listened avidly to a discussion on the effect of anaesthetic agents and pain killers on cancer recurrence and restarted the Helical with little hope.

At some point during the first couple of hours, I had had no complaints about the noise and looked down to see that it looked different. What had I done? Could I return it to the beginning? Cue slight panic... my usual modus operandi is to go back and forth and effectively memorise the moves of most burr type puzzles. I had not been paying attention and had no memory of what I had done. I tried to backtrack and realised I had an "Allard situation" - this was only going in the forward direction! Oops. I resigned myself to adding another 4 bits of plastic to my 'pile o pieces' in a box but at least I could say I had dismantled it if not actually solved it. Even having found that hidden move it was still not an easy progression to the end. I continued to be noisy for a large proportion of the rest of the conference before I had this:

He'll lick all bare, too solved
I might as well lick it as I stand equal chance of reassembling it with my tongue as my hands!
The puzzle is a beast. I have spent several days trying to reassemble it and can't even get to the place where I had my unfortunate realisation. I contacted Derek and he sent me a nice little pdf. Apparently big Steve is a dab hand with the OpenScad software and has created a step by step reassembly diagram in it. I can barely draw a cube in it and yet he is performing miracles. I am going to try and reassemble the beast after I've uploaded this blog post.

You are all MUCH better puzzlers than me! You definitely should buy this one - it will be a nice challenge for you and I know for certain that you will manage it in just a pleasant couple of hours. Go on I dare you!
 

I have received a new batch of puzzles from Jakub and Jaroslav - I am going to power my way through as fast as I can so that they can be put on sale soon!



Sunday, 16 May 2021

Something Happy and Something Sad

Brass Monkey Number Four
Today, I am very happy to show off to you something wonderful! Yes, you all need one of these in your collections - it's not really tough but it is really well made and has a fabulous Aha! moment. I mentioned last week after Allard reviewed the fourth in Big Steve and Ali's Brass Monkey series that I had ordered my copy. It arrived on Tuesday and after Mrs S warned me that if I dropped the heavy object and broke a kitchen tile or work surface then she would "break me". As a Scottish woman with nurse training, I had to take her seriously (the violent tendencies and skills have to be seen to be believed) and immediately took it into the living room and forced myself to only play with it there. I have to say that she is not wrong - you could do some serious damage with this chunk of metal. At almost 800g (1.1Lbs) with each piece 70mm long and 19mm in diameter, it's a bit of a monster. You can always count on Steve and Ali producing something very well made and great fun in the puzzling. Despite fear of Mrs S, I was delighted with my purchase.

So, it's a six piece burr made of brass like all the others...except it's not! Only one of the Brass monkeys is a straightforward burr puzzle. The rest have all sorts of interesting locking mechanisms hidden in the depths of the metal. They all look pretty much identical except for the engraving on the ends of the burr sticks... number one has a dimple on each end, number two has the dimple surrounded by an engraved circle, number three has the same plus an extra circle. Number four must have...nope! It has a deeper hole drilled in each end. Is that significant? I'll let you find out.

How do you go about solving it? I have no idea how others do it but after looking and shaking whilst listening (no, that doesn't help me), I finally resort to pushing and prodding before finally just swearing at the bloody thing! As a man of a certain age who has got beyond the point of needing ever longer arms to read books with (especially when I found that my arms weren't long enough to place an arterial line I had to buy some multifocal contact lenses) I even resorted to using the magnifier function of my iPhone to look at the puzzle. Nothing helped. Apart from teeny tiny motion of the burr sticks, it stayed firmly in one piece - sigh!

This continued for a further two evenings with Mrs S looking at me with amusement as I continued to fail and continued to mutter swear words under my breath. Allard had said that there was something very subtle to be found. Those of you who know me are very aware that subtle doesn't work for me - I need to be hit with a brick before I notice anything. But you also know that I am very persistent. I have been known to keep trying with puzzles for months or years before eventually solving. I did kinda hope that this one wouldn't take that long but I was ready for it. Eventually, whilst using touch rather than sight, I had my first Aha! moment - man! that was hard to notice. Suddenly, things were changing and I had "stuff" to play with.

For an evening, I just went back and forth on this one discovery without working out how I could utilise what I had found. I pressed everywhere to see what would interact with what I had found and this was not helpful as always. I was four days in when I had one of my very rather Thoughts© and I went from back and forth, to what if I do this? to OMG! I cannot believe they are going to do that!

The final realisation of what they have done hit me hard and there was a laugh out loud moment! Stunning idea and beautifully implemented. No force required just a bit more exploration of the mechanism and it comes apart - just in time for a huge grin and a shout that annoys Mrs S! Yessss!

Don't be silly! No clues here - just a pile o brass.
This is BRILLIANT! Stop reading my website and go here to buy one! NOW! It will eventually be available at PuzzleMaster if you can stand the wait. It pains me to say it but Allard was right - the others are good but this is the best so far - I just cannot believe they did that!

Felix Chein - rest in peace my dear friend
Finally I have to finish off with some sad news. My good friend and puzzle mentor Tsy Hung Chein (aka Felix) has passed away a couple of weeks ago after a long and brave battle with Lung cancer. Most of you will have barely heard of him but he has quietly been in the background of the puzzle world for many many years, quietly influencing people and providing help and advice. He was a major player in the Taiwanese puzzling community for many many years and will be sorely missed by them all there. He had also been an attendee at the International Puzzle Party when he had kept better health.

Felix contacted me within a few months of my blog starting up and from the beginning provided fabulous advice. He helped me decide what puzzles to buy and many many times tried to stop me buying puzzles that he did not think were worth my money - he was almost never wrong! He sent me a huge pile of LiveCubes to make puzzles with and then encouraged me to buy the fight cubes too. After a little while he even sent me puzzles that he had made - they were a little rough and ready but the puzzling fun was always superb. When he said that a puzzle was good - it was bloody good! Felix was a master of wire disentanglement puzzles but always loved interlocking puzzles that had something special to them (not simple burrs). Like Bernhard, he was a huge fan of interlocking puzzles which involved either a dance of the pieces or rotations and boy, did he send me some wonderful toys! Looking back at my database, I must have 50 or more wonderful puzzles from him (either made by his fair hand or just gifted to me from his collection) - you couldn't hope for a better puzzling friend than him. The puzzle community are a wonderful welcoming bunch but such generosity was incredible. Felix was also a designer and his puzzles have been made by several craftsmen - one of my all time favourites was Castle made by Pelikan - it made it to my top ten that year.

Made by Felix
Made by Jakub
Over the years, I have shared nearly 1000 email conversations with him (each thread being 5 to 20 emails long) - it amazed me that he always had time for more questions and advice. I never actually met him in person but I consider him one of my very best puzzle friends and will miss him greatly.

It was not only me that he befriended and mentored - Felix was a major influence in the puzzling world. Here are a couple of tributes from two of my good friends:

From Christoph Lohe (puzzle designer)
"Four years ago I got in touch with Felix (Tzy Hung Chein), and we quickly became real friends. We exchanged emails almost daily, and discussed puzzling topics as well as things far beyond just puzzling.

Felix has been one of the most experienced puzzle collectors and designers I have ever met. His main puzzle category has been disentanglements, and he knew virtually everything about these puzzles. However, he had also a deep knowledge about interlocking Burr puzzles, TICs, and packing puzzles. Over the years I received countless puzzle recommendations from Felix, and he never failed. Without him, my puzzle collection would not exist as it is.

Felix was also my first contact for discussing new design ideas, and new designs I invented. As I have "two left hands" when it comes to building puzzles, Felix has hand-made various prototypes of my designs, and had sent them over to me in Germany. His comments and suggestions were always very valuable for me, and highly appreciated.

Felix was not a person who wanted to stay in the lamp light. He was well linked in the puzzle community, but he prefered to remain in the background. He has been engaged in the TPC (Taiwan Puzzle Community) which organizes regular puzzle parties. His focus has been bringing puzzles from his collection into the parties, and let younger members fiddle with them. Felix has been very aware of the importance to care about young puzzlers, and he guided them through the world of puzzles.

Even if I have never met him personally, I am very happy that I had found a close friend in Felix, and that I could communicate with him so often during the last years. Felix was a real gentleman, extremely supportive, helpful and kind, and I learned a lot along with him.

During the last year, Felix was patiently and bravely fighting against various health issues he had to deal with. That fight took most of his energies.Even then, he did not give up, and kept his optimism and open mind. He peacefully trusted in God. Felix was an amazing person, and I will miss him very much! Rest in peace, my dear friend!"

From Brian Menold (puzzle craftsman)

"Since entering the puzzle community several years ago, I have always been amazed at the wonderful people that make up this unique group of folks. One such person was Felix (Tzy Hung Chein). I became friends with Felix about seven or eight years ago and I’m not quite sure how we connected. But we did, and that connection quickly turned into a very strong friendship.

I call many people in the puzzle community my friends, and many of them, like Felix, I have never had the pleasure of meeting face to face. But the frequency and warmth of our conversations took this friendship a little farther than most. He became a mentor to me. I think it is safe to say that many of the puzzles that Wood Wonders produced over the past several years were made primarily because of his influence. His advice and counsel were invaluable to me. He would graciously send me prototypes that he had made for me to review and then he would explain why he thought it was a good puzzle to make. Needless to say, he was always right. 

I will never forget the man who encouraged me to make puzzles that were perhaps a bit outside my comfort zone, the man who shared his wisdom about what makes a good design, and of course, the man who, in spite of his own health issues, always helped keep my spirits up while my wife and I were fighting our health issues. This world lost a great deal with his passing and I lost a great friend. 

I will never forget you,

Brian"

 Rest in peace my friend.


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