Sunday, 24 September 2017

Jan Sturm's Collection Includes Some Amazing Puzzles

I have previously mentioned that I managed to get some early samples of the latest puzzles from Jan Sturm's new catalogue. I had gotten these from a friend who has been in contact with Jan recently but I now know that the usual "Puzzle pusher" has begun to get a few in stock and hopefully if you ask him very nicely he might let you purchase a few. For a full view of the puzzles in the catalogue have a look here at an online version (a paper version is also available too).

Some of the names of the puzzles in the catalogue (no, I don't have the whole lot!! Just a chosen few of them) are a bit of a mystery (as you will see later) but the puzzle pictured above is pretty obviously named Mammoth because of the overall shape, complete with tusk. The aim obviously is to remove the loop of string from the puzzle and then replace it. I would suggest if you do buy this one that you take a quick photo of the start position as it is easy to go back to what you think might be the beginning but is subtly incorrect. During my working on this I had to reset it quite a few times and the picture really came in handy.

This was the first of the group of puzzles that I actually tried whilst on call on a Saturday. I had a good registrar ploughing through the emergency/urgent work so I sat in the coffee room to supervise from there and set to on this puzzle. I started with that one because it was an interesting shape and rated only 4 stars out of 5. A quick glance for taking my photos also led me to think that it would not be that tough - I was sure that I saw a path that could be pulled through. My first fiddle revealed that a) it was not a simple pull through (of course Jan would not release anything like that) and b) there were 2 possible start directions. What I had been fooled by was those very sharp U shapes with rings in them - they have been VERY accurately made to allow the string to get inside but NOT pull through. In fact if you pull too hard then it gets wedged inside giving you a bit of a headache! During that day I did have to go into the operating room and work and was unable to finish the puzzle but over an hour or two in several sessions I discovered that there are a LOT of moves in the solution to this puzzle. My usual back and forth approach was not helpful as there were just too many moves to keep track of and one ring looks very like another after a while.

The nursing staff and waiting surgeons were very bemused periodically to watch me trussing up an elephant with a piece of blue string but by now pretty much the whole surgical side of the hospital knows about my "little" habit. Just before leaving at the end of my day there, we were all sitting waiting for the next case and I was chatting and idly fiddling when I noticed a colleague's jaw drop. I looked down and was a touch surprised to see the string in one hand and the wire in another:

Solved it! Lord knows what I did!
He actually asked how I did that (he'd seen me playing on and off all day) and I sheepishly had to admit that I had absolutely no idea how I had solved it as the last few moves were done without paying much attention. In fact, maybe I should try more puzzles that way? I might solve a few more! I took it home that evening and after eating with Mrs S and showing off how brilliant I had appeared, I proceeded to take my life into my hands and attempt the reassembly whilst watching TV with her in the evening....I failed and also got burned by the laser burning stare! The puzzle was even more challenging to reassemble and again took me almost a whole day. Checking my photo, I knew I had got to the start position and then tried again. Remember that no puzzle is truly solved until it has been done at least twice and proven to be understood. The second time was a little quicker and led to a real appreciation of the complexity and beautiful quality. I might actually be tempted to say this is a 5 star difficulty and not the proposed 4. I'd be interested in thoughts from any of you lovely readers.

Prince of Frogs
Yes the above puzzle is called the Prince of Frogs! I think this has been a translation error because the Czech name is Rybí Princ which should translate to Prince of Fish. The shape looks to me like a whale with its' blowhole spraying and of course, even if it is a mammal, what else could you use to call a whale? It looks like a prince of the fish family. It is a fairly simple structure and with a difficulty level also of 4 stars. The aim is to simply remove the ring from the top.

There are a few features of this shape that immediately made me recall previous puzzles and I had plans for what to try before I even picked it up. The puzzle did not take me very long and I would rate the difficulty as 2-3 stars only unless you are an absolute beginner with disentanglement puzzles. Despite the ease with which I solved it, it is actually one of my favourites. The sequence of moves to remove that ring are simply beautiful in their elegance! I love it.

Simply wonderful if not difficult.
Finally today I am visiting a new twist on a very old idea. Way way back in the mists of time I wrote about the Cast Menace/Devil which is a real classic puzzle which still fools many newbies to this genre of puzzles (I have a colleague at work who has owned it for over a year and is convinced that it is impossible). It was made tougher for Allard's exchange a few years ago and sold by Wil later as the U-twins. Well Jan Sturm has taken that basic shape and put a number together to make:

The Cloverleaf
Cloverleaf is very attractive and VERY jingly which Mrs S did not like. It has been rated as 4 stars in difficulty (I would say 3 stars) and if you don't understand the Hanayama 2 piece version then don't even attempt this one. The same move is required only more often and with a bit of fiddling to get the correct part of the pieces to reach properly. I knew what was needed having solved the original and very quickly had this:

Pieces of 2 Cast Devils or 1 Cloverleaf
Reassembly is where the real challenge comes in. Try not to pay too much attention to the positions where pieces are removed and then you get far more of a challenge later. The return to the beginning took me about an hour because I struggled to get the overlapping pieces in the correct orientation and the final link was a real pain in the A! It is a reassuringly solid puzzle and if your life is not endangered by a homicidal wife then I can definitely recommend it.

I look forward to getting a good few more from Jan's catalogue. He has implemented ideas from quite a few new designers and has really made them beautifully using very high quality steel wire and string. This has reminded me that I still have quite a few of Aaron Wang's puzzles in my unsolved pile - I must get back to them soon - I am falling behind!

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Jerry's Masterpieces Prove That I Am Not Terribly Bright

BurrNova 2D
A month or so before the IPP, I was contacted by Jerry to tell me a little bit about his entry into the design competition and to discuss a little bit about his upcoming puzzles. He wanted to test the water about how well I thought they may sell and whether I might be interested in purchasing something from him at the puzzle party to avoid having to pay postage. Of course I practically bit his finger off before he could press the send button on his email program! Basically if Jerry wants to sell me something then the questions are just "how much?" and "when?" As a result of this I knew that I was going to be coming home with a copy of his latest beaut(y/ies) and a bit of a hole in my bank balance.

Jerry's entry into the design competition is pictured above. It is called Burrnova (technically it has a 2D after the word for reasons I will get to. Over the years he has entered quite a few puzzles into the competition and been disappointed to not get recognised but is well aware that most of his designs are exceptionally complex and extremely difficult to solve. For this reason they tend to get marked a little lower than many of the simpler and shall we say more elegant puzzles. I don't think that he expected to get very far this time either but I was already drooling at the thought.

So what does a Nova mean to you? To me it means a sort of star shaped explosion and with this puzzle I wasn't disappointed! No! It doesn't blow apart but the name is highly appropriate. I discovered this on day one of my trip to Paris. After registering for the party I quickly entered the competition room and even though I only knew the name of Jerry's entry, I was able to home in on it straight away.....there is something about his work that makes it instantly recognisable - here are my current puzzles:

Now you can see how his work is recognisable?
and don't forget his absolutely incredible Caramel case:

Caramel case: a 42 piece burr set.
This is so beautiful that it lives on display in my dining room!
So I immediately went up to Jerry's Burrnova 2D and had a play. Initially there is only one possible move so off I go! The central piece pushes upwards and stops. I expected that this would be a key piece and would allow further pieces to slide or even pull out so I started tugging and pushing at pieces on the top and bottom faces without much luck.....hmmm. Time to expand my exploration and push and prod at other less obvious pieces. As is usual with my luck the very last piece I push is the right one and with a loud PRRRRRRRRRP noise the puzzle goes nova on me and I nearly drop it in surprise. How on earth did all that happen? The puzzle had sort of exploded in 4 directions - the central sticks had moved by themselves in a sequence of 11 moves all by themselves. How did I know that it was 11 moves? I sequentially pushed the pieces back (a very enjoyable thing to do) and counted how many it was until I was back to the beginning. Having pushed them back, I was quite amazed that the bloody thing was stable in that position - even shaking it about did nothing. However a gentle push on the right piece in the right direction and yet again it explodes apart. How awesome is that? It was so awesome that I had to do it several more times just for grins and giggles! Just for that alone I was glad I had arranged to buy it.

It went nova!
Having exploded into this position it was obviously important to continue with my disassembly. Now Jerry is pretty sneaky - it won't just release a piece that easily. I think I spent another ½ hour trying everything I could think of and getting nowhere. At that point I was thinking of looking at the solution when something sneaky occurred to me and I knew that Jerry would do exactly that. Aha! I love moments like that - don't we all? I had a key piece removed and was ready to continue.

Yet again, nothing would move. I undid the automatic part and still nothing would move. This sort of puzzle is not technically a burr but more an interlocking solid and usually it is possible to look at the construction and determine which piece can unlink from the others and be removed. Looking at what I had, nothing looked like it could come apart - Jerry had hidden the next move unbelievably well. I was reduced to pushing and prodding at things again but with an extra finger hold to work with. All of a sudden I had made another discovery - Aha! again! Goodness me he's a sneaky man - he's started playing with magnets and things are held VERY tight with a couple of very well placed pieces of Neodymium and it shows a very well disguised separation point between pieces which I was not expecting at all.

Below is a spoiler - if you don't want to see how the next move is disguised and comes apart then DON'T press the spoiler button!

After this there is a lovely sequence of piece removal as the puzzle comes apart from the top down. I always marvel at the perfection and precision of the pieces and in the competition room I kept everything carefully arranged to allow me to put it back together. As I progressed happily I then got to the Nova pieces:

There are quite a lot of very strong magnets here
This was as far as I got at the IPP. I began to pick up the Nova section and it seemed very well held together and at that point I thought might be quite unstable! I decided at that point that discretion was the better part of valour and hastily put it together again. This puzzle was definitely going to win a vote from me.

Later that evening a big bunch of us all met up and I finally got to meet Jerry in person. The IPP this year was fabulous for that aspect - there are so many people whom I have corresponded with for years now and I was finally able to meet them in the flesh. Jerry was entertaining a bunch of people with a skeletal version of the puzzle which showed off what was happening when it went nova. When I arrived with the group they thrust it on me and said "go on....push the stick!" So I did and after a loud PRRRRRRRRRP it did it's thing and despite knowing what was going to happen, I nearly dropped it in surprise......again! The buggers all laughed at me.....again! I seem to spend most of my puzzling life being laughed at by either other puzzlers or the present Mrs S. Jerry mentioned to the group that this was a 2D version and he was developing a bigger 3D Burrnova. We all expressed "mild" interest (actually we were all extremely vociferous) when he offered to show us a prototype. This version has 8 sticks which go nova instead of just the 4 and it is truly a thing to behold when you set it off! We all encouraged him that he really MUST try and make some full 3D Nova puzzles for us in the future. Jerry, if you do read this article, then put my name down for a 3D version as soon as you have made one please?

That evening Jerry also showed off another puzzle to me that he had offered me a chance to purchase and of course, I said yes! We missed each other on the last day of the IPP and it eventually made it's way to me courtesy of the postal service - interestingly as a bag of bits:

This is Coffin's Pinhole Puzzle set (#20) - there are lots of challenges ending with the Grand Pinhole Cross
When I was offered the chance to buy, I Googled it and found Allard's review from 2011 - I was hooked! It has only been produced in very small numbers by Stewart Coffin himself and it was a MrPuzzle limited edition in 2007.  When initially released by Mr Coffin it came with a 10 page booklet - I cannot resist a puzzle with a booklet so I was absolutely delighted when Jerry made one and offered it for sale. Let's just say that this has been kicking my puzzling butt for the last month and has revealed me not only to be "not terribly bright" but actually "damned thick"! I will enlarge on what I did when I have finished solving all the challenges and am ready to write it up.

At the end of the IPP I was absolutely delighted to see at the awards dinner that Jerry won a recognition for his incredible skills. The BurrNova received an honorary mention from the Jury which is tremendous recognition and I grinned when Nick Baxter stood up and said:
"who could not admire a puzzle that starts to solve itself?
I wish more of my puzzles were self-solving as I don't seem to be getting very far!

Mrs S was pleased that at least one of my Paris purchases has a ready made shelf space and I put the Burrnova 2D in it until this weekend when I finally found time and courage to attempt a full disassembly. I still delight in the PRRRRRRRRRP noise and the cats were mildly interested (they woke up from the heat drugged slumber) and I proceeded with the disassembly. I had forgotten about the hidden move and the magnets. I remembered at that point that he had said that the puzzles that myself and Goetz had received were supplied with much stronger magnets and oh boy it took some doing to find the opening move again! With great enthusiasm I dismantled it completely and made a nice happy little pile of pieces:

Such precision! Spot the magnets.
After I had taken it apart and put it back together again a few times I made a more organised picture showing the piece types:

Sort of organised
It is made from Cherry, Walnut, Maple and Bloodwood in 33 pieces with Jerry's mark etched into the key piece - it has the absolutely characteristic look and finish of a McFarland puzzle - definitely one of my prized possessions.

The Nova section consists of a set of 4 Bloodwood sticks with steps cut into them and a bunch of very strong magnets all oriented correctly to encourage it to "explode".

Nova pieces showing their "mechanism"
I cannot wait for the Burrnova 3D to be made as well as whatever other designs are floating around in Jerry's head (I know of at least one more that I am drooling over). With Jerry (as with Jakub Dvořák, Rob Yarger, Scott Peterson and Johan Heyns) when they offer something I basically just say yes and open my bank account! But don't tell "she who must be feared"!

Right! time to cook and then back to puzzling! Wish me luck and wish me an improvement in my meagre skills.

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Pelikan and Pluredro Puzzle Perfection

Little Dance
Continuing on the theme from last week, I will focus on another few puzzles I have had some success with recently. It would appear that the last week or so has seen my puzzling mojo return with a vengeance and I have managed to solve some really rather tough puzzles. Little Dance was another of the gorgeous puzzles that I bought from Jakub at the New Pelikan Workshop. I have quite a few puzzles from Klaas Jan Damstra who seems to specialise in puzzles with very interesting shapes and puzzling moves. He designed the incredible Canal House which I discussed here.

Because it was from Klaas and because it was a very interesting shape and also because it is gorgeous in Wenge and Padauk, I had to buy a copy. This was reinforced when I read the description from the designer on the product page:
This puzzle is gorgeous in contrasting Wenge and Padauk. With level it should not be too difficult. While assembling / disassembling the pieces move around one another, hence the name Little Dance.
I love puzzles with pieces that dance around each other during the solve process - I find it very elegant.

The first thing that struck me when I received this was how beautiful it was and also how absolutely perfect the joinery is. It is almost impossible to see where one piece stops and an adjacent one begins. After photos and a little fiddle I found 2 moves and proceeded from there. There are a couple of blind ends and choices to be made early on. The 2 pairs of pieces are very similar in shape and it is quite easy to get confused and really very difficult to lay down any memories of exactly what has been done. My usual back and forth technique was proving quite tough because, whilst it was quite easy to return to the beginning, I really struggled to work out what I had done each time. The further I got into the solution the worse this got. For a while I got quite stuck....almost all movements apart from the return were blocked. Time to think© and look carefully. I realised that there is a subtle difference between the 2 bigger pieces and this needs to be used in just the right direction.

I reckon it must have taken me about an hour in my usual inefficient meandering method of dismantling this sort of puzzle. I did get sidetracked when I found at one point that rotational moves are possible and needed to concentrate to prevent them from occurring by accident. I balanced the pieces on the sleeping cat who didn't even stir and admired the workmanship:

Very similar pairs of pieces and a symmetrical frame make this confusing
With such a low level of solution I decided to be brave and leave the pieces scrambled for about 20 minutes before attempting the reassembly......BIG mistake!!! I had a vague idea of what I had done and remembered the rough directions of the dance but for the life of me could not remember which piece started where. I had a little panic before pulling myself together and having another go at that thinking© thing - I'm really not very good at it. I found that I was able to plan out some of the moves outside of the frame and then tried them inside it. I got stuck for about 30 minutes before realising that I had started with a simple piece in the wrong place and it was getting in my way later. With that false start in my head, I restarted and BINGO! Phew! No need to resort to Burrtools. I am not very good at assembly but if I have a little knowledge from the disassembly then that is just the little boost that I need. It really is a clever design and wonderfully implemented by Jakub and Jaroslav.

The Little dance is still available from the Pelikan store now (only 5 left as I write) so go get it whilst you can. At 29€ it's an absolute bargain!

Deadly Romance designed by Markus Götz

Unfortunately the Deadly Romance puzzle has sold out since last week's blog post. I think this may have been Markus' exchange puzzle at this year's IPP (except he gave it away in pieces as an assembly puzzle). I bought this from Jakub because it was very similar in idea and shape to the wonderful Identical Twins that I reviewed last week. I am actually quite glad that Jakub decided to send it out fully assembled as it was difficult enough for me that I know that I would never have managed to assemble it myself and that Burrtools would not be any help at all.

Markus wrote this about it:
How difficult can it be to put two small pieces into a frame? Well, decide yourself and try with this nicely challenging puzzle. It consists of a cage, which is made of two different colored woods (dark/bright), and two puzzle pieces, which are also made using these two colors. Due to the color constraint the final location/position of the pieces inside the frame should be quite clear – but then the question arises: ‘How to get the two pieces into these positions?’ And this is exactly where the real fun of the puzzle starts! Enjoy.

I never get peace!
My initial disassembly exploration revealed some very pleasing moves as the pieces dance around each other within the frame. Then there is a blockage and I couldn't go any further. I decided that my beginning moves must have been wrong so I began again but could not find any alternative moves. Every time I ended back at the same blocked area. With my thinking muscle seeming to be malfunctioning, I put it down on the cat (Every single time I sit down one or more of the cats immediately curls up on my legs) and watched some TV with Mrs S. When I looked back at the puzzle I noticed that something had moved in a rather unexpected direction just by being perched precariously. This was very unexpected (would you expect a sleeping cat to be better at puzzles than you?) and I picked it up and continued the move.....Aha! This was absolutely genius - I had been looking completely in the wrong direction. This move was too perfect to be anything other than by design. Having done this unusual move it set me  up for another pair of moves like it and the first piece was removed. A little exploration and I had this:

A lovely frame and 2 relatively simple pieces.
I am delighted that Jakub sent this one out as an assembled puzzle - there is just no way that I would have managed to assemble it from scratch. In the end my reassembly did take a little bit longer than expected because one of the pieces can be inserted in 2 different orientations and the "law of Sod" of course had me trying the wrong one for about 20 minutes first! Yep! I really am not very bright!

I don't know if Jakub plans on making any more of this but it might be worth while asking and if they come up at auction in the future then this is well worth a little punt.

Pluredro Perfection

Cubin Burr with Pisa #2 inside
I have been a proud collector of puzzles either designed or made by the awesome Junichi Yananose for quite a few years. He has worked alongside Brian Young (MrPuzzle) for a very long time. Juno (as he likes to be called) has an incredible brain and seems to be able to visualise things in his head that are too complex for the normal human being to understand (just take a look at the IPP hosts gift from Paris and you will see what I mean). He has recently set up his own blog and shop which I have begun following very closely.

I met him (and his wife Yakuri) at their table in the Puzzle party room at the IPP in Paris and watched in awe as Goetz counted out several 100€ for something I really wanted but could not quite afford..........yet - Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear - I mean ever! Once Goetz had finished I admired all the wonderful puzzles that Juno had made and designed and in the end couldn't resist buying some. He was incredibly trusting as I had run out of euros by then and was resorting to the PayPal app on my phone but when he couldn't remember his PayPal address, he offered to let me take the puzzles and he would email me an invoice later. Wow! What amazing trust!

A month later when I was sure that they had finished their European travels and gotten home to Australia I had still not received the expected bill. I dropped him an email to remind him and he professed to have completely forgotten. After a little PayPal move (I almost always pay as a gift to craftsmen), I could now feel like a legitimate owner of some wonderful puzzles.

The Cubin Burr was definitely something I couldn't resist - firstly it is big and beautiful (11.6cm cubed and fabulously crafted from Victorian Ash, Oak, Blackbean and Silver Ash - the grain in the wood is gorgeous) and second, it is two puzzles in one. I told Mrs S that it was a bargain (which she didn't quite believe). I began to play with it a week after the IPP and realised that there was a LOT of movement in the pieces. I shied away at first because it felt like I would quickly lose sight of what went where but eventually I "screwed my courage to the sticking place" and persisted with it trying very hard to remember what was happening. After a just a few rather interesting moves that progressed in a sort of logical sequence I had this:

The pieces look rather simple (a big cube was inside)
Juno's branded signature mark
One thing to notice within the pieces is the wonderful branded signature. Having read about how it came about on their blog, I was delighted to be able to have a good look at it.

Inside the external board burr I had a cube which is called Pisa #2. This apparently was not the original cube that was designed to go inside (it was originally intended that the Penta cuboid would go inside but proved not to be stable enough). The Pisa #2 had been designed originally in 1994 for the Hikimi competition and proved to be stable and free standing so perfect to put inside the Cubin burr. I carefully put the Pisa #2 aside for a bit and continued exploring the Cubin burr. The pieces are incredibly simple and I had a quick try at reassembling it without the cube inside. There are some fairly large slots in the edges and I thought it would be quite easy to do. I was wrong! It took me about an hour to get the boards back together to look like this:

Back in shape but without the central cube it won't hold it's shape
Out of interest, I went to Burrtools to make my customary model (I lurve doing this and, for me, no puzzle is complete until I have also made a BT file for it) - it informed me that there are 7 possible assemblies without the central cube but despite that I had really struggled to find just the one! I then set to attempting the reassembly with the central cube in situ. Despite 4 or 5 hours of attempts I could not seem to make any headway and I proceeded to make the cubed model. Just one assembly possible but it was not to be found at that point. Time to move on to the Pisa #2 - strange name but the reason for it becomes obvious as soon as you pull it apart:

Pisa #2 pieces
Just like the famous leaning tower the pieces of this puzzle have a leaning central dowel which fits into a diagonally oriented hole. As you can see from the above picture there is one of every possible combination. There is just one solution to form the 2x2x2 cube apparently and I had thought it might be relatively easy to perform. Aaargh! Remember that I am  not very bright? I well and truly revealed that with this puzzle.....I could not for the life of me put it back together! It took me 2 evenings of swearing under my breath and receiving the laser burning stare from the Eye of Sauron before I had reassembled it. You will see from the product page (which I had not read at this stage) that the Pisa #2 should take only about a ½ hour for most puzzlers but I obviously am not "most puzzlers" - I kept finding myself with 7/8 of a cube and unable to place the final piece. It was with enormous relief and another laser stare that I finally got it back together.

It's just a 2x2x2 cube - how hard can it be? VERY!
Finally having done this, I went back to the full reassembly. I have tried it for several weeks without success and eventually resorted to my Burrtools file. I followed it very carefully and nooooo! I still couldn't get it together. The thing is the central cube moves as well as the boards and it is very hard to tell what is happening with it using BT. I also found that I didn't have enough hands to manipulate the computer as well as hold all the puzzle pieces. I thought of asking Mrs S to help and then thought again....better not!

I feared that I would be left with the puzzle in pieces forever more but then I remembered that, like Brian Young, Juno had included a printed solution with the puzzle and so I picked that up and followed it. It requires a bit of dexterity but within 10 minutes it was back together. Now why couldn't I do that with BT?

I am determined that I will understand this one so as soon as I have got my courage together I will take it apart again and play. Then I will move on to another one that I bought from them at the IPP. Don't tell Mrs S!

If you are interested in these then do go visit their blog and the Pluredro store - there are some stunning puzzles and the workmanship is terrific. Plus of course, they are a delight to do business with.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Positively Perfect Puzzles From Pelikan

Recently added to the Pelikan website
Today I wanted to show off a few of the new puzzles that went up for sale on the New Pelikan Workshop store. This recent release cements my view that Jakub Dvořák and Jaroslav Švejkovský are currently the best wood craftsmen making puzzles in the world. I am afraid that 2 of the puzzles that I will be highlighting have already sold out. I do hope that Jakub will consider making some extras because they are absolutely terrific.

Camera Conundrum designed by William Waite
The Camera Conundrum was designed in 2002 by William Waite (William's current store is called Puzzlemist and has a lot of very interesting puzzles for sale which I really should buy from soon) and won an "Honorable Mention" at the 2003 IPP in Chicago.

This absolutely stunningly beautiful puzzle looks like a Kodak camera from my youth complete with the flash cube on top (see picture right) and I guess would be classified as a Kumiki with seven interlocking pieces. Apparently it is also a box as the first challenge is to find a secret drawer - I will choose to ignore the box aspect as you all know that I don't collect boxes but if a puzzle has a cavity then that may be considered a bonus. The locking mechanism of this puzzle is truly ingenious and sequential. Jakub has added an extra mechanism to add to the difficulty by disguising the first move. After you have found the first move there are a further 5 moves to reveal the drawer/cavity and then another 2 moves before the first piece comes out. After that everything will come completely apart. Once apart you can see the truly impressive workmanship that has gone into making these puzzles - there are about 50 individual pieces of wood that have to be glued together to make the completed puzzle.

Just look at the workmanship in these pieces!
Whilst not hugely difficult, this puzzle is an absolute delight to explore and the reassembly ensures that you truly understand how it locks. A big bonus is that it is also beautiful enough that Mrs S will let it stay on display.

Twisted Cube 3x3x3
Next up I want to focus on Lucie Pauwels - she has her own blog/website here and is an extremely prolific designer (hence the name of her site) who seems to show off a new design every single day on her Facebook page. I actually bought several of her "Turning interlocking cube" puzzles from Bernhard at IPP which are all very imaginatively named:

Knobbel 24
Knobbel 26
Knobbel 28
Knobbel 41
Lucie designed the Twisted Cube 3x3x3 and Jakub obviously saw potential in it. Lucie wrote this about it:
"The idea for the twisted puzzles came to me out of the blue, there were several 2 x 2 x 1 blocks on my table, and without thinking I stacked them onto each other in angles of 45 degrees. I found the shape of the 5 layer tower interesting and wondered if I could divide it into pieces and make a puzzle, this worked fine. Later I made a 3 x 3 x 3 variation, also with 45 degree angles, a nice puzzle too. A few days later I had a new idea to put each layer of the 3 x 3 x 3 cube in a different angle, at 30 degrees. The result is a fun puzzle, that looks like a Rubik's Cube, but can not twist, it's an assembly puzzle."
This puzzle has been made by Pelikan in two varieties - my copy is Wenge and Maple but it is also available in a startlingly bright right Massaranduba and Maple. It is absolutely stunning to look at and will look very interesting on display.

I was delighted when I took it out of the box - as it really does look like a twisted Rubik cube. I initially thought that it might be a burr or disassembly puzzle which I am not bad at and as I picked it up my jaw dropped when my grip of it dislodged a piece. At this point I realised that this was going to be a significant challenge for my meagre assembly skills. One evening after dinner I sat down with Mrs S for some TV and puzzling and proceeded to dismantle it without taking note of how it came apart. Each piece just pulls away in turn until you are left with a nice pile of bits and for me at least a great feeling of trepidation - have I said before how bad I am at assembly puzzles?

Oh boy! I'm in trouble.
I left the pieces a while after scrambling them and then set to making the twisted cube. This is quite a serious challenge (at least for me) as most of the pieces won't fit together at all but there are also several false assemblies that lead to an almost assembled cube but the last piece cannot be placed and a retry is required. My first attempt took me about 30 minutes and, to my shame, 3 subsequent tries have also taken 30 minutes - I never seem to learn. I could say that this is a new twisted version of the Half hour puzzle by Coffin (except the real half hour puzzle took me an hour - I try not to talk about the Soma cube and how bad I am at that!) I have to say that for 29.00€ this puzzle is an absolute bargain and very well worth buying. It is still available just now.

Identical twins
The Identical twins unfortunately sold out almost straight away after going on sale and I do hope that Jakub considers making another batch as everyone should own this marvelous puzzle. This was designed by the very prolific Osanori Yamamoto and was the winner of the puzzler’s award at the recent IPP in Paris. Consisting of 2 very simple shapes and a basic cuboidal frame, the aim is to assemble them all together. It is immediately clear that rotations are required (this is something that Osanori Yamamoto seems to specialise in). It only requires 8 moves to assemble it but they are wonderful to discover. Brian Pletcher has recently reviewed all the design competition puzzles and also seemed to enjoy this one

I played with this in the design competition room in Paris and was truly delighted with the elegance of the movements required. It is just the right difficulty level with a truly wonderful Aha! moment. It is beautifully made with absolutely perfect fit by Pelikan as always and here is made from Wenge and Apple.

Doesn't look like much but when used as an assembly challenge it is truly delicious!

Jakub sent my copy out as the assembled puzzle and when I wrote to him with the review for his store I suggested that it really should be sent out the way it was presented at the IPP design competition - everyone should get the chance to discover the Aha! moment during the assembly. The disassembly is an easier puzzle and Jakub agreed. All of you who have purchased it since I wrote my review will just receive the 3 pieces. I hope you all enjoy the wonderful challenge.

I still have a few more of the Pelikan puzzle set to solve and review. I will let you know my thoughts as soon as I can. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Packing with Purpose

The highly sought after Caramel Box by Mineyuki Uyematsu & Yasuhiro Hashimoto
The "Master" of the Metagrobologist website (currently under reconstruction), Dave Holt will be most delighted to read this post. He is an educationalist who has a special interest in teaching people who are "educationally challenged" and he often uses packing puzzles in his classes to encourage thought and perseverance. Whilst I understand this use, I personally find that these puzzles often don't "do it" for me. In fact, after all these years of by talking drivel on this site, most of you should well know that I don't really enjoy or collect packing puzzles. In fact I have only ever sold 2 puzzles from my collection and they were from that category.  However, I do have a few in my collection and I still buy the occasional one. You might well ask why after that preamble......the reason that one is bought is either that it is truly gorgeous with very lovely woods or unusual materials or that there is something truly special in the solution process. I usually take advice on this matter from my friends; especially Allard or Louis who have such an in depth knowledge of all things puzzling that if they say something is worthwhile then I sit up and listen. This post is about a few recent packing puzzles that fulfilled these criteria.

The puzzle at the top of the post is the Caramel box which was entered in the 2014 Nob Yoshigahara design competition at the London IPP and was recognised in the top 10 vote getters category. I have a vague memory of playing with it in the design room and marvelling at how beautiful it was and how unusual it was to have a box to be packed made of painted tin. Being rubbish at packing puzzles I completely failed to solve it but enjoyed the tactile nature and craftsmanship of it. Lots of people were very enthusiastic about it at the time and when Mine began to sell copies in his Japanese store they sold out very very quickly. After Allard and Jerry reviewed it with glowing reports of thought processes rather than random trial and error, I decided that I ought to get a copy and play myself - I failed that too. Over the intervening 3 years I have tried to get a copy a few times and each time lost the auction. I had more or less given up. I was not the only person who was really after a copy (I could hear the wails of woe from Dave whenever one sold and it wasn't to him.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

A New Essential Twisty

That's a whole lot of pieces to move!
Well I must be officially getting old! Not only do I catch a cold at IPP and it poleaxes me for a week but a 24 hour on call yesterday which had me at work from 8am to half past midnight completely kills me! I have relapsed my cold and am shattered - definitely too old! Despite feeling crap, I have dragged my carcass to my computer to produce a quick something for you.

A month or so ago the Chinese company LanLan showed off on the TwistyPuzzle Forum a new production of theirs. It really didn't seem to get much fanfair and there has been very little written about it. Originally designed by Minh Sanghsu in 2011, it is a hybrid of one of my favourite puzzles of all time, the Curvy Copter, as well as a nice easy twisty puzzle, the Dino cube which I have never reviewed because it is pretty simple to solve but was mentioned in my discussion on depth of cut in Twisty puzzling.

The edge turn - Curvy copter style
The corner turn - Dino cube style
This puzzle has only just been released on the market and as far as I am aware is only available at present in the Chinese stores like HKNowstore but I am sure it will be available in Europe from Martin's Puzzlestore UK and in North America from PuzzleMaster. I managed to get an early copy of the puzzle courtesy of my good friend Otis. He is a solid member of the Twisty puzzling fraternity and is an absolutely superb solver. Being Chinese he also has some fabulous connections with the incredible Chinese designers and manufacturers and his Facebook page often shows him playing with some amazing puzzles. He had been given a bunch of LanLan's latest creations to bring along to the Paris IPP and I was very much drawn to them during the Twisty Puzzle meetup there (some pictures are included in John Haché's blog post). At the end of the TP meetup, prior to the awards banquet, Otis said to everyone that he didn't want to take the Lanlan puzzle's back home with him and they were available to anyone to take. When people didn't leap on them I casually sauntered up and lifted the Flowercopter (named for pretty obvious reasons).

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Unintended Consequences of IPP and Puzzles Solved on the way

The dining room table held my IPP haul
Having been at IPP last week, you might expect me to have an extravaganza blog post for you today. I certainly would have expected it too! BUT there were some unintended consequences of IPP that have conspired against me and this will only be a very short post - I do apologise but it will have a few good photos.

First of all, IPP is fantastic for catching up with friends from all over the world. Most of these guys I only ever communicate with via Facebook or email and as you can imagine there's a fair bit of hand shaking and hugging that occurs and even the odd kiss (purely for the girls of course). I was very pleased to catch up with the spouses of Neil and Peter Wiltshire and of course am always delighted to receive a little kiss. However this time one of them (or maybe both) had transformed into Typhoid Mary and infected me with a rather nasty version of the plague! I have spent the last 4 or 5 days gurgling with mucus and annoying Mrs S with other various sound effects both day and night.

Mrs S was feeling generally peeved with me because of my very talented sound effects and the prodigious quantity of goo that was being produced so when she saw the amount of new toys that I brought back from IPP and the state of the dining room table after my unpacking, she insisted that I put things away quickly. In my fevered state I whined that I didn't have any space to put them away and so she marched into my study to see absolute chaos! My desk was pandemonium. You MUST do something about this NOW!

A panoramic view of the desk - worth clicking on to get a full impression!
I do have a few shelves with either sci-fi books or my popular science books on them and she has decided that these can go into boxes in the garage and this will leave me some more shelf space for puzzles.

Unintended consequence number 1 - I am reorganising my study!

Seeing my crestfallen face (especially as I was feeling fairly shocking at this time), she actually felt sorry for me! At least I think she did......I have never seen such a thing occur before so I may be mistaken.

Unintended consequence number 2 - I will be allowed another set of shelves in our newly redecorated conservatory! Yay!!! Maybe I can get some more puzzles to fill it?

Unintended consequence number 3 - she said that the puzzles in the dining room are quite attractive! I had better pack some more in there quickly before she changes her mind.

A panoramic view of the sideboard in the dining room - sorry about the odd distortion
Before I reorganised it all, I had to take a quick set of pics to record the current state of the collection:

They are packed quite tight but I know where they all are!

Lord help me if there's a little earth tremor!

She wants me to move the bottom shelf into a cupboard!

But the cupboard is already quite full!
The collection has also spread into the living room:

I think the lamp table looks lovely

Puzzles awaiting play!

She says things are too messy - she may have a point!

An animal collection - only one puzzle which is just not right!

Puzzles solved on the way to IPP

A good friend of mine had managed to acquire a few new ones from Jan Sturm. I was offered the chance to join in with a purchase and....well you all know that I cannot resist a disentanglement puzzle or 10. I chose a few of the ones rated 4 or 5 stars on Jan's difficulty scale and they arrived a week before I went to IPP. I had to put a few in my bag to play with on the train to Paris. The first one was this Stake. The string loop was linked to the chain but not to the main puzzle and it looked initially to me to be quite tough. I sat down on the train from Sheffield to St Pancras and after we set off started to play. I was before 7am and I got a few very strange looks from my fellow travellers as well as the train guard.

5 minutes later.....

Well that wasn't particularly tough
There's a fairly nice little sequence to unlink from the chain and then unlink from the main puzzle but I would rate the difficulty of this one as 2-3 stars only. I solved it a few more times to be sure that I understood it and then put it away. Maybe I was going to be a genius at the IPP and solve everything in sight? I thus moved on to the next one - also 5 stars:

This one is significantly harder! Despite having on obvious exit point, the circular loop within the body of the steamer causes the string loop to twist and ruins any quick solution plans. After about 20 minutes I had this:

Solved - no idea how!
The trouble with many of these puzzles is the solution route is impossible to remember and more often than not I have absolutely no idea how I managed it. In this case I took it apart and immediately tried to reassemble it but seriously struggled to get it back to the initial conformation - I had to rely on the picture on the packet to be sure when it was back. In the end, it took me another hour and almost the whole way to St Pancras station to be sure that I understood the puzzle and could do it repeatedly. There is a distinct 4 steps to the solution of this and I would agree that it is a 5 star difficulty level.

Just before I got to London I attempted one final wire puzzle from Jan. This is called Cactus and the aim is to move the barrel to the other side of the wire. Needless to say, it is too big to fit through the wire. This puzzle was designed originally by Lambert Bright and called Saguarro (it was auctioned in Nov 2011).

The solution to this puzzle uses a basic technique that is common to quite a few puzzles that require you to move things from one side to another. Of course, I had no recollection of the techniques I had used before and so I needed to work it out for myself afresh. Part of the fun of having almost no memory is that puzzles always seem new to me and are a challenge each time I solve them. Don't anyone tell Mrs S please! With about 10 minutes of play I had managed this:

A fun little challenge!
This had got me from Sheffield to London and had entertained me on the way to the upcoming puzzle extravaganza!

Wish me luck rearranging my study - I will try to post some more pictures after I am done.


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