Sunday, 1 March 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Puzzle brothers recognise a great puzzle

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

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

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

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Funzzle puzzle - Epsilon!

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

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

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

Well presented

Sunday, 8 February 2015

A Burr so Tough it had to be Caged!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Cast U&U

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

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

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

Sunday, 25 January 2015

He called me a genius!

Positively devilish - the HELLical Burr
If you follow me on FaceBook then you will have seen a late night post from me with a puzzle finally solved and an exclamation about the incredible skills of two of my friends! I posted this:
Derek Bosch - you are a genius! This HELLical burr is phenomenal - it took me quite a few hours to dismantle it! Lots of blind ends and even a loop and a hidden exit! Steve Nicholls - your 3D printing of this puzzle is nothing short of stunning! Everyone should go to http://threedyprinters.com/ to see the machine you use - I WANT one!!!
In part of the subsequent conversation that follows, Derek actually said that I was a genius too!
Kevin, you are the genius, for solving it (and remembering how it goes back together!) Even I need my cheat sheet! 
This came as a bit of a shock to me because I remain convinced that I am a puzzling amateur. Yep! I still think of myself as a newbie to this game with a bit of a fetish for burrs, twisties, disentanglements, N-ary puzzles, sequential discovery puzzles and assorted wooden interlocking puzzles. Oh dear! That’s quite a list isn’t it? BLUSH!! The present Mrs S would definitely say that I am no genius as I barely remember my own name some days and have much more purchasing power than sense!


It's Helical - such fun!
So what is all this about? You may think you recognise the puzzle at the top of the post - it is a 4 piece burr puzzle which has been twisted into a helical conformation. I wrote about the predecessor of this a long time ago - The Helical Burr. Derek Bosch designed it and won the Jury's grand prize for it in the 2013 IPP puzzle design competition. More importantly it was very high (number 3) in my 2013 puzzles of the year list! At last year's IPP he showed off a follow up puzzle which required significantly more moves which was subsequently named the HELLical burr because it was HELLishly difficult. Shortly after that, Shapeways killed off affordable puzzle production and I mourned the fact that I would probably never manage to obtain a copy. Luckily, earlier this year we heard from the equally brilliant designer and puzzle producer Steve Nicholls (one of the coproducers of the Threedy printer) and he showed off the first copy of the HELLical burr produced using an FDM printer. I drooled and told him that I wanted one as soon as he was able to produce them for sale. An email exchange took place between Steve, Derek and I and over a couple of days,  and I got progressively more excited! Between the two of them they had managed to produce an animation of the disassembly which stuttered away on my iPad and definitely did not give me much of a clue but really whetted my appetite! I was then recruited (as had occured with the original version) to use my photography and editing skills, along with my now famous kitchen granite to make a solution sheet for it. I played all keen to the boys but was actually quite worried that I would be completely unable to solve it at all!

Saturday, 17 January 2015

He's opinionated, abrasive, very talented and a friend!

Now that got your attention didn't it?
Shake Something
I'm a day early! I'm working in trauma all day on Sunday and I didn't want to miss out on producing a review for you so I used a couple of hours today to put something together for you.

I know that the twisty puzzlers amongst you immediately know who I'm talking about - it can be none other than Dan Fast aka CrazyBadCuber and also now after a career change the CrazyBadTrucker. Over the years he has appeared and disappeared (because of arguments or disagreements) from various twisty forums including my favourite Twisty Puzzle forum. He's upset quite a few people along the way so why on earth would I even think about having an article about him?

Well over the years, I have come to consider him a friend! We chat fairly frequently on FaceBook and I've always found him to be very polite. He has many reasons for his personality which the world saw in a very candid interview (now made private) that he did with Rline on the TwistyPuzzling YouTube channel and let's just say that he has really done very well for himself despite occurrences in his past. One thing to say about Dan is that when he puts his mind to something, he really throws himself into it and does it properly. He started with cubing and became a fairly good speedcuber and then moved onto other twisty puzzles and now has the most extensive collection of puzzle mods by Traiphum anywhere in the world (something I'm rather jealous of) and then he went into puzzle modification himself and made quite a few fabulous puzzles (more of that later) which have sold for large sums of money.

His recent "fetish" has been for burr puzzles and he and I have communicated a lot about these. He solves them rather like me - he basically moves things randomly hundreds of times until he finds what he is looking for and then progresses by luck! It's sad for me to admit it but whilst I adore burr puzzles and the gorgeous woods and craftsmanship, I (and he) are not particularly good at them but we just can't stop trying to solve them and can't stop collecting. I did have a small try at designing them - most modern designers have learned to utilise the incredible Burrtools software from Andreas Röver to produce more and more complex burr puzzles of ever higher level of difficulty. My ability (and time to stick with it) was very limited and I produced only a few poor designs but Dan, as is his usual, stuck doggedly with it and mastered the program bit by bit (a teeny little bit of help from me) and has designed some fabulous puzzles which have even made it to production by craftsmen. Dan is aware that not everyone wants super high level burrs but we want puzzles that are interesting in shape or solve process. Two of these I will show today.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Cast Dolce

Cast Dolce
Yet again, I have spent a fair bit of the weekend doing the much hated DIY! This meant little puzzling time and work meant I had very little opportunity during the week to try anything new (apart from my latest twisty, the Rhombic Triacontrahedron - yes 30 sides). So this morning after being sent out to do the weekly food shopping (my chore as Mrs S does most of the rest of the household chores), I decided to try one of my stash of Hanayama puzzles that I got from my last Puzzle Master foray.

With very little time available, I chose the one of the easier ones I had, the Cast Dolce which is rated by Hanayama as level 3/6 and by Puzzle Master as level 7 (Challenging) on their scale of 5-10.
This one was designed by Akio Yamamoto and adjusted by Nob to make it trickier. The aim is, as with most of them, to "take it apart and then put it back together". There's a bit of other philosophical stuff on the box which can happily be ignored.

The reviews on the Puzzle Master product page are mostly 4 and 5 stars and other bloggers have enjoyed it:
Tom Cutrofello (who usually only reviews puzzle apps enjoyed it and reviewed it here.
Gabriel reviewed it here and interestingly he found an alternative single move solution which I have not yet been able to repeat.

This puzzle is simply gorgeous - it is a nice size (12cm x 4.7cm x 4.7cm) and made of both silver and gold anodised cast metal in the shapes of the male and female symbols - the flash in the photography shows up every fingerprint and speck of dust, it looks much better than my photo really shows. This puzzle is shiny enough to appeal to anyone like me, with advanced magpie tendencies! The packaging that it came in was the standard black box and, as always, is beautifully displayed!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

An old puzzle teaches something new!

4x5x6 Cuboid
Shapeshifts on 2 faces
Yep you've seen that one before! It is TomZ's amazing 4x5x6 cuboid. I struggled this week to think of something to write about for you - I have published 2 extra posts over the holiday period and actually not done much puzzling. Then I remembered, I had actually worked on a pretty wonderful twisty and learned something rather special from it!

It had been an aim of mine for a very long time to get this puzzle and I even met and asked Tom Van der Zanden about it at the last IPP. When Shapeways effectively killed puzzle development with their "priceapocalypse", I more or less gave up on the idea! A lucky occurrence happened when a Facebook puzzle friend, Austin (yes he does actually live in Texas) had a spare one going at pre-rise prices. I jumped fast and it arrived in Sheffield in mid December. Yippee - Happy Xmas!!!

As another gratuitous twisty photo here it is scrambled! It is monstrous!!!

Fun fun fun!!! I know not al of you believe it but bear with me!
Why have I shown it again? Is there method in my madness? Well yes! This particular puzzle taught me a very hard earned lesson! When you think you truly understand a puzzle or puzzle type, another one can come up with something totally unexpected that kicks you in the butt and makes you actually go back to basics and THINK©! This one really hit me hard and took me several days to beat!

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Happy New Year - My best puzzles from 2014

I would dearly have loved to provide some up to date photos of the entire collection but my acquisitions have now completely outstripped my ability to store them! At the present moment my desk is absolutely littered with puzzles that I have no space to store. They are absolutely everywhere! I have expanded into the living room (only the most beautiful ones) and also into the dining room (for puzzles that are just too huge). The present Mrs S has actually threatened to come into my study and help me tidy it up! This thought frightens me to death as she may choose to get rid of a few of them!

Every year Peter Hajek sends an email to the IPP puzzlers asking for their top 3 acquisitions of the year - he then produces a book giving the results which he distributes to everyone. It makes for a great read and is a wonderful resource for us all. This year his email request set me to thinking about my best puzzles of the year. It has become a bit of a tradition for me to give a summary of my favourite puzzles but I only include the ones that I have both acquired AND solved in the year up to this point. This task is made much easier using my database but on looking back I see that there are a few that I might need to alter my ratings.

So in sort of reverse order (although many were very difficult to place above or below the others):

Almost made it to the top 10 - lots of burrs!
During 2014 I developed a very rewarding friendship with several designers and craftsmen who have kept me amused with many burrs. There are so many that I find it impossible to choose any one (or even two or three) that should appear in my top 10 puzzles of the year so I have a few honourable mentions to describe first.

11a) Six of One, Half A Dozen of the Other
Complete with Limited edition medallion
Designed by Junichi Yananose and made by Brian Young
I received both 2013 limited edition puzzles from MrPuzzle just a month ago and have only solved this one so far. It looks just like a 6 piece burr but is actually 12 pieces and solves in a very unique manner. It is not particularly difficult but is extremely clever and a joy to play with. The wood is a much deeper colour than the picture reveals and it still sits next to me to be played with regularly.

11b) Gobi
Simple 12 piece burr?
Of course not!
Goetz has produced a page specifically for a wonderful group of puzzles. Both Stephan Baumegger and Alfons Eyckmans have begun designing and making burrs of various sizes that have special shaped pieces hidden inside and the aim is to release those pieces by dismantling the puzzle. Gobi (by Alfons) was special for several reasons - it was beautifully made by Eric Fuller and unusually, it contained 2 pieces to free. What is more appropriate in a desert than a nomad and his camel. The very special feature of this one was that the nomad had to be moved independently within the puzzle at several times to unlock other moves. Eric's superb craftsmanship meant these moves were entirely possible using gravity alone. I actually have several other burrs in this group and all are wonderful.

11c) Doors and Drawers
Is it a door or a drawer?
Superb!
A joint effort by the New Pelikan Workshop under the stewardship of Jakub Dvorak and Mike Toulouzas produced a combination of a framed burr and a packing puzzle. Stunningly made and a joy to solve. Not too difficult but requiring the ingenious use of gravity and friction as well as basic burr solving techniques. My review gushed about it here.

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