Sunday, 19 April 2015

The puzzle geniuses do it again!

Three Helical burrs - Helical, W(h)orl(e)d and HELLical!
Not long ago I posted a review of the second (tougher version) of a new type of puzzle - that is a 4 piece burr which has been rotated into a double (?quadruple?) helix shape. The original was the Helical burr  designed by the amazing Derek Bosch and (my version at least) 3D printed by Shapeways before the terrible "PriceApocalypse" which effectively killed much puzzle design. There have also been a few copies made on his Threedy printer by my good friend Steve Nicholls. I absolutely adored the first Helical burr and was not at all surprised when it won the Jury grand prize at the IPP design competition in 2013.

Earlier this year I was chatting to Derek and he told me about his design for a significantly harder version of the Helical burr which he named the HELLical burr and was delighted to be able to get a copy from Steve. This was by first experience of a home 3D printed version and was very pleased to see how fabulously smooth the version was. I gushed about that one here and even went so far as to post videos of the disassembly and assembly to help people who were truly stumped they can be found here and here. The HELLical burr was really was extremely tough and, having practiced it so much for the video, Steve decided that he would use my skills at the last MPP! He forced me to disassemble and assemble a fair number of the ones that he had made to work out which had acceptable tolerances! Since then I think he has made and sold a considerable quantity all over the world.

I was aware that Derek had been working on another design with Steve but did not realise how far along they had got until about a month ago I realised that I had missed an announcement on Facebook that the third design, the W(h)orl(e)d Burr, was complete and actually being produced for sale! Unluckily for me the whole lot had sold out within a single evening! I tried not to send a whinging email to Steve that I had missed it because I knew that he was really busy with his new job as well as starting the massive task of printing his exchange puzzle for this years IPP. My friend Jamie did manage to obtain one of the new ones and posted on his FB page that he was finding it quite tough - this didn't surprise me initially. But I was surprised that even after a week or so he had not managed to assemble his copy. I know Jamie is now quite an accomplished puzzler and if he struggled that much then I really needed to try for myself - I was expecting a horrendous task. I was really pleased when after just a few weeks Steve put up another batch for sale on Paradise and I nabbed one straight away. It arrived (with a nice note) a few days later.
"Happy twisting and here's hoping you are soon on top of the w(h)orl(e)d"
4 rather similar looking plastic helices - how on earth to put these together?

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Down Under Updated

Having read my post about the fantastic packing/sliding piece puzzle, Down Under that I reviewed last Sunday, I was emailed by the "puzzle solving machine" that is Louis Coolen from the Netherlands. He apparently had also enjoyed solving this puzzle (this shows how good it is) and was surprised to read about my solution that had one piece flipped over (he wondered whether there are any more variants like that - I haven't been able to find any) but told me that he had found a third solution which I should hunt for. What great value for money is that???

He did give a little clue by saying the solution agreed with the puzzle name. I had a little play during a break at work and managed to find his third solution after a short while which, I must say, required quite a bit more planning and sliding to produce than the previous solutions. Really quite a nice idea and good to get yet another interesting aspect to this puzzle. If you are interested or need the solution then click on the button below:

Down under solution that agrees with the name!

So if this interests you then it can be bought at the usual stores - including Puzzle Master here.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Down Under

Down Under with the T removed
This week I am back to my dwindling supply from Puzzle Master in order to continue showing off some of the more affordable puzzles out there for you. My insomnia has recently got much worse (down from about 4 hours sleep to 3-3½!!) and so I have taken to trying some of the more difficult puzzles in the evenings whilst Mrs S and I watch TV. If I just watch TV or try to work on a simple puzzle (one which doesn't require huge amount of thought) then I quickly find myself annoying Mrs S as I drop off to sleep and snore rather loudly in front of the TV - Yes I know that’s not a good image and I do apologise! However you should at least appreciate the tremendous skill involve with snoring whilst actually sitting upright!

I have been putting off attempting the Down Under puzzle for a while - it is primarily a packing puzzle and I am notoriously awful at these. It has gotten so bad that I have more or less stopped buying them unless they are either beautiful or there is some other interesting puzzling feature to them. I said that this is primarily a packing puzzle but in this case it does have that other feature in that it is also a sliding piece puzzle (another group which I am not good at and have almost none in my collection). On top of that I suspected from the shape that it required non orthogonal moves to solve it (because it shares some features with the T for two and T for three puzzles I wrote about in July last year.

This puzzle is produced by the fantastic German puzzle company, Siebenstein Spiele (oddly they don't appear to have a website of their own) and was designed by Jürgen Reiche. It is made from acrylic and beautifully laser cut and engraved pieces of wood in several colours. In the pack, the leaflet gives the instruction to put all 6 pieces beneath the acrylic lid into the frame. It also says there are more challenges on the reverse of the paper but when I flipped it over it was blank! Luckily the Puzzle Master product page has the other challenges listed on it! Puzzle Master have rated this as level 9 (Gruelling) on their scale of 5 to 10 which is a bit higher than the manufacturer’s own rating of 5 on a scale of 1 to 7. At 11.2 cm square and 1.5cm deep this is a great puzzle to slip into a bag to use on the go and is good value at $27 (especially with the current fall in value of the Canadian dollar). No solution is provided in the package but it can be downloaded from here.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Great puzzles, great workmanship, FANTASTIC customer service

My latest delivery from Wood Wonders
I have written quite a lot over the last few years about Brian Menold and his wonderful work at Wood Wonders. You all know that after he lost his job he turned to puzzle making full time and I make it my business to try and keep his business going. I like to buy a few of his new releases each time that he makes an announcement and about 6 weeks ago was no exception. I chose a few puzzles that were either full of multiple rotations (a subgroup of puzzles that I really got into after my friend Bernhard Schweitzer introduced me to them) and one that a really good friend told me as soon as he saw the preview pictures that I just had to get! The puzzles in the picture above are Dizzy cube, 4C Vortex and Brackets burr.

Brian finished making them and after I paid he let me know what the price of postage would be and after a small PayPal transaction they were dropped off in a small US post office (apparently to small to know what they were doing with international postage!). After a few weeks they had not arrived and I had not really thought much about it when Brian sent me an email to ask about their arrival. He asked me to wait a while longer and if they didn't make it here he would make good. Another 2 or 3 weeks later I received an email from the USPS that a certain Wood Wonders had sent me another package. I contacted him to offer some more money as I didn't want him to lose out and he wouldn't hear anything of it. It would appear that he had made a couple more and sent them off to me at his own expense. They arrived just a week later and that is a testament to his phenomenal customer service - you just know that whatever you buy WILL arrive and WILL be beautiful!

Sunday, 29 March 2015

A gift out of the blue!

2 Piece Cube - Home made but very high quality
Just a quickie this weekend - unfortunately I have to work and won't have much time for writing a long review.

One of the things I love about the puzzle world is the people within it! They are always helpful and often go way beyond what one would expect to provide assistance or advice. I regularly am contacted by puzzlers for either advice or for help solving puzzles and do my best to provide what they need without giving too much away and spoiling a puzzle. I was completely surprised when I received an email from Germany, from a relatively new puzzler by the name of Carsten.

My first contact with him was about the Angel box combination plate code and must have been rather unsatisfactory for him because as far as I can tell the plates and codes were assigned randomly. After that we had no contact until earlier this month when he contacted me to inform me that he had designed a puzzle himself and would like to send me a copy. Why? because:
I would like to send you one of them as a little thank you for your great blog which helped me alot finding my way through the jungle of countless puzzles out there!
Aw shucks! Blush! This really filled me with emotion - I do this because I love to puzzle, I love to communicate and I love to help people. I never expect anything in return. I returned his offer saying that it was totally unnecessary but I did give him my home address and thought nothing more of it. Well at couple of weeks later a very big box arrived from Germany and I was completely mystified as my tiny memory had no recollection of anything being on its way. Finally it dawned on me what was inside and I was staggered at the quality of this "home made" puzzle.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Pelikan is reborn and they are truly great!

I couldn't resist these three!
Over the years you have seen me receive and review many many beautiful puzzles made by the New Pelikan workshop. I have also collected many from the original workshop under the care of Josef Pelikan. Most of the originals were sold via Bernhard’s amazing website, Puzzlewood. But after the sad premature death of Josef the company was taken over by two of the original employees, Jakub Dvořák and Jaroslav Švejkovský who continued to turn out some absolutely stunning puzzles. They still work with Bernhard to produce some specials - don't forget to buy the amazing Doors and Drawers (a collaboration between Pelikan and Mike Toulouzas) which I reviewed last September and may still be available from Bernhard and also more recently the incredible Walton cube currently available which I still need to buy when my finances recover a bit.

The only downside to buying from the New Pelikan workshop was that their website was really useless and impossible to tell what was available and how much anything cost. I advised Jakub about it repeatedly and the answer was that it was a work in progress. Now finally you all can see their wares easily and order from them with ease. Due to the vagaries of international postage you still need to order by email rather than a shopping cart but this, for me, actually makes for a much more personal service.

The new website:

is absolutely stunning and shows off the available puzzles in all their glory with detailed information and prices. The one thing you will all see immediately is that the prices are VERY reasonable indeed! This does not mean that the puzzles are made cheaply! Absolutely not! The workmanship is definitely first rate - the finish is wonderful and the fit of the pieces is as perfect as it is possible to be! One new feature with the current batch of puzzles is that the name of the puzzles is deeply engraved into the wood. I don’t think it is laser engraved either because there is none of the characteristic burning or smell of laser work. I assume it is done on a computer controlled mill.

Engraving on the puzzles
Recently (as you have all seen) I have spent quite a lot of money with a few other craftsmen and had to limit myself to just 3 of the 6 available puzzles. I chose the ones with the highest difficulty level and most interesting design to me.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Cast Plate

Hanayama Cast Plate
Unfortunately this weekend has passed in a haze of office work and DIY rather than puzzling - unfortunately writing a lecture, getting my paperwork up to date and regrouting my bathroom had to take priority - she TOLD me so in no uncertain terms and backed it up with a few lashes of the 'Cat O'Nine tails' tongue! So this afternoon I needed a fairly quick and easy puzzle to review.

Luckily, I still have one or two fairly easy ones left in my stash. The last Hanayama puzzle left unopened is the Cast Plate. This little beauty is just a level 2 on Hanayama's own 6 point difficulty scale and level 6 (Tricky) on Puzzle Master's odd scale. I did not expect to be stuck for long and would be able to write something for you fairly quickly and then could continue my chores (sob!)

As with all the Hanayama puzzles, it is beautifully packaged and the instructions are simply to take it apart and then reassemble it. With only 2 pieces this should not be too much of a challenge. This is a new version of a truly classic puzzle which has been around for hundreds of years in a number of forms. The version by Hanayama was (re)designed by Nob Yashigahara in collaboration with Jerry Slocum. In fact it appears to have been the last puzzle that Nob designed - it actually says "Nob's last present" on the back of the disk to commemorate this fact. If you want some more information then just have a look at Rob Stegmann's treatise on them - he has quite a few and has a magnificent write up (in fact he has a magnificent write up on just about everything!)

Cast Medal
These all share the same common feature they are in reality maze puzzles. The aim is to walk the ring from hole to hole on the plate to try and edge towards the exit point and remove it. It has the same idea as the similar difficulty level Cast Medal which I really enjoyed (and reviewed here at the end of 2013) because of the little extras within the solution. The puzzle is beautifully made and looks like it is made from old iron. I doubt it will rust however! Gabriel reviewed it back in 2012 and Brian did too in 2010. No solution is provided but Rob has put one on his page or you can download the official Hanayama solution sheet here.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Blood, sweat and tears PLUS I'm on Fire!

Yes! You are going to get 2 posts for the price of one today! At least you will if I can write this before Mrs S drags me out of my study to cook dinner! First up, I am going to give a quick resume of how I went about solving one of the most complex twisty puzzles produced this year, Eric Vergo's Pentagram puzzle. After that, I really think I should highlight one of the best new sequential discovery puzzles produced in a long time - The Fire puzzle from Pyro Puzzles designed and produced by the incredible Stephen Miller.

Pentagram - looks innocuous!
Scrambled hell!
Bauhinia dodecahedron
This puzzle was produced by MF8 after Eric Vergo produced it several years earlier using a commercial 3D printing service. It is another dodecahedron in the series which I discussed at length back in May 2014. To reiterate a little, the first dodecahedron was very similar to the 3x3 cube in that it was face turning and could actually be solved using only minor modifications of the cube techniques. Later on the clever designers produced the Starminx 1 which was a corner turning dodecahedron and, similar to the Dino cube, it was a fairly trivial thing to solve using intuition alone. Last year they produced a corner turning dodecahedron where the cuts were curved and cut deeper into the mechanism - this was the infamous Bauhinia dodecahedron which caused so many of us such incredible difficulty. You can see the curved cuts on the picture going from corner to corner tip and the particular challenge with that puzzle was how to get all those tiny star tips into position. Eric's achievement was to make the cut even deeper and instead of going from corner to corner tip, it encroaches into the adjacent face and this produces not only the star tips but also corner pieces which need to be positioned and oriented.

Obviously the the solution of Pentagram shares some processes in common with the Bauhinia but you must remember that I am a puzzler who wakes up each morning with no recollection of what I did yesterday and many times cannot recall my own name!! Yes, I am not terribly bright and it tells you that I have absolutely no recollection of how the Bauhinia was solved - Whilst I solved most of it alone, I did rely heavily on a couple of algorithms from my friend Rline who has the most incredible blog and YouTube channel. I was determined this time to solve this one by myself and this is a quick run through of some techniques I used.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

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

Wise Up
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.


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