Sunday, 10 December 2017

Locks, locks, locks....Some solved, some forever in purgatory

3 Coolen locks
As most of the UK settles into a rare snow filled excitement, we in Sheffield are still waiting with baited breath for a coating of the white stuff. Several friends are very upset that the stuff that brings the whole city to a standstill and fills our hospitals up with the elderly sick and the fallen fractured has not hit yet. Whilst I am not fond of the white stuff outside, I am delighted to play with some of the white things indoors. These are three successive years of lock creations by the "puzzle solving machine" that is Louis Coolen. Allard frequently has him stay over before and after an MPP and I suspect that he relies on him to solve half of his puzzles! I very seldom write about locks because I am frankly rubbish at them! My good friend Shane has been a locksmith as well as a Master carpenter for years and recently added the accolade of Master Locksmith to his list of qualifications. This means that he understands the damned things and seems to be able to solve them all with minimal struggle and even seems to have enough knowledge to manufacture his own (more of that later). If you do need a Locksmith in London and the South East of England then he's your man!

Over successive MPPs I have seen and played with Louis' devices and to my shame up until recently only had a 50% success rate in opening them. Each year I passed on buying one for my collection because I had always spent my pocket money earlier (not that they were expensive). At the last MPP Louis had a set of all 3 available for the meagre sum of £15 each - my recent spending spree had inured me to the pain of bank account depletion and I couldn't resist 3 as a set! These puzzles are produced in the Shapeways 3D printer from WSF (White, strong and flexible) plastic which is a substance that is definitely Verboten in this house! I have 2 or 3 twisties made from it and they leave a trail of dyed black power over everything when I play with them which usually leads to an inevitable Whack! Ouch! These however don't really have much movement to be done and don't shed powder. At least that is what I have told the fearsome Mrs S.

The 2015 version is the original and by far the toughest - initially it doesn't even appear to be provided with a key! I recall working on this at an MPP and was only able to solve it with the aid of Louis and a chorus of jeering MMPers helping me. The solution requires just a smidgeon of force in places and that is where the WSF holds its own - it is really rather strong as well as flexible and of course.....white! With a little cajoling and help I was able to solve it there and to prove to myself that dementia has not set in yet I was able to solve it after I bought the trio of them in November. Only a hint of trouble and I had a nice open puzzle.

Coolen 2015 lock solved
It needs at least 4 separate movements to open it and is a nice discovery sequence. It would appear that a copy has been manufactured in wood and despite not having the same material properties as the WSF it works beautifully.

I am very proud to say that at an MPP last year I actually managed to solve the 2016 Coolen lock. This one has a particularly clever start. There are only two possible moves at first and the obvious one does nothing leading you on a hunt for anything else that you can do. The second move needs to be done repeatedly until something changes inside and then you've had a great Aha! moment ending in an Oh! not there yet! At this point it required a very light touch and what I can only imagine picking a  real lock feels like. It requires a nice delicate touch and a certain movement to produce this:

Coolen 2016 lock solved
Everything is there for a particular reason and it does sort of lead you to the solution.  Only 3 particular steps but very very clever indeed. I did remember how to solve this a year after my original success and still no white powder on our precious black granite surface.

Now the 2017 Coolen lock was one I had not seen until it was available in November and I deliberately did not watch anyone play with it there. Having boosted my confidence with the first 2, I started on the 2017 version. Unlike Allard's copy, my key was not trapped inside but turning it revealed a couple of "interruptions" to the turning circle. Of course, no matter how many times I twiddled with it the turning never did anything. Taking out the key and looking at it and looking for other places to put it was also unhelpful. The only clue really was the strange shape of the keyhole. Time to think© which is something I am not very good at! After an hour or so of fruitless thunking, I had a bwainwave. What if I.......Aha! Things changed and moved. What if I now.....Aha! more movement and it stopped dead....Damn! I should have known Louis would put an extra step in! Of course I tried repeating the earlier moves but they weren't going to do anything. More thinking required no matter how painful. Something is definitely odd about that....maybe I can....what if I....Aha! Very clever that Coolen fellow! Perfect use of the properties of WSF and a very nice little sequential discovery puzzle.

Coolen 2017 lock solved
Again the mechanism is hidden from view. The shackle has been placed behind the main body for the picture above. The wonderful 2017 lock puzzle is now available from Puzzle Paradise here and the older versions are available on request from Louis if you contact him using the Paradise messaging system. They are inexpensive and Louis will even consider puzzle swaps if you have anything of interest to him.

Next up is a puzzle that I had to get a copy of, the B-Lock by Boaz Feldman. Yes that name is very familiar! Boaz is the son of Dan Feldman maker of the incredible Danlock. Boaz learned a lot from his dad! He also seemed to have learned a few new tricks. The B-Lock was exchanged by Boaz at the IPP and many of us were desperate to get a copy later. I was accused by a good friend who is not a puzzler (but was accompanying one) of behaving like a druggie with Boaz as my "dealer" at one point when in a corridor of the hotel I sidled up to him and made a casual enquiry about getting hold of his "special thing". Luckily for me Boaz came through with the "good stuff" the following day.

Looks like a standard Israeli padlock? It is.
I saw this being solved at the IPP dinner and so never got to try it from scratch myself. I seem to be unable to forget the solution method but every time I go through the process of opening the lock, I marvel at the incredible machining skills that Boaz has developed to carry out that incredible modification with such subtlety. You need amazing eyes to notice the teeny tiny thing that is required to open this lock. I cannot wait for the next puzzle he produces.

After this I have nothing but pain!! Shane's most recent creations have so far completely defeated me! Haleslocks 3 and 4 were the IPP exchange gifts of my friends Peter Hajek and Allard Walker and hence 100 of them were handed out in Paris. I had planned to purchase a copy from the creator or the 2 humble gentlemen at the puzzle party (I was an exchange assistant only and so did not participate in the receiving part of the exchange, only in the record keeping and the repair of my exchanger's puzzles). At the end of the exchange I was truly grateful when Shane sidled up to me and handed me 2 nice heavy metal objects! This meant I had money left over for the party the following day! Oh boy! I certainly used all of that!

Haleslock 3

Haleslock 4
So far I have worked on both of these for 3 months and got absolutely nowhere! I did find an unintentional shortcut in Haleslock 4 but this was so obviously trivial that I knew it could not possibly be the solution. I have 2 little brown envelopes sitting in my drawer that are enticing me but so far I have held off opening the solution - I am not sure how much longer I will last! I just don't really understand locks very much apart from the very basics of a mechanism.

Still closed! I'm rubbish! Sob...
Shane is not the only Puzzle lock maker who has me beaten! I have been working on the Popplock T10 for a year and still not got the damned thing open! It sits on my desk throwing insults at my puzzle manhood! I look at it sadly and have to admit that it has me beat....I am a puzzle wimp!

I cannot wait for the T11 to be released. I got a look and a hold of a copy at the IPP (it was a delight to finally meet Rainer) and apparently it is incredible. For a preview photo have a look at Goetz' page. It will be significantly expensive but I cannot wait! Whack! Ouch! Oh well, I'm only going to live once even if it might not be for very long now!

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Wheels and Circles are Good...some are even Super

Moyu Fisher Wheel of Time
Moyu Axis Wheel of Time
Original version
After last weeks announcement that I had bought some twisties and that they had come from someone other than my friend Martin's puzzle store (he struggles to get hold of Witeden puzzles, I felt that I had to make amends and buy some new twisties from him to atone for my sin. A few people have been showing of some new designs by the very talented Moyu company and I decided to buy the latest challenges. The Fisher Wheel of Time looks confusing enough but who could possibly resist the Axis Wheel of Time? I couldn't resist either! They arrived yesterday much to the disgust of Mrs S and, to be honest, I very much doubt I will survive this time I am spending at home recovering from my operation....there are so many packages arriving that she has begun to look suspiciously at our postie when he arrives and is definitely muttering murderous intent under her breath every day!

The original Wheel of Time was an interesting puzzle which I bought in 2015 (PuzzleMaster link) and consisted of a simple 3x3 cube with what became known as "baby faces" on the front which were able to turn independently of the rest of the cube. This massively increases the number of pieces that need to be solved and hence makes the puzzle much more interesting BUT as you can see, the pieces on the baby faces are not all unique. There are 4 identical slim wedges and 4 identical curved corners on each baby face and so the puzzle was not as difficult as one might expect. I would call it a very pleasant diversion or just a little extra for a beginner puzzler/cuber.

In my very popular "advice to beginners post" twisty post which still gets a huge number of views, I did extol the virtues of shape modifications of the standard 3x3 to give a nice added challenge and the Fisher cube (PuzzleMaster link) or Axis cube (PuzzleMaster link) are fabulous additional challenges for anyone:

Fisher cube
Axis cube
I found it both incredible and slightly horrifying that Moyu were able to combine these brilliant shapemods with the baby faces but how could anyone resist a shapemod COMBINED with additional baby faces? I do tend to choose the coloured plastic for twisty puzzles where they are available but these puzzles are available in black or white plastic (with stickers) too if that is your preference.

I had a quick look at the turning of these puzzles after they arrived and was very impressed. Starting with the Fisher version which should be less mind boggling:

Faces turned
Centres turned
At this point it becomes clear that there are a whole lot more non-identical pieces in the baby faces so this should be a very nice challenge. OK let's go for it:

It looks a little bit tough
There is nothing terribly new to this puzzle. Can you solve a standard 3x3? Can you understand and cope with the Fisher cube parity? And finally do you know the method to cycle centre pieces around a cube? If you can solve a 5x5 or bigger then you should be able to do this. Well that is ALL you need. I really enjoyed this puzzle - it is a very nice challenge and a little arduous at times but has a few nice Aha! moments. It is very high quality and reasonably priced. Go for it! What about the Axis Wheel of Time?????? Aaaaaargh!!!

It turns in a very similar fashion - faces and centres/baby faces:

One face turned
One baby face turned
Straight away I realised that this was going to be a little more........tough. So I threw caution to the wind and did this:

Dear Lord! What have I done?
There is absolutely nothing new to this puzzle! It should be exactly the same solve as the Fisher version but with the Axis shape there should be no parity to worry about. Oh boy! I was wrong wrong wrong! This puzzle indeed doesn't have anything new and yes, no parity BUT it is a LOT more confusing. First of all the centre pieces are absolutely tiny and this makes matching them up with the edges to start making the top cross (as one does with a Rubik cube) really hard to visualise. I found that I kept making mistakes so I decided to start solving the baby faces first. BIG MISTAKE (have I said before that I am not terribly bright? I made up a few baby faces and then tried to align the edge pieces along side only to realise that I had wasted my time...moving the edges disrupts the baby faces (Doh!). Start again.

I spent a very long time today swearing under my breath as I slowly slowly solved the Axis cube part with a gap between edges and centres for an added challenge. The top face was a particular challenge as I really needed to remember how to solve a supercube (cube with a specific orientation to the centre). My usual cube solution method doesn't allow this and I had to work out again what to do. Lovely extra challenge! I soon had the small matter of the baby faces left:

All 6 are scrambled
This is where I met the only downside of this particular puzzle. The movement of the baby faces within a centre is really fiddly and if it takes a bit to do then it's very important that you don't forget what you were trying to achieve as each piece placement requires 4 baby face turns. At one point I lost track and for a heart stopping moment I thought that I had re-scrambled a significant part of the puzzle all over again. This puzzle may have no new features but it is a HUGE challenge and if you can get over the poor turning of the baby faces then it is a stunning puzzle for the price. I think I will try to solve it again but maybe I will try and catch my breath for a bit!

Super Cuboids (part one)

Witeden super cuboids
Many years ago now I really enjoyed the Crazy 3x3 planet cubes and the 4x4 versions too. Since then I have bought a number of variants many of which have stumped me. Recently Witeden produced 3x3x5 and 3x3x4 cuboids which incorporated circles in their top ± the bottom faces and I bought these from Calvin's HKNowstore. I began exploring these too last week and had a very nice time with the versions with traditional cuboid shape and two circles. I adore the cuboid twisties and described a beautiful classification of them based on solving approach here. The 3x3x5 is of the "Domino" type and is definitely a fun one to solve. The circles definitely add to the puzzling quite considerably. The 2 standard cuboids are of type 00 and 01 which means that one has top and bottom zero faces and the other has a zero and a one face:

Zero face - the inner circle is fixed
One face - the inner circle turns too
I started on the 01 meaning that one face has a fixed inner circle and the other is free to turn (but it doesn't turn independently) - I quickly realised that the zero face is attached to the equatorial layer and if that gets turned the as long a the circle is complete then the zero inner piece will turn inside the outer part - this ruins some of my normal algorithms! It gets more and more interesting! After a few minutes of play I threw caution to the wind and did this:

Hell yessssss!
After working out how to reassemble the circles (cuboid solve), I went on to make sure that the inner and outer parts were matched up - very pleasant task. Then it was time to solve the rest of the cuboid - this is a FANTASTIC and not too difficult challenge.
"I must be becoming a genius", I thought to myself.
I solved the 01 version several times to further convince myself of my genius and then started on the 00 version. First of all I had to tighten a screw inside to make it work properly and after that I had 2 inner circles that were both attached to the equatorial layer. OMG! This really made a huge difference. It means that 2 opposite faces cannot turn at all if the circle is not complete and this totally ruined my cuboid solving technique. I needed to work out my own algorithms to get around the incredible bandaging that was occurring. Progress was made gradually until I finished it......with an awful parity - I could not work out why. I spent hours and hours and hours working on this until I had an epiphany - this is a REALLY difficult twisty puzzle and not for the faint of heart. Mrs S thought at one point that I was going to have a heart attack with all the swearing and groaning that was going on. I have solved it once and will scramble it again tonight to make sure that it was not a fluke. Wish me luck!!!

I definitely think that this series of puzzles is worth purchasing but unlike the 2 Moyu puzzles these are not suitable for beginners. If you are a reasonably accomplished twisty freak then you MUST buy these two (00 here and 01 here) - start with 01 to get warmed up! You will lurve these puzzles and they will cause you pain.....but a good sort of pain!

There are others in the series which I will report on in the future when i have solved them. I have however had a quick look at the offset 3x3x5 super cuboid and it frightens me to death! I made a little video showing what it does to explain to Derek why it is horrific (he seem to agree with me) and I have uploaded it to my YouTube channel. Have a look at the video and let me know your thoughts:

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Continuing my Pelikan Romp

Giegeldonk special version
Giegeldonk available now
You will be pleased (at least I hope you will) to read that I am feeling much better today! The pain is greatly improved after my operation and I am on much less painkillers and the really strong stuff is no longer clouding my already feeble bwain! I might even manage to solve something now.

Last week I wrote about 2 most unusual designs on sale at the New Pelikan Workshop. There are just 1 or 2 of each of those designs left just now so go get them whilst you can - you really will not regret it. At the same time that Jakub and Jaroslav released these they also produced some more "conventional" puzzles which I left until later. The Giegeldonk is a design by the extremely talented Klaas Jan Damstra which he made during a carnival week in Holland. It was named after the district that he lives in and began with the shape of the external frame. It is available in 2 versions just now (limited numbers left) Cherry and Padauk (right hand version above) or Elm and Wenge and I was really delighted when Jakub offered me a chance to buy a special one that he would not be selling to the general public - the left hand copy is Wenge and Padauk. I know that means I have 2 copies of one puzzle but it is gorgeous!

The Geigeldonk looks like a conventional 6 piece burr in a beautifully complex frame and initial play doesn't change this idea but there is actually very little movement possible at first. I think 4 of the sticks can move just a single unit along and that seems to be it. I was a little flummoxed for a few minutes before I noticed something special which led to something REALLY interesting. After that there seemed to be a lot of space inside but surprisingly little unlocking of the pieces. I love it when a burr doesn't just become a huge unstable mess with pieces that can move every which way. I always use my "back and forth" technique which lays down memories of pathways but does make it very longwinded if there are a lot of blind paths. After 3 rather big moves had been made and memorised, I could see inside and was surprised at how much space there was. It should allow me to plan an attack path through. BUT for some reason I could find quite a few small possible paths but nothing that seemed to go anywhere. I was stuck in this place for 3 evenings and becoming convinced that I had been wrong despite making what seemed like good progress. Finally I pissed off Mrs S by shouting aloud when I found a crucial move that had been hiding in plain sight! Phew! At the moment in my recuperating state, she is still being gentle with me! This might explain why I have managed to survive receiving 3 new packages of toys in 3 days this week!

Having removed the first piece, these puzzles usually get much easier after that but because of the shape of the frame here and the way the sticks seem to interlock with each other, the puzzle remains a challenge to remove each subsequent piece - even the last 2 pieces don't just slip out easily they require careful looking and planning to unhook. After 4 days of strife I was overjoyed to solve the puzzle and have the full glory of the level 51( revealed. At that point I had the very sudden realisation that all the 6 sticks were identical which was most unexpected as well as a delight to see:

A gorgeous frame and 6 identical sticks
The difficulty was partially explained by the fact that it is an 8x8x8 grid aalowing much more complexity. Interestingly I was able to reassemble this puzzle from scratch too. Part of it was sheer memory but also it seems to be a nice logical sequence to work through as long as one remembers the rough orientation of the pieces as they enter. I absolutely love this puzzle! It is one of the very best designs that Klaas has produced - just the right difficulty level. Get one now whilst the stocks last!

The Four Hands Puzzle
The final puzzle today is sadly sold out already, the Four Hands puzzle is another fantastic design by the amazing Ray Stanton who seems to specialise in coordinate motion puzzles of varying complexity. I have quite a few by him (made beautifully by Pelikan of course) and they are always a wonder to behold. Ray wrote the spiel for it on the site and said:
"This is called the ‘Four Hands Puzzle’ because even after you have figured out how the pieces should go together, it helps if you have four hands to complete the assembly. This is the most difficult puzzle in the series, and my personal favorite. Given the complexity of both the relative motion and the geometry of the pieces, I believe that this is one of the most complex coordinate motion puzzles ever made. The puzzle is difficult to fabricate because all the interaction between the pieces requires that very tight tolerances be maintained. The craftsmen at Pelikan did a great job as usual, and they created a really really nice looking puzzle with beautiful contrasting woods. Enjoy."
I first saw this in the design competition room in Paris. Ray had entered it and unfortunately it did not win a prize but several of us had great fun playing with it and scaring ourselves to death by its' sudden movements and bid for freedom! I recall my first play with it, I picked it up whilst standing at the table and casually pushing and pulling in various places. It took a few minutes before I had found the correct finger positions before very smoothly and VERY quickly it began to slide apart. I yelped and nearly dropped it on the floor!!! Scared me half to death - I read the name and counted my own upper limbs and thought there was a deficiency somewhere! Over the weekend I went back to it a couple of times and took it to just the point where a single piece would come out and then I would stop and reassemble. I never got the courage to take it any further in that room.

Push and pull just right and this happens
I was delighted when I got the chance to buy my own copy - if Ray says this is his favourite and one of the most complex coordinate motion puzzles ever made then I have to have one! Although I have to say that the Kamikaze Burr Limited Edition puzzle from Brian Young is pretty damned complex too! It also scared me half to death when I solved it - review is here. The Four Hands Puzzle is stunningly made from Wenge, acacia, padauk and purpleheart and turned to sheer spherical perfection. Like all of Jakub's "balls" the feel is wonderful! When I got my own copy I couldn't resist quickly having a play. With the humidity recently here, it was a little stiff but at least it didn't attempt to detonate itself like the Kamikaze burr and the version I played with in Paris. After I found the starting movement I took my photo and threw caution to the wind and just "went for it":

Nice pile o' pieces
I was quickly left with a pile of pieces and a bit of a dilemma! Unlike Ray and many other good puzzlers, I only have 2 hands and my brain power leaves a lot to be desired. I was very unsure whether I would be able to assemble it ever again! I did not dare ask "she who holds my recovery in her grasp" to lend me one or 2 of her own hands! I was going to have to force myself to work this out myself. I assembled the pieces into an order to allow me to see how they differed and was flabbergasted at the number of bevels there were:

Looks impossible! Anybody got any spare hands?
It took me 2 days before I had it back together and required both hands, a knee and the tip of my nose! I was certain that was not the best way to do it but at least I had assembled it myself and without endangering my life. After that I admit that I did look at the instructions that Jakub had sent out. Apparently there are just just enough mm available on certain pieces that it can be done with one pair of hands! Amazing! I did it several times after that and love it! It really is a masterpiece of geometric design and manufacture. I cannot wait to see what Ray comes up with next. If one of these comes up at auction then jump on it - you really don't want to miss out on one of the best coordinate motion designs ever.

There is a wonderful YouTube video on the Pelikan site from Tim Rowett showing off various IPP puzzles that may be available on Grand Illusions soon. At 2m 35s he shows the Four Hands Puzzle coming apart. I have added it below:

Sunday, 19 November 2017

A New Designer Stuns Me - Or is it the Meds?

Knot on my Watch designed by Alexander Haydon O'Brien
Today's post will be even less coherent than my usual babble! How can that be? I had to undergo some abdominal surgery last Thursday. It went well and provided me with a very good sleep for a couple of hours but has left me on some VERY strong painkillers and just a little bit "off my face" right now. Luckily Mrs S is looking after me and has put all future Whack! Ouch!'s on hold until later - I think she doesn't want the painkillers to decrease the full effectiveness of her punishment for me! I will be off work for a minimum of 6 weeks which will allow me to catch up on some puzzling and reading and hopefully leave me refreshed and raring to go next year. I have even had a little spending splurge to provide me with some new toys to play with - I thought I should make the most of the punishment free period!!!

A few weeks ago I bought the full set of new puzzles from Jakub and Jaroslav's New Pelikan Workshop and have taken a while to solve them. Let me first say that these are all absolutely fabulous and well worth your pocket money. Today's shorter, drug-hazed, blog post is about a newer designer who I have not heard of before but whose designs are wonderful and brilliantly executed by Jakub and Jaroslav. Alexander Haydon O'Brien (possibly Irish but it doesn't say on Puzzlewillbeplayed) has just 4 designs published by Ishino and all since August this year. Jakub has just produced 2 of them and I must say that they are really something special and very well priced for the quality of the workmanship.

The first and most unusual design is "Knot on my Watch" made from Wenge, Maple, Cherry and American Walnut. It is an absolutely delightful idea. It has been made to look just like a wristwatch (I do have a bit of a "thing" for nice watches as well as puzzles) and, unlike most watches, has been designed with disassembly in mind. There are a few very smooth moves possible at the beginning which just show off how beautifully made this puzzle is. The disassembly is not too tough with only a couple of blind ends and not too far down a path. The final movements are particularly delightful and the pieces wonderfully simple.

Not many pieces but just look at the accuracy/detailing!
The workmanship here is very reminiscent of the recent Camera Conundrum which I reviewed here. The accuracy is stupendous and the sharp edges just slide over each other smoothly. With only a few pieces, this puzzle is definitely a good one for practicing your reassembly techniques. I scrambled all the pieces on my sleeping lapcat and left them for a while. I had enough memory to ensure that this was not too much of a problem but I think that even as a primary assembly puzzle this might still be possible. It was greatly enjoyed by Johan and Daniel, a couple of the new boys who attended the last MPP. As I write this article there are just 5 left so go and pick one up quickly.

Tortoise - complete with head, eyes and feet
and a nuisance tail!
The Tortoise puzzle is another fantastic design by Alexander. It has been beautifully produced by Jakub in Dark Oak, Acacia and Wenge and the detail on it is a joy to behold. Even the scales on the shell are added to the burr sticks that pass vertically through the puzzle. Again, there is a lot of possible movement at first but everything seems to stop you in your tracks. The design has been altered to keep you working at it for a bit and after an hour of fiddling I made a delightful and unexpected discovery which allowed further progress. Unfortunately it didn't allow very much extra progress and I got stuck for well over a week. I took it to the MPP without having fully solved it and was selfishly quite pleased that no one else solved it there. It was only the evening before my operation this week that I actually completed the disassembly (I took this as a good omen) and the full beauty of the design finally was revealed to me. There is actually a really nice logical progress to the disassembly but my dense brain was unable to find the critical move. It was great to finally manage it and have a bit less blog pressure for now.

Tremendous detail and accuracy in this puzzle.
 At this moment there are another 4 of these in stock so I would hurry over and get one quickly. You won't be disappointed!

Now I think I'll have a little lie down! I'm pretty spaced out just now which Mrs S says is a great improvement on my usual "witty" self! Rule number one - NEVER marry a nurse! Hopefully the new purchases will arrive soon and I can show them off to you having triumphantly solved them and without receiving a beating from "she who can catch me easily just now"!

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Not Jingly But Still Worthy of a Whack! Ouch!

I think that many puzzlers tend to consider most of the N-ary puzzles as more of a curiosity than as a puzzle and I can certainly see why they might think that way. I have to say that I absolutely adore this group of puzzles but new ones tend not to come up for sale very often. The last time I wrote about any of them was back in March when I showed off a fantastic variety from plastic to wood (including hand made and laser cut). One of the fascinations for me is that they can be made as a series of puzzles in one giving plenty of value for money. Are they puzzles? Well it is for better bwains than mine to decide that - I certainly find them puzzling because it is not usually a simple sequence of moves, it often takes (me at least) a good while before the pattern of the movement sequence has been fathomed out. I personally don't like dexterity puzzles and barely consider them puzzles because no thought is required usually, just careful movement and indeed, a LOT of concentration. My N-ary puzzles also take a LOT of concentration - just a tiny lapse can lead one to move along a path all the way back to the beginning and can add hours on to the solve process.

The Numlock puzzle began in the tremendous brain of Goh Pit Khiam (as so many puzzles do) and was an entry in the IPP Design competition in 2014. The version in the competition was beautifully made by Tom Lensch and reviewed by Jerry Loo here. That version only had ternary pieces and only 4 of them to boot - at 143 moves most of us hardcore N-ary lovers would consider that just a beginner puzzle but still a bit of fun. It didn't stay on my radar for long until at an MPP a couple of years ago, Big Steve 3D printed a nice big one with more sliders and over a period of months people borrowed it and spent many hours solving it - a true show of hardcore puzzling strength. I was on the verge of asking to borrow it myself when my South African friend Johan Heyns got permission to make a copy and with help from the incredible Jack Krijnen managed to improve the design with extra pieces of higher 'arity. Kits could be ordered with different pieces. The price for the mega huge kit was too steep for me and I chose the intermediate set.

Numlock at back right
Pic is a little distorted as it was taken as a panarama
I was not disappointed! It is a fantastically beautiful puzzle which screams to be on display - It currently lives on my dining room sideboard as you can see above. The puzzles were made with a mixture of Cherry, Tulipwood and Kiaat (aka African Teak). Having chosen my kit to have both Ternary and Quinary pieces, I was informed that there would be 30 different combinations available to me - who could resist that? When it arrived I was delighted with the look and as always with Johan's puzzles, pleased to have a stand. But where were the extra pieces? He's a genius, that Johan! The stand had a double purpose:

A closer look at the stand was helpful
Quinary pieces held in place.
The puzzle had been sent out with the 8 ternary sliders and one start piece which I was informed would require 34,991 moves to complete. I have only this week had time to play with the long solution and I am ashamed to say that my powers of concentration were found to be inadequate! I probably had to perform well over 1000 more than that due to getting lost and back-tracking quite a long way before realising it. I did this over several evenings in front of the TV with Mrs S. Let us just say that there were plenty of Whack! Ouch!s given but I persisted with the solution despite the terrible fear of reprisals. I eventually had this:

OMG! If the puzzle didn't kill me then "she" nearly did!
Now, a hardcore puzzler would then do the whole thing in reverse to get back to the beginning. Did I do that? I thought about it for just a few moments and received another Whack! Ouch! when she caught me having such thoughts. I backed away and used the very nicely hidden setup/reset mechanism that Johan had designed:

Pull the leftmost piece and the magnets release.
This allows an easy reset
From the left: Quinary end, Ternary end,
Quinary main, Ternary main, Start piece

I have set it up with other shorter puzzles and have definitely had a lot of fun! I just dare not try any more really long ones otherwise she will either murder me or divorce me - none of which sound very pleasant!

Mixed Ternary and Quinary using only 5 sliders.
The above mixed puzzle still took me over an hour to solve! Thank you so much Johan (and Jack).

I Have Several Brains!

The plastic ones are fabulous but my own is NOT terribly bright

I have few brains - but here are some of them!
Having seen one at an MPP, in 2014, with the help of my good friend Michel van Ipenburg, I managed to obtain one of The Brain puzzles produced in 1979 by Mag-nif. I got mine for a brilliant £9.95 on Ebay and have actually taken it out and solved it quite a few times. I find it a rather soothing thing to play with. If you want one now then they do come up occasionally but are now reaching the dizzy heights of nearly £40! I think that is a bit over the top but I guess supply and demand controls the price.

I was contacted a few weeks ago by another good friend from the Far East and told about David Guo who had designed versions of the Brain but with Ternary and Quaternary mechanisms. Yes! I know! I should control myself better's N-ary and I could control myself. A few emails and some PayPal and I waited for a little package. David had 3D printed his own versions and made me a lovely set of 3. Mrs S was distinctly unimpressed as I crowed over them and, after photos, set to. The mechanism is beautifully smooth and exactly as logical as one would expect. After a couple of hours (yes, I did get lost during the solution of the Quaternary version) I had this little photogenic set:

All solved!
I did decide to reset them by working back through the solution process and received another Whack! Ouch! for counting my moves aloud. Having marvelled at the beauty of the set, I couldn't resist dismantling them to see how they worked. This sort of thing really makes me want to buy a 3D printer but at the moment I have no time to play with one and no room to store one. Maybe someday?

Lid off
Plates revealed
Lid off
Plates revealed
Lid off
Plates revealed
It is fun to go through the solution of these puzzles with the lids off to see how the plates interact. I am delighted to add these to my collection. David Guo does have a puzzle website of his own - it is in Chinese so most of you will rely heavily on Google translate but it's worth a look here. Thank you David for the opportunity to own something new and special.


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