Saturday 20 August 2011

Livewire puzzles part 6

Now we are really onto the hard ones. The puzzles I will review from now on are from the Level 3 section or "Puzzles for the proficient" page of the Livewire puzzles site. These are all level 9 or 10 of difficulty! I suspect I am going to struggle here!!

First of all I decided to avoid the awful looking string puzzles and started with something that looked quite familiar - The Pentangle puzzle. They describe it as a "lateral thinking puzzle" and state:
"We have had engineers, medical doctors, mathematicians and even Mensa members come back after as much as several years, convinced that Pentangle is impossible"

Apart from frightening me to death it told me that my usual techniques probably wouldn't work here. Needless to say - not being particularly bright and having no other obvious ideas, I went ahead and tried the usual feeding the ring over and through various parts of the puzzle. No luck (obviously!!!), so I thought about folding it up a bit and wildly fed the ring over and through everything I could possibly find and a couple of times it looked like it was about to be solved and triumphantly I pulled on the ring only to have my hopes dashed - obviously not having a clue what I had done I tried this repeatedly and I swear it looked different every time!

At times I got into quite a tangle - it is amazing how much this structure can fold up on itself. I gave it to a friend to try and between the 2 of us we got nowhere, we couldn't even see an exit point. I then set him off on some of the easier puzzles and whilst watching him struggle with one in particular I had an idea. Having had this little light go on in my head I suddenly had it solved in about 15 minutes. This puzzle is Brilliant! The solution is really quite unexpected but I am still kicking myself that it took so long because it shouldn't have been so hard - It took me 3 days to do it! Buy this puzzle now! You won't be disappointed.

Two Part Harmony
Now we continue with the Two Part Harmony puzzle (level 9). It looks rather like 2 treble clef shapes intertwined with each other with a circle of cord looped not once but twice through it. The aim is to remove this cord and, of course, to put it back on again! There are no free ends on either the metal body or the double-looped cord meaning the exit point is well hidden. In fact there are 2 places that look like obvious exit points but quite quickly you realise (after a little trial and error) that due to the looping spiral they don't function the way you expect.

Let me say up front that this puzzle very nearly killed me! I must have spent about 6 or 8 hours in total on this one over a few days. I started with the previously stated "obvious exits" and when this failed tried a systematic approach to other possible pathways through. Several hours in I had completely forgotten what I had previously tried and was reduced to wild looping of the cord in and out of the ridiculously simple structure!!! Whilst chatting to someone and idly showing them the aims (having let them have a fiddle themselves) I suddenly ended up with the double loop reduced to just a single loop (half-way solved!) and, you guessed it, absolutely no clue what I had done to get that far! Rather than trying to back-track I continued with my manipulations and 20 minutes later to my horror (and my friend's amusement) it was solved. Yet again I had only a vague idea what I had done!

I immediately tried to get the single loop back on and couldn't do it. Everyone I gave it to either tied it into knots or pulled it through and was surprised when it just stayed apart. It took me multiple attempts to put the single loop on and take it off before I understood what was happening. I hoped to use the same technique to get the second loop back on except again I couldn't do it!!! I tried dozens and dozens of times to work out the method but couldn't work out what I had done. Suddenly, I had a eureka moment and had it back together in less than a minute!

The Livewire site states:
"The beauty of this puzzle is that only a few relatively simple moves are required to solve the puzzle, but discovering them, and sorting them out into the proper sequence, is no trivial matter."
This is very true - the correct sequence is very unlikely to occur to you initially, the natural path is to take it apart laboriously, try to put it together in stages and only when this fails will you have the sudden brainwave and understand the true nature of this marvellously difficult puzzle.

I now move on to the coathanger puzzle. This is the last level 9 puzzle and if this is only level 9 then I fear for my sanity with the later ones! It looks exactly as the name would suggest and the aim is to remove the ring from the rather complex structure. The site claims you need creative and logical thought for this (according to my wife, thought is the main thing I lack!) and the solution requires almost the entire length of the cord. Straight away this frightened me because the cord is pretty damn long!

I played with this for 3 days and made absolutely no progress at all. The only thing I managed was to get myself into a massive knot which took me almost an hour to undo. After the knot scare I progressed a little more cautiously and of course, got absolutely nowhere! I am ashamed to say that I gave up at this point and had a look at the instructions. There are 12 stages! Yes, that's right 12!! I followed these expecting wonderment and a marvel only to find another tangle which took quite some time to undo! I have tried to follow the instructions many many times now and have failed every time (the solution is so complex that the pictures are just not clear enough to follow properly). The final time I ended up with such a massive tangle that despite 3 hours of fiddling I have been unable to undo it and ended up removing a red ball to allow me to completely dismantle the knot and then re-tied it. Over the months now I have repeatedly tried to do this both with and without the instructions and have singularly failed!

I have thus had to abandon this one - I really cannot recommend it. Whilst they should be a challenge it should not be so easy to get so badly wound up you have to dismantle a puzzle to reset. This is the first one that has disappointed me.

I chose Tripwire as my next level 10 puzzle from Livewire puzzles. I was drawn to this one by the look - it is a pretty simple looking structure which I initially thought can't be too hard having a pretty short length of string so unlikely to produce a massive tangle. Oh boy! How wrong can you be?

Initial fiddling reveals a rather large number of possible movements, most of which don't seem to help and then by pure chance you do something which helps but places a loop where you don't expect it. Back tracking is fairly easy and usually gets rid of the loop but no matter what you try you can't move forward without the pesky loop. Maybe the loop is correct? So you advance further and now one loop is a double or more and trying to retrace the steps is difficult because as usual you can't remember! I got into such a mess that I had to pull the ball off and untie it!! I persevered with this on and off for a day and finally, whilst sitting in a big group of people it all came apart! Everyone cheered and I couldn't put it back together again!! Several knots later I managed to put it together and still was none the wiser about what the secret was to prevent that damned loop.

After about a week I eventually succumbed to the instructions - I had solved it 3 times but still no idea how! With the instructions I could see that I knew the basic moves and that I had it absolutely right but was missing a small half twist right at the beginning which prevents the pesky looping. Just one little twist and my other moves are correct afterwards!

This was one really tough puzzle! Only recommended if you are a glutton for punishment.


  1. Good review Kevin, all puzzles I have looked at but have not got... yet!

  2. Kevin, You mentioned a couple of times that you took a ball off and retied it. How are the balls secured? Sounds like it's not the usual glob of glue holding the string in place. Are the balls wooden or rubber/plastic?

  3. Hi Neil,
    It isn't particularly easy to remove the balls! I use a jeweller's screwdriver to push the knot out of the ball (once it protrudes a bit I can embed the screwdriver in it and lever it out). The knots have been tied very close to the ends and heat fused. I work at them with my nails and a fine blade until it undoes and then I can pull the ball off! Once the ball is off I can unravel the mess and re-tie it.

    A bit of a job to do but at least it salvages the puzzle!!

  4. Thank you for this post! A question about Pentangle: according to your picture, can the ring slide around the smaller ring on the left?

    1. Unfortunately, the ring to be detached cannot be pulled over any of the other two rings. I can go around in circles but not off what looks like any of the ends.