Thursday 2 February 2012

The Last Batch of Livewire Puzzles (#9)

Pine Tree
This is blog post number 9 detailing my adventures with the puzzles from Livewire in Canada!!! These last 4 are supposed to be the most difficult they have on their site (all level 10). I start with the Pine Tree puzzle. This is another member of the ladder ring group of puzzles and is very old in it's design. The originals came from China and were shaped like a Pagoda. These come from Canada and hence are shaped like the national tree!!!

This, like all of the ladder ring group, requires a large number of sequential moves to progressively disentangle the trunk from the tree. I immediately saw what was required but struggled to implement it the first few times - I progressed nicely and then found myself back at the beginning without realising where I had turned about-face! The other disorienting problem is that the shuttle can go through the rings in two different ways and if you go the wrong way then you just end up at a dead end. After about 45 minutes I had this one apart and proceeded to put it back together again (this is just the reverse of the original movements). It has taken me about 5 attempts before I am happy to say that I can do it easily. If you only want one or two of the ladder ring group then I would suggest that you choose the Chinese rings and the Centipede - both of which are more challenging than this one.

Paper Clip
Next in this final quartet is the Paper Clip puzzle. The aim is to remove the oval ring from the cord. This one is a really difficult puzzle. There are many possible moves and only a very specific sequence will make it happen. Luckily it is relatively easy to remove the tangles you make during your early abortive attempts. At least I didn't have to take it to pieces to return it to the start point as I have had to with a few of the string puzzles. I first attempted this one several weeks earlier (before I had decided to do them in order of difficulty) and after 2 hours had to give up! This time it was just as difficult and my previous experience with others had not been in the least bit useful.

I worked at this on and off for 3 days before finally solving it. I reckon probably about 4 or 5 hours in total. I didn't solve this one by working it out, I did it more or less by exhaustion!! There is one particular  move that has to be done just so to avoid a knot. Definitely a great puzzle and NOT for beginners!!

Third in the final group is the Astroknot puzzle. They state that this is one of their most difficult puzzles and I can absolutely attest to that. It is supposed to be a member of the ladder ring group which I usually manage to solve without too much difficulty. This one differs from the previous ones in that 1) it has a string component (massively increasing the difficulty) and also that rather than being a planar structure, it is a 3D structure with the loop needing to be moved in many different directions to achieve the solution. Looking at it, it is not at all clear how this can be a ladder ring type of puzzle at all!

My initial attempts at this one lead to me getting fairly knotted up. I was able to undo the worst of the knots but really struggled to return it to the starting position to try again and I am ashamed to say that I needed to remove the ball and undo it completely to retry it. What is more this happened to me many many times. This is absolutely a swine of a puzzle. Unless you are really confident in your abilities to undo other peoples' messes then DO NOT give this one to anyone else - Unless they are a real pro at disentanglement puzzles they will stand absolutely NO CHANCE and you will have to undo it for them. Even putting the blasted thing back together is really tough! I completely failed to do this and after knotting it up terribly again, I used the solution page that was provided and eventually managed to get it back to the beginning. Using the solution was not straight forward - there is one step in the instructions which is almost impossible to do backwards! I don't think I will be attempting this one again!!!

Trouble Clef
Finally, the very last of the Livewire puzzles is the Trouble Clef puzzle. I had been putting this off for a very long time because, to be quite honest, I was very frightened of it. Especially after my experience with the Astroknot. This consists of a sort of Treble clef shape with a string passed through a small hole in the bottom. The aim of this is to move the ring from the red ball on one side to the black ball on the other. They say that this is based on a technique familiar to many puzzlers - i.e. to move a ring across a blockage using a fancy contraption! They also say:
"Trouble Clef requires a twist in your thinking that makes it much more difficult to solve than one would expect. For yet more reasons, which I'll leave for you to discover, Trouble Clef certainly deserves the "toughest-of-the-lot" spot in our current puzzle lineup."

They are not joking when they state this!!! The biggest problem is that in trying the various possibilities you do end up with some real "OMG!!! knots"! Again, things got so bad that I had to dismantle the blasted thing at least 20 times - pulling the knot out of one of the balls and extracting the string and ring before retying it. Luckily at work, I have an unlimited supply of rather large needles!!

Eventually I had a brainwave and tried something I had done with another similar type of puzzle and by shear luck - it worked. I was even able to get it to return to the other side again. This is a very clever idea and I think most people will fail to solve this one. I myself solved it by shear luck and by trying everything I could think of. It is not actually very rewarding to do when you have had to dismantle and unravel knots every time. Even with the great glow of success, I tried to do it again and ended up knotted. It is a puzzle that will backfire on you if it is not done absolutely perfectly every time.

So this ends my Livewire puzzle group and I have to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience - they are beautifully made and most are good fun to do with varying levels of difficulty. If I was to select my favourites and those I would avoid then (with difficulty) I would have to say these:

Favourites    Unimpressed
Pentangle (10/10) Coathanger
Quadrangle (10/10) Trouble Clef
Slingshot (9/10) Astroknot
Skip a Beat (8/10) Tripwire
Heartbreaker (8/10)
Pyramid scheme

This has been a wonderful journey - I do not yet consider myself to be an expert on this type of puzzle but I do absolutely adore them (even if the present Mrs S doesn't!) - I have managed to get quite a few more from other sources too.

For 2012 Livewire have added a couple more to their range and I will try to obtain these and review them for you sometime soon. At least these ones do not look like they will knot up too easily. I think that the main bugbear with the puzzles involving string is the ability to get into a position which cannot be reversed without dismantling the puzzle completely.

Just as an aside, I was contacted by Gordon Smith. He has posted a page of 10 mathematical puzzles related to age. As a man getting on a bit, I decided to have a look. It is quite fun and also humorous! Have a look if you are interested.


  1. Wow, you sure like to torture yourself... And the ones with a string, sure look like the puzzles from hell :P

    That reminds me, I have to pick a wire one from my collection and try to solve it, for a review soon.

    Cheers ;-)

  2. The site you link to in "10 mathematical puzzles related to age" does no longer exist. :-(

    1. I’m sorry about that. I suppose I cannot expect everything to still be around after 8 years!