Sunday, 29 December 2013

He's so good that he can weave wood!

Woven Burr
Christmas this year was very quiet for me and Mrs S! We had a lazy day - after a small present opening ceremony which consisted only of 2 puzzles for me (Stifled Sob! Sniff!) Although, I did get some booze and goodies to eat too. We settled down to watch some TV and for me to play with my new and my old toys! I was very good and didn't touch anything that jingled and settled down with a new piece of wooden beauty from Brian Menold of Wood Wonders - this one I had been waiting for a few weeks. Brian has developed a sneaky habit of posting on his webpage about puzzles he plans to make and then allowing pre-orders! So a few weeks ago I told Mrs S that her Xmas present to me had just been announced. She was very good - she feigned interest  and grunted her assent. The puzzle arrived just before Xmas and was kept aside until the big day! I (and she) thought that was going to be it until Calvin from the HKNowstore announced the arrival of something new from Dayan - this is the Wheel of Wisdom twisty puzzle - it looked suitably horrific and so I had to have it! I'm a sucker for punishment!

L in Cage
Wheel of Wisdom

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas thanks and wishes

Just a very small part of the special toys I received in 2013!
Last year at Christmas I posted my special wishes for 2013 and am truly amazed that almost all of them came true! In the picture above you can see just a tiny tiny fraction of the wonderful designer's and craftsmen's work that I acquired for my now fairly impressive collection (if I forgot something then I beg forgiveness - I just ran out of space for the photo!)

I am very lucky that I am able buy so many wonderful toys every year and am extremely grateful to my very forgiving wife who lets me get away with spending all our money on such frivolous things (even if it prevents her buying one more Mulberry handbag for her equally important collection!) - she also seems to tolerate me clicking, jingling and swearing continuously beside her with only a mildly acerbic glare! My skills don't really seem to have improved much and I confess that I am still not very bright!

I also count myself very lucky that I have been asked to be a member of the editorial board of the CFF journal, the only print puzzle journal in the world. For me this allows my love of writing to continue on paper as well as on line. I am humbled to amongst some of the greatest puzzlers in the world on that board and to be allowed to edit and even write an article or two for them - I will try to be worthy.

My greatest pleasure has been to become part of an international community who share thoughts and ideas so freely and support each other with such gusto. I have a steadily enlarging group of friends whom I have mostly never met but with whom I communicate back and forth many times - this includes designers, craftsmen and puzzlers. These conversations can continue for weeks and are a constant joy to me. In fact last week I was amazed to find myself "chatting" with a puzzler in Hong Kong, a puzzler in China and another in America all as separate conversations but all at the same time. As an old fart, I have to say "Ain't the internet an amazing thing?"

I now find myself receiving up to 10 emails every day via this blog or personal messages via Facebook or the forums. These emails are from people wanting help to find a puzzle, advice for what to buy or even to track down a designer, they may be asking for help to solve something (I try not to give outright solutions, but usually find just a small nudge is all that is required) or sometimes provide support to fix something which may be faulty. I try to respond to everyone quickly but occasionally I may need to work first! But no matter who it is or what they need, it is always my pleasure to help them and the thanks I receive in return is a marvellous reward.

So my wish for 2014?
Well last year I wished for the incredible limited edition burrs from Brian and Sue Young (MrPuzzle) and actually got them! I have solved 3 and am spreading the experience out over the year! So obviously my wish for 2014 is to buy the next limited edition puzzles from them.

In my work I see an awful lot of pain, fear and suffering (and dare I say it death). Unfortunately with my current special interests I seem to see a lot more than my fair share of dreadful cases! Every day I count myself very lucky to be healthy and happy and able to pursue this wonderful hobby. As a result of this my real Xmas wish is for you in the puzzle community to have a great Xmas and a happy healthy New Year. As my friend Michel always signs his emails:
"Lets keep puzzling!"

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Cast Medal

Cast Medal
Here I go again making excuses for the quality of my post today! I have had my mum staying with me for a few days. Her 5 year old laptop is showing the advanced age and is on it's last legs. I finally convinced her to buy a Macbook (as I can't support her on Windows with ease since I have barely used it in years) so we have had a few sessions of tuition and I am completely frazzled! This may make this post a little shaky!!!

Today I'm reviewing the Cast Medal - this one I saw a couple of years ago when a friend of mine brought it to work for me to play with it. I really struggled with it despite spending probably a couple of hours on it. So when my last puzzle order at Puzzle Master went in, I had to have one of my own.

The Cast Medal is only rated as a level 2 on the Hanayama 6 point scale or 6 (Tricky) on the Puzzle Master 5-10 point scale. I would suggest that this particular puzzle is actually a good bit more difficult than the rating suggests - I'd suggest that 3 (7) is a better rating. Two of the three reviews on the product page also agree with this assessment. The reviews have, without exception, been positive and mine will be too. Gabriel's review was positive here.

It arrives in the usual black Hanayama package and is really beautiful to look at being made of 2 disks of copper coloured metal joined together and with a partial ring attached to one, The aim is simply to remove the ring using the rough pathway carved into the surface of the disk and also making use of the holes in them to rotate the ring around into different positions. Initially it is not clear why there are 2 disks but quite quickly it becomes apparent that it requires you to utilise the path way on both of them at the same time. I am not particularly good at these dual maze type puzzles and this may explain why I had so much trouble. Construction quality is very high, it is 9.7 x 4.7 x 2.2 cm in size. No solution is supplied with it but it can be downloaded from here.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

It's not just a "stack of sticks"

A stack of sticks?
Mrs S has a lot to put up with really! Unlike most men, I'm not out playing golf, watching football (that's soccer to the philistine Americans!) or even chasing women or doing drink and drugs! My horrible man-habit leaves me in the house most of the time! I'm either surfing the intertubes for more toys, purchasing more toys, unwrapping more toys, solving all said toys (sometimes noisily with jingling - gulp! or with lots of swearing) and finally spending hours on the computer writing about the toys after having taken obsessive photos of them on our nice granite kitchen work surface!! So this means that I am in the house a lot and not doing the chores that she wants me to do! Well as a bloke I can't multitask! I couldn't possibly do chores and puzzle at the same time - so puzzles take priority as I'm sure you would all agree is the correct choice.

Recently I received a few deliveries (those of you who visit my Facebook pages know that I receive so many deliveries that I am on first name terms with my postman!!) and I always show them to "her" hoping for a positive response. Most times I get the "that's nice" response without her even looking up at them. To get her proper attention I would need to announce that I had received a pair of shoes or a handbag! But my last delivery got a new response:
"They all look the same! It's just a stack of sticks"
Aaaaargh!!!!! How can she say such a thing??? Can she not see the beauty, the workmanship and the soon to happen fun? Obviously not! Sob!!!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

The Anomaly

The Anomaly
Believe it or not - I still have a few puzzles left from my last order from Puzzle Master - I really outdid myself at my last shopping visit! I decided this time to go back to the last of my set from their own selection of Wire disentanglement puzzles. I think this is the final one in the set of level 10 that I had not done - it's called The Anomaly, although I'm not really sure why!

It certainly looks quite a fearsome puzzle for solvers and as I said it is at the top of their difficulty scale - yep, a Level 10 (Mind Boggling) on their 5-10 point scale. It combines a very complex set of interlocking rings, loops and also a medium length of string so what could possibly go wrong? To make it even more confusing there is a knot fused onto the centre of the piece of string which limits a ball to the top half of the string. At the far end is a large triangular ring and loosely on the string is the brass coloured ring which you are supposed to remove. As with this whole series of puzzles it is well presented in a plastic clamshell package which mercifully is made to open easily - I always seem to lacerate myself when I have to open this sort of sealed plastic pack! The puzzle itself is beautifully made with high quality anodised wire and good strong string. Due to the thickness of the wire you would need to be really quite strong to force it.

So just remove the ring on a level 10 puzzle involving string? Easy peasy!! Gulp! Hopefully there'll be no awful knots! None of the usual bloggers have reviewed it yet but there has been a single review left on the product page giving it 4 stars but claiming it was easy but fun! No solution is provided for you but it is available for download if you want it from here.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

It's a twofer - puzzling for the family and puzzling for me!

Believe it or not this is my first jigsaw!
My puzzle habit has been a source of hilarity amongst my friends and colleagues for some time! They often wonder whether the present Mrs S and I actually communicate at all and what about. Their vision is of me jingling or rattling away with something annoying and her just glaring at me constantly! Now to a certain extent this is true - she has almost no urge to participate in the puzzling but does actually sort of enjoy the notoriety I have achieved. Occasionally she has been known to solve something but if it takes more than 5 minutes then it get's handed back with a pained expression and the words "show me how it's done" and heaven help me if I try to force her to work on it for longer! If I show her a twisty puzzle then she immediately says they're all the same puzzle and definitely won't touch it.

So I had been wondering if there was any way I could turn some aspect of the puzzle habit into something we can do together. I have never held out any hope for this - even Rox can't really convince "Mr Man" to participate! In fact he only tolerates her habit (which is worse than mine) because she lets him keep "man tools" in the apartment. But I know that it is possible to have puzzling become a family affair when I spoke to my friend Andrew from Singapore (aka Bob Cubes after Bob the Builder). He has convinced his adorable family to join in with his madness and they each worked together to be the first to complete the then record-breaking 24,000 piece jigsaw and documented their achievement here (it has even been hung on the wall of their living room!) Later on they did it again with the current record holding (32,000 pieces) by Ravensberger and documented it here. This one is so huge it comes with a trolley!!

Now there was absolutely no way that I was ever going to attempt one of those monsters! Firstly I don't have the space, secondly I have cats and thirdly "she" would never participate. I also have been scarred for life when, as a child, our family did second hand 10,000 piece jigsaw. It took weeks and weeks, we had to eat on our laps because the dining table was out of commission and at the end of it all there were 3 pieces missing! In fact I have never seriously considered jigsaws much at all despite my current "try just about any puzzle" fetish. My good friend Nigel (the organiser of the Midlands puzzle parties) does do them - in fact he has been working on the 32,000 piece monster for at least 2 years! So I have been thinking that maybe I could give it a try. Then recently Mrs S made me stop cold in my tracks when she asked about doing them and I agreed wholeheartedly and even bought a jigsaw board to store and solve on. But nothing was done about it.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Cast Cricket

Cast Cricket
I know! I know! I'm late and it's not good enough! Yes I've even had an email from an expectant friend. He'd come back from Sunday lunch and was settling down for a rest and a read of my latest post. He was most disappointed to see that I had failed to provide but I reassured him that it would be coming soon and here it is.

I'm late because of this!
So why am I a day late? Well last week, having freed my angel, I said that I'd need her help to solve Eitan's star, the 1st ever icosahedral and the hardest mass-produced twisty puzzle ever produced. Having scrambled it last Sunday, I'd been working at it all week and only just managed to complete it late on Sunday afternoon and much too late to write this post. Certainly it was too late if I didn't want to get in trouble with Mrs S! How do you go about such a horrific twisty? First I knew that the Eitan's star is the geometric dual of the Bauhinia dodecahedron (a vertex turning 12 sided puzzle) with the turning vertices coincident with the faces of the icosahedral puzzle. So starting at one corner, I was able to solve half of it using intuitive moves alone, then the thin internal triangles of the top half were solvable from the equator up using nothing more than the 4 move edge piece series.
Can you see the similarity?
Neither can I but it is there!
At this point it started to get challenging - with the vertices requiring a 3cycle but lots of setup moves to match the 5 colours up. The 2colour edges were next - there are 60 but I had 32 to solve and these require a much more complex series of moves just to cycle 3 of them and place just 1 at a time. My own algorithm was too difficult to translate so I borrowed a nice 20 move sequence from my friend Rline's video series. This section of the solve is really arduous and took hours and hours. There's no room for error and you have to pray that you remember all the setup moves! A small rest was required to calm my nerves and finally a simple set of corner piece series were required to place the large triangular centres! As of this moment, I am the 11th name in the list of solvers on the Twisty Puzzles hall of fame. If you want a cheaper but still pretty tough twisty puzzle then definitely try the Bauhinia dodecahedron - it is a tremendously fun puzzle and will set you up nicely for the Star's challenge.

So you see I do have a good excuse. I was therefore needing a fairly quick puzzle to solve and write about for you. In my last batch from Puzzle Master, I had ordered a couple of the easier Hanayama cast puzzles, so I fetched one to solve as quickly as possible for this blog post. This one is the level 2 out of 6 (or 6 - Tricky, on the Puzzle Master 5-10 point scale) which I think is a reasonable assessment. Opening the usual beautiful packaging reveals a really lovely metal puzzle in an antique brass finish. It is 6.7 x 6.7 x 2.5 cm in size and seems rather finely made. The name Cast Cricket obviously comes from the fact that it is formed from the major parts of the game of Cricket. It consists of 6 cricket bats joined at the handles in an odd star-shape and linked into a wicket structure complete with Bails preventing it lifting out the top. For the Americans amongst you, see this article for a description of cricket. The aim is to find a way to remove the 6 bats from the wicket. Preventing it are a number of knobbles on one side or other of each bat (one of the bats looks like a skateboard with wheels on it at both ends) but to help you there is a gap in the central wicket and a notch in the centre one. Like all the Hanayama puzzles, it does not come with a solution and if you want one then it can be downloaded from here.

This puzzle only has an average rating on puzzle master of 2 out of 5 stars but I think this is due to one particularly scathing (and unfair) review of 0 stars from one person who felt it was too easy and fragile. The other reviews were much more favourable. This is an easy puzzle but not everyone wants something that takes months and if you don't want an easyish puzzle then why are you looking at a Hanayama level 2? Gabriel reviewed it back in 2012 and really enjoyed it whilst acknowledging the difficulty level.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

I freed my angel and I need her help!

Help me! I'm trapped in this prison.
There's a man out there in puzzle world and he's a verrrry bad man! His name is Strijbos, Wil Strijbos! You all know of him as my puzzle pusher! He is the facilitator, the enabler of my addiction and I love him for it! He also is the kind of man who would take a cute little angel and lock her tightly in a metal prison and then leave it to his unfortunate customers to try and work out how to free her!

I look forward to meeting Wil at the Midlands puzzle parties that he occasionally attends and unfortunately I missed out on meeting him at the recent Dutch Cube day! Most of all, however, I love it when he sends me his emails! Every 2-4 months a note drops into my Inbox telling me of his upcoming designs and what he has newly available - and he knows full well that I cannot resist his wares! In fact an email arrived this weekend and he has separated me from yet another large chunk of my money!

Back at the end of August one of these emails arrived with news of something we all knew he had been working on for a considerable time. He finally had it finished and was ready to take orders for the first 27 that were available. We all read with great eagerness about it and all of us then took a huge GULP! when we saw that it was to be €390 plus P&P. But did this faze us at all? Heck no! Within 5 minutes I had responded with a resounding YES and apparently within a few hours another 26 suckers ahem puzzlers had also signed up and Wil had a waiting list of another 22 within days! This shows how good a pusher he really is! There will only ever be 99 of these which you might say will make them an investment, but a few of us discussed the likelihood of this being something that will make a profit in the future and the consensus is that it is not likely at this price to be something that will appreciate in value much! So therefore you can conclude that this is a puzzle for the truly addicted or as I like to put it - "The Connoisseur". And this really is a truly fabulous piece of engineering and puzzling.

Those of us who bought it then received an email with basic instructions - the aims and then the do's and don'ts. Basically it is like most "sequential discovery" puzzles - you need to discover what is possible and find tools along the way that can be used at later times in various places. As with many others the important rules are "NO Banging, No Shaking/spinning, No external tools". The aim in the very first email was:
Challenge: Take my HEART 
Mine arrived just a few days later and the excitement was palpable in the puzzle world as we all scrabbled to open them at the same time - emails were shooting back and forth like wildfire! Wil always packs things very well and this time was no exception - it requires good knife skills to get into the cardboard box and then through the lovely gift box it had been sent in. Lifting the puzzle out came as a bit of a shock and did explain why the price was so high - it is HUGE and VERY heavy!!! Dimensions are 16 x 7.5 x 11 cm and the weight a staggering 1.89Kg (that's 4lb 2.25oz for you Americans!) - even just picking it up now to weigh it I get a shock. This huge weight plus the fact that it is all metal (steel and aluminium) means that you do NOT want to drop it - if it lands on a foot then you will be needing an operation (trust me! I have seen lots of these operations and they are not very nice!) If it lands on your wooden desk then you are going to have a very big dent - the puzzle, on the other hand, will be fine!

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Cast News

Hanayama Cast News
Phew! I'm running late! The trouble with weekends at this time of year is that there are just so many "end of year chores" to be done. I've spent all day in the garden, clearing up and doing an end of year prune of many of the shrubs. At the end of the day, I suddenly remembered that I haven't published my customary blog post! But, never one to disappoint, I have managed to produce a quick review of yet another Hanayama Puzzle from my latest batch from Puzzle Master. This time it's the Hanayama Cast News - I had saved this for a while because it is a level 6 on the Hanayama 6 point scale and was, therefore, supposed to be a real challenge (on the Puzzle Master scale it is said to be a level 10 - Mind Boggling). The puzzles at this level are supposed to be a tremendous challenge to newbies and even pretty tough for wizened old puzzlers like me - I can't believe I am calling myself that after just 4 years as a puzzle fiend!

The reviews on the Puzzle Master product page for this are quite mixed with a few complaining that it was actually very easy! But the majority of reviews have been 3 stars and above (with an average of 4) and that was good enough for me to choose it. Plus I got it because this is it is the last one in the group of level 10 puzzles in my collection. Gabriel reviewed it here and really enjoyed it.

This one arrived in the usual immaculate Hanayama box and was nicely wrapped. The instructions are simply to take it apart and put it back together again. The box gives a little spiel from Nob Yashigara who designed it and quite a few other puzzles from Hanayama. Apparently the key word is "Needle"! I have no idea why they put that on the box because no-one pays any attention and it is not in the least bit helpful. There is no solution provided but if you find you need one then it can be downloaded from here.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

I'm a puzzler on the edge!

The Master Curvy Copter
"HELP! I need someone!!"

Introduction

It has been quite a while since I have posted anything about twisty puzzles and I have recently managed something REALLY special so I thought I would discuss it and also try to give enough information about the process to hopefully entice a few more of you into the wonderful world of twisties! My aim is to talk about edge turning puzzles, a bit about jumbling and then give away "the secret" to twisty success!! Read on!

I started it!
The fearsome looking puzzle pictured at the top is the Master Curvy Copter - it was designed by one of the great twisty puzzle designers, Eitan Cher. It was first announced in June 2010 when Eitan posted about it on the Twisty puzzles - "New puzzles" forum and even though it did not turn very well in version 1, there was a lot of interest in it and then it all quietened down. Subsequently he produced a version 2 which solved all the initial problems and put it up for sale on his Shapeways store where it is now available for a very reasonable €180 in Black. Now mine cost a bit more because I got mine ready made from Eitan (I'm not allowed to dye plastic in my new kitchen on pain of torture!) I chose it because I had absolutely adored (and still do) the original Curvy Copter (pictured left) which I wrote about almost at the beginning of my Twisty puzzling career. I still maintain that it is a fantastic puzzle even for people who are not into twisties. Obviously when you have finished the 3x3 cube then the next step is a 4x4 - so I figured that the step up from the Curvy Copter would be the master version.

This gorgeous puzzle arrived in May this year and I fiddled with it a little and marvelled at how complex it was and yet how well it moved - even the jumbling moves were really easy! I then put it on the shelf next to me where it stayed for a month or so. Yes! it's the "puzzles to be done" shelf and it has quite a few on it! It screamed obscenities at me for weeks but I was far too frightened of it to scramble it and try a solve - partly because I seriously doubted that I had the necessary skills to solve it and also because it is so rare in the wild that no-one has posted anything on-line at all about how to go about solving it - meaning that I would not even be able to look at a tutorial if I got stuck! I believed I was on my own!

Yeah! I can hear you all screaming at me that I'm a puzzle wimp and I freely admit it! Strange that I keep hearing these voices! But..... Just look at it! It's horrendous!

It looks so innocent like this!
So nearly 4 months ago, I finally succumbed and decided to do what I had done with it's daddy (the Curvy Copter) and did a scramble without any jumbling or shapeshifting and did not take any pieces out of their orbits. I recalled when I did the same thing to the Curvy Copter and that I actually managed to solve all but the last corners by intuition alone and then, using some very simple series of moves, I managed to solve them too. I remember how great it felt and what a phenomenal puzzle it was - it ended up as my second ever twisty blog post. If you don't have the Curvy Copter yet, then BUY it.... NOW!

Having done the most basic of scrambles on my new monster,  I set to work and........
I couldn't do it! I spent a week trying everything I could but nope, I didn't have the skills. I couldn't, to my shame, even do the first face. I tried reducing it to a standard curvy copter and failed at that too. So I put it back on the shelf where it looked quite pretty in the scrambled form but every time I looked up it made me feel guilty. I would take it off the shelf and try again every week or two and fail again!

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Rack

The Rack
Now please everyone be quite - I currently am on day 4 of a visit by my in-laws - absolutely lovely people but I'm not supposed to be sneaking off for a quick surf of the net and definitely not supposed to be taking time to write a blog post! My wife thinks that I have had to do a little bit of paperwork for my work! I don't want any of you being bad and letting her know! No! Before you say it - The Rack is not linking the instrument of torture with my in-laws!!

Keep the mother in-law quiet
with one of these!
My mother in-law is actually quite enjoying doing some puzzles during her stay with us - this at least gives me some time to sit with her and do some of my own all under the pretence of "helping her". She has been working on a globe magnet jigsaw puzzle for the last 4 days and doesn't seem to be getting anywhere at all with it!! I, of course am making lots of encouraging noises and not helping at all! It really does look quite tough - if you want one then something similar can be bought from Puzzle Master. But I have started working on a new kit of twisty puzzles made by Burgo from the Twisty Puzzles forum - it is an astounding kit which expands the idea behind the crazy 3x3 planet series which I reviewed here. It allows the addition of a variable number of non-circle faces to the crazy series as well as having the ability to put segments in that bandage parts together and thus block movements. It will provide hundreds and hundreds of new very tough twisty puzzles for me - You can read about it here. So I am a fairly happy bunny just now but have had to sneak off to get this review out to you.

OMG How horrific does this look? Info at TP.
The Rack is another from my Puzzle Master stash - yet again a wire and string puzzle and yet again a slightly easier one - this time only level 8 (Demanding) on their rather odd scale of 5 to 10 and I would agree with that assessment. This one and the Silent E reviewed as my last wire puzzle have been a welcome relief from the usual horrendously difficult ones but this is the last easy one I have and I have a few more coming from Livewire puzzles - they have released another 5 since my series of reviews 18 months ago and I had to complete the set!! So yet another few tough ones coming your way soon.

The rack is from Puzzle Master's own series of wire puzzles and is packaged nicely in the usual plastic clamshell and the instructions are simply to remove the string with the two balls from the wire. It is very well made from 3mm Nickel plated wire and the string is of good quality. There has been one 4 star review left on the puzzle page which gave a glowing report and suggested that it was perfect for beginners to wire puzzles; a view I agree with. No other blogger has reviewed it yet. No solution is supplied but it can be downloaded from here if you need it.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

First Guest Post! Let's Learn About Packing Puzzles

OMG! A packing puzzle!!
So, many months ago, I mentioned in a post that if anyone had anything puzzle related that they thought would be of interest to my readers and if they would write something for my blog then I would be delighted to offer a guest spot! I had very few responses. I did have someone offer to write an article on why all of us puzzlers were crackers! We all know that anyway and when I asked for an expansion on his ideas it never went any further. I then had a couple of others reply and the posts they sent ended up as nothing more than an advert for cheap wooden jigsaw type puzzles that they were selling online. I am happy to provide a sort of sales opportunity for people if they genuinely have something that might interest me and especially you but it needs to be a quality product and something more than an advert - you all want information!

Back in August I was contacted by Matthew Yeoman who was the PR manager for a new company called Puzumi who were about to bring out some new puzzles. Since then it would appear that he is now working as a freelance writer but despite that, he still produced an article about the Puzumi puzzles that I think is worth a read. I was even more reassured when Gabriel produced a glowing review of one of their puzzles. Matthew, as do quite a few of you, loves packing puzzles but for me it is a love hate relationship because I am awful at them and don't really feel qualified to write about them. So please read on....

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Cast Delta or Mrs S Shows Her Skillz!

Hanayama Cast Delta
Today's review is of the Hanayama Cast Delta - it has been ready for publication for a few weeks but when Gabriel pipped me to the post, I decided to delay it a while so that you didn't all get bored reading about the same puzzle multiple times. Jerry has also reviewed it back in July - living in the Far East, he seems to have managed to get hold of it much earlier than the rest of us.

I got this puzzle in my last large order from Puzzle Master - I had seen that Hanayama had released 2 new puzzles this year and waited for them to be available in the West - there was NEVER any question that I wouldn't get it, just a matter of when. You all know that I adore my high quality, bespoke wooden puzzles, but I have to say that as value for money the Hanayama puzzles really cannot be beaten. They are all beautifully made, have varying difficulty levels ranging from the fairly easy to the impossibly hard and almost always provide that "Aha!" moment that all us puzzlers crave so much.

The Cast Delta is no different - designed by Kyoo Wong from Hong Kong, it arrived in the usual immaculate black box with the simple instructions to separate the three pieces and then reassemble them. There is also a little mumbo jumbo on the box about stirring up creativity etc but when you get down to it - take it apart and put it back together again! It is made of a metal that looks like an aged brass and is fairly attractive with a nice patina - the name obviously comes from the shape of the greek capital letter which it resembles. Nicely chunky with dimensions 5.7 x 5 x 1 cm and a reasonable weight to it. There is certainly something about it that makes you keep coming back to it to play with. It is rated by Hanayama themselves as a level 3 difficulty (out of 6) and by Puzzle Master as level 7 (Challenging) on their scale of 5 - 10. I would say that I would rate it slight easier than 3 / 7 for disassembly but for a proper understanding they have it about right. There is no solution in the box but it can be downloaded from here.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

The Kamikaze Went Kaboom!

Kamikaze Burr
Like last weeks one, this blog post may also be rather linguistically challenged! I spent all day Friday at a Coroners inquest giving evidence - a rather stressful event you'll all agree and then had an exciting day on Saturday solving this puzzle. Needless to say last night's sleep was impaired due to the adrenaline surge as well as having the cats do the wall of death around the house most of the night. It was also not helped by the present Mrs S sounding like a drowning hippopotamus all night as well! Ouch! Sorry dear, I didn't realise you were reading this!

A fine top shelf!
You may recall how delighted I was earlier this year when I managed to spend a large chunk of my income on the 2012 limited edition puzzles from Brian Young (aka MrPuzzle). This fabulously beautiful and fabulously huge set of 5 puzzles has had pride of place in my man puzzle cave most of this year! If you look carefully at the top shelf you will see the entire set in all it's glory! Why the top shelf? Because, if you remember from your youth, the "stuff" you wanted to look at in the newsagent when you were a teenager was always on the top shelf out of reach and tantalising! So I thought that I would mimic this and place my most "delicious" puzzles where I can't get to them! This ensures that I will pace myself and not run through them all too quickly - I want to savour them. So far I actually have managed it and have solved and written about only 2 of the 5 - the Improved H burr and the L burr, both of which were amazingly beautiful puzzles and a great challenge.

The next one I have decided to try is the Kamikaze burr. It was designed, like the others, by Junichi Yananose. From the information page:
In 1995 Junichi developed a puzzle with more than one co-ordinated action. It was introduced in the bulletin of the Academy of Recreational Mathematics in Japan in that same year and has been waiting for someone to make it ever since. Brian soon discovered there was good reason for this. He found getting exactly the correct tolerances so that it moves just right very challenging.
The puzzle has 15 pieces and the motion and movement of the pieces in this puzzle is truly extreme. It might appear that the puzzle is made a little loose, but be assured that it is intentional, because if it fitted firmly the puzzle would go together but getting it apart again with just 2 hands would be near impossible; that is until you get to the point of no return. Then it gets really scary!
Junichi called it Kamikaze because he considers this puzzle extreme. Although many puzzle solvers will know which pieces go where in the puzzle, finding the order to put them in and the motion to get it together is truly extreme. All 5 puzzles this year are quite different and radical but there is no puzzle more different or radical than this one.
It is made from Queensland Silky Oak (I have always called this wood Lacewood) and is absolutely GIGANTIC at 150 x 150 x 150mm and weighing in at 830g (1lb 14oz)!

It has been sitting up there shouting obscenities at me for a few months now and threatening my puzzle manhood! I kept looking at it and averting my gaze because it frightened me to death! Why? Because it is a coordinate motion puzzle as well as a burr and not just any old coordinate motion puzzle - it has 15 sticks! My previous experience of this group has mostly been the incredible artefacts made by the talented Václav Obšivač aka Vinco. These coordinate motion puzzles have just 3 or 4 pieces and require a huge amount of dexterity to reassemble them and sometimes, to me at least, appear to need more than 1 pair of hands. This is awkward when Mrs S has no interest in puzzles and if I ask her for assistance then she taunts me and declines! Here are a couple of examples:

Vinco's Tetrahedron 2
Vinco's Explosion Cube
So I really did not know whether I would ever get it reassembled after taking it apart. The other reason that it frightened me was the report from Burgo. He is an amazing Australian puzzler from the Twisty Puzzles forum who is just an unbelievable solver of puzzles of all types - almost nothing fazes him or slows him down at all. At my suggestion he expanded his horizons to some wooden puzzles for his fellow countryman and his report about the Kamikaze burr was that it made a huge number of movements all at once just as he lifted it out of its packaging! So much movement that he describes a near miss underwear catastrophe! Now if a puzzler of this calibre is frightened, then what am I to think? In fact, despite my taunts, to this day he has not dared to dismantle it!

Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Silent E

The Silent E
Hi everyone! This blog post may well be a little less than my usual coherent standard. This is for 3 reasons: Firstly, I have been working my arse off (for you US citizens that would be ass!) and have spent all day at the hospital today and got home really quite late having worked for over 11 hours without any kind of break at all (My goodness, I needed the loo when I finished!) Secondly, one of my cats has just had a steroid injection and is now quite whizzy! He spent most of last night howling around the house keeping me awake with his zooming! At one point he ran across the pillows during the night and ran into my open mouth - yes I was on my back snoring my head off! I could swear that he had just been in the litter tray!!! Blech! But to really ensure that I am not coherent, the present Mrs S has served me an extremely strong Margarita when I got home and I am pissed as a fart as I write this. Luckily for you, some of the puzzling details have been jotted down in advance! So I do apologise!

Tonight I am going to review the Silent E puzzle from Puzzle Master's Wire puzzle collection. This is one of the few of their collection remaining that is a reasonable difficulty level and does not have string. It is a level 8 (Demanding) on their 5 - 10 scale. I initially thought that this rating was a little high but having watched others try it, I suspect it is correct. It arrived in the usual very nice clamshell packaging with the card insert saying just that the aim is to remove the brass ring from the puzzle. The actual description says:
"Are you going to spin or show some spine and solve this puzzle? Use the "E" to get it done. Easy for some; not for others. Where do you fit?"
his, as usual, is not in the least bit helpful! The picture says it all - remove the brass ring!! This is a pretty decent size of puzzle - 17.1 x 8 x 5.1 cm depending on which way you arrange the pieces. It is well anodised and very nicely made. All of these seem to have the same problem that the brass ring gets quite discoloured but that doesn't interfere with the puzzling. Gabriel enjoyed it, having reviewed it here. No solution is provided and if you need one it can be downloaded from here.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Ball in Cylinder II

Ball in Cylinder II
A few weeks ago I informed the world that Jerry had a new version of his Ball in Cylinder puzzle. Very imaginatively he named it the Ball in Cylinder II! I have known that it was coming for quite a few months; in fact I had been told that he had a new design in his head shortly after I communicated with him about having solved the first one.

This dummy thought
the stick was part of it!
To save on postage, Jerry gave a little bundle of these delightful little puzzles to Allard to bring back from the IPP in Japan and a few days after Allard returned, I received my copy and quickly told the world.

My initial pictures posted included the little stick which came with it. It was so beautifully finished that I could only imagine that it was to be part of the solution! It was made of bamboo and even had a nice clear rubber cap on the end. Allard suggested that it may have only been for transport purposes and this was confirmed by email from Jerry! Yes I'm a dope! But it just looked so perfectly made! The whole thing is just superbly made - these puzzles are designed by Jerry and he then takes the design to a local metalworker who hand fabricates them for him. The hand-made quality just shines through everywhere. To mark it out as BIC II there are 2 grooves around the top and bottom as opposed to the 1 on BIC I. The finish is stunning, really nicely polished aluminium with all edges smoothed so as to have a slight chamfer and nothing sharp to catch yourself on. This attention to detail is the mark of a fine craftsman and a fine designer. In fact I would say that the quality is as good as the puzzles I have collected over the years from Wil Strijbos. Unlike the puzzles from Wil, the BIC II is also available in copper for a slightly higher price. I have to say the copper looks stunning BUT really gets tarnished quickly with the handling required to solve it - You will need to make up your mind which you prefer and maybe choose to solve it whilst wearing gloves or polish it regulalry! Thanks to Shane for the photo of a copper version.

Stunning in copper!

Found a ball? It won't come out!
Like the last one, no instructions are provided but it is obvious that the aim is to remove the ball bearing from within the cylinder AND understand the process well enough to be able to do it repeatedly. I had mentioned last time that looking in the hole in the top there is a nice shiny and rather large ball bearing which slides back and forth in a track. It is far too large to come out the hole. Huh? If it won't come out of the hole then how are you supposed to remove it? Dope again! Holding the large ball still with the bamboo stick whilst inverting and swirling the puzzle reveals quite a bit of noise - more than I would have expected for just one bearing in a track. Now the rather dense penny drops! There is a second bearing inside (at least one - can there be more still?) so I had to assume that it was the aim to remove the other one that was hidden deeper inside the puzzle. Then, having been told it was not needed, I discarded the stick - I was on my own with no tools!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Parallel Dimensions

Parallel Dimensions
Another disentangle net puzzle from Puzzle Master! Yes I am totally addicted to all puzzles but even going back to the beginnings of this hugely expensive adventure, I loved the challenge (and the price) of the wire disentanglements - although that very first batch of Livewire puzzles really did cost a fortune up front and then I also had to pay the customs officers. In fact, to this day, Mrs S STILL doesn't know what that set cost me/us!

Last week's review was a relatively straightforward wire puzzle from Puzzle Master's own range and I am gradually working my way through as many as I can get my hands on! This time, I can finally write a review of a puzzle that I have been carrying around with me more or less everywhere for over a month! This one is the Parallel dimensions, rated as 10 (Mind Boggling) on their 5 to 10 point scale and like the review on the product page, I can whole heartedly agree with that rating. It arrives in Puzzle Master's usual plastic clamshell packaging and simply has the pictorial instructions to remove the yellow coloured metal ring. It is a good quality anodised wire and the string and wooden ball and cube are nicely painted. My only criticism is that the large brass ring seems to get tarnished quite quickly. It is 9.5 x 7.9 x 1.9 cm in size. No solution is provided with it but it can be downloaded from here - you may actually need it.

For those of you with wives (or even husbands) with laser stares this is not a good one for you!! I now have 2nd degree burns (i.e. partial thickness) over the whole of the right side of my body after playing with it and jangling away for over a month!!

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Panic Attack

Panic Attack
Now I was going to review one of the latest Hanayama cast puzzles, the Cast Delta, but Gabriel got to it before me at the end of last week so I have put that one on hold for a while and thought I would delve back into the wire puzzles again. Today I am going to review the Panic Attack - one of Puzzle Master's own series of disentanglements.

I ordered this one because I wanted something a little easier than the level 10s that I had been trying previously. In fact I have been carrying one of them around with me (the Parallel Dimensions) for over a month now and have made no headway at all with it! I also wanted to try it because it bore a resemblance to the level 10 Eagle puzzle which I reviewed here and enjoyed immensely. I wanted to see how it differed and why it was considered easier. Panic Attack is a level 8 (Demanding) on the Puzzle Master 5 to 10 point scale. It measures 10.5 x 9.2 x 4.8 cm and is very high quality with the wire nicely anodised and the loop of orange twine nicely heat sealed. As with all of Puzzle Master's own range of wire disentanglement puzzles, it arrives in a clamshell package with pictorial instructions to remove the loop of string and the worded but not in the least bit helpful instructions:
"When having a panic attack, a person has to try to figure out the clues as to why this is happening.  You will also have to search for clues to solve the Panic Attack brain teaser"
Whilst you do need to think why it won't just pull off - this has nothing to do with panic! I actually prefer the original name (and description) for this puzzle given by it's designer, Kirill Grebnev, who also designed the gorgeous puzzle recently marketed by Hanayama, the Cast Harmony, which I reviewed here. It should not surprise anyone to find out that Kirill also was the original designer of the Eagle Puzzle which he called "Step in future". Kirill's original name for the Panic Attack was "Clear Heart", a much less macho name but definitely more evocative of the shape. It was designed in 2006 for submission to the IPP design competition and named because the aim was to remove something from the heart (sin? vice? string?) leaving one with a clear heart! Kirril's own rating is 3?s out of 5 which is the same as that given by the guys at Puzzle Master. At just $10 this is a nice easily affordable puzzle.

Gabriel reviewed it here and agreed completely with the rating. It took him several attempts before he solved it and was only able to solve it after returning afresh. He described it as a "perfect puzzle even if you are not crazy about wire puzzles". Beware his page has a photo and description of the solution. No solution is provided with the puzzle but it can be downloaded directly from Puzzle Master here.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

200 posts - I have been VERY bad!

I really cannot believe it! This is my 200th post and, looking at my analytics data, I should achieve 200,000 page views in the next week or two! Is this a cue for a torrent of mushy nonsense from me? No! Yes! Alright - just a little bit. It hardly seems long ago that I passed the 100 post mark - this time I'm going to be:
"Wondering about wood,
being 'Fuller' it,
admiring the Pelikan,
being amazed at a burl
and finally, going CraaaazyBad with Traiphum"
I've not lost my marbles yet again - it will all make sense soon! Recently I have been buying new toys like there was no tomorrow so basically, to mark this occasion, I thought I would show off a few of the most beautiful and challenging puzzles that have arrived recently and describe my experiences with them. Many are still available for you to add to your collection. Hopefully this catharsis will make me feel better and help Mrs S forgive me!!!

Wood Wonders

Brian Menold is the head honcho at Wood Wonders (actually he's the only honcho) and I have been buying from him for 2 years now - his workmanship has developed during that period until it rivals some of the best in the business and like most (if not all) puzzle people he is a delight to communicate and do business with. During the penultimate sale, due to a quirk with the sales system on his site, I had all the puzzles in my basket snatched from me whilst I used my 2 factor authentication with PayPal - yes Nigel, I hope you feel guilty! As a result of this, he held the one puzzle I had managed to keep and when the next batch came out he contacted me to assure me that I would be able to get those I lost this time. Amongst a decent batch I obtained 3 particularly interesting puzzles from him:

Pyramidal Pile
4 Piece Pyramid
The first 2 are classic designs by Stewart Coffin and are beautifully made. It must be hard enough to make puzzles which are based on a cubic piece, but to make puzzles out of all sorts of other shapes just blows my mind! The pyramidal pile is, gulp, a sort of packing puzzle/construction puzzle. The lovely pyramid (made from Bocote with a Yellowheart tray) can be tipped out to reveal the pieces!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Cast G&G

Cast G&G - sorry it's really hard to photograph!
This may well be a little less lucid than my usual and may be a bit shorter due to fatigue - I spent all day yesterday on-call and writing several rotas too during the day. Unfortunately literally seconds after putting the light out at night, I got called in and had to work half the night. I slept late but an elderly man like me takes a very long time to recover!

Look a wood version!
Back in July I wrote about one of my Puzzle Master acquisitions, I mentioned my dwindling supply. Well I was very bad and placed an order for a whole bunch more so I would have some more reasonably priced puzzles to write about. This one, the Hanayama Cast G&G had been of particular interest to me since it had fascinated me when it won the Jury Grand Prize at the 2012 International Puzzle Party (IPP) in Washington DC for the designer Jin-Hoo Ahn. Firstly, the fact that it had won such a prestigious award really made it stand out and also the fact that it was a member of my beloved disentanglement group (from which you have seen me write so many reviews). Another reason for my fascination is that after discussing it with a friend from across the world, he made a copy for me in wood and sent it to me to play with long before the Hanayama version came available. Solving the wooden version confirmed to me what a great puzzle it is and that I would need to get the metal version too when it came out. He also made me a spare version which I gave to a great friend who organises the Midlands Puzzle Parties - I hope you have enjoyed it Nigel?

As puzzles go, and surprisingly for a Jury grand prize winner, it is not rated as terribly difficult - Hanayama rate it as a level 3 out of 6 and Puzzle Master as 7 (Challenging) in their scale of  5 to 10. Certainly, it is much less difficult than many of their wire and string disentanglements. As with all the Hanayama puzzles, it is beautifully packaged and the puzzle is firmly held onto supporting card to stop it jingling and getting scratched in transit. It is a perfectly portable size at 6  x 4.2  x 2.5 cm and feels nice and solid in the hand. It is a very reasonable $13 in price. Like all the puzzles made by Hanayama, it is beautifully plated in silver and gold metal and the gold piece also seems to be coated in a lacquer. I am not sure of the reason for the lacquer but it is not terribly robust and as you can see from my photos it very quickly chips somewhat spoiling the look (if not the puzzle experience). The instructions are to take it apart and put it back together again (obviously)! There is no solution supplied but it can be downloaded from Puzzle Master here.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

A bonus for me - and so for you too!

Jerry's Ball in Cylinder II
I've been trying to keep my blog posting to just one a week so as not to overload you all. But today I received a nice little packet from Allard after his return from the IPP in Japan. It would appear that he had a great time and his exchange puzzle was well received. I know I am eagerly awaiting his and Rox's reviews of the exchange puzzles? This packet contained 2 wonderful goodies: Jerry's Ball in Cylinder II and Allard's own Magic suitcase puzzles.
A few days before the IPP was held, I received an email from Jerry Loo informing me that he had version 2 of his ball in cylinder finished and would appreciate my opinion of it. To save on postage across the world he proposed giving it to Allard who he would be meeting at the IPP so Allard could bring it back in his luggage. After a short humorous exchange about luggage allowance during which it would appear that either he had paid for many Kg of extra weight or, more likely, he had forgone any change of clothing and just taken empty suitcases! Can anyone report on how Allard smelled after several days of puzzling?

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Eric Fuller! You are N times a genius!

Truly beautiful! From Eric Fuller

Idiot Alert!

I humbly stand corrected by my friend and fellow puzzle blogger, Tom Cutrofello! In my breathless delight at the genius craftsmanship of Eric I really did not adequately attribute the brilliant designers. Here is what Tom wrote:

"Go Pit and Bill are the design genii, Eric is the master craftsman! Amazing collaboration that would have been almost impossible before the IPP and the Internet. The puzzles are going to become even more elegant. We live on the golden age of mechanical puzzle world!"

Thanks for reminding me of my foolishness! Where would we be without the designers? I maintain that Eric is also a genius but I mustn't forget who enabled his genius. Apology over! Can I put my flagellation device (whip) away now?

Now those of you who are friends on Facebook will have seen that I have been making a very good attempt at bankrupting myself over the last few months! There just seems to have been a constant stream of absolutely fabulous puzzles coming out from all the puzzle designers and craftsmen. This is not just the wonderful wood workers but also the fantastic Chinese twisty puzzle makers who have made loads and loads of new twisties that are "absolutely essential" for my puzzling health!

Drool!
Double Drool!!!
It doesn't stop there either - there's also the fantastic twisty modders and Shapeways designers also keeping me sane .....! Yeah! really!
My original 3x5x7. New 5x7x9 (Traiphum) and 4x6x8 (Jeremy)
But despite all this, I have really been getting in to the N-ary group of puzzles and have been adding lots and lots of them to my collection. I established in my last blog post about them that there can never be too many of them in your collection and my aim would be to get a set as good as that of Dr Goetz Schwandtner. I am still a long way away from that but am certainly adding to my collection at an alarming rate - please don't anyone tell the present Mrs S how much they cost! No-one would even find my body!

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Yin Yang Disentanglement

Helical burr


I've been a bit delayed recently due to work commitments and Mrs S going off up to Edinburgh to visit her parents meaning more chores for me to do! I've also not wanted to put out too much stuff when the deluge from the IPP is going to be out soon! First of all may I give my hearty congratulations to Derek Bosch for winning the Jury Grand prize in the design competition with his marvellous Helical burr which I gushed about here.

Jean Claude Constantin - Yin Yang
This week's post is about a disentanglement puzzle that I had thought was particularly attractive and involving string, I thought it would be a real challenge. I also would like to get more puzzles by the amazing and prolific Jean-Claude Constantin. This is the Yin Yang disentanglement puzzle (not to be confused with the puzzle of the same name made by Puzzlemaster that I reviewed here). It was originally rated as a level 8 on their difficulty scale of 5-10 and that was a major attraction for me - I was really hoping for a string puzzle that wouldn't hurt my head too much! Subsequent feedback from me has led to it being re-rated as a 5 (Easy) and is certainly good for beginners to this type of puzzle.

It is made from a nice quality anodised wire and a decent string with a bead on the end and arrived in just a small plastic bag with the name of the puzzle typed on a label. Certainly a decent quality and in size it is 6.2 cm in diameter and the bead makes it about 2cm thick. It is extremely cheap for such nice quality at only $5. The name is obviously related to the soothing Yin yang symbol it forms and it's not difficult enough to upset your inner peace! I haven't seen any other reviews of it anywhere and no one has commented on the PuzzleMaster page. Interestingly there is no downloadable solution on the solution site either but don't let this put you off! You really will not be needing it!

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