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!

The first BIC was a hidden maze and required blindly negotiating this maze to get the hidden ball to come out and when swirling version 2 it is possible to hear the ball whirling around and around and occasionally stopping as if stuck in a track (just like version 1) so I assumed that there was some kind of maze inside to negotiate. I retried the trick(s) from version 1 and of course failed dismally. Jerry wouldn't use the same technique twice - he's much more devious than that!

This puzzle needs to be solved by sound and thought alone. This is a tremendously difficult thing to do! My initial attempts got me nowhere at all. Paying very close attention to where/when the ball stopped moving in the lower compartment got me wondering why it might be so and then I looked very closely at the top and came up with a theory. You can get a very small hint by peering into the hole. This hint was so subtle that I came to entirely the wrong conclusion and continued to fail at it. I thought I might try something new based on my initial hypothesis and suddenly the ball shot out across the kitchen chased by a cat! Eureka! I shrieked, much to the further annoyance of Mrs S who had already burned me badly with the laser stare. Have I told you before that she doesn't like puzzles which jingle? Luckily for the world, I was fully clothed (unlike Archimedes in his bath) and the laser burn was only on the back of my head and not any where more sensitive.

Looking inside the puzzle after the ball had come out gave me no clue whatsoever as to how I had done it. "Damn!" I put the ball back in and shook it all about and it wouldn't go away! Uh oh! Now what? I shook it really vigorously and after I regained consciousness from the belt around the back of the head from Mrs S, I noticed that I had managed to reset it without really knowing how. So now what? Try again later (when it was safe) to see if I could repeat it. I couldn't do it! I tried for days and days with no luck when suddenly, out of the blue, it happened again. This time I had another problem to report to Houston - the small bearing was behind the large one and I couldn't get it past to the exit hole. That's a "Damn!" again. I shook it about until it reset itself and remembering Allard, it was time to Think© - something I am not good at.

So far I had managed it by luck - Jerry wouldn't make a puzzle that needed luck. What could I do to move the ball into the top? I then had another Eureka moment and tried something new. No dice! Tried again and again and again - BINGO! I did it 3 times in a row and then emailed Jerry my theory and a thought about how to ensure that the small bearing did not get caught behind the large one. Several contortions later I suddenly realised that I was making it much too complex - another email to Jerry with my thoughts on the mechanism and I was sent a note that I had cracked it. My description of the mechanism was completely correct and I was rewarded with a pdf copy of the design and solution. Whew! What a journey!

Solved at last! Really really ingenious!
As far as I know only 3 people have solved it entirely themselves - obviously Louis, who is the best puzzler I have ever met, managed it. Ali, one of the Revomaze forum moderators and also a tremendous puzzler has managed it but he occasionally finds it hard to repeat the process which sort of tells me that there is an incomplete understanding of the mechanism. Shane, the craftsman and designer behind "The Block", and an up and coming talented puzzler, managed to remove the ball several times but was unable to fathom the mystery of how he was doing it. His vision of the mechanism was close but also far away from being correct - I eventually managed to get him to work his own way through with a few well placed small clues. Allard, master puzzler extraordinaire has been struggling with it for weeks with no success as yet.

So, as you can see, this is a really tough puzzle with a pretty simple mechanism (actually several things need to be thought through). It is absolutely worth buying in a heartbeat! It is not at all expensive and is fabulously made. I know Jerry is having more made so ask him for one asap! His email address is available through his blogger profile page.


  1. Kevin, thank you very much for your very nicely written blog post. Much appreciated. Some puzzlers have asked that I include a tiny window to give more clues as to what is going on inside. I am still thinking how this can be done on both BICs without giving anything away. But for my latest design, which you already saw the FB photo, I have inserted a number of viewing holes (probably will add a few more) to give enough clues to reduce guessing, instead, a solution that requires more logical thinking.

    1. My pleasure Jerry, it was a great tough journey - I loved it! I'm not sure about putting a window in BIC II - I don't think that's a good idea. It is possible to think it through!

      As for the new design - I wait with baited breath!