Sunday 28 December 2014

Owl in a Cage

Owl in Cage - sooo cute!
This is just a quickie today - I have spent the last 2 days working on my end of year summary for your delight and delectation! Every year I (and many others) get an email from Peter Hajek who collates responses on the IPP community's thoughts on their top 3 puzzle acquisitions of the year. He produces a wonderful book from everyone's replies which he distributes the following year. His email always forces me to get off my lazy backside and actually think about what I have bought and what I enjoyed. It's always a struggle to produce a top 3 for him and I then continue to produce a top 10(ish) list for you all to read about on New Years Day. It has seriously taken me one hell of a long time to write that post and thus not much time left for this one - Mrs S has just started to growl at me about the time I've been spending on my blog and I really don't want to suffer another laser burn for New Year!!

A very long time ago I bought a few "caged critter" puzzles, made by the Czech company Hryahlavolamy, from Wil Strijbos and really enjoyed the rather new challenge. So much so that I have in my collection the Canary in Cage, the Cylinder in Cage and the Dino and Box in Cage as well as the more conventional metal Man the Torpedo puzzle. I wrote about them here. At some point a few years ago there was a whole series of similar, very gaudy, plastic Japanese caged puzzles which I did not buy at the time (for which I am now kicking myself).

My Canary in cage got damaged by a cat some time ago but I have managed a repair and put it away for safety. When perusing Puzzle Master for my last order I noticed that they had a few of these puzzles in their "other wood" section. They have the Canary in Cage for $15, the Dragon in Cage for $20 and the Lion in Cage for $20. All are rated as 8 (Demanding) on their scale of 5 to 10. I ordered the Owl in cage (which was also $15) and which has subsequently disappeared from Puzzle Master's website. I suspect that I must have got the last one! I dare say that with these having been imported from Eastern Europe, they may be in limited supply so if they are of interest to you then get the last few quickly. Hopefully the owl will be available again in 2015.

It arrived simply wrapped in cardboard with bubble wrap around it ensuring that it did not get damaged in the post. The instructions were simply to free the animal from the cage. Made entirely from wood, the cage is 8.8cm tall and 5.6cm diameter and the owl is a rather charmingly crafted and quite lifelike.

Thursday 25 December 2014

Merry Christmas everyone - Xmas wishes do come true

Golden cube extreme
As you would expect, working in frontline health services has been just a touch busy these last few days/weeks and so my Xmas post to you is actually being written on Xmas day - I have to thank the present Mrs S for being so tolerant of my obsession! She admits that as far as mid-life crises go (I'm 48 years old) this is better than getting into motorbikes, golf or getting a girlfriend!

In fact I have to thank her for a whole lot more - her Xmas presents to me were the fulfilment of several long standing Xmas puzzling wishes. She okayed and paid for (sort of) a few of my most recent puzzle acquisitions, all of which I have been desperate to obtain for a very long time!

At the top of the post is a VERY special hand-made puzzle from the Grandfather of twisty puzzle modifications, Tony Fisher. The original Golden cube was designed first in 1999 but only unveiled at the Dutch Cube Day in 2002 and finally mass produced by Uwe Meffert in 2009. It is a simple Skewb but with the "ghost cube" modification added to make all parts different and to offset the pieces away from their final positions to allow turning. They have long since sold out and they now only are found at auction for many $100s (one sold for over $800!) and have always been unobtainable for me. Very recently Tony announced a new run of handmade versions would be available in very limited numbers - of course I had to have one and asked Mrs S' permission to spend a fairly large amount of money - she said it would be part of her Xmas present -Yay!!! Finally a week or so ago, I finally got my hands on it and it was put away until today. Frankly, it frightens me to death - it is just a Skewb but oh, so much more difficult than a standard Skewb! This new version has been called the Golden cube extreme by Tony because it has been "corrected". The original mass produced version had an error in production which meant that they were slightly easier than he originally intended - this version has corrected that slight shape error, hence the "extreme" label. At last I have a Golden cube and it's a Tony Fisher original too complete with covered signature!!! Thank you to my lovely wife!

Borg Box
I was very excited when the godfather of puzzle blogging, Brian Pletcher, announced that he was working on reproducing the incredible Stickman Borg Box in printed plastic. I was not sure whether it would ever be possible but after the initial announcement, he showed off his amazing baby and then asked if others in the puzzling community would want copies! As you all know by now, I do not collect puzzle boxes unless they have something else special to them (N-ary or sequential discovery) and the Borg box has been one of the few boxes I have lusted after for quite a few years but when they have come up at auction the prices have been way way out of my reach! I contacted Brian about getting a plastic one and wanted to wait a while before getting one - my hand was forced by the great Shapeways Priceapocalypse when all multi piece prints effectively trebled or quadrupled in price and it arrived just last week. Mrs S squirrelled it away for Xmas! I will not be allowed to play with dye and I'm hopeful that my friend Adin, who did such a wonderful job on Allard's copy can be cajoled into doing just one more copy! What do you say Adin?

TomZ's 4x5x6 Cuboid
Just 3 turns!
Another puzzle I have lusted after for a very long time was TomZ's 4x5x6 brick cuboid. I just adore twisty puzzles and in particular, I lurve the cuboids. One of the more challenging of them is the brick group which take the form:
N x (N + O) x (N + E)   or   N x (N + O) x (N + O1 + O2) where O is odd & E is even
The mass produced ones have been the 2x3x4 and the 3x4x5(both by MF8) and they are both wonderful challenges but I have longed for a bigger version for ages. I actually met TomZ at the London IPP and expressed a wish to buy this puzzle at a later date from him when my finances had recovered from the IPP hit but again the Shapeways death blow put a stop to it! Until a puzzle friend Austin announced on the Puzzle Photography Facebook Group (join us, we have a fun time) that he had a spare one available for sale. Again, I groveled to Mrs S and another puzzle was added to my Xmas present pile. It arrived just days ago and I can't wait to play. I think I will need to play at work rather than at home as there seems to be quite a bit of powder in it (look closely at the pics!) and Mrs S will not be happy if I drop powder everywhere/anywhere! Thank you Austin and Mrs S!

Katie Koala - the greatest discovery puzzle ever made!
Finally and not one of this year's Xmas wishes but one of LAST year's ones - I am addicted to the work of the amazing Brian Young - MrPuzzle and when he announced and started selling his 20 year anniversary limited edition, I immediately jumped and ordered one despite the price! This was a mammoth task for him and Juno to work on and I knew it would be quite some time before my batch would be available. It was my hope that it would arrive in time for Xmas this year - and it did! I have had mine for 6 weeks now and have managed to find only the first few tools and managed just the first few steps! What an incredible puzzle!!!! Thank you Brian, Sue and Juno!

So finally, I hope everyone has a great Christmas and gets lots of puzzles to play with. Remember that puzzling doesn't have to be a solitary thing - we are a community, so make sure you share and spread the joy of puzzling. Even with the present Mrs S, this puzzling is still something we do together (as long as there's no jingling!) and allows us to chat and be companionable whilst we follow our own hobbies.

Thank you Mrs S for some great Xmas presents and for everything else you are to me - after 20 years of being married I am still grateful every day:
You're my downfall, you're my muse
My worst distraction, my rhythm and blues. 
'Cause all of me
Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me
I'll give my all to you
You're my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I'm winning
'Cause I give you all of me
And you give me all of you
 Thanks to John Legend for these words - perfect in every way!

Sunday 21 December 2014

Curvy Copter 3 - A fab puzzle improved by commutator theory

Curvy Copter 3
Some considerable time ago after I decided that a general puzzler should also be able to do twisty puzzles, I branched out and discovered the hugely fun world of twisty puzzles beyond the standard cubes. I have written about the options open to puzzlers wanting to branch out here. One of the very first "non-standard" puzzles I played with and then raved about was TomZ's Curvy Copter. This fantastic edge turning puzzle rapidly became one of my favourites because it can more or less be solved intuitively and is a great introduction to other edge turners including the marvellous Gem series from MF8.

Now 3 years later MF8 have released a new puzzle which they have called the Curvy Copter 3. This was designed by them entirely independently and only after they saw the similarity to TomZ's earlier Curvy Copter and subsequent Curvy Copter 2, they decided to name it after his initial puzzle as a mark of respect. The first release was as shown in the picture above, made from coloured plastic with no stickers (I love these because they look pristine forever) and a black plastic with stickers is shortly to be available. I would consider one of these an ESSENTIAL addition to a twisty collection and if you want it then it can be bought from the usual Chinese/Hong Kong stores for example HKNowstore where I got mine.

So what makes this one so special? As you can see from the picture it retains many features of the parent puzzle - it is an edge turner but now the cuts are deeper than before and actually cross midline making the centre cubies and petals which get moved around. The edges, corners and pentagons remain as before. It also jumbles as the parent did (jumbling occurs when it is possible to partial turns to line up planes of the cuts and then swap pieces completely out of their normal orbits and even out of position.

Scrambled AND jumbled
So what does this add to the original that excites me and warrants a whole new blog post? The presence of the centres and petals is completely new and it requires a whole new approach to that part of the solution. No longer can it be solved algorithm free, you need a technique for moving particular pieces around without destroying other parts of the solved cube. Yes what you need is a dreaded........ COMMUTATOR!!!!!

Wednesday 17 December 2014

The Tree Puzzle

The Tree Puzzle - Not very tree-like in this pic!
I guess I should apologise for being so late!

The present wife was off up in Scotland visiting the outlaws and left me to work and do a list of chores. I had been hoping to have a nice bit of "boy time" to myself - to eat stuff that was fattening, drink too much and play with toys and surf the Internet but unfortunately it was not to be! I had a horrendously busy time at work at the end of last week, I then spent most of Saturday doing my least favourite thing in the world - writing the 3 consultant on-call rotas for the anaesthetic department (it took 6 hours) and then spent all day Sunday in the mayhem of the emergency operating theatres in Sheffield (let's just say that the average number of legs per person in the city is definitely less than 2!!! So my chance to write a blog post for you was removed - Sorry again! Be careful out there in the ice cold weather - you really don't want to have to meet me professionally in an unplanned manner!

Sort of tree like!
Seeing as it was coming up to Xmas I had chosen the Tree Puzzle because of the resemblance to a Christmas tree. My picture above does not look much like a Xmas tree because it is so hard to get a decent photo of these wire puzzles. So instead I have nicked a pic from Puzzle Master to show the similarity. This is one of my favourite types of puzzle - a wire disentanglement and I actually expected it not to take me too long because it looked similar to something I had done before plus it was obviously N-ary in nature and they tend to be pretty logical. So I put it in my workbag midweek last week and hoped to quickly knock off a solve and review in a quiet moment. I should have known better! This puzzle is rated by Puzzle Master as a Level 10 (Mind Boggling) on their scale of 6-10 points and I reckon that the true rating is pretty close (maybe a 9.5).

It arrives in a nice clamshell pack and is a good handleable size - 17.5 x 9.8 cm. As with all the Puzzle Master own series of disentanglements, this is very nicely made from strong wire and beautifully anodised (hence the difficulty taking photos). The aim is to remove the shuttle (i.e. the tree trunk) from the main part using no force at all. There was one review on the product page which gave it 5 stars. That's good enough for me! No solution is provided for it but it can be downloaded from here for free.

Sunday 7 December 2014

So 'painful' that my brain 'ruptured'?

It's Painful by Yavuz Demirrhan!
Many of you crazy puzzlers out there will be well aware that there has recently been considerable clamour by the puzzle purveyors to separate us from our hard-earned cash. There have been 3 auctions, Wil willed us to buy something, there was a further outbreak of Cubic dissections and then we all "wondered" how Brian Menold did it. Sorry about the puns! Now, having had a small hiatus from purchasing, I came back with a vengeance and managed to obtain something from an auction and from Wil, my twisty craving was fed and then I topped it off with some more wooden beauties.

I couldn't afford a copy of everything unfortunately (as I know some of you out there are prone to buying the whole lot!) so I tried to be selective and get what I thought might be interesting and/or beautiful.

Starting with this gorgeous piece from Brian Menold - he has recently become a full time professional puzzle maker and is gradually expanding his repertoire and using more and more beautiful woods. The quality of his work is now up with the very best and I chose just one from him this time. I had to make do with only the one for purely financial reasons - I would have bought several had I been able (yes they are THAT good). Yavuz Demirrhan is one of the most prolific puzzle designers in the world now (with 388 designs on Ishino's site). He is a good friend who specialises in interlocking puzzles with very unusual shapes and solution sequences. I adore the burr puzzles that are being designed by Alfons Eyckmans and Stephan Baumegger but Yavuz' designs are really different - he tends not to go for the really high level solution - the aim is to make something interesting. I have quite a few of his puzzles now and I have never been disappointed. It was tough to actually settle on just one but out of them all this had the nicest combination of woods and interesting shape with medium difficulty level.

Sunday 30 November 2014

Cast Galaxy

Cast Galaxy - my goodness it's a tough one to photograph!
Big box from Puzzle Master
This is the first puzzle from my recent Puzzle Master delivery! Yep! I couldn't resist it and just had to get some more wonderful toys to play with and to review! Recently the postman has had quite a bit of extra work and not just because Christmas is coming but because I have had a bit of an ahem.... rush of puzzles to the head! The big box from Puzzle Master will keep me busy for quite a few weeks.

One of the first that I couldn't resist ordering is one that I have "sort" of solved before! I have absolutely no recollection of how I solved it and, until now, have not actually owned a copy myself. The Cast Galaxy was designed by Bram Cohen (yes, the same brilliant man who produced Bit-torrent) and was entered into the IPP Design competition in 2013 where it received a Jury honourable mention (there are quite a lot of prizes in the competition and I really don't understand what they all are for). Shortly after the competition, it was announced that Hanayama had done a deal to have it mass produced as one of their wonderful Cast puzzles. Congratulations Bram! It seemed to take ages after the announcement to reach the market and when it did, it sold out really really quickly and so I had to wait a while to actually obtain a copy.

Asian packaging only
Oddly, it does not seem to have been released with the European/US packaging yet. The version I got was the only Cast puzzle to have come in the Asian packaging (this time a green box) and apart from the name, I have absolutely no idea what the instructions say. I have to assume that it says the same as all the others - that you have to "take it apart and put it back together again". If there are any other aims then I do not know what they are. As you can see from the box it is rated by Hanayama as a level 3 out of 6 and Puzzle Master has rated it as level 7 (Challenging) out of 10 on their own scale. Taking it out of the packaging, you are immediately struck by just how beautiful this puzzle is - it is shiny shiny shiny and because of all the curves and the way it moves it just screams out to be played with!

Sunday 23 November 2014

New Modders of the Cube (or new kids on the block)

A new cuboid
Recently Shapeways has implemented what we are all calling the "Price-apocalypse" by increasing their prices for multipart prints by 3-4 fold. This has effectively made 3D printed twisty puzzles a more or less unaffordable prospect for the foreseeable future and this means that we need to consider alternative methods of obtaining new toys to play with. The present method is to take an existing puzzle and use saws, knives and filling material to create something new. Over the last year or so I have managed to obtain a few quite modifications of twisty puzzles from various people foremost of whom is Traiphum (the ultimate puzzle modder). I think it is time to inform you who those geniuses are and encourage you to try and get puzzles from them!

Above we have a new cuboid (a 5x5x2) which was hand made from a 5x5x5 cube by an young Australian craftsman called Nathan Wilson. He posted on the Puzzle photography Facebook group that he was going to make some 5x5x3 and 5x5x2 cuboids and asked whether anyone would like to buy one. Of course I jumped at the chance and a month or so later it arrived! This is a masterpiece of cutting and filling. When turned, you can see how much has been shaved off and it is amazing that it is still stable.

When scrambled it looks like this:

Much easier than you would think!
Being of the form N x N x (N + O) where O is any odd number it is part of the Domino group of cuboids and the easiest of all to solve. It probably only took me about 1/2 an hour to solve (partly because my first solution produced an edge reformation parity which I took a while to recognise and beat. This is a wonderful puzzle and I look forward to seeing more of his work.

My next puzzle modder has been around for quite some time - Rex Rossano Perez who lives in the Philippines and is part of a group of puzzle modders there. He is a prolific collector, solver and puzzle modder and over a year ago made a Halfminx for me in return for me providing him with a few other puzzles.

This is literally just a megaminx cut down and filled at the base until there are just 3 moving faces. It was initially described by Aleh Hladzilin in 2009 and I am ashamed to say that this is one of my twisty puzzle nemeses! I have managed to solve monsters like Eitan's star and the Master curvy copter but even with the apparent simplicity of the Halfminx, I just cannot do it. I suspect that the simplicity is the problem - I am just too limited in possible algorithms! Luckily, it is quite pretty when scrambled as that is the way that it has to remain:

Beautiful colours!
Finally amongst this golden group of talented craftsmen is a craftswoman from the Netherlands! Her online name is Katten Vriendin which she uses on both Facebook and on the Twisty Puzzles forum where she is particularly active. We have been friends quite a long time on line and met for the first time at the last Midlands Puzzle Party. Whilst there, I was amazed by and finally solved her beautiful Deceptive Siamese Cubes:

Looks like Siamese cubes? Looks can be deceiving!
After having such a wonderful response from me, she decided to make one for my own collection and it sits next to me as I write taking pride of place amongst my bespoke twisties. It effectively is just a 3x3 supercube but is incredibly confusing to solve and the workmanship is just stunning! If you ask her really really nicely she might (only might) make one for you too!

OMG! The workmanship is stunning!

Sunday 16 November 2014

Lucky Clover

Lucky Clover
Looking at the picture above you could be forgiven for thinking that it is another Hanayama puzzle - but it is not! This is the last puzzle I have left from my previous Puzzle Master delivery and luckily, as I have just published in my New additions page, I have this very week had another consignment delivered to regale you with.

This one had interested me for some time because of the extreme difficulty level - 10 (Mind Boggling) on Puzzle Master's odd 5-10 scale and also because it is nice and shiny for the magpie in me. The designer is the great master Oskar van Deventer and was entered into the Design competition of the 24th International Puzzle Party in 2004. Apparently it was mass produced by Bits and Pieces but you cannot tell this from the packaging which only has Puzzle Master's own branding on it. It is nicely packaged and explains that the aim is to take it apart and put it back together again. There is no solution provided with it but it can be downloaded for free from here.

It is not as nicely made as the Hanayama puzzles and the surface of the puzzle is easily scratched. Gabriel reviewed it here and seemed to enjoy the challenge. There has been one complaint by a reviewer on the product page that their copy broke. I am surprised by that because it does seem very robust to me. Another reviewer mentioned an alternative solution using force and I would suspect that this might cause a breakage. There is absolutely no need for force - everything just slides apart!

Not so pretty now!!
The packaging holds it into shape very well and it is important to be careful initially as just picking it up causes a jingling noise and a horrible mess!

Sunday 9 November 2014

It's good to have puzzle friends!

It has nearly killed me!
I don't know whether you have noticed but I have really lost my puzzle mojo recently! The present Mrs S (and even the postman) had noticed! Postie had realised that the constant stream of parcels Chez moi had definitely decreased and seemed to be pretty much limited to clothes and other "stuff" for the first wife and definitely no new puzzles for me!

Even "she who must be feared" actually commented that I seemed to have stopped playing with any toys recently - I usually annoy the hell out of her by constantly fiddling with something during our quiet time together in an evening. To my shame, I can confirm that I have barely solved anything in ages and yep, hardly picked anything up and fiddled either! The only toys I have picked up have been those I have solved already and needed to remind myself of in order to assist people who have contacted me for help. I really seem to have run out of steam! Why? Well work has been frenetic and some health issues which have been a cause of concern have combined with the chronic changes in the NHS to make me feel pretty low recently. When I have added this to worsening of my insomnia (currently at 3 hours sleep a night instead of the usual 4) I have just not felt the urge to puzzle at all!

Wurmm - it should be easy!!! But I'm not very bright!
I was alerted to something very cheap on eBay by my friend Michel and it has been my only purchase in 2 months - The Wurmm puzzle pictured above is a fun and cheap little thing that can be found on eBay and is available from Puzzle Master too if you feel that way inclined for a meagre $8.

The rationale is to wiggle the wurmm through the apple and at certain points inside it is possible to rotate the wurmm to a different direction and then continue. The aim is to remove the wurmm from the apple to make it edible. I got mine with the wurmm at the exit point and promptly wound it on and rotated a few times. Movement is fairly slick and I expected that it would be pretty easy - after all, it is only a level 7 (Challenging). I'm not convinced of that difficulty level at all - because I have totalled about 4-5 hours on this thing so far and managed nothing more than going round and round in circles but never getting to the exit point!! My mojo seemed to have deserted me completely! Sob!!

Sunday 2 November 2014

Alles Schiebung and keeping track of the collection

Alles Schiebung
I was rather shocked this morning when I logged on to my usual Sunday morning puzzle surfing to see that Jerry had reviewed the very puzzle that I was going to just yesterday. Here is his review if you want to read something short and succinct. I decided not to let this put me off and carried on reviewing it as planned because the puzzle is just THAT GOOD!

Hendrik Haak is one of the doyens of the European puzzle scene, having participated for many years at IPP and feeling the need to burden his already busy life running his own business with the need to run a ver successful online puzzle store - The Alles Schiebung (transl All Shift) was his exchange gift at the London IPP this year. I was assisting the amazing Goetz Schwandtner in the exchange and when I saw Hendrick give his puzzle away I made a particularly big circle around his name on my record sheet to remind me that I would need to add this to my puzzle bounty before leaving the IPP.

It was designed by Jean Claude Constantin and has the classic great look of Jean Claude's N-ary puzzles EXCEPT that nothing is lined up in a row (all the sliders are rotated around a central point), you can't see the inner workings to help you know what moves to do because they are stacked on top of each other into 3 layers and there's a hidden ball bearing inside which stops the sliders moving if the puzzle is not held the right way up for each move! If this wasn't enough, the ball bearing falls out about 3/4 of the way through the solve and leaves you wondering where it came from and at what point to put it back! So basically this is an N-ary puzzle that is like no other I have ever seen! Yet another reason for everyone to try and get one! If you want to buy it then it can be bought direct from Hendrik at this link and is probably also available from Wil Strijbos if he is your usual supplier. At €40 this is a very good deal.

I have had this lying around my living room ever since the IPP in August and keep picking it up - not because I cannot solve it but because the movement and process is so different from all other N-ary puzzles that it makes a great worry bead to solve and resolve multiple times. It is also attractive enough that "she who must be feared" doesn't object to it lying around in sight.

Sunday 26 October 2014

Cubic loveliness - a great investment?

My last 2 cubic lovelies!
Eric Fuller has, over the last few years, managed to obtain a fairly large part of my savings! He can be found at 2 places on the internet - his puzzle shop & his own hosted auction site (next auction due in Feb 2015). He's one of very few full time puzzle makers in the world and seems to make a pretty decent living at it. In fact he's done such good business (not all from me) that he has managed to employ an assistant to help in the workshop. Over the last year or so, prices have risen (due to the increased cost of wood and cost of living) but I still keep coming back and buying more. The only thing that has changed is that I only buy 2 or 3 puzzles each time instead of the usual 5 or 6! I attempted to buy 3 items last time and lost one by having it snatched from my basket just as I was entering my purchase details so ended up with just the 2 lovely puzzles above.

But having watched the last auction at which quite a few of his older puzzles were sold from his own personal collection for absolutely staggering sums of money, I am beginning to wonder whether I should just buy everything that comes for sale straight away as an investment! The increase in value on most of his puzzles has been amazing and certainly would have made better returns than almost all of my other savings! The only problem with that approach (pointed out by my wife, I might add) is that in order to cash in on my collection, I'd need to actually sell something! This is a something that leaves me in a cold sweat at just the mere thought of it!

Sunday 19 October 2014

Cast Ring II

Cast Ring II
Having recovered from yesterday's horrendous rota writing episode and completed today's DIY chores, it is now time for a puzzle review - again, one of the more affordable puzzles. Today it is another from my Hanayama stash, the Cast ring II. I do not own the Cast Ring I and chose this one because of the high difficulty rating - it is level 9 (Gruelling) on the Puzzle Master scale and a 5 out of 6 from Hanayama.

As with all the others, it arrived in the lovely black Hanayama packaging and when I picked it up I realised that "ring" is a bit of a misnomer! I had not really looked at the full description on the product page and did not see the size. This is only a ring in terms of shape - you are NEVER going to be wearing this on your finger! It is enormous! The dimensions are 4.4 x 3.9 x 1.5 cm making this even bigger than your thumb but not big enough to be worn by a girl as a bracelet (Rox wore a fabulous huge Oskar 3D printed puzzle ring as a bracelet at the IPP - to the right is a photo of it on Oskar's table at IPP). I noticed that as soon as I took it off the backing card that this puzzle is extremely unstable - it just wants to spring apart. I therefore kept one of the wire ties on it for storage and photography purposes.

Quite a size disparity!
This is the 3rd puzzle ring in my collection. I have a 6 band gold one which I seldom wear but play with intermittently to keep my memory up to date. Many puzzle rings on the market are based on a similar mechanism of interlocking and it is useful to be able to do them for the occasional time when confronted by exasperated friends and colleagues who have a similar ring but cannot reassemble it. Over the years I must have done 15 or so for people! The other is a jigsaw ring in 3 colours of gold designed by the amazing Danish Jeweller, Georg Jensen. It is not in any way puzzling but I have been told many times by colleagues that it is wholly appropriate that I should wear it. This is my preferred ring to wear because it was bought for me by the present Mrs S (doing OK for a first wife!) for our 10th anniversary - she received something equivalent with diamonds in!

Saturday 18 October 2014

Thank you thank you thank you!

Incredible numbers!
I am supposed to be writing the consultant on call rota today - this one includes Xmas and the New Year and is a bit of a nightmare! I am very easily distracted so I thought I would take a small break and post this screenshot from my phone!

I cannot believe that so many of you read my rubbish and keep coming back! I don't think that it is all due to my mother as she really doesn't approve of my puzzle fetish!

Yesterday I passed the 400,000 page view mark! Thank you everyone for visiting and keeping me going!

Sunday 12 October 2014

Traiphum's Tetrahedral Terror plus Torturing the Mother-in-law!

Three tetrahedra from Traiphum
This will need to be a fairly short blog post this week - my in-laws arrived on Thursday and I have had very little time to myself for writing or puzzling and if I try then I get the evil eye/laser-burning stare from the present ogre erm wife! The girls have just gone out for coffee and shopping (God help me!!) and left the boys at home. The "old boy" has felt the need for a lie down in the afternoon so I have some time for a quickee!

This post is another post about a special twisty puzzle which I have owned for quite a few months and as yet have singularly failed to solve since receiving it in March this year! Traiphum is a master twisty puzzle modder (probably the best in the world) and I have bought quite a few puzzles from him over the last few years and love them all! They are not cheap but the quality is truly amazing - if you do choose to buy from him then you will not be disappointed. He can be easily contacted via his Facebook page or through the Twisty Puzzles forum private messaging service. His specialty is to convert one particular shape of puzzle into another. In the picture at the top of the post are 3 cubes which he has carved and smoothed into perfectly formed Reuleaux tetrahedra. On the left is a 4x4 cube (Megamorphinx) and on the right is a 5x5 (Ultramorphinx) and I hope one day to be able to get a Hexamorphinx too. In the middle is my nemesis!

Sunday 5 October 2014

Cast Heart

Cast Heart
Back to review another less expensive puzzle from my collection. My hoard from Puzzle Master is getting really small now and I guess it might be time to place another order again soon! I can't possibly allow myself to run out of small shiny things to play with and with which to taunt my colleagues!

This time we have the Cast Heart from Hanayama which is quite different from the other fun heart-shaped puzzle they make (the Cast Amour) which I reviewed here. This is another very attractive one in shiny silver and gold coloured metals with a gold linked chain wound through the various parts. The aim is simply to separate the 2 hearts and like all good things to do with "the heart" this should not be easy. The difficulty rating for this one is 4 in the Hanayama 6 point scale or 8 (Demanding) in Puzzle Master's 5-10 point scale. It looks absolutely stunning in the classic Hanayama black box with the twisty ties holding everything in place against a card backing plate. Unfortunately when released from the packaging it does tend to slop about quite a lot and not look quite so nice. Plus these shiny metal finishes show off fingerprints rather badly (I had to polish it a fair bit before taking the photos). It is a decent size (quite a bit bigger that the Cast Amour) at 6.3 x 6.3 x 0.5cm. It does look quite nice from the back too so here's a pic:

Cast Heart rear face
This puzzle has received three 4 and 5 star reviews on the Puzzle Master product page and it has also been favourably reviewed by Gabriel here - he found it quite challenging and by Brian here - he found it a small challenge at that early stage in his puzzling career.

Sunday 28 September 2014

Not a box! A sequential discovery puzzle with a cavity!

It's a sequential discovery puzzle!
It is a standing joke amongst the puzzling community (mostly MPP guys but now some of the IPP guys too) that for someone who doesn't collect puzzle boxes, I do seem to have some absolutely stunning examples in my collection! My excuse is that they must always have some other puzzling aspect too and so I can classify them some other way! Why do I do this? It's to save my sanity and my bank account from total annihilation! I really have collected quite hard the last few years and upset Mrs S considerably with the sheer extent of my madness. If I was to completely give in and properly collect puzzle boxes like some others I know, then I might also have to pay for a divorce or, even worse, end up being murdered or buried alive! You and I (and more importantly "SHE") knows that starting a puzzlebox collection would end up with a massive expansion in my collection and I already have no space or money left!

Still not open!
Having said that I don't collect puzzle boxes unless there is another aspect to them, I can categorically say that I have learned from Allard and Neil - that when the Stickman (aka Robert Yarger) offers me something then the answer is an emphatic YES! I bought my first Stickman from a fellow puzzler 3 years ago - he needed cash fast and I had never tried a Stickman box so I resolved both situations without telling the present wife and the Perpetual Hinge entered my custody! It is stunning and sits above me as I write and to this day I have not managed to solve it! I'm pretty crap at puzzle boxes because I don't collect them - I do have the instructions for it but have refused so far to look at them! It remains one of the longest unsolved puzzles in my collection - at least it looks gorgeous sitting on the shelf taunting me! Last year I was offered the Constellation Puzzle Box and immediately said yes. Mine was one of only 2 made from Bloodwood and not only is it stunning but I actually managed to solve it! It only took me a week of hard work and I still don't understand how it actually works!!! I'm definitely not very good at this particular category of puzzle but I do try to practice as many as I can at the MPPs.

Stickman Constellation box in Bloodwood
Neil has taken to reproducing one or 2 of the Stickman puzzles and has adopted the nom de guerre of "Stickboy" - unfortunately at the last MPP, at which Neil was present, I was only able to afford to buy one Stickboy puzzle - I managed to finally obtain a stunning craftsman version of Iwahiro's ODD Puzzle and it is another of the very few puzzles that is allowed to sit in my living room. I look forward to more from him in the future!

The Stickboy's version of the ODD puzzle!
I had a minor heart attack when the latest Stickman was released! They are very limited edition and I heard the other collectors receiving theirs and Allard wrote a review. I assumed that I was not being offered one this time but I did contact Robert and was told that I had been offered one but had not replied yet. Hmmm! I might be getting old and senile but I am sure I would have remembered an offer for one of these! A quick visit to my spam folder and Aaaargh! there it was. Luckily Robert had not released mine to the public yet and a quick email back and an exchange of cash occurred and I was to be the proud owner of the latest Stickman puzzle - "The Pirate's Wallet Sequential Discovery Puzzle Box". Another reason to buy it...... not only is it sequential discovery but it also includes a puzzle lock! All made of wood! Now I DO collect puzzle locks and this is a puzzle in it's own right. In fact several of these went up for sale at the last Cubic Dissection auction and fetched a serious amount of money!

A wooden puzzle lock as a bonus with the puzzle
It had been sold separately

Tuesday 23 September 2014

A great collaboration!

Doors and Drawers
Trigo cube (Chain loop edition)
Mike Toulouzas is an amazing craftsman who I was very pleased to meet and attempt to solve a puzzle with at the last IPP. He is a brilliant craftsman, designer and a perfect gentleman who for very good reason won the Puzzler's award at the IPP design competition this year. Allard had extolled his virtues as a craftsman several times over the years. The only puzzle of his that I owned up until the IPP was the Trigo cube (Chain loop edition - made from Bubinga, Rosewood, Palisander, and Sugargold Maple) of which there have only been 17 made and because of the difficulty in manufacturing them there will never be any more made. For some reason I have never reviewed this puzzle and I'm afraid I cannot recall enough about my attempt at solving it to do so now! After one of Allard's and Neil's reviews I couldn't resist trying to get another one and am on the waiting list for an Illusion puzzle and hopefully it will arrive this year! I very nearly bought one of his entries (Cross Links) in the design competition but unfortunately had already spent more than my budget had allowed - sigh!

So how does this make for a "collaboration" as stated in the title of the post? Many people admire Mike's work and puzzles but he is never able to make enough to keep up with demand! At the beginning of his puzzle designing career he designed a 3 piece burr with blocking pieces - hence it is a sort of combination of a burr and packing puzzle. Mike is a good friend of Bernhard Schweitzer and during their discussions about his puzzles they made an agreement that Bernhard would employ the New Pelikan workshop under Jakub and Jaroslav to partially manufacture his design and Mike would make the more fiddly pieces. This would allow a decent number of this puzzle to be manufactured and make it affordable to the general puzzling world. Bernhard told me about the design months before IPP and I knew that I would be buying one when we met! It is now available from Bernhard for a very reasonable price.

Saturday 20 September 2014

I think this career change will be a success

Wood Wonders! Just soo beautiful!
Even a busy weekend working doesn't stop the intrepid puzzler posting reviews for you! But now it's time to lie down for a while! I'm shattered!

Over the last few years I have posted quite a few puzzle reviews extolling the virtues of the workmanship of Brian Menold from Wood Wonders. Numerous times I have exclaimed at how accurately everything was made (his quality is up with the very best of the craftsmen) and the beauty of the woods chosen. A month or so ago I found out that poor Brian (who has already had a LOT of upset in his life) had been made redundant from his previous employment. Choosing not to be brought down by the change, he immediately saw it as an opportunity to change his life around and undertake something professionally that had previously been just a hobby for him. Brian decided to turn puzzle making into a career - it was something he enjoyed and this would give him a chance (his own words) to "push his boundaries a bit".

I immediately wanted to support him in his endeavours and vowed to buy as many puzzles as I could afford (although I seem to do that to ALL puzzle craftsmen!) and I also offered some advice about his site and purchasing mechanism. I managed to nab a couple from his last batch - he has been in contact with the amazing Turkish puzzle designer Yavuz Demirhan (amazing because as of writing this he has 369 puzzles published on Ishino's site) and has produced quite a few really beautiful and really interesting puzzles from his catalogue.

Sunday 14 September 2014

Arrow Dynamics plus a special N-ary puzzle

Arrow Dynamics
Just a short blog post today! This week I have been away at a medical conference for a couple of days and then off on leave for the rest of the week. You might think that this would give me plenty of time for puzzling and blogging but she with the 'cat-o-nine tails tongue' and the laser stare had other ideas! Every time I settled down to try and play with something, I was given another chore to do or some DIY! Finally towards the end of the week the cats went into the cattery (much to their disgust) and we headed off for a very nice relaxing long weekend in North Yorkshire where I proceeded to eat and drink too much and managed absolutely no puzzling whatsoever! I did take this one with me in the hope that I could solve it and write about it - but as you can see it might be called "jingly" and the fear of retribution came over and hit me with paralysing accuracy. I got home a while ago and having unpacked and had a refreshing (and finally non-alcoholic) drink and was given kind permission to play with this whilst she pottered out of earshot.

This is the Arrow dynamics puzzle from Puzzle Master's own range of wire disentanglements. I have almost the entire set now and I think this must be the last of the high level ones for me to try. It is a good price at $18 and is level 10 (Mind Boggling) at the top of their difficulty scale. It is clamshell packaged and the simple instructions are just to remove the arrow (inside it reminds you that no force or bending is necessary). It is made of beautifully anodised thick wire and is good and strong - dimensions are 35.6 x 10.2 x 2.5cm. No solution is provided but it can be obtained on request at this link.

Saturday 6 September 2014

Some nice puzzles from IPP and torturing the sick

Load's of metal!
I'm off to a conference soon and don't have my usual amount of time on the Sunday to write a post so I thought I'd highlight some of my recent puzzle escapades and publish a day early. At the MPP, Louis showed up with 4 beautifully made bent nail disentanglement puzzles. He had bought them from the proprietor of the Majorcan puzzle shop. I solved them all fairly quickly at the MPP but with each successive puzzle solved a whoop of delight came from me. These were absolutely beautifully made, really chunky and nicely anodised. But more important than the look was the fact that each of them had something new and interesting to their solve process - they all look very similar to the cheap puzzles of our childhood but were very different to them.

I was really surprised and pleased when Louis contacted me just before IPP to tell me that he had found the same 4 puzzles available at Village games in Camden Lock (their own website appears to be dead). He bought them for me and I picked them up when we met at IPP - this was one of the first parts of my haul. I have had fun playing with them myself as they make great worry beads and don't jingle enough to invite the wrath of Mrs S. They also are perfect for taking to work as no-one can resist them.

Sunday 31 August 2014

XS Headstress Lumberjack and a SPECIAL opportunity

XS Headstress Lumberjack
I ordered the XS Headstress Lumberjack puzzle from Puzzle Master's wood collection months and month ago and to my shame it has sat on my shelf completely untouched for far too long! I haven't bought many wooden puzzles from Puzzle Master because I have been very spoiled by all the amazing craftsmen out there who keep me supplied with wood. For example, you can see 4 of my latest additions - luckily acquired whilst the present Mrs S was away in Scotland visiting friends and family! This meant that when the postman delivered she was not there to see that I had been buying more stuff even after my IPP splurge!

It's not your pillow!
But it has not been all fun and frolicking whilst she has been away - I have had quite a lot of extra work to do as well as a few chores she has left for me and also had a night on call too. Somehow when she is away, with all the extra space in the bed (she sleeps starshaped!), the cats still cuddle up with me and I STILL get left with just a 6" strip of bed and a very poor night's sleep. In fact I regularly wake up to another head on my pillow! I have managed to tidy up the study which had looked like a bomb strike and hidden the new acquisitions so she by confronted by them as soon as she gets home!

The Lumberjack puzzle is really nicely made from Monkeypod wood by Family Games of America in their IQ range and their website states that the Lumberjack has been discontinued. So if you are interested in this puzzle, you should probably get it sooner rather than later. It is beautifully boxed and displayed and is a rather large puzzle measuring 12.1 cm in all directions. Like many mass produced puzzles it is not as well made as those by a craftsman but this is pretty cheap at $25 and I could not expect more. It has a nice finish to the wood and the cuts have been made very accurately. When assembled it is very stable and attractive.Puzzle Master have rated it as level 9 (Gruelling) on their scale of 5 - 10. When I first requested it, I had looked at it quickly and thought it was a variant of the Altekruse type puzzles and I was very interested in obtaining one. As yet I still do not have any Altekruse puzzles in my collection. On reading the instructions on the box I realised that it was not a modular type puzzle like the Altekruse but something else entirely. No solution is provided but if you need one then you can obtain it from here.

Sunday 24 August 2014

The most amazing exchange puzzle in the world? Probably!

It's the Elizabeth tower!
I don't want my article to sound like a Carlsberg advertisement but I really do have to gush about this puzzle. It's the Big Ben puzzle exchanged by John Moores, made by Brian Young (MrPuzzle) and designed by collaboration between the two of them with Junichi Yananose. I am originally a Londoner (although I moved aged 18 to Edinburgh to go to Med school and stayed there for another 18 years before heading 'daann saaff' (that's down south to you non-Londoners) to the steel city, Sheffield (that's 'oop north' to you Londoners) to continue my career. But, despite all that moving about and even changing my accent (you don't last long in Edinburgh with a Cockney accent), I remain a proud Londoner and so I was absolutely chuffed to bits that my first IPP could be in my home town and of course the puzzle that has one of the most recognisable features of London was one I could not miss.

I first saw this puzzle at the last Midlands Puzzle Party the week before IPP. I sidled over to Brian's table to have a quick look at his warez (illicit stash??) but had no intention of buying anything as I had to save my cash for the following week. The Big Ben immediately caught my eye because of the incredible detail work that had been done. Whilst Brian was chatting to someone else I had a quick glance at his price list and recoiled in horror at the price of this prize puzzle! I wandered away and played with other toys.

Beautifully inscribed - Brian's laser put to good use
Later during the day, whilst chatting with the lads, the topic of Big Ben was coming up again and again as others chose to put their money where their mouths were. At this point I discovered that no-one could actually take it away on the day. The rules for the puzzle exchange are that the puzzles must be new and have NEVER been released before. Hence Brian could take orders but not give any out until after the exchange had taken place. I then realised what a truly amazing thing John Moores had done! He had commissioned the design and manufacture of a stupendous puzzle and then was going to give away 100 of them to his fellow exchangers. The generosity of the gentleman just bowls me over every time I think about it - I know John will not have paid the price I did because he bought in bulk but even if he paid 50% of what I did then that is one of the most generous gestures I have personally seen amongst puzzlers ever (who tend to be the kindest people I know). I only managed to meet John and his lovely partner once at IPP when I was helping Goetz at the puzzle exchange and I never really got to talk to them so let me say to them both now: Thank you so much for bringing this puzzle into existence!

Toward the end of the MPP I again faced up to Brian and asked him to "sell it to me" - I wanted to be convinced to put a significant part of my IPP funds down before I even got there! Brian said simply that it's a multi part sequential discovery puzzle with pieces to find, tools to use and mazes to navigate and then dropped the bombshell that he thought it was as good as the Opening Bat which I had rated as my favourite puzzle of my first 2 years of blogging. I was lost! My signature went down and I had a little secret which I could not tell Mrs S!! That MrPuzzle will end up taking most of my bank balance - but having met his fantastic wife, I sort of forgive him!

Sunday 17 August 2014

Cast O'Gear and a bonus gift

Cast O'Gear
It's time for 'normal service' to be resumed! I have given my experiences of IPP and MPP and you all know that I had a wonderful time amongst friends and may have managed to pick up a special puzzle or two. I do plan on reviewing these over time but also want to continue to discuss the puzzles that the "normal" puzzler in the street can obtain. I am sure that there will be more tales of puzzle parties from the other bloggers soon and Rox has already begun her series of posts.

Today it is back to my slowly diminishing hoard from Puzzle Master. I do actually plan on eventually getting the entire series of Hanayama puzzles and each order I place with them always includes a few more. This time I am discussing the Cast O'Gear - a really lovely little puzzle designed (as many seem to be) by the hugely talented Oskar van Deventer, whom I was very pleased to meet in the flesh last week, and originally called the Sunflower. In fact, it won an Honorable Mention in the 2001 Puzzle Design Competition at the International Puzzle Party. Just like all the Hanayama puzzles distributed in the West, it comes in the lovely black box with the instructions simply to take it apart and put it back together again. I think it is one of their most attractive designs, being made in the antiqued bronze like finish. It has a nice heft to it and measures 7.9 x 7 x 3.5cm making this a pleasant one to manipulate and allows a decent examination to establish the probable mechanism.

Hanayama have rated this as a level 3 out of 6 which Puzzle Master agrees with as a level 7 (Challenging) on their scale of 5 to 10 and I would agree with this rating. I seem to have come very late to this party as almost everyone else in the world has solved and reviewed it before me (Gabriel, Neil, Oli, Brian and Will have posted at these links). No solution is provided but if you need one then it can be downloaded from here.