Sunday, 6 April 2014

Plastic puzzles can be fun too

Something old, something older and something brand new for you to win!

The Orb or Orb-it
Many of you will have noticed that I have a bit of an addiction!
"No!" I hear you cry, "never!"
It's funny how I hear so many voices!

Well I'm afraid to admit that it's true - I seem to have a bit of a wood habit. My study looks absolutely gorgeous because every wall is covered in wooden puzzles made by fantastic craftsmen. I have a single shelf devoted to Wil's glass and metal beauties and a half shelf devoted to Traiphum's hand made twisties. I do have quite a lot of mass produced twisties but not on show! Erm - "quite a lot" means 146 unique puzzles! I have been chastised for only writing about expensive puzzles and gently berated by a good friend for ignoring a whole group of puzzles that are absolutely fascinating and, by and large, very affordable. This group tend to be made of plastic and probably broadly fall into the puzzle classification as "Sequential movement" puzzles if one uses the Dalgetty-Hordern system, these can be sub-divided nicely if you use Rob's system - I have taken a screenshot of the relevant section.

From Rob's fabulous site
I had ignored this group for a long time but had gradually noticed that my good friends Michel and Goetz had frequently published about obtaining many new ones in this group and really enjoyed them. Another friend to whom I am most grateful has gifted me with several puzzles from this section over the last 2 years and every single one has proved to be a tremendous challenge and an awful lot of fun. Some have been so difficult that I have so far singularly failed to solve them despite many many hours of effort. The important thing about these is that they are often 30+ years old and consequently only available on Ebay or other auction sites. They also tend to be much cheaper than the newer puzzles and thus great value for money.

At the top of the post is a fantastic puzzle that was one of the first that I was given. It is The Orb (US name) or Orb-it (UK name) and was first patented in 1981 UK and 1982 US. It consists of 4 tracks - those at the poles containing 8 beads and those next to the equator contain 20. The puzzle is split from pole to pole and can be rotated on itself to move the tracks into different positions - one position creates a single huge spiralling track and another position creates 2 separate tracks rather like the lines on a tennis ball.

1 continuous track
Scrambled - looks awful
It is thus possible to scramble the beads up enormously - Jaap calculated the number of positions as:


which seems fairly horrific to me.
In terms of solving it - I would think that most puzzlers will work it out within a few hours or days and it is great fun to hand a scrambled one to your non-puzzling friends to watch the bewilderment on their faces. Now if you are a real connoisseur or sucker for punishment then you can buy a special version with more tracks in it from Shapeways. They were designed by Jason Smith aka Puzzle Forge and made truly stunning by having them electroplated!

Drool!
Next up in my list is "something older" - I was intrigued by the Hungarian rings when I saw Oli's review of it here and the even harder Olympic rings version here. It is a VERY old puzzle dating back to 1893 when the patent was awarded to William Churchill but is still being produced as new even today and is available for just $20 from Puzzle Master or even cheaper on eBay. For this price and with such a history, I would say that these are an almost an essential purchase for any serious puzzler to own.

Really doesn't look bad - Hungarian Rings
It consists of 2 interlocking tracks in which there are 38 balls, which can be arranged in at most 38! ways. BUT this total cannot be reached because all the yellow balls are indistinguishable (9!), all the blue balls are indistinguishable (9!), all the red balls are indistinguishable (10!)and all the black balls are indistinguishable (10!). On top of that the yellow and blue balls are equivalent (2) as are the red and black balls are equivalent (2). From this Jaap calculated the total number of positions as:


Only marginally less horrific. One thing to be aware of is that there are 8 possible solutions for you to aim for which actually makes this a particularly fun puzzle to play with as you really ought to try and flip between different solutions without scrambling them up.

NOW it looks a little harder!
This also proved to be a real challenge and took me many many days to work out a system. I can go from scrambled to 2 of the different solutions at will but the other 6 solutions continue to evade me and I certainly cannot flit between them at all. There has been much mathematical analysis of these puzzles which I have found on-line and think that I will need to study in depth.

Buzzle Ball
Finally the main event! I recently saw an announcement on Facebook that Redman and associates had started to produce a brand new plastic sequential movement type puzzle. I eagerly took a look and realised that they had genuinely come up with something totally unique. Their website is rather sparse just now but I am told that the initial plan is for these to be distributed via Walmart in the US from August and other retailers after that - it should retail at $19.99. It was designed by Clay Judice and is manufactured in Rogers, Arkansas. Initially available in a blue/green/gray colour scheme but other schemes and difficulty levels will be released later.

I contacted them asking for information and also dropped a big hint that I had a puzzle blog and was delighted when they offered to send me a copy to try and to produce a review. They agreed to send me two so that I could give one away to one of my readers.

Mine arrived without packaging but it should look like this when full distribution begins:


So what do I think? It is beautifully made - really nice bright shiny plastic with no flashing and obviously of high quality. The ball is 10cm in diameter and the satellite ring 12.4cm across, it's a decent weight and feels substantial. Just about everything moves - the green and blue hemispheres rotate on each other, the satellite ring rotates around the ball, and the segment at the poles can be twisted into any angle. This effectively means that any of the equatorial pieces can be moved to anywhere else so when scrambled it looks like this:

Looks pretty well scrambled now
The movement did get quite stiff at times and the rotation of the pieces at the poles need to be fairly accurately aligned. This means it is definitely not built for speed solving. I intend to try adding some cubers lube to see if this improves the movement but it certainly is not bad by any means. I struggled to solve this for several days and because of the spherical shape, I could not find a way to move pieces into place without ruining those already placed. I'm not a natural at these puzzles by any means. Eventually, I sat down and tried various sequences and made notes on what happened. This allowed me to work out a single algorithm which I was able to use. It's not at all an efficient solution and much is done by intuition but it has let me solve the puzzle 6 or 7 times over the last few days and I have to say it is a nice enjoyable challenge.

I would say that for $20 it is well worth acquiring and I really hope that they fulfil their promise and bring out some more with different difficulty levels.

I got two
But in the meantime - I have one to give away. The company paid for the puzzle and I will pay the postage to anywhere in the world. You don't need to do anything difficult, just leave a comment in the comments section on this post and drop me an email via my Contact page (purely so that I have a way to contact you if you are the winner). I will take all the names (just one entry per person!) from the comments section, put them in alphabetical order in a spreadsheet and use a random number generator to pick one. I will announce the winner in 2 weeks time. Good luck!

34 comments:

  1. My entry is on behalf of Bud Lengtat, aka robertpauljr, if you'll allow it! If not, delete my post...

    http://www.youtube/com/chareaves

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Of course I will accept it! Would you like to be entered yourself?

      Delete
  2. Hi Kevin, I will enter a comment in the hopes of standing a chance to win. I think this looks like an interesting challenge that is easier but just as tactile as some of the more established Twisty Puzzles. Something I can let my friends loose on. James P

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're second in the draw James!

      Delete
  3. Hi Kevin,
    Nice article! And, thanks for the shout out :-)
    I'll throw my name in the hat, too!
    The Buzzle Ball reminds me of the Sphere XYZ, but I can see how it is different, with the rotating "polar caps."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Rob, for keeping such a great resource for us all to use.
      You are in the hat - only 3 so far! The odds are pretty good!

      Delete
  4. You managed to pull me out from hiding to make a post with this contest. Fun!

    Interesting post, by the way. These puzzles were all new to me, and seem like they'd be fun!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad to have enticed you out! You're in the contest!

      Delete
  5. Hi Kevin, oh wow I really like to add a Buzzle Ball to my puzzle-collection, if I win it I'll send you a little puzzle that you dont have. Thank you for all your interesting puzzle-reviews, Lucie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Lucie, I do enjoy perusing your collection for puzzles to add to my own collection!

      Delete
  6. Hi! My name is Elias and I would like to enter the contest!
    I read every single post!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Of course I want to be in this contest!
    Multiple times if possible!
    Let's keep puzzling!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I knew I'd be hearing from you eventually! You're in the draw!

      Delete
  8. Your first formula has a typo, it should be 22! not 220! Currently the value is clearly less than 1 because 220! is much larger than 56!.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Checking Jaap's page, it should be a 20! in the denominator.

      Delete
    2. Well spotted! I'll amend ASAP.

      Delete
  9. Nice article, and thanks for reminding me of this aspect of my collection! :)

    Buzzle Ball looks interesting, please include me in your magic spreadsheet, too!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Goez, you're in the draw!

      Delete
  10. Thanks for the article Kevin. One note: I don't think the number of positions defines the complexity of a puzzle. A 10x10 sliding-block puzzle is not significantly more difficult than the 14-15 puzzle, but has about 10^158 positions.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Maarten,
      Of course, you are absolutely correct - the number of achievable positions is not the only factor in deciding how tough a puzzle is. But it does give an interesting idea of it and I love the maths involved!

      Delete
  11. I'm obviously interested in getting this puzzle too.
    I think it has 14!/(6!*4!*4!) = 210120 positions, without reducing for symmetry, and about half that if you do reduce for symmetry.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Jaap, first of all, thanks for your tremendous website! I eagerly wait for new updates from you and read them avidly - it's a fantastic resource!

      Of course you're in the draw!

      Delete
  12. OMG Kevin, the Orb, I've just found one of those going through the loft at Mum's LOL :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well Graham! Scramble it and solve it quick! It's not too hard to do!

      Delete
  13. Im receiving my orb this month and this review made me more excited. :D Let me join doc! :) ignis_aperti111@yahoo.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Rex, You're in the draw. I hope you enjoy the Orb - it's not too tough.

      Delete
  14. Add my name to the pile Kevin. When I contacted the company I got no reply ��.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wondered what happened to you. You're in!

      Delete
  15. I think I've already won one from the main BuzzleBall site's giveaway, so please don't enter me into the draw - I just wanted to say thanks for the insight into the different puzzles (especially the BuzzleBall in my case) - I can't wait to get mine and see if I can solve it! :D good luck to everyone in the draw! :)

    ReplyDelete
  16. I would like to be in the row.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're just in time for entry.

      Delete

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