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.

Tuesday 12 August 2014

IPP34 - a meeting of friends OR "it's HOW big?"

I'm back from IPP34 and just about ready to give my little account of what happened. Although my mind is a huge whirl of occurrences and people and so this is a very quick and probably totally inaccurate account - do forgive any errors! The photos have mostly been scavenged from Facebook because I knew I would not have time to take lots of photos myself and thus didn't take my camera!

This year the International Puzzle Party was held at the Park Inn Hotel near Heathrow in London. Registration was on Thursday 7th August and after a rather long journey from Sheffield (I loathe the M1 motorway) we (Yes! The elusive, yet not imaginary Mrs S came too!) parked the car and joined the queue to check in to the hotel and then register for the IPP itself. Immediately whilst standing in the queue we were greeted by my very good friend Steve Nichols who exclaimed that he was surprised to see Mrs S as he really thought she was a figment of my imagination! Believe me, my imagination is not that good. In quick succession we met several others from the MPP and introductions were made with more disbelief!

The Chops were there!
Whilst Mrs S was unpacking, I headed back down to the lobby/bar to meet the boys and anyone else who turned up. We even did a little puzzling amongst drinking coffee and chatting. Gradually over the next couple of hours more people turned up who I had either corresponded with or knew from Facebook LINK. These first people included Goetz Schwandtner, Scott Elliot, Otis Cheng, Jerry Loo, John Haché and more. Believe it or not we didn't only talk puzzles - my abiding memory of IPP was really how nice everyone was and how interesting they were - part way through the afternoon I ended up chatting with Scott about different nation's TV formats and ultraHD TV! He has an amazing knowledge of many subjects - well worth a chat! He left me with a nice little printed plastic cube puzzle similar to the three card burr which I solved in my room before dinner.

Cross and Crown - mine is on the right
Also during that initial afternoon I gave Goetz a puzzling gift with a letter to mark the occasion and the look on his face was priceless - a mixture of confusion and horror! I was also confused as to why I got such a response until the following day. The Friday was the day of the puzzle exchange - it's an overwhelming experience where the participants give away copies of their own puzzle to everyone else participating and in return receive a copy of the others' puzzles. This year there were 102 people participating so everyone received 101 puzzles!!! You are ONLY allowed in the room if you are exchanging or if you are assisting the exchanger. Goetz had asked me to assist him - so my job was to keep track of whom we had met and to keep hold of his hoard, stash them away and get more out for him to give away. Goetz had taken a puzzle that was patented in 1913 and remade it in 2013 - this incredible Quinary puzzle was called the Crown & Cross and it require 1250 moves to solve and separate the constitute the constituent parts. Goetz' version was larger and smoother than the original (very very rare version). As you can see in the above photo, my gift to Goetz was a Septenary version of his puzzle! This had been designed by Michel van Ippenburg in secret and I bought 2 copies. Only when I saw Goetz' exchange puzzle did I properly understand the reason for his look! My gift requires 4802 moves to solve!

Unexpected gift!
At the reception dinner, I received a very unexpected gift of a bottle of wine locked into a disentanglement puzzle from Brett Kuehner - one of the co-hosts of next years IPP. I'm always astonished that any of you read my drivel but I was even more amazed when Brett gave me such a wonderful gift purely for my efforts for the puzzle world with the blog and maybe also for helping people out as the "Trouble shooter" for Wil Strijbos. Thank you Brett, that really made my day - I was totally flabbergasted and to my shame, I have still not managed to open it! After dinner, Mrs S chatted for a while and we went to view the puzzles in the design competition room. I started to play and miserably failed to solve several of them. I always claim that I'm a poor solver and not terribly bright but solving puzzles in public can be very intimidating and especially tough when surrounded by the best puzzlers in the world and being challenged by the year's toughest puzzles! It did give me more ideas for puzzles that may become available in the future that I might just have to buy! I discovered that puzzling late into the night is not conducive to going to sleep and I lay awake for several hours before finally dropping off!

100 exchange puzzles!
The exchange took us 6 hours and at the end I had a list of puzzles that I might want to get a copy of - unfortunately that list was far bigger than my ability to pay but I did manage to get hold of a few that I had been particularly keen to play with. After that exhausting feat, it was time to go and watch some lectures on various puzzling topics including 3D printing, Peg solitaire and disentanglements. I may have to admit that I might have missed one or two of the lectures because of the overwhelming urge to have a quick snooze! Having had so little sleep the previous night I had to catch up.

The evening of the second day we had a great dinner and I discovered that I had committed a heinous crime! I had failed to notice and reply to an email from Laurie Brokenshire (the head organiser) about dietary requirements. Mrs S doesn't eat red meat and I had not requested an alternative. Luckily Laurie and the chef managed to win through for me and a vegetarian option was provided and my life was spared! At the meal, I played with Rox's Berrocal jewellery and maybe convinced Mrs S that a Berrocal might be a required addition to my collection! But with those prices it won't be soon! At that dinner I received more gifts! Yes! The kindness of puzzlers overwhelms me! It is a tradition that a "greenhorn" to the IPP is given a puzzling gift by someone they know who has been before and I received gifts from Nick Baxter (the IPP head honcho) and Neil - aka The Juggler.

More gifts!
I solved Neil's 3x3 interlocking cube at the dinner to find it had been signed by him - it is "3 easy pieces" designed by Richard Gain who was also at the IPP (it was great to catch up with him again having not seen him at the last 5 or 6 MPPs):

Signed - it will remain prominent in the collection
Sadly, I have gotten absolutely nowhere with the Lucky Find from Nick - it may take me weeks!

Just half the room and late in the day it had emptied out a bit!
Finally on the Saturday it was time for the "puzzle party" proper. This was an entirely new experience for me - the huge room was filled with tables at which many puzzle sellers had set up shop and people were buying away everything they could afford! I could have spent every penny I owned but had to keep to a budget! Now you are wondering why I had a budget! It's not like me is it? Well the previous few weeks had been expensive with the Strijbos egg, the Popplock T9 and the day before the IPP I received my Pirates wallet treasure chest - aka Stickman number 27.

I blew the budget a little but not by too much - my little haul was very nicely selected:

Small but select puzzles to take home with me
I hope to review some of these in the coming weeks!

Poor poor Gill!
But it could have been worse - Allard had participated in the exchange and then blew the budget of a small nation and has made me very jealous. Although I suspect his house is now a giant packing puzzle as I know he doesn't have the storage for that lot!!!

It's enormous!!! She's going to kill me!
Now we come to the reason for the second part of the title of my blog post! I had ordered the Hexagonal Porcupine from Bill Cutler and he was kind enough to bring it to IPP for me and assembled it in his room. When I saw it, I got a bit of a shock! I thought it would be just a bit bigger than the hexsticks that I had bought from him a while back. I had not really looked at the size on the webpage and when I saw that it was 9" across I had a minor panic attack! I think everyone I met at that point had a really good laugh at me! You all know that I have turned my study into a packing puzzle and have more or less run out of room. I do occasionally manage to expand out of the room into the living room with particularly beautiful puzzles but this would NEVER fit in my study and I was convinced (and said to everyone) that Mrs S was going to murder me in and no-one would even find my body! I had several very helpful people offer to take it off my hands for free and someone (thank you Simon) offered to buy it at cost if she refused to allow it in the house! Luckily she took it very calmly and it will be the first puzzle allowed on display in our dining room (on the oak sideboard). Phew!!!

That evening we had the awards dinner at which we learned the outcome of the judges' and jury's decisions about the best puzzles entered into the design competition.

Top Ten Vote Getters:
Tetra Pack by Ton Brouwer
Pirate's Wallet by Robert Yarger
Infinity by Kirill Grebnev
Perplexing Pyramid by Simon Bexfield
Caramel Box by Yasuhiro Hashimoto
Conjuring Conundrum by Louis Coolen/Allard Walker
Golden Ratio Box by Peter Wiltshire

Honorable Mention:
Claws of Satan by MINE
Cassette by Jinhoo Ahn

Grand Prize: (from the jury - joint winners)
Cast U&U by Kyoo Wong
Six Locks Two Keys by Simon Nightingale

Puzzlers Award:
The Fairy's Door Puzzle Box by Michail Toulouzas - probably the most beautiful box I have ever seen!

Congratulations to all the competitors as well as the winners. I was very honoured to meet several of you.

The following day, it was time to leave and finish the weekend with a visit to my mother who lives in London. My overwhelming memory of the event (apart from the huge number of puzzles) will always be the people I met. There are so many with whom I have corresponded and now I can finally put a face to a name. I am very proud to have been let into the illustrious group and be considered one of you.

Thank you Laurie, Frank Potts, Duncan Ramsay & Jo Traynor and the rest of the team for a wonderful time.

Sunday 3 August 2014

It's good to be amongst friends!

A huge turnout for MPP 16
I apologise profusely to the photographers (Chris, Jeremy and others) for stealing these photos off of Facebook - I did not take any myself and so had to nick them! I am sure that most of you know by now that a rather large annual event is coming up and puzzlers from all over the world are converging on London for the 34th International Puzzle Party. This event is by invitation only and not everyone can get an invite. So for this reason, with so many visitors around Nigel organised the 16th Midlands Puzzle Party to be the weekend before IPP to allow non-attenders to meet up. There is so much going on that even Allard has given up the ghost and abandoned blogging for a week or so! Rox will probably post as she can. I suspect that I also will not be able to post much either but decided that I had to show off a little of the shenanigans from MPP and show the delightful swag I came back with!

Packed into a rather small room but still playing
The big hall in Warwick had already been booked by another party so we started off in the small waiting area - there was no room to unpack all our toys but we didn't let it didn't stop us showing off the most fascinating stuff we had brought! It was a great time for me to finally meet all those people from around the world who I had been communicating with via the blog contact page, via Facebook or via email. There are one or two people I have chatted to more than weekly for several years but never met - it is this community thing that I truly love. We had visitors from Holland, America, Canada, Israel, China, Hong Kong and probably several other places I don't recall. We crammed ourselves in and caught up and puzzled! I was in heaven. Of course, I had brought the Parallelogram and many many people had a try at it with surprisingly little success - Shane should be very pleased that some of the greatest puzzlers in the world failed to solve it!

The imp was there early and lived up to her boisterous reputation and thoroughly enjoyed her "boys and toys" weekend! Of course we all love her dearly and let her away with anything! I was pleased to be able to hand her a solved version of the Cast Galaxy puzzle which she had dismantled and failed to reassemble for 2 weeks! Needless to say I felt rather pleased with myself! In fact I solved quite a few that day which is very unlike me!