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.

The puzzle comes with a small card with the instructions - the aim is to have all 6 of the sliders extended away from the centre of the puzzle and on the back is the solution which as Jerry discovered is singularly unhelpful at first. So if you do inadvertently glimpse the solution then don't worry - you will be none the wiser for it! When you first pick it up you will find that there is very little movement and you don't appear to be able to get anywhere at all. This is because the ball bearing is in the wrong position and you cannot move the correct sliders. Once the penny dropped and you realise this then further possibilities are available and you start to make progress. But not very far - after a short pathway into the process something seems to be wrong! It is possible to move 2 sliders at the same time and if you do them wrongly then you will get in a mess!

My good friend Derek bought this and found it partially solved after his journey around the UK with his family and his flight back to the US. The puzzle had spontaneously moved to one of these positions that allows quite a lot of movement of 2 parallel pieces and having not gotten himself into that position, it was proving very hard to get back to the beginning. When trying to help him out using a photo of his puzzle, I also discovered that the puzzle comes in various colour arrangements and his was different to mine which confused me initially. I was eventually able to give exact instructions to return to the start!

At several points during the solve process there is the ability to slide 2 parallel sliders and it is important to have a firm grasp on what is occurring inside when this happens. I suspect that this is one reason that Jerry has been struggling with his - until you truly understand it, it is a bit of a deep mystery.

I got lost a few times but was always able to backtrack and then something in my tiny mind clicked and I understood it!! After that, it was a pretty straightforward path to the solution - EXCEPT that blasted ball bearing drops out 3/4 of the way through and is of great interest to the cat who's head it landed on. At the end of the process you have this:

Ball bearing lying loosely on top - where did it come from?
Putting it back together is just a matter of reversing what you did - SIMPLE!!! Ahem!!! Actually you have done quite a lot of moves and have been flipping it back and forth many many times too, so the chances of actually remembering the sequence is low! It is much better and of course more satisfying to be able to reassemble the puzzle by understanding how it works rather than memory - so what do you do with the ball bearing? It is possible to reset all the sliders without the ball bearing inside and this renders it into a much simpler pure N-ary puzzle! The addition of the BB is what elevates this to something special - it makes it hard to remember what you have done due to constantly flipping it over and also it is the BB that makes the parallel slider moves so critical. Only when you truly understand the puzzle will you really appreciate what Jean Claude has created here. It is also fairly helpful to understand what is going on before you try and read the solution!

All in all - I was right to make a beeline straight for this one when the puzzle party started and they were available to buy - get one, you won't regret it!

Keeping track of the collection

Over the last couple of years I have moved from having just a few puzzles to having a rather embarrassingly large collection in various stages of arrival, solving, blogging etc and I have needed to move from a simple spreadsheet to a proper database to keep track of them. Many of my puzzle friends have either developed their own method to keep track or have asked me to provide my database as a template for them. I thought I would show off the system I have developed here and hopefully this will be of interest to a few of you.

I moved to a Mac in 2007 and therefore don't have access to Microsoft Access which would have been my first choice had I still been using Windows. The options for the Mac are quite limited if you want a proper relational database (this is important for saving on space as the database gets large and makes analysis easier) and the easiest and best is almost certainly to use FileMaker Pro which is available for both Windows and Mac and the files are usable across both platforms.

Unfortunately this is a rather expensive proposition unless you can get access to an academic license as I have. But it is a VERY powerful system. If you do choose to do so then I am happy to send you my database (empty apart from a few sample puzzles and complete with long lists of suppliers, designers and craftsmen).

I have 2 windows open on startup - one is a dashboard with buttons that make the other window open in various interesting search patterns that I perform quite frequently:

Room for many more custom searches
The other window opens in the "Arrived" view. This gives a list of all the puzzles that have actually arrived in order of arrival and grouped by source:

Just a list of all my currently owned puzzles - ahem - there seems to be a lot!
Clicking on the awaited button takes me to a similar screen with just those that I have placed an order for:

Ooh look! I might have a Katie Koala coming from MrPuzzle!!!

Top right on the list is the button to focus on an individual puzzle and also the puzzle entry screen - there's lots of information here and more can be added if needed:

The data for one of my puzzles
As you can see there is the ability to add up to 4 photos as well as ratings, classification, cost (including currency conversion) and also storage place. Clicking on the Large view button brings up a large window with the currently focussed picture in all it's glory.

It is easy to get to a view which makes you shudder in horror and which you definitely do not want your significant other to ever see:

No! I'm not going to show the total cost!
It gives me chest pain to look at it!
Clicking the Costs button on the Dashboard gets you to the above screen - it's a view of the whole collection, grouped by store/source and there's a terrible figure at the bottom - DON'T GO THERE!!!

I hope that this has been of interest to you. If you have any suggestions of how to improve my database or you would like a copy of the blank file then either leave a comment below or email me using my Contact page.


  1. Let me know if you find or create a MS Access version of your puzzle database. I have a copy of Access because it is included in Office Professional. I don't have FileMaker ...

    1. I haven't got time just now but I do have accces to MS Access and if I decide I want a challenge then I might just do that! I'll let you know.