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.