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.

I took this out during a break at work and quickly had a few people come and look. Most walked away shaking their heads as if to say I was nuts (they are absolutely correct!!) and looked even more bemused when I spoke to them of logical sequences and N-ary puzzles. The first thing I realised was that the exit point is obvious but quite a long way off and then I saw that there were 2 immediate choices for what could be done. Taking one at random I quickly found the puzzle got very bound up and wouldn't freely move. So I moved to the other option. After that there are more choices and each time you make a choice, more seem to open up! It is possible to go quite a long way in the wrong direction before you realise that things won't work. After about 45 minutes I had enough of a notion to make a general decision about different portions of the puzzle and how to treat them. This cuts down some of the options considerably. So far the puzzle has barely been N-ary at all! Not what I expected.

I then had work to do and had to put it down - I always try to make sure that I am back at the beginning or have marked my direction of travel but unfortunately I couldn't get back to the beginning and having put it down for a moment also couldn't remember which way I was going! Hmmm! Definitely not very bright! I got back to it later that evening and finally managed to return to the start after quite a lot of profanity!

So where was I going wrong? Even now (having solved it twice) I still am not sure why I keep getting lost. There is definitely a lot of decision making to be done and one wrong one is fatal in the process. But even when you have decided on the general approach, it is still hard not to get lost in the rather long maze of moves. The product page on Puzzle Master mentions over 80 moves and I think my first solve must have been 3 times this! It is a lot of fun and there is a continuous sense of making progress up to the point when it fails. Then you just back track and start again where you went wrong or, if you are me, backtrack and suddenly find yourself back at the beginning with far less moves than you used to get there.

I did eventually get there and managed to take this photo:

My goodness! That took some doing!
Needless to say putting it back together again is just as much fun as taking it apart! The disassembly took me about 2½ hours over 3 days and reassembly about an hour. I think I ran out of swear words!

This is definitely a great puzzle for a nice long challenge. It might be a bit too much for a beginner but most of you, dear readers, will have no problem. At $22 it is an absolute bargain!

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