Sunday, 27 December 2015

Doubly Disentangled

.... or Mike and I form a puzzling tag team!

I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas and that the coming New Year is a happy healthy one full of friends, family and, of course, puzzles!

Recently a few reviews have come your way from Mike Desilets in Hawaii - he emailed me on Xmas day with another review and having risked life and limb to be ignoring his family that day, I had to publish his review. He seems to enjoy disentanglements just like me and these are puzzles that I don't yet own but will have to add to my collection in 2016. I couldn't resist adding to his review by discussing another entanglement that I struggled with a month or so back. So keep reading for a double dose of joint entanglement. I hand you over now to Mike.....

Aloha Kākou puzzlers. This installment has two purposes:
  1. a thank you to my editor/publisher Kevin for his potato leek soup recipe, and
  2. to give him some extra time to complete his end of year Best in Show puzzle recap due out on New Year’s (Ed - it's well underway). I’m really looking forward to the 2015 top puzzles list and would like him to dedicate as much time as possible to it, the long-suffering Mrs. S notwithstanding. Whack! Ouch! (now look what you did!)
Siebenstein-Spiele Disentanglements
So today we will look at a few new disentanglements. As you know, disentanglements are one of the classic (and quite possibly oldest) puzzle types. All bloggers review them, but I think my esteemed editor/publisher Kevin Sadler has provided his readership with a particularly compendious record of currently available (and sometimes quite unavailable) disentanglements. This has been very helpful to me, especially recently. Since early summer I’ve found myself increasingly drawn into the disentanglement world. This stems from equal parts financial miserliness and intellectual curiosity. As is often observed, this type of puzzle gives enormous bang for the buck. It really is true. Few puzzles will cause you more anguish or greater self-satisfaction than a really challenging wire or string disentanglement.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

OMG! You did it again!

I just cannot believe it! Last night I passed yet another milestone - 600,000 page views!

So many toys, so many friends and so much fun. Thank you every one. Looking forward to the next year of puzzling already!

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Eric Makes a Burr and a Maze and a Packing Puzzle in One

It has been a while since I reviewed a burr made by Eric Fuller so I will redress that now! I bought the Packira back in November when Eric wrote that this was his favourite puzzle from the previous update. He looks at so many designs that I just had to take his opinion seriously! Plus of course, this is made from 2 of my favourite woods, Wenge and Bubinga. On top of all that it is designed by the amazing Tamás Vanyó!

Another unusual Vanyó design
I have been friends with Tamás on Facebook for a few years now and every week he produces several new designs to amaze us - he is an absolute master of Burrtools and seems to specialise in unusual shapes or unusual movements in his puzzles. He even makes them himself for sale locally in Hungary or to give as gifts to his friends (one day I hope to buy directly from him). Recently I wrote about his Covalent puzzle which was produced by Pelikan which unfortunately is now sold out. The combination of Eric's workmanship and recommendation, Tamás' unusual design ideas and these lovely woods meant that I just couldn't resist this one. After it arrived, I got rather sidetracked by the other puzzle I bought at that time - the One Hole by Bram Cohen which I reviewed here. After that the Packira sat in my work bag for ages almost forgotten.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Simply Amazing!

Katie Koala
Finally! I have the review I know you've all been waiting for - alright maybe one or two of you have been waiting! Yes it's Katie Koala from MrPuzzle - one of two 20th anniversary limited editions designed and made by Brian Young and Junichi Yananose. This absolutely stunning construction seems to have completely disappeared from their website and the old URL no longer works - hopefully he and the lovely Mrs Puzzle, Sue will put them back on their site for posterity. (Ed - after reading my review and commenting below Brian has put these 2 puzzles back on their website. Katie Koala is here and Six of One, Half a Dozen of Another is here)

In 2013 Brian announced that for his 20th Anniversary later that year, he would be producing 2 limited edition puzzles. The "Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other" made it as an honourable 11 amongst a few other special burrs in my top puzzles solved in 2014. The Katie Koala puzzle was delivered to me at the very end of November 2014 and got a mention in that list but could not be placed in my top 10 because I had not managed to solve her (the list is only for solved puzzles). I think I had only managed the first couple of steps by the end of the year!

Limited edition of 65 - my number is always 28
The notification went out to people on the special list in January 2014 along with an eye watering price tag. Of course, I know Brian and Sue and trust them implicitly - I clicked on the order button immediately without batting an eyelid. There were going to be a few more than usual this time because of the occasion. In view of the fact that their site no longer mentions it I will quote the original description:
There is much more going on inside this Koala’s head than a real Koala even after she’s been eating lots of gum leaves.  Not just a single puzzle. This is a collection of a number of puzzles, all complex in their own right.  The big puzzle for Brian was how to fit all the puzzling experiences into one Koala so that it didn't turn out the size of a small motor car? 
The ultimate goal is to find the 20th Anniversary token. 
Along the way you’ll have to find and assemble Katie Koala's joey named Verne; technically you’re getting two tough Koala puzzles not just one.  To find the joey you'll have to navigate literally a maze of locks that interact with each other.
The final door is actually held shut with 4 separate locks so there will be no fluke to open it.  Once you do open it you'll be rewarded not only with the token, but you'll also get to see a lot of the inner mechanisms that Brian has deliberately left exposed.  We would love to show you some of the brass work inside so you can understand where all the time’s been spent preparing this puzzle but that would give away waaaaaaay too many clues! so you’ll just have to wait until you discover it all for youself.
In the past Brian has left ideas out of puzzles to keep the cost down.  This being his 20th Anniversary he wanted to go all out, and everything he planned just seemed to work well, so he kept going.....  It’s unlikely that he'’ll ever make anything this elaborate again in a single puzzle.  
Do you have the ‘koalafications’ to tackle this one? 
The puzzle was designed by Brian Young.  Special thanks to Junichi and his wife Yukari for their fabulous collaboration on the design for the joey. 
Woods used:  Koala - Papua New Guinean Teak (Vitex) with ear trim from Silver Ash and nose, hands & feet from Papua New Guinean Ebony.  Her joey is made from Sycamore wood. 
The puzzle also includes lots of brass and magnets used to make many tools that you will discover as you progress.
Size:  Height 233mm  Width 150mm at the ears Depth 125mm
The production of these beauties really took it out of him and he did release news that the delivery would have to be staggered and would take all of 2014 and what is more, there would be no 2014 limited edition. In fact Brian did not know when the next LE might be coming! He said:
Brian always knew it was going to be a mammoth project but it’s only now that’s he'’s about half way through that he realises just how long it’s going to take to finish this LE set. 
The schedule has been revised and Brian now expects that in the first quarter of 2014 he will be able to complete about 12 puzzles. 
He will then break to work on IPP exchange puzzles that he committed to last year. After IPP he'’ll resume completion of Koalas through 2014/2015.  Even at that point to finish the other 53 Koala’s he estimates there’s in excess of 7 months full time work for one person to finish them.
Mine arrived at the end of November 2014 - just in time for a mention in my puzzles of the year but not rated in the list. During 2014 Allard posted a "not a review" but as far as I can see it has not been fully reviewed anywhere yet. There were whispers of Katie at puzzle parties and she even appeared in some Koala porn photos:

Ahem! Disgusting isn't it?

Sunday, 6 December 2015

It's Not So Hard! Just Look and Think!

Max Out
I started out with the intention to just write a short review of a cheaper puzzle today as it would appear that recently I have tended to focus on the more bespoke, craftsman made puzzles. This would also fit in with the present Mrs S being a bit fed up with all the time I spend on-line on a Sunday writing these posts. She plans to visit the outlaws for a pre-Xmas visit this week and it has sort of become a tradition that she arrives with some food made by me. My father-in-law is quite partial to my leek and potato soup and so yesterday I was informed that today (Sunday), I was going to make a large pot of soup so that a good sized portion could be transported to Edinburgh for them. The stock pot is 11L in volume and preparing everything and cooking such a huge amount of soup usually takes me quite a few hours. I therefore needed something quick to write about.

With these time limits in mind, I rummaged in my "puzzles to be solved" pile yesterday and took out the Max Out disentanglement puzzle from Eureka puzzles' Pastime range. I had been hoping for something fairly easy to solve that would not take too long but I seem to have run out of those. I had bought this from Tomas Linden's Sloyd store some time ago and was a little concerned that the rating on the packaging was 4 stars indicating that the puzzle was for "puzzle geniuses" and that Tomas had rated it with his maximum of "Very hard".

Very hard but the string can be removed
This puzzle is presented in a plastic tube rather than a box and when removed from the packaging, the huge length of string complete with balls, a ring and a jointed wooden board and dowels is revealed. The puzzle is quite large at 14 x 7 x 5.5cm and is very well made - the string is very high quality and there is no way it will break without the use of considerable force. This is good and yet also bad - these string puzzles have a tendency to end up in an almighty knot and the ability to detach the string from it does allow for a quick reset if you end up in a mess (for example Wil Strijbos' exchange puzzle can be taken apart with the use of a pin. So be careful with the Max Out puzzle - whatever you do, make sure you can reverse your steps!

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

A midweek surprise!

Slideways Ball
Yes to top off a rather hectic 2 weeks of deliveries complete with the customary laser stare and accompanying burn as well as an occasional Whack! Ouch! I received a couple of new puzzles from Jakub at the New Pelikan Workshop.

First up is the Slideways ball - This puzzle is the third in the series based on Ray Stanton's wonderful Slideways burr. All three have the same mechanism but the boys at Pelikan have skillfully changed the shape to mask the pieces. First there was the Slideways cube and now the ball. It is beautifully presented as a large golf ball with a stand and a turned wooden golf tee. The ball is a delight to handle and finding the exact places to press to start off the fascinating coordinate motion takes quite some time. When I finally found the exact points, it miraculously slides apart and the pieces seem to move an unfeasible distance before disengaging. Assembly is a lovely movement too. I also have to say that this makes a really fantastic (if rather large) worry bead to keep in your pocket.

3 special pieces
Covalent was designed by the incredibly prolific Tamás Vanyó, this is a marvel of interlocking pieces. It initially appears to move only to lock all the pieces tighter together in place before you eventually have a breakthrough and the first couple of pieces can be removed. At this point the amazing quality of the workmanship becomes apparent and you see how some very delicate pieces have been made very robustly and accurately. The contrasting wood colours are stunning.

First moves
Like the namesake chemical bond, the pieces in the "molecule" can wiggle a bit but unless the energy is put into the structure just right the pieces remain firmly attached to each other. After 3 pieces are removed it becomes possible to dismantle fully using a rotation or two. But it is worthwhile persevering and looking for the correct linear move disassembly. It is a stunning feat of design and of craftsmanship.

Just look at the skill in building those pieces!
These 2 puzzles will both be announced very shortly on Jakub and Jaroslav's site and will be available in slightly limited quantities from there. Don't hesitate - you won't want to miss out!

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Cast Mobius - Mike Weaves His Magic Again!

Hanayama Cast Möbius - Canadian Loonie for scale
Aloha Kākou once again (Ed - I just lurve that expression). After completing the Euro Falle reviews, I was in a bit of a quandary as to what to write about next. I wasn’t kidding when I said my puzzle collection is modest (Ed - do we believe him? He has reviewed 4 puzzles that I don't own already). Almost everything I have has been well-covered by Kevin and other bloggers. This changed, however, when my friend and fellow puzzler Amanda ordered and received Hanayama’s latest cast puzzle, the Mӧbius. Amanda is quite partial to mazes, labyrinths, and anything route-finding, so she was compelled to get her hands on Mӧbius as soon as possible.

Japanese packaging
Mӧbius is not available in the U.S. yet, and not anywhere outside Japan as far as I know. I haven’t seen it offered by any of the usual retail puzzle sellers so it seems pretty clear that production has not ramped up yet. Amanda ordered her Mӧbius from a Japanese seller on Amazon AND paid for rush shipping. Otherwise it would not have arrived until January. I’m far too lazy to make that kind of effort (Ed - me too!) but I’m really glad that Amanda did because now I have access to it. I don’t know how long it will take for Mӧbius to show up on shelves here in Hawaii, but a one year wait for new release Hanayama’s is not uncommon.  Cast Hexagon, for example, is still nowhere to be seen (Ed - it is available here mate). Mӧbius will become widely available from online puzzle retailers in short order, but for this brief moment in time, Mӧbius is an unknown quantity for most puzzlers. So, casting all self-respect aside, I have rushed to get this review typed up and off to my editor/publisher Kevin before anyone else can review it! I’ll admit it is unseemly behavior, but I make no apologies. I am VERY grateful for your unseemly behaviour! Having this all ready for me has helped me plan future acquisitions and has allowed me to cook the Ragu for tonight's Lasagne. Mrs S is getting a little upset with me spending every Sunday afternoon on the computer!

Sunday, 22 November 2015

I Need to Think Outside of the Box

Road Blocks
Today's blog post is to show how two of my new puzzles forced me to change my thought processes and got me back to thinking "outside of the box".

I am pleased to say that I have survived the onslaught of the laser burning stare! In fact the present Mrs S did say to me that she had her eye on a particular handbag that she was waiting for the Xmas sale to start before purchasing. She told me the current cost and I gulped internally but didn't break gaze with her for even a second! After this complete lack of a flinch, she nodded internally and it would appear that my recent spending spree is almost forgiven as it hasn't impaired her ability to buy what she desires. She has also been watching me in the evenings and has seen how much fun I have had with them and grudgingly admitted that I seem to have gotten my money's worth. Phew!!! I haven't dared tell her about the next one that I have ordered! Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Mike Does it Again! Euro Falle 3 & 4

Aloha Kākou, gentle readers (Ed: I lurve this expression). It appears I did not fail completely in my first guest review and was even fortunate enough to receive a pat on the back from some folks I respect very much. Thanks for that! Although you may regret encouraging me, as now I will probably never shut up about this stuff. (Ed: I encourage you to carry on!)

Front of Euro Falle 3 & 4
I am especially happy to be back on Kevin’s blog because I really wanted to finish out my review of the Euro Falle series. In the interim, Jerry Loo has followed up with a nice review of Euro Falle 03  and Jeff has presented a brief sketch of Euro Falle 04. I’ll try not to retread old ground, but it’s probably inevitable. Bear with me on that. By the by, Jerry acquired his 03 the old fashioned way, he exchanged for it! That has to be a lot more fun than filling out a Puzzlemaster checkout form for the 123rd time. And no, I’m not wise enough plan ahead and start an account. Who has time for that?

Back of Euro Falle 3 & 4 (4 is on the left here)
So today I present to you Euro Falle 03 and Euro Falle 04. As you’ve guessed, these are in series after Euro Falle 02, but you will see right away that they are a different beast on a couple of fronts. These puzzles fall into a class that I, as a novice, particularly enjoy. They are puzzles from IPP that have become available on the “open market”. Not all IPP puzzles make it to the masses. But some few do, and when that happens, you should give them very careful consideration. This post aims to help you with that. As for me, I just snapped them up on impulse. That is also a good approach.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

How complex can a packing puzzle be?

It's "Odd" how you can be good at some puzzles and bad at other similar ones!
The train of thought for this blog post was started by my really good friend Dave Holt (the Master puzzler in charge of The Metagrobologist on line magazine) when he posted on his Facebook page a few days ago of a picture of the Odd puzzle by Iwahiro as an example of a puzzle that he likes to give to non-puzzlers to provide a nice fun challenge. My version above is one of the most beautiful puzzles I own and was made for me by my friend Neil from Cocobolo and Purpleheart with a box made with Katalox and Holly slipfeathers. This got me thinking whether packing puzzles were always the best thing to give non-puzzlers? So I have looked back at my collection and some of my recent acquisitions to review my thoughts on this genre and what made me buy them.

Now first I should say that I am really BAD at packing puzzles - so bad that I barely ever buy them anymore. The only time I will add one to my collection is if they fulfil one or more of the following criteria....
  1. they are designed by a friend or made by a friend
  2. have an extra something to them
  3. provide a lot of puzzling for the price
  4. they're beautiful!
Hmm! That seems to be quite a few exceptions to my rule of never adding packing puzzles to my collection. But, compared to burrs and wire things, my packing puzzle collection is quite small. A large proportion of my packing puzzles are variants of the 'omino puzzle - they may be tetromino, pentomino, hexomino, or a combination. To add interest and complexity they may have a colour scheme or pattern and if you are a real sucker for punishment they can be 3D or as an ultimate have an odd 3D container to pack them into.

CamelPak by Jerry Loo
Twiddle dum and dee
This puzzle makes it into the collection because of criterion number 1. At the last IPP in Ottawa my friend Jerry who writes a fabulous blog participated in the Edward Hordern puzzle exchange and gave away one of his own designs, a nicely made packing puzzle called CamelPak made from laser cut acrylic. At the IPP he gave a copy for me to Big Steve (that's Mrs S' name for him because he towers over me) and on returning to the UK, Steve promptly forgot about it! Some months later, when I bought the next 2 designs in Derek's helical mind-bending challenge from Steve he suddenly remembered my gift from Jerry and it was a nice unexpected bonus in the box. Thanks Jerry for the lovely gift and Steve for remembering and being so nice to me in general! I played with the CamelPak one evening whilst watching the TV with Mrs S and the cats. She was delighted when it turned out to be less noisy than some of my recent toys and Zachary on my lap was also delighted that it was less heavy, less pointy than others and that I didn't keep dropping bits on him.

The instructions on the back are: 1st challenge - pack all the 5 camels into the tray. 2nd challenge - pack 4 camels, the dog and snake into the tray. Now this has 5 deca-ominos, a heptomino and a pentomino. I usually find that the higher the number in the 'omino the tougher the puzzle but, in retrospect, I guess it should also depend on the size and shape of the tray. I played with this during an episode of "The Strain" and by the end of it, I had solved both challenges. Mrs S only gave me one dirty look when I shouted "Yessss!" after the second challenge and I am pleased to say that this is a really nice fun little challenge - it is absolutely perfect for an exchange puzzle. This is one that I now bring to work to torture people with along with his exchange from last year.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Win some, lose some, come close.....but fail again!

A puzzle for my birthday? Nope! She even made me work when it arrived!
Now if you hear lots of groaning sounds whilst reading this post you must blame the present wife! Mrs S was all very nice to me on my birthday on Friday and even bought me a very nice present (a Kindle Paperwhite and NOT puzzles). The following day it was all back to normal service again - she saw that the weather forecast for Sheffield was good for Saturday (and supposed to be bad for Sunday) and pronounced that it was time for us (me) to do the end of year gardening chores. I did protest that I had a new puzzle to play with that arrived that very morning but she glared at me until my skin began to peel off and I dutifully did as I was told. I absolutely loathe gardening! Many would say that as a very short man, I am very close to the ground and bending down to pick up fallen leaves and pull weeds should be very easy for me! Unfortunately, whilst it is true that I am very close to the ground, it is also true that my recent birthday makes me VERY old and bending down a lot and doing thousands of squats in one day is not good for someone so old! After 7 hours of it on Saturday I was ready to hide away from the "trick or treaters" with all the lights off and drink wine for the rest of the evening and play with my new toy!

Then this morning she sprung out of bed, saw that it was a beautiful day out and pronounced that I had more to do in the garden - time to scrub the patio and paths with bio washing powder to get rid of the algae. Does she not realise that Sunday is a day of rest, writing and puzzling? I moved a few muscles and realised that they hurt quite a lot but that would be no excuse. So I have been scrubbing for 4 hours today and am starting to seize up. If this blog post doesn't end then I am fixed in an agonising position in front of my computer....... please come and rescue me quick!

The topic for today is a mish mash of what happens after you get out of the habit of puzzling (or doing a particular genre) for a while and then start again. Recently after my bereavement, I pretty much stopped puzzling for a while because I had lost my mojo. Once my concentration had begun to return, I started to play again but with mixed success.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Riding Otis' Coattails - An American Chasing the Euro

Having offered the chance for guests to write something for me as far back as mid 2013, I only had one person take me up on it (in Oct 2013) until recently. Otis was very kind and stepped in when I was indisposed recently and wrote a fascinating article on a bespoke puzzle box made by a very new entrant into the puzzle world and almost simultaneously I was offered a contribution by a new friend Mike Desilets from Hawaii (lucky bastard!!) I had been corresponding with Mike since July - initially he was asking for advice on puzzle purchases and he is gradually entering my mad world. I was stunned and humbled when he also made such a kind offer. I know that writing a decent quality blog post along with the photography can take several hours and I am very grateful when someone else can take the pressure off me. I am gradually returning to puzzling at full tilt but concentration is not up to my normal standard just yet - I don't want to let my loyal readers down - I know from looking at my logs how many people visit my site around the time of a new post. So I have the first article in a series from him - I hand you over to Mike now:

Euro Falle #2 in many sides of glory!
Aloha, loyal readers. Following on the heels of Otis’s recent guest post, Kevin has been gracious enough to permit yet another guest review. Mine, to be exact. I cannot thank him enough. Although I have lots to say about certain puzzles and puzzling in general, the level of effort and commitment involved in hosting a regular blog is staggering (Ed - Tell me about it - I have many Whack! Ouch! bruises to prove it) and I don’t intend to ever go down that road. This is a great alternative and I’ll try not to botch it.

As a relative (and actual) nobody in the puzzling world, let me take just a minute for introductions. My name is Michael Desilets (Mike is fine) and I live and puzzle in Hawaii, or on whatever other Pacific island my work takes me. I am an archaeologist by trade, endeavoring to reconstruct human history from bits and pieces—the most complex and intractable puzzle ever. Quite likely an impossible object. I am not a particularly accomplished puzzler. I’m currently on a disentanglement kick (Ed - that might be partly my fault), but I do puzzle quite broadly. I must also say that I am not in any real sense a puzzle collector. I have very few items that would be considered rare or exceptional and am therefore closely akin to 99% of the folks who read this blog. That all said, I do treasure the small assemblage I have managed to acquire, I stroke and fondle them regularly, and I don’t intend to part ways with any of them. I may not be quite PuzzleMad yet, but I do spend an inordinate amount of time puzzling and thinking about puzzles. And now, apparently, I am going to talk about a few of them in public.  But enough preamble. Let’s get to the puzzles.

For my inaugural guest review, I intend to present three very interesting, related puzzles that I have just recently purchased and played with. This is the Euro Falle . . .  series? Well, with three puzzles on the market named Euro Falle 02, Euro Falle 03, and Euro Falle 04, I guess we can safely call it a series. This particular post will deal with Euro Falle 02 and (if I haven’t completely disgraced Kevin’s blog) the others will follow (Ed - absolutely!!)

The Euro Falle coin release series began not too long ago with Euro Falle 02. Euro Falle 02 is a product of the Siebenstein-Spiele shop, one of the newest puzzles in their line. I don’t know who exactly designed it, Jürgen Reiche himself I suspect, but please help out here if you are in the know. I purchased mine from Puzzle Master, where it is still listed, but it can also be found at a number of other reputable online stores (MrPuzzle,, Brilliantpuzzles). The original stock at Puzzle Master appeared to sell out quite quickly and, having dallied, I was afraid I had once again missed out on an interesting small run puzzle. Not to worry though. Euro Falle 02 was soon relisted and by then had also been picked up by other retailers. I can only assume that it has taken its place in Siebenstein-Spiele’s regular line. It should be around for some time. But don’t be complacent, especially if you are a fan of this genus.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Trials, Tribulations and Forbidden Techniques

Four Mirror One
Last week I mentioned that shortly after returning from London I received a large series of puzzle deliveries. I wasn't terribly bright because I left the delivered puzzles in a large pile in the "to be photographed and solved" area of the study where of course Mrs S happened to pass by whilst delivering an errant toy from the living room back onto my computer keyboard. Even she could not fail to notice that there was a rather LARGE pile of toys she had never seen before. I did try to emulate her "girl's" standard response of "I've had these for ages" but she didn't believe a word of it and a Whack! Ouch! was duly delivered! It's odd how with her clothes and shoes etc. the same approach works on me nearly every time!

I therefore decided that I had better actually make some headway and clear a bit of the backlog - otherwise she will have an absolute fit when any more arrive! I started with one of the beauties from Brian Menold's Wood Wonders - his 2 recent updates had produced quite a lot of stunning new toys and, whilst I couldn't buy them all, I did obtain a few special ones that I had had my eye on for a while. Brian has become a full time puzzle maker since he was made redundant so please buy what he makes so we can keep him in business - the Four Mirror One is still available. The Four Mirror One (designed by Osanori Yamamoto) was the first to be tried because I figured that it shouldn't be too hard because of it's similarity to his hourglass puzzle (the one to the left was made by Jakub Dvořák's New Pelikan workshop). This designer specialises in puzzles that have a rotational element to the solution and hence cannot be solved by Burrtools. Within a few minutes I had managed to separate the pieces and realised that they were really very similar to the hourglass (in fact the frame is identical).

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Otis is Puzzled by the Green Eyed Lady!

A great calling card!
My good friend Otis and I have corresponded via Facebook for a few years now. I did finally manage to meet him in real life at last years IPP in London and he was a delight to chat to and is also a brilliant puzzler. He is one of the few puzzlers who, like me, enjoys solving all types of puzzles including twisty puzzles. He has been very kind and has written me a guest blog post whilst I have been indisposed dealing with my Mum's illness and subsequent affairs after her untimely death. The subject of this post is one that I very rarely have a chance to write about - I try not to collect puzzle boxes to try and save my finances from total ruin. A newcomer has recently BURST onto the puzzle design and crafting scene - Tracy Wood Clemens aka "the Green Eyed Lady" has started producing beautiful and complex puzzle boxes to order. So far I have resisted the pull but after what I have seen she has made for others I am sure I will give in soon and have to order something from her.

Please have a look at my New additions page to see some pics of quite a few new acquisitions that have arrived in the last week! Mrs S has been telling me off - gently because I'm a bit fragile just now!!!

So let Otis' story be told (I have tried not to edit unless absolutely needed):

MY box was created by Tracy Wood Clemons who I know from Facebook
Yesterday an unexpected parcel came to my studio while I was working. When I saw the size of the parcel I know what’s inside immediately. That’s a puzzle box I ordered “from the green eyed lady” around a weeks ago. I say it’s unexpected because I didn’t believe that I could possibly receive it within a week! My experience told me to ship something from United State to China usually takes 10 to 14 days so I’m very surprised and also excited when I got it. Anyway this is my puzzle box “Puzzled????”

I wonder who this belongs to?
Around one or two months ago I saw a puzzle pic on facebook. It was a very good looking puzzle box which seemed challenging to solve. At that time I didn’t know who made this box and who is the owner of the box (His last name is on the box though, which I didn’t realize at the moment…...). So I left a comment appreciating the box and give a “like” for the pic. Later I received a pm from Tracy. That’s how we know each other.

She asked me if I like puzzle boxes and said that she can make one for me if I wish. Of course I wish! But as you all might know I’m rather new to puzzle community without much experience. I can’t afford to spend too much on a puzzle, especially something which seems so awesome. The other concern is that I never meet Tracy before, never heard of her and of course have never tried her works. It might be hard for me to state a price for a puzzle box especially made personally for me. In the end I gave her a price and felt a bit reckless.

Yes, that’s how you deal with Tracy. You give her a price, and then Tracy will make you something worth that amount of money. In my experience I don’t even know what my puzzle box will look like. But I don’t usually have to pay until I see the finished product. So not only are you buying a puzzle, but also the way of purchasing is very puzzling as well.

Jeff Aurand's box seemed to captivate people at the RPP
At first I didn’t dare to speak too high a price as the reason above. But soon I regretted my decision. I saw from facebook that Tracy attended Jeffrey Aurand’s Rochester Puzzle Picnic. And finally I know that the very first box I saw had been made for him. Lot’s of experienced puzzlers, including many IPP'ers,  tried the Aurand Puzzle Box and they all left very good comments about it. This is the first moment I regret!

Yet another stunning design!
Some weeks later I saw another puzzle box made by Tracy. This time I knew the owner immediately. Jim Strayers, who is a very experienced puzzle player and collector had ordered a box from Tracy too! And immediately I could see that his box looks extremely good as well. This is the second time I regret. At that point, I contacted Tracy immediately to see if she had already begun making my puzzle box. Luckily she had not yet started. So I quickly raised the amount of my price, to prevent a third time of regret.

Look at the size! It's huge!
From this pic you can see the real size of the box. It’s really quite big! In fact, this is now the biggest puzzle in my collection. Well if you don’t mind I’ll have to mention again that this is the result of my raised price ^^

Back on topic. My box is named “Puzzled????” - I consider this not only a puzzle box, but also a sequential discovery puzzle too. (editor's comment - I too am allowed a sequential discovery puzzle even if it is box shaped! YAY!) Usually the aim of a puzzle box is simply to open the box. In my case many different parts are disassembled and some become significant tools for the next procedure in the sequence.

The box contains 6 layers. Each layers is different in thickness. On top my name Otis is shown by a few pieces of wood. Yeah that’s the only request I asked from Tracy. I’m not good at designing things so better leave this part to whom good at. The first layer can turn 360 degree free, while the second layer can only turn around 60 degree. There seems to be a few cutting lines on the fourth and fifth layer so may be there’re some parts which can be disassembled. On the front corner there’s a handle rod connecting the fourth and the sixth layer. There’s a key on top of the rod, and a lock at the bottom of it. So apparently I’ll have to use the key to unlock the lock. But it seems impossible at first glance.

Look at all the layers and drawers - there's a lock too!
I tried to solve it right after I was off from work. As I said above this puzzle is a combination of puzzle box and sequential discovery puzzle, so there’re actually two goals for me to complete. At first I think to open the box I’ll have to take something apart. That’s right, actually many different pieces were taken apart. Throughout the whole process I found a few “puzzle pieces” which seems can be  matched together to make a construction. So I continue to look for any pieces I can take off, and what tools can be used to go further.

Around two hours later, I had found all the puzzle pieces and the assembly was done. Maybe I have some chance on solving this puzzle box? At this point I think I’ve completed the second task but I was not sure if the box is being opened. It seems like it is opened, no more secret compartments are possible but the padlock is still locked. That seems like it is impossible so I thought the lock might be something to just divert my attention. I was wrong!!

I should have contacted Tracy at that moment to make sure I was right. But I’m too keen to prove myself right and I looked at the solution. OK. The padlock can be unlocked. I missed this part. And I found that I did one procedure totally by luck at the very beginning. Apart from these two procedures, I had done everything right. So the box was finally opened, and I finally understand why this box is named as “Puzzled????”. I’m certainly really feeling puzzled right now!

In conclusion, I really want to thank Tracy for making this special puzzle box for me. The solving process was a lot of fun. Lot’s of different skills and tricks are required to solve this box. Thanks to my previous experience of solving many puzzle boxes, I think the difficulty of the box is "moderate". I think that a puzzle greenhorn like me can solve it within a day. The box looks awesome, the mechanism works very well and it’s just BIG. It can be a real piece of furniture or just a box sitting on your desk! I would say that the price is totally worthwhile.

So for all of you who are interested on puzzle boxes, just contact Tracy Wood Clemons via Facebook! You will be surprised at what you’ll get! I won’t be shocked to see Tracy to become a famous puzzle box master among our puzzle community!

Usually puzzlers don’t like to show one puzzle’s mechanism but consider this is the only one existing in the world I think showing a picture of the mechanism is not too great a sin. But if you really don’t want to be spoiled then you better stop reading from here.




Look at all these pieces!

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Not today I'm afraid!

Hello everyone. I'm very sorry to disappoint you as I know that many people come to my site religiously on a Sunday for their weekly fix of puzzle madness. There won't be a blog post today as my poor mum sadly passed away yesterday. She was far too young and vibrant to be taken from us but at least the pain she was suffering has now ended.

My family and I will be taking some time to mourn her passing and hopefully I will be back to puzzling for you soon. She thought I was absolutely crackers and felt very sorry for the present Mrs S (the one and only!!) but she certainly read my posts and for a while I was sure that most of my ½ million page views were her.

Take care everyone and be sure to enjoy your families whilst you have them with you.

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Cast Keyhole and Keeping my Mind Busy

Hanayama Cast Keyhole
Recently things up here have gotten very fraught for me - my Mum who you all know has been ill, had a crisis and went from ill to near terminal and I had to make a lot of calls and rush down to London. Luckily she is now being well cared for and seems comfortable. I thought for a while that she wouldn't last long but she's a tough old boot and is hanging in there just now. I've been a doctor for many years (25) and am surprised at my own response to it.

You would have thought that with all that going on, I wouldn't be writing a blog post or even playing with a puzzle at all but I certainly have found that in times like these I need something to occupy my mind to stop me dwelling on the terrible occurrences of last week (even medical professionals feel the stress when it is one of their own) - solving something fun and writing a blog post is a bit cathartic for me and very therapeutic. I definitely would not be up to doing a Revomaze but I find that a simple little puzzling diversion is just the ticket. I rummaged in my "to be solved" stash from Tomas at Sloyd and found the Hanayama Cast Keyhole. This puzzle is a beautiful little thing designed by the Finnish Vesa Timonen and is available at the bargain price of €14.95 from Sloyd. I guess that if you live in North America it might be cheaper to get it from Puzzle Master here for $12.95.

It arrived in the usual Hanayama immaculate black packaging and the instructions on the box say simply to take it apart and then put it back together again. The puzzle is 6.9 x 2.6 x 4.5 cm and made from lovely shiny gold and chrome metal. I took the photo before I had even played with it at all because these puzzles do get marked by fingerprints immediately and they do get scratched during play - the gold one in particular will look very scratched fairly quickly.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Pole Dancing - Earned me a Whack! Ouch! and Worse!

Pole Dancers
Despite being on annual leave this week, I have actually not had much time to do that much puzzling and don't have enough time or energy to write much today. This is partly because my fitness drive started this week (and nearly killed me) and also the stress of my mother's illness has left me more sleep deprived than ever. My concentration ability has not been great as a result. I also was forced by "she who must be feared and cringed from" to tidy up my study - the results of which can be seen on my New additions page here. At least after many hours of tidying I have made a bit more space for any new toys that might be coming my way Whack! Ouch! No dear! I promise I am not expecting anything at the moment! Apart from...... Whack! Ouch!

I seem to have an awful lot to go!
My mojo seems to have abandoned me! I continued to work on Wil's exchange puzzle and finally after several days managed to solve the first 2 challenges in a way that was repeatable and that meant that I understood them. Remember that it is important to be able to solve a puzzle repeatably before you can claim that it is conquered and the challenges in Wil's leaflet are surprisingly difficult for such a simple design. Number 3 is killing me and I haven't even begun to use the extra piece yet. I have also singularly failed to solve Allard's exchange puzzle!

Luckily a few days ago, Steve sent me a copy of his IPP exchange puzzle - It is called the Pole dancers and was designed by the helical genius, Derek Bosch. I have reviewed every single one of these puzzles so far and could not resist playing with this as soon as it arrived. Unlike all the others in the series, this consists of 3 pieces instead of 4 and the core is a solid stick - hence the name as the other 2 helical pieces seem to dance around the central pole. Steve printed it himself on one of his Threedy printers and used a pair of beautiful vibrant colours. The layers have been beautifully smoothed so I assume that he also used an acetone vapour chamber to produce such a spectacular finish.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

The Ball and Chain is Going to Cause Much Pain!

Wil's exchange puzzle
They say that "absence makes the heart grow fonder" and it is true....but ONLY up to a point. The current "ball and chain" skipped up to Edinburgh to visit her parents and left me alone for a few days. Now normally this would be an excuse for me to veg out, play with my toys, drink loads and loads of red wine and gin (No! Not mixed together!) and generally be a slob. But unfortunately, I had had so much to drink the previous weekend at the gin festival and then the following few days as an organiser and attendee at a major medical conference (VASGBI annual scientific meeting) seemed to include a fair bit of booze too. So when Mrs S left, I decided I had better give my liver a rest - I really don't want to have to carry it around in a wheelbarrow! Luckily for me I had a series of deliveries whilst she was away that involved her least favourite of my toys - yes there were a good few disentanglement puzzles and you know that if I jingle I automatically earn a Whack! Ouch! Or a burn from the laser burning stare! So last night whilst sitting companionably together watching the last night of the proms on TV I started to make some annoying noises and the fondness that had accumulated immediately vanished and pain ensued! Sigh!

Bastard evil puzzle!
I would like to say that the "wife induced" pain is the main reason that I have singularly failed to solve Allard's evil puzzle but I can't really blame "her" entirely! I have sort of worked out what is required and my friend George Bell has confirmed my thoughts (remember to go and buy a copy of his exchange puzzle here if you missed it last week) but for the life of me I cannot seem to get the pieces into the correct position to allow the first critical move to be done! My eternal shame is compounded even more having just had an email from Shane showing his copy in pieces - he confesses that he is rubbish at these and so I (who am supposed to be moderately experienced) am feeling rather ashamed of myself! I will continue to blame Mrs S so as not to destroy my self image. Whack! Ouch! Ooh! Sorry dear!

At the top of this post is a recent purchase from the latest update courtesy of Wil Strijbos. As soon as I saw it I knew that I just HAD to have a copy. First it is a disentanglement, second it has multiple challenges and third it is just beautifully made and has a reset mechanism (which is just as well). It has the look of a Jean Claude Constantin production and was given away at the Ottawa IPP by Wil as his exchange puzzle. It comes with a leaflet displaying 10 possible challenges and says that more are possible:

Drool! Lots of puzzles in one!
The reset mechanism is by pulling the pin out of one of the balls and releasing the string. It arrived in the position for challenge 7 (which is the Ottawa exchange puzzle) but I decided to start at an easier one - namely number 1 (the top photo is actually that configuration). I have spent 3 days playing with this damned thing and have managed to dismantle it twice and still have absolutely no clue how I managed it! I have had to use the reset mechanism to put it back to the beginning each time because having taken it apart I couldn't even reverse the process. The actual shapes of the pieces are not complex and the string is not long so getting knotted up is not a problem. This puzzle should not be as hard as it is but I have found that (like Allard's puzzle) the crucial moves that I want to take are blocked by the narrowness of the metal U. Last night having received pain for Allard's puzzle, I quickly moved onto this one and even with wooden parts it still was noisy enough to earn me another Whack! Ouch! Lord! I'm covered in bruises! Can you imagine what state I will be in by the time I have solved Allard's puzzle AND all 10 challenges? I have to say that this is an absolutely BRILLIANT design - if disentanglements are your thing then get one NOW!

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Exchange puzzles cause a LOT of Whack! Ouch!

Errm! It's Housing Crunch by George Bell
It has been quite a good week for me in terms of puzzle acquisition and solving - yes I know it seems to you all that every week is a good week for me but I promise that I don't receive new toys every day (or even every week). If I was to start collecting at that rate Mrs S would give me such a hard Whack! Ouch! that I would be incapable of doing anything for months afterwards and may even end up in the ICU - she IS a very strong and violent girl (remember she IS Scottish! Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear!) I really am not terribly bright - you would think I would have learned by now!

Two prototypes
Earlier this week I received a copy of a puzzle from George Bell. Over the last 2½ years I have helped him test his prototypes for the IPP puzzle exchange. He contacted me in February 2013 and asked if I would help and critique the puzzle he was designing. He did say:
"There are only five pieces, how hard can it be?"
I am not stupid enough to fall for that one again - my experience (and many others I have tortured) with the Symmetrick puzzle with only 2 pieces has showed me that number of pieces is NO guide at all to difficulty! Despite my protestation that I was terrible at packing puzzles, I did seem to provide useful feedback. The first one to arrive was the one with the rectangular shaped tray. When I got it, I struggled a bit initially (I did say that I was bad at these) but found a solution after about half an hour of random movements - I wish that I had better techniques than that! Much to my surprise (and George's I actually found a second solution which he had not expected. George paid me the huge complement of letting me know that I had actually solved it quicker than one of our puzzling doyens, Dick Hess! I made a suggestion about how he might prevent the second solution and he went away to think about it. The puzzle was not used as his exchange in London in 2014 and I assumed that he must have struggled to find a way to make it work properly. I was, of course, wrong. If you ask Mrs S she would tell you that I am almost always wrong! but if I was you I would keep as far away as possible from the violent Scottish girl! Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear! I don't know how she keeps managing to creep up on me so quietly.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Coordinated and Interlocked with a Pelikan

The attendees of the Taiwanese Puzzle Party
Not my usual top of blog post photo above! I'm first of all sending you off to read a fascinating blog post on Rox's site. It was written by my good friend Otis Cheng for the mf8 forum in Chinese and then he translated it (for me) to be a guest article here which I was going to publish this coming week. Roxanne, being the cheeky minx that she is, hijacked it before I could get to it but it makes such great reading that I need to send you away from my site to hers for a jolly good read. The Hong Kong and Chinese puzzlers all had a wonderful trip to Taiwan and attended several days of events which looked absolutely marvelous. I followed their escapades on Facebook with great interest and was delighted to be able to put faces to some of the very famous names in the puzzling world. I even got to see a photo of a very good friend!

Now to the main subject of my post this weekend - last week I noticed with huge interest when Jakub Dvorak of the New Pelikan Workshop posted some gorgeous pictures of new puzzles that he and his partner Jaroslav Švejkovský had manufactured and were about to bring out for sale. Of course I couldn't resist buying all 3 of them and this week they arrived much to the disgust of the present Mrs S. Luckily for me she had been on her own little shopping trip on the internet and couldn't really complain at me too much or deliver a Whack! Ouch! After placing my order, I was amazed that it only took 5 days for the puzzles to arrive here from the Czech Republic. As always beautifully boxed and safe from damage. If you are thinking about getting into wooden interlocking puzzles then you cannot beat Pelikan for quality and value for money.

Co-Mo Cross

Saturday, 22 August 2015

The Naga Puzzle - Another Unexpected Gift

How can this be the work of a beginner?

The Naga Puzzle
We have a post a day early this week because I have to work all day tomorrow in the Trauma operating theatre and won’t have time to write anything for you. Luckily the present Mrs S knows how important my blog is to me (and hopefully to you) so she has allowed me time on Saturday away from DIY etc to produce a review of something very special.

I do tend to consider myself very lucky. I have a very tolerant wife who puts up with this truly ridiculous hobby of mine with only the occasional Whack! Ouch! I have great friends in the puzzling community who are happy to discuss my obsession with me and share their thoughts and even let me play with their new toys and I even have the great good fortune to be in contact with (and even be great friends with) some fantastic puzzle designers like Shane, Wil, Steve, Stephan and Alfons.

The Hales Puzzle collection - I am honoured
She won't let it be on display!
One of my greatest puzzle friendships has been with Shane, who initially contacted me to discuss the blog, collecting and solving puzzles and over a period I discovered that he was a Master woodworker (with a certificate too!) and I sort of encouraged him to turn some of his ideas into a real puzzle. It started slowly but Hales Puzzles was established and his work is now highly sought after. In fact, his work now stands on display on the sideboard of my dining room with huge pride (although that hideous dirty case from the Pentagon has been put in the loft on pains of another Whack Ouch!).

I have always hoped that someone else would do what Shane has done so generously but because puzzle design and production is so difficult, it could not happen frequently. Steve Miller sent me his Spam puzzle last week and I investigated it with trepidation - it had a curious smell of burnt wood which luckily was not from some explosive that he had set up but actually came from laser cut and engraved wood. The Spam puzzle will prove to me an absolutely horrific challenge for even the most ardent of packing puzzle fans - thank heavens I didn't just up-end the tin and shake it all out. It would probably be a pile of sticks forever more. I think even Dave Holt (THE metagrobologist) who adores packing puzzles might even be stumped by it!
What is so tough about it?  Remember that Steve is an evil genius! At the top of the tin I have removed the title spam and you see just the top puzzling layer - each layer is about 5 mm thick! Just look at this:

Just one layer!
Now imagine upending a tin containing 15 layers! Each with a different way of dissecting a slice of "spam" up into many pieces with many different orientations and shapes, some of which are very small! Yet again, thank heavens I didn't up-end the tin! Phew! Have a look at my New Additions page to get a view of true horror!

2 Piece cube
Earlier this year I was contacted by a new designer called Carsten Elsäßer from Germany who wanted to gift me a new design of his so that I could play with it and review it for him. At that time I had no real expectations of quality from him and was absolutely amazed when the Two Piece Cube arrived. Not only was it simply gorgeous, but it turned out to be a really clever puzzle with a nice Aha! moment. Then, when it came to the second and third challenges it revealed itself to be a truly elegant idea. I took this to the last Midlands Puzzle Party and a few people attempted it. What amazed me most was when the Puzzle solving machine that is Louis Coolen sat down and played with it. Of course he solved it! But he had a big smile on his face when he realised the nuances of what is required. Approval from Louis is a VERY big thing - he really appreciates elegance.


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