Sunday 26 April 2015

When Bi-Nary is not Binary

Bi-Nary Puzzle
Many months ago (it was sometime last year) Wil Strijbos released his last update and many of us in the puzzle world jumped into our bank balances and sent as much as we could to Wil. I know I did! One of the puzzles in his last selection was the Bi-Nary puzzle which was a new N-Ary design by the great Jean Claude Constantin. Everyone in the world knows now how addicted I am to this group of puzzles and one of them (Labynary) even made it to number 5 in my top puzzles of 2014. So of course, I couldn't resist it and it (along with a few others) was quickly winging its way from The Netherlands to me in the Midlands of the UK.

My original arrived and I was a little disappointed that a piece of the primary slider had been snapped off in transit. However it looked very delicate and was relatively easy to fix with a bit of wood glue and some small clamps. You can see the amateurish repair in the bottom right of the photo below. This stopped me playing for the first few days.

The original Bi-Nary
I can't remember why (I suspect I got distracted by another toy in the package) but I didn't dive into it straight away after I had repaired it. Another reason for not playing immediately was that it scared me to death! There seemed to be so many parts that moved and interacted with each other. In a way I was lucky I didn't start quickly - I was part of a 3 way email conversation with Allard and Goetz who were complaining that it seemed more difficult than it should be and that they suspected there was an error in its' manufacture. I am not really qualified to be able to analyse a puzzle of this complexity to discover whether it can be solved or not so I kept an eye on the analysis that Goetz did. There is probably no one in the world apart from JCC himself other than Goetz who is better qualified to carry out an analysis of these sort of puzzles. Once Goetz had pronounced it insoluble, I just put it aside to wait for a fix.

It took a month but JCC agreed with the analysis and worked out a fix to make it solvable. This involved pulling out a metal knob and seemed to me to be an ugly solution but I was reassured by a communication from JCC (via Wil) that a new version was being produced that functioned correctly and would be provided to all those who bought the faulty one. So we all waited and at the last MPP Wil attended and handed over the replacement puzzles - you can see from the picture below that JCC used the time as an excuse to make it more sturdy and more colourful as well as to fix the mazes to allow it to work.

Sunday 19 April 2015

The puzzle geniuses do it again!

Three Helical burrs - Helical, W(h)orl(e)d and HELLical!
Not long ago I posted a review of the second (tougher version) of a new type of puzzle - that is a 4 piece burr which has been rotated into a double (?quadruple?) helix shape. The original was the Helical burr  designed by the amazing Derek Bosch and (my version at least) 3D printed by Shapeways before the terrible "PriceApocalypse" which effectively killed much puzzle design. There have also been a few copies made on his Threedy printer by my good friend Steve Nicholls. I absolutely adored the first Helical burr and was not at all surprised when it won the Jury grand prize at the IPP design competition in 2013.

Earlier this year I was chatting to Derek and he told me about his design for a significantly harder version of the Helical burr which he named the HELLical burr and was delighted to be able to get a copy from Steve. This was by first experience of a home 3D printed version and was very pleased to see how fabulously smooth the version was. I gushed about that one here and even went so far as to post videos of the disassembly and assembly to help people who were truly stumped they can be found here and here. The HELLical burr was really was extremely tough and, having practiced it so much for the video, Steve decided that he would use my skills at the last MPP! He forced me to disassemble and assemble a fair number of the ones that he had made to work out which had acceptable tolerances! Since then I think he has made and sold a considerable quantity all over the world.

I was aware that Derek had been working on another design with Steve but did not realise how far along they had got until about a month ago I realised that I had missed an announcement on Facebook that the third design, the W(h)orl(e)d Burr, was complete and actually being produced for sale! Unluckily for me the whole lot had sold out within a single evening! I tried not to send a whinging email to Steve that I had missed it because I knew that he was really busy with his new job as well as starting the massive task of printing his exchange puzzle for this years IPP. My friend Jamie did manage to obtain one of the new ones and posted on his FB page that he was finding it quite tough - this didn't surprise me initially. But I was surprised that even after a week or so he had not managed to assemble his copy. I know Jamie is now quite an accomplished puzzler and if he struggled that much then I really needed to try for myself - I was expecting a horrendous task. I was really pleased when after just a few weeks Steve put up another batch for sale on Paradise and I nabbed one straight away. It arrived (with a nice note) a few days later.
"Happy twisting and here's hoping you are soon on top of the w(h)orl(e)d"
4 rather similar looking plastic helices - how on earth to put these together?

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Down Under Updated

Having read my post about the fantastic packing/sliding piece puzzle, Down Under that I reviewed last Sunday, I was emailed by the "puzzle solving machine" that is Louis Coolen from the Netherlands. He apparently had also enjoyed solving this puzzle (this shows how good it is) and was surprised to read about my solution that had one piece flipped over (he wondered whether there are any more variants like that - I haven't been able to find any) but told me that he had found a third solution which I should hunt for. What great value for money is that???

He did give a little clue by saying the solution agreed with the puzzle name. I had a little play during a break at work and managed to find his third solution after a short while which, I must say, required quite a bit more planning and sliding to produce than the previous solutions. Really quite a nice idea and good to get yet another interesting aspect to this puzzle. If you are interested or need the solution then click on the button below:

Down under solution that agrees with the name!

So if this interests you then it can be bought at the usual stores - including Puzzle Master here.

Sunday 12 April 2015

Down Under

Down Under with the T removed
This week I am back to my dwindling supply from Puzzle Master in order to continue showing off some of the more affordable puzzles out there for you. My insomnia has recently got much worse (down from about 4 hours sleep to 3-3½!!) and so I have taken to trying some of the more difficult puzzles in the evenings whilst Mrs S and I watch TV. If I just watch TV or try to work on a simple puzzle (one which doesn't require huge amount of thought) then I quickly find myself annoying Mrs S as I drop off to sleep and snore rather loudly in front of the TV - Yes I know that’s not a good image and I do apologise! However you should at least appreciate the tremendous skill involve with snoring whilst actually sitting upright!

I have been putting off attempting the Down Under puzzle for a while - it is primarily a packing puzzle and I am notoriously awful at these. It has gotten so bad that I have more or less stopped buying them unless they are either beautiful or there is some other interesting puzzling feature to them. I said that this is primarily a packing puzzle but in this case it does have that other feature in that it is also a sliding piece puzzle (another group which I am not good at and have almost none in my collection). On top of that I suspected from the shape that it required non orthogonal moves to solve it (because it shares some features with the T for two and T for three puzzles I wrote about in July last year.

This puzzle is produced by the fantastic German puzzle company, Siebenstein Spiele (oddly they don't appear to have a website of their own) and was designed by Jürgen Reiche. It is made from acrylic and beautifully laser cut and engraved pieces of wood in several colours. In the pack, the leaflet gives the instruction to put all 6 pieces beneath the acrylic lid into the frame. It also says there are more challenges on the reverse of the paper but when I flipped it over it was blank! Luckily the Puzzle Master product page has the other challenges listed on it! Puzzle Master have rated this as level 9 (Gruelling) on their scale of 5 to 10 which is a bit higher than the manufacturer’s own rating of 5 on a scale of 1 to 7. At 11.2 cm square and 1.5cm deep this is a great puzzle to slip into a bag to use on the go and is good value at $27 (especially with the current fall in value of the Canadian dollar). No solution is provided in the package but it can be downloaded from here.

Sunday 5 April 2015

Great puzzles, great workmanship, FANTASTIC customer service

My latest delivery from Wood Wonders
I have written quite a lot over the last few years about Brian Menold and his wonderful work at Wood Wonders. You all know that after he lost his job he turned to puzzle making full time and I make it my business to try and keep his business going. I like to buy a few of his new releases each time that he makes an announcement and about 6 weeks ago was no exception. I chose a few puzzles that were either full of multiple rotations (a subgroup of puzzles that I really got into after my friend Bernhard Schweitzer introduced me to them) and one that a really good friend told me as soon as he saw the preview pictures that I just had to get! The puzzles in the picture above are Dizzy cube, 4C Vortex and Brackets burr.

Brian finished making them and after I paid he let me know what the price of postage would be and after a small PayPal transaction they were dropped off in a small US post office (apparently to small to know what they were doing with international postage!). After a few weeks they had not arrived and I had not really thought much about it when Brian sent me an email to ask about their arrival. He asked me to wait a while longer and if they didn't make it here he would make good. Another 2 or 3 weeks later I received an email from the USPS that a certain Wood Wonders had sent me another package. I contacted him to offer some more money as I didn't want him to lose out and he wouldn't hear anything of it. It would appear that he had made a couple more and sent them off to me at his own expense. They arrived just a week later and that is a testament to his phenomenal customer service - you just know that whatever you buy WILL arrive and WILL be beautiful!