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.

In November 2014 I heard from George again - he mentioned that he was testing a second tray for the Housing Crunch puzzle and would again like my assessment. It would use the same pieces as the original. He wanted to know whether I was able to find my original pieces as he was prone to losing track of his puzzles. I have a touch of the CDO (that is a particularly severe form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in which I! Aaaargh!) so I immediately hit my database and found them very quickly - see it paid off. The house shaped tray duly arrived (along with some very nice keychain puzzles and I set to to find as many solutions as possible. Again, I managed to find the solution (only the one!) in about 20 minutes. Maybe I'm not as bad at these as I first thought? The 2 puzzles were then all set to be produced as George's exchange puzzle in the Ottawa IPP35 which I was unable to go to. Sob!

Final exchange version
Recently George contacted me again to offer to send me the finished version for me to play with and it arrived at the beginning of the week. It is a stunning implementation in a book format made from laser cut wood by Orange Kat LLC which opens out to reveal the 5 house pieces (coloured this time) and the 2 trays. On his site George has some hints if you need it as well as the full solutions but I would hope that you shouldn't need it. The puzzles have been designed to trip you up.

When I opened the final version I was blown away by the beautiful implementation and immediately set to the solve. I started on the house shaped tray and managed it after about an hour of struggling! Despite having done it before, I still found it difficult - maybe I should go back and resolve some of my old puzzles and save some money? Don't any of you DARE tell the present wife that idea! The second tray I saved for Friday morning and whilst waiting for my orthopaedic surgeon to get off his arse and come to theatre (OR to the yanks) I managed to solve it after some real effing and blinding in about ½ hour much to my surprise. That solution is really counterintuitive!

Poor poor David!
I tortured my anaesthetic assistant last Friday during a very very long revision total ankle replacement (5 hours of operating!) - he solved the house shaped tray quite quickly but got totally stumped on the rectangular one which really does have a brilliant trick to it! Eventually he asked me to help him and despite having done it a couple of hours earlier it took me quite some time to repeat it. I have to repeat - it is designed to throw you into the wrong way of thinking! Poor David! I've been torturing with puzzles for 4 or 5 years now and he's actually quite good at them now but I wouldn't dream of telling him that.

The puzzle (and the 2 keychain puzzles) is available now from George's Etsy shop - go get one now whilst they are still available - they are a fantastic little diversion and a truly brilliant challenge for beginners and experts alike.

My current fave!

After a small email conversation with Allard, a copy of his exchange puzzle arrived at my house just before I was about to head into central Sheffield to attend a gin festival! Steve Canfield eat your heart out!!!! Actually his drinking is far more advanced than mine! If you haven't seen Steve's blog about Boxes and cocktails to go with them then do pay him a little visit - both the puzzles and the drinks are simply awe-inspiring! After sampling 12 gins between the 2 of us yesterday I have another few to add to my must buy list (my current favourite is a G&T made with Edinburgh gin's raspberry liqueur and garnished with frozen raspberries)! Luckily we only have cats and no children so the "Mother's ruin" will not affect our family!

I came home rather the worse for wear (luckily I NEVER get hangovers or you would not have anything to read today) and set to playing with Allard's exchange puzzle - the Loopy Box.

Front view (missing panel)
Rear view
At the exchange everyone is supposed to give a little talk to the recipient and their assistant. Allard's was along these lines:
"The patter was all around the disentanglement, telling people it was horrible, made up of a pair of standard claws, connected by a u-shape which just keeps getting in the way... then told people unfortunately JCC had run out of resealable plastic bags - a requirement for exchange puzzles - so he locked them away inside these little boxes"
When I had discussed getting a copy with Allard, I was disappointed to hear that he had run out but it would appear that he had one final copy that was incomplete - a front decorative panel was missing but the puzzle was intact. This wouldn't put me off at all. It was a disentanglement puzzle and designed and made by the great Jean Claude Constantin so I could not resist! The first puzzle is to open the box containing the main puzzle. The box is hinged at the back but cannot be opened because the string is very tightly latched shut by the string going through the front panel. The dial on top turns after lifting the locking pin and it is clear that there must be some way to unloop the string. I worked out in my head how to do it quite quickly but the implementation is much harder than the plan! I picked up a very thin sharp knife to use as a tool and then put it down in shame when Mrs S asked me very pointedly if that was part of the intended solution! Damn! She can even give me a verbal Whack! Ouch! She is so talented in her violence! Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear! So to answer your question, Allard, No I haven't used any tools on it!

I spent the best part of an hour trying to solve this initial dexterity puzzle and finally managed it with a swear word of relief!

There's another puzzle in there!
The cats were particularly interested in the packing paper in the box and quickly a couple of pieces were being patted around the kitchen much to "her" disgust and another Whack! Ouch! for me! Inside amongst all the paper is another disentanglement puzzle:

This really looks like fun!
This appears to be 2 pieces from a very popular puzzle - the Hanayama cast claw but with the pieces separated by one of those U pieces that JCC has been so fond of recently! Allard described the disentanglement as "pure evil" on Facebook when Eitan Cher showed his one off (he had received it as a Greenhorn gift). I was a little suspicious but in a recent email exchange Allard said this about it:
"Only a handful of people have solved it... and none of them have really solved it, they've managed to take it apart once or twice... I spent a month and took it apart and put it together ONCE! Louis documented the solution...!"
OMG! This is AWESOME! How could I resist such a thing? Derek seem to be convinced that I am the next disentanglement guru down after Dick Hess and so to prove him wrong I will almost certainly singularly fail at this puzzle! I have played with it for a little while and earned a rather hefty Whack! Ouch! from Mrs S for making those hated jingly noises whilst watching TV together.

So far I have had no luck at all with it - it truly is evil - every move you try to make ends up blocked and at some point you manage to make something that looks like Borromean rings (which is impossible). I will keep on trying and will let you know if and when I manage to solve it.

Now you can see that these exchanges have inflicted considerable pain! Both to my assistant as well as in the form of many Whack! Ouch!'s received from Mrs S! But it has been worth it!

I also want to make it worthwhile for someone else - George requested that I pass on my copy of the Housing crunch puzzle to someone deserving of it seeing as I already have the prototypes. I don't plan on holding a competition for it. I will give it away to someone I feel has earned it. I did initially consider Shane but I know for a fact that he really isn't particularly into packing puzzles and he has just taken ownership of the Naga puzzle which is definitely more up his street. I feel that this puzzle should go to someone who really enjoys packing puzzles:

Mr Dave Holt is the head honcho at "The Metagrobologist" magazine and tirelessly works to inform everyone about the puzzle world. He has had a lot of bad luck recently with health and job (all of which is improving now) and he adores packing puzzles so it will be him that gets to receive this wonderful new toy! Thanks for all that you do Dave!

Remember if you want a copy of the Housing crunch then go to George's Etsy shop and pick up a copy before they run out.


  1. Kevin the Housing Crunch sounded so good I grabbed a copy. Thanks for the great review. I haven't managed to track down a loopy box yet, I couldn't make it to the MPP! Now, more importantly, you should try that delicious looking gin with a little fresh squeezed lemon juice, a little sugar syrup, and a splash of sparking water and Bob's your uncle.

    1. I think that there are no more loopy boxes available but there are a few of the disentanglement puzzles from inside available but it's definitely not one for beginners!

      As for your gin recipe - yummy! I'll have to give that a try!

  2. Qualcuno sa dirmi se i numeri che ci sono sulla loopy box servono per aprirla e se per caso serve una moneta per risolvere il rompicapo? Grazie

    1. I numeri non sono usati per risolvere il puzzle e non è necessaria una moneta.