Sunday, 26 July 2015

City Trip - Dick Strikes Back!

City Trip - aka Return of Tricky Dick
As usual, every second week I try to write about a puzzle that is available to all the “normal” puzzlers out there. I am very aware that I am in a very privileged position being able to buy so many expensive puzzles and I don’t want to limit my reviews to those that many of you can never afford or get your hands on. For the youngsters out there, let me say that if you want to get hold of these expensive toys then make sure you get a good education and then get a really good job to help you pay for this very expensive hobby. For example, I am a doctor, Allard is an actuary and Roxanne is a university researcher and educator. It also helps to only have one expensive hobby and also to have a VERY forgiving spouse! Whack! Ouch! Thank you dear!

This time I intend to review another of the puzzles that I got from my recent order from Tomas Linden’s Sloyd based in Finland - his store has a huge selection of puzzles from all over the world including some of the greatest designers of all time. The prices are good and the service from Tomas is superb. The puzzle I am reviewing today is the City Trip in the Eureka puzzles Bon Voyage range. These are also available from Puzzle Master but must be bought as a whole set.

A pair of trippers or a pair of Dicks? Whack Ouch! Sorry dear!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

In a Burr, Visible Does Not Mean Easy

Visible Burr - designed by Bill Cutler made by Eric Fuller
Above you see a burr that I bought some months ago from the amazing Eric Fuller. It is the Visible burr designed by Bill Cutler in 1978 and originally made by Jerry McFarland. The original aim as stated by Bill was to produce something that was difficult to dismantle but which could be done by careful analysis because the shapes of all the pieces could be seen. Bill wrote this:
I like to design burrs which are difficult to take apart. This requires irregular notches in the pieces, and I usually like to hide these in the interior of the puzzle. With the Visible Burr, I decided to make all of the notches visible to the solver. Solution of this puzzle can thus be done by analyzing the notches, rather then by using trial-and-error.
Despite waiting for several years for Bill to produce more, it just didn't seem to be happening so when Eric decided to make a run of them (he only produced 40), I had to jump at the chance. Plus look at the gorgeous woods he used! It is Canarywood, Purpleheart and Paduak and is a BIG puzzle by Eric's standards coming in at a whopping 4.75" on each side. The price was moderately high but looking at the wood and the workmanship I couldn't complain but I was a bit shocked to find out that Eric was going to ship them in the disassembled state or, if you prefer, would charge an extra $10 to assemble them for you. I looked at the words "difficult to take apart" and thought that there would be absolutely no chance at all that I could assemble it from scratch. I also wanted the experience that Bill had originally intended so I stumped up the extra ten bucks.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Labyrinth from SiamMandalay

I can dismantle puzzles but really struggle to assemble the buggers!

Labyrinth Puzzle
A little while ago I received a contact from Sean Allen of SiamMandalay.com asking whether I’d be interested in reviewing one of his shop’s puzzles. I have been aware of Sean for a while as he has been the author of several rather cerebral articles in various places as well as on his personal blog. His latest article on disentanglement puzzles was particularly fascinating for someone like me who is so addicted to bits of wire and string. Some articles have been on the advantages of puzzling for our brain’s health. Whilst I don’t always agree with his claims (despite wanting to) he always seemed fair and very pleasant to chat to with an interesting opinion. His shop is very nicely laid out and the aim seems to be to help local artisans in Thailand.

I insisted that I wanted to be able to give an honest review including a negative one if necessary and he had such confidence in his wares that he immediately said yes. After pointing me to a few links of some of the tougher puzzles on his site, I suggested he pick one that he thought I might enjoy. A week later a box arrived with a copy of Labyrinth in it. You have probably noticed that I have had quite a few deliveries recently and couldn’t possibly solve them all in one go and write reviews. This one went on the shelf next to me until I had time to play and then it was time to write an “affordable puzzle” review - that time is now.

The puzzle arrived in a small plastic box (not a finger-murdering clamshell) and the aim on the paper insert said:
Are you brave enough to pull apart this labyrinth and put it back together again?
So during a few days off and due to the incessant rain preventing any gardening or outdoor DIY I picked it up and had a play. Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear - I really had to! I actually expected from the picture that it was going to be an interlocking cube type puzzle and got a bit of a shock when in the process of taking it out of the box it fell apart into these pieces:

Quite a lot of interesting pieces! Nice grain on the wood
The puzzle is a 2.5” cube based on a 4x4x4 voxel grid with all the corners missing. The wood looks rather like the ubiquitous Monkeypod wood which has the advantage of a nice grain and is a very sustainable resource (I’m pretty certain that some of my home furniture may contain it). It is nicely cut and glued and pleasant to hold. It is not up to the standards of the handmade beauties that I have bought recently from Brian, Eric and Stephan but this (and most of the others on the site) is a fraction of the cost. No solution is provided with the puzzle but if you really want one the solutions can be downloaded from their solution page - the Labyrinth is rated difficult and you might well need it.

I was quite flushed with success after spending an hour on Steve’s Tripod puzzle which had vexed me since IPP last year. He had given me some clues after my exasperated article a few weeks ago and I needed every single one of those clues to finally assemble the Tripod. It is a wonderful design and I think that it will stay assembled forevermore:

FINALLY! An assembled Tripod puzzle!
Convinced that my puzzle assembly abilities had suddenly increased, I set to on the Labyrinth. I was a little horrified to find that Sean wasn’t kidding with that difficulty rating! I really struggled with it! It reminded me a little bit of a Soma cube but with slightly more complex pieces. SiamMandalay do sell a Soma cube if you want one. I think this might well have taken me a couple of hours and quite a lot of swearing before I finally had it together! If you are a little frightened then I would suggest that you remove the puzzle from the box more carefully than me and explore a little how it goes together. If you are feeling reckless or invincible then just scramble the bits immediately like I did!

I am now even more convinced than ever that I am a disassembler of puzzles more than an assembler - please note that I maintain that I am NOT a puzzle breaker! I have even had a discussion with Derek about it and he certainly agrees that it requires a very different set of mental muscles to put things together rather than take apart. He, of course, is an absolute genius and particularly good at designing interlocking puzzles - it hadn’t taken him long to assemble his copy of the Tripod.

As absolute proof of how much better I am at disassembling than assembling - I give you the 4 Keys puzzle:

4 Keys - how hard can it be?
This lovely handmade creation was a gift from the master of disentanglements, Dick Hess, at our recent Midlands Puzzle Party. I adore these and set to taking it apart the following evening and managed to get it into the 5 pieces in about ½ hour. I was quite surprised that it was quite different to a design with a similar name - the “5 keys puzzle” which I had bought a couple of years earlier:

4 separated keys - how hard can assembly be? Sob!
I left the pieces for a few hours before attempting to reassemble and OMG! What a shock! I knew how to get 3 of the 4 back in place but the first and most difficult proved to be totally beyond me. I sat with Mrs S in the living room and bravely tried to put it back in place with no success for 3 full evenings in a row. I received quite a number of Whack! Ouch!’s from “she who must be obeyed” (or she who must be run away from) and only after humiliating myself by thinking of begging Dick for a solution did I suddenly gain some insight and manage it.

I maintain that I am definitely a disassembler and not an assembler. Maybe Sean, can write an article on the skills required for each type and how I can enhance my sadly missing skills? So if you are an assembler or want to be one and would like to try a very nice and very tough puzzle from Thailand then I can wholeheartedly recommend the Labyrinth as a really good challenge for a reasonable price.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

3 Fantastic Craftsmen....

2 Brilliant Puzzles Each.... 
1 Puzzle Uniquely Mine

Erm... I guess it's the Closed Box?
Vauban H5
It has been a while since I bought anything new from the New Pelikan Workshop. The last time I wrote a review the puzzles in question sold out within a few days and I'd like to think that I may have played a small part in that. Jakub contacted me 2 weeks ago to ask if I'd like the opportunity to buy an early copy of a puzzle that they were making and maybe I could write them a few words on it. Of course I was delighted - their work has never disappointed me and I jumped at the chance to buy! Both these puzzles will be available to buy on their site on 8th July. I was stunned when I first took them out the package and started to explore. The accuracy of the workmanship is simply stunning - we are accustomed to Pelikan's work being good but this is taking it to a whole new level! The pieces are so so smooth and the tiny fine bevelling on the pieces allows them to slide over each other with minimal catching - they are a delight to play with.

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