Sunday, 25 December 2016

Burr Noose

Burr Noose
I did have some plans for a more detailed puzzle review for Xmas but a colleague came to work with a really bad cold and spent time discussing cases with me and coughed and spluttered all around me! As expected, the lurgy has migrated across mucus membranes and I have a delightful case of pneumonic plague just in time for Xmas. I usually tend to shrug these things off quite quickly but this time, being the plague, I am totally poleaxed by it and don't expect to survive beyond Boxing day. Mrs S has instructions on what to do with my collection so don't turn up at my door for handouts!

I have decided to publish a quickie (but a real goodie) for you. Alongside the Tricolore puzzle from Brian Menold I also received a wonderfully colourful copy of Burr Noose designed by Tom Jolly (I really couldn't order just one puzzle could I? That would be bad manners). This is beautifully made and finished by Brian using a wonderful variety of woods - Ash, Osage Orange, Iroko, Lacewood, Padauk and Tzalm with Holly rings for the noose. It is a good size at 7.6x6.7x6 cm and will look great on my shelf.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Interesting burr designs

Inaccurate Burr
Over the last few months I seem to have bought very little from Eric Fuller - this has mostly been due to the timing of his updates being whilst I was asleep and missing out on the ones I was particularly interested in and then also because I had spent my money elsewhere shortly beforehand. I'm sure that you must think that I buy everything in sight but unfortunately it's not true! If I did buy everything I wanted then Mrs S would murder me, skin me and bury me in pieces before dancing on the various burial sites before burning all my toys! I think she's being very unreasonable but I'm terrified of her and so always think twice before adding to my collection!

Eric has recently completely redesigned his site and split his offerings into some new groups including his Signature puzzles which is the bunch we were all buying before and the Artisan puzzles which used to be called the Raleigh puzzles as more affordable and slightly simpler puzzles. Newly added to the site are the Gem series (smaller wood and acrylic puzzles) and a special Limited edition group which are similar quality to the Artisan group but only made twice a year in limited numbers and never to be repeated again. When the new site update went live again a few weeks ago, I happened to be in the kitchen doing the washing up after dinner and immediately stopped what I was doing and browsed the newest toys. There were lots that I lusted after but having just bought the Stickman twisty puzzle for an eye-watering sum (not that I regret it for a nanosecond), I felt that I had to be circumspect and avoid the wrath of she who must be flinched from. In the end I chose one of the Signature puzzles and one of the Limited edition puzzles. They arrived a few days ago whilst "She" was up in Edinburgh visiting her parents pre-Xmas. Thank goodness she has no idea what has arrived recently!

The Inaccurate burr particularly intrigued me - I love 6 piece burrs with a "difference" and this one designed by Junichi Yananose and made in gorgeous Marblewood was irresistible.  Eric said this of it:
It's not easy to come up with a new variation on the traditional six piece burr, but Juno came up with a great one! Because pairs of two pieces are off-centered, the assembled shape of the puzzle looks inaccurate though the pieces need to be accurate. The puzzle is based on one of the notchable sets of a level 9 combination. Thanks to the off-centered pieces the puzzle has unique solution and is very confusing to assemble! 
Construction of this puzzle is perfect! Tolerances are dead-on and fit is sublime.
How could I resist? The day this arrived, I sat down after work and had a play. The first thing I noticed when looking is that everything is off centre. The moves are a nice fun path which I found rather reminiscent of the Piston puzzle by Peter Marineau (I have a gorgeous copy of this from Jerry McFarland) which is a truly wonderful puzzle to assemble and disassemble. There are no blind ends and the disassembly only took me about 10 minutes or so and I had this:

Inaccurate burr pieces - there is something very odd going on here!
Looking at the picture it immediately jumps out at you that there is something wrong. The pieces are all notchable (i.e. can be cut with a router) and whilst most of the cuts along the length of 6 voxels are at 1 unit intervals, it is obvious that the depths and heights of some of the cuts are fractions of a voxel. The other striking thing for me is how truly gorgeous the Marblewood is (I am lucky enough to have a full set of Laszlo Kmolnar packing puzzles in that glorious wood from the wonderful Brian Menold). I scrambled the pieces and left them a while before attempting my reassembly. It took me about 30 minutes (primarily because I seemed to be able to remember the disassembly) which was lucky because in retrospect I have realised that the puzzle might be very very tough to model in Burrtools! I am sure that a genius like Derek could do it but me? Probably not! There is something rather lovely about this puzzle - not hard but great fun and very beautiful!

Loopy Burr
Loopy Burr was the other one that I couldn't resist (Lord! it was hard to stop at just 2). I wanted to see for myself what one of the new and slightly cheaper limited edition puzzles would be like. This one which appeared like another variant of a 6 piece burr was what tickled my fancy and at $33 how could I resist.

There are only going to be 150 copies made and after that they are gone. Eric said this of them:
The Loopy Burr came from the genius brain of Junichi; a very unusual six piece interlocking puzzle with pieces that form three intermingled loops once in the proper position. Finding that position takes eleven moves, and is downright tricky due to the space caused by the loops. Good luck!
Construction of this puzzle is outstanding, with our usual precision down to several thousandths of an inch.
It is made from Wenge and Maple and definitely doesn't quite have the same finish as the signature puzzles. It is, however, still a stunning creation and very finely made as always. The loopy nature of the puzzle is immediately obvious and is a testament to the incredible warped brain of Junichi Yananose. I have quite a few puzzles designed by him and they all share the same unusual and confusing genius.

The first thing that I immediately noticed was that the voxel grid that this is based on is quite a lot larger than a standard 6 piece burr - in fact each stick is based on a 4x3x12 shape and the entire puzzle on a 12x12x12 grid. This was going to be very tough! There are only a few moves possible at first but after about 3 or 4 then things become very confusing and I resorted to my usual exploration technique of make some moves and backtrack, make some more and backtrack again and hopefully lay down some memory tracks to aid in my solution and especially the reassembly. After about 7 or 8 moves I was hopelessly lost; I couldn't backtrack to the beginning and all I could do was keep pressing forward. After what seemed like dozens but according to Eric is only 11 steps I lifted the first piece out and then it collapsed in a heap of sticks.

6 rather confusing sticks - stunning accuracy on the cuts
They are particularly beautiful sticks which really show off an unusual grid design but after what happened there was no way on earth that I was going to be able to put it back together without assistance from Andreas' wonderful program. A major part of the fun with these puzzles for me is the creation of the Burrtools file and this was a pleasant diversion. After that assembling the puzzle was surprisingly simple using the guidance of the computer - Only 1 pair of hands required much to my relief.

I have played with this for 3 evenings in a row whilst watching crap on TV (that's what I do when Mrs S is away!!! I play with toys, eat junk food and watch crap on TV - it gets it out of my system for a few months until her next trip back up North). So far I have managed to disassemble it 4 times and still have no idea how I have done it! This puzzle will have some lasting power as, at level 11, it is worthwhile attempting to understand it. I intend to keep trying until I have mastered it (both ways) without using the computer. I do wonder how many of these Eric assembled before he had it learned and could do it without Burrtools?

I have another couple of toys for after I've mastered this one - I received a nice package from Bernhard Schweitzer at the end of last week and have another 2 "Turning Interlocking Cubes" to play with.

Beautiful Oak puzzle - Twisty Hollow (left) and Little Bruce (Right)
Having gushed over the Little Kenny puzzle designed by Ken Irvine, I got a chance to try the Little Bruce brother that Allard had written about and which I had failed to solve at the last MPP. Bernhard had gotten permission from Ken to make a few after Eric had also released them and I jumped at the chance to obtain a copy. Bernhard's stuff is always very nicely made and looking up to my left in my study, I have a rather HUGE collection of his handiwork - lovely!!! Of course I cannot buy just one puzzle so I picked another TIC which he had available - Twisty Hollow by Tom Jolly looked like fun. These should keep me occupied until Xmas when I will get to start on the Stickman twisty tile puzzle. Nope! It's NOT a box.....it just happens to have a cavity!

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Mrs S is VERY generous

It's a wooden sliding tile/twisty puzzle!

A thing of absolute beauty!
When Robert Yarger sends you an email it's time to say yes! This time I was lucky enough to be selected from his pool of previous clients and interested parties and was offered one of the 50 copies that he made of the latest gorgeousness. I gave a big gulp when it got to the price and hesitated - that is a lot of money. Mrs S saw my gulp and furtive look at her when the email came in that evening and she asked what I was looking guilty about. My response was to say that I might have found her Xmas present to me which I think was very quick thinking on my feet. She said Ok without knowing the price (and she still doesn't) but I told her it was cheaper than the jewellery that I had bought for her Xmas present. Whew! got away with it this time. But should I do it?

I'm definitely not saying that it isn't worth it but it is a serious outlay which needs to be thought about - I always advise puzzlers that no one should spend what they cannot afford - no puzzle is worth getting into debt for. So I chatted with Shane by email and at the MPP - he encouraged me to go with my gut feeling which was to say yes. Many people would say "buy it as an investment" but I can't stand the idea of selling my puzzles and unlike certain other people who buy and then quickly sell on at vastly increased prices, I do not want to consider these wonderful craftsmen as a source of income for me. I consider these puzzles as things of beauty and things to challenge me. Like Allard, Shane and many other collectors, I consider this hobby as a labour of love and I want to help designers, craftsmen and other puzzlers as much as I can - it's NOT about profit.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Tricolore

Tricolore
Just a simple puzzle review today. I again haven't really had lots of spare time recently to play with my toys. The NHS is busier than ever and the pressure is on to get stuff done - the downside of this is I seem to have finished work late every day and been too tired in the evenings.

One puzzle that I acquired recently and solved was the Tricolore from Brian Menold and just looking at it how could anyone resist it? In fact looking at the website just now there appears to be a copy still available - you should seriously think about nabbing one now! Go on, I will wait here whilst you buy.....

Back now? Good; I will continue. This is a 6 board burr designed by Frans de Vreugd who is responsible for some of the best board burrs ever including Torture and Extreme Torture (aka Gordian's Knot) with a relatively "simple" level of 3.15.11.2. Brian said this about it:
When this puzzle was recommended to me I was at first skeptical about making it. I love making board burr puzzles but the reinforcing splines were necessary and add to the cost, and, I didn’t know what made it special. Well, was I ever wrong. This puzzle has a few moves in the middle that just leave you saying “Why did I have to do that!” I think it is truly unique. The splines, needed for reinforcement, are a part of the three-color scheme. With a unique solution, it provides quite a challenge; and as I said earlier, some of the moves are, in my mind, quite special. Lacquer and wax finish.
Knowing who had recommended this puzzle I just knew that there would be something truly wonderful about the solution. He tends to be fairly skeptical about a lot of the new Burrtools designed puzzles and only when one has something truly exceptional will he say that it is good.  As soon as it came up for sale, I nabbed it. Unfortunately the vagaries of Brian's shopping cart system meant that he sold more than he had and I had to wait a week or so for new ones to be made.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Positive Pelikan Perfection

There might have been a bit of excessive puzzle purchasing here! Whack! Ouch!
I seem to have refrained from buying new puzzles for a while (several weeks or maybe even 6!) so it seemed like a good idea to remedy that quickly before Mrs S got used to it! It began with some new toys from Brian Menold which I showed off on my New Additions page and have only really fiddled with so far and then rapidly was followed by a few extra purchases from Jakub who had given me a little heads up on some of his upcoming releases. I have mentioned many many many times how perfect his work is and I pretty much never turn him down. He had 6 puzzles on offer and 5 were completely new so how could I resist? A week after sending the PayPal across Europe some fine wood arrived chez moi. The box was HUGE and Mrs S just slightly irritated. After my unboxing and excited post of the above pic on Facebook, I was pleased that she who frightens the living Bejeeeezus out of me was molified by the sheer beauty of them and especially the gorgeousness that is the Flying Scotsman (designed by Terry Smart).

Jakub asked my opinion on some of them (for his site) and so I set to work on them over the subsequent few days. Just in case you cannot be bothered reading the rest of my rubbish here then let me cut to the ending......these are lovely works of art with a nice puzzling element and are perfect for both collectors and beginners alike. There you go! No need to read any further, go and do something more useful than read my blog!
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Sunday, 20 November 2016

Tankenötter Puzzles

Four excellent Tankenӧtter (brainteaser) designs from 1985, now at the end of their run with Go! Games.
Still commercially available, but only just.  From left to right: Hängbron, Knopar, Ringar, and Politiken
Hello dear readers - I am very grateful once more, for the enormous effort that the Puzzlemad foreign correspondent, Mike Desilets has put into providing you with something to read to today! I have actually singularly failed to solve anything this week and am running out of stuff to write about. I also spent a wonderful day in Barnt Green yesterday courtesy of Allard and the other members of the MPP group where much hilarity was observed - I actually managed to play with some new puzzles and even solve some. But today I am knackered and am very lucky to have a post from Mike pre-prepared and only a bit of editing work for me to do.

There was almost no post at all for you thanks to one of my little buggers! My mouse was at zero charge and would not charge up when put on it's cradle - he had chewed right through the cable in a number of places and a little trimming and splicing was required:

They look so sweet and innocent
But they are destructive little buggers!
Having fixed it, I can hand you over to Mike:

Aloha Kakou readers,

In this very upbeat installment (as promised) I want to introduce, or perhaps reintroduce you to a few classic Erik Johansson entanglements. I’ve been meaning to write something on this set of puzzles for a while and am happy to have finally gotten around to it. These puzzles are attractive for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that they are very inexpensive. In addition to the very reasonable price tag, they are well constructed, visually pleasing, and enjoyable to solve.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Erik Johansson’s work, I highly recommend you click over to his Tankenӧtter website right now. Since I don’t know Erik personally, I unfortunately have to rely heavily on his website (and google translate) for background information. Erik has been designing since the early 1980s, which by my reckoning puts him in the company of other great entanglement designers like Dick Hess, Rick Irby, the Sucilsky’s (Tavern Puzzles), and Frank Gregory (Livewire). These folks, and others, were responsible for the major resurgence of entanglement puzzles in the 1970s and 1980s. Not since the turn of the century had there been a burst of mind-bending creativity like this and the Johanssons were an important part of it. Some might argue that we are still in the midst of it. I’ll leave that to actual puzzle historians. (Ed - I would like to add a new name to the list of disentanglement geniuses Aaron King from China is currently designing the most amazing puzzles and selling them through the Felix Puzzle company)

Before I get to the few Johansson puzzles I own, I’d like to make a few quick observations about his broader body of work. This page lays out most of it. First of all, you can see that it’s quite a diverse lot and many of the designs demonstrate true artistry. I’m especially taken with Gärdsgården, so much so that I’ve borrowed a picture from his webpage to show you. It’s simply beautiful and I expect solving is a significant challenge as well. It looks to be N-ary in nature, a family to which Erik has made numerous contributions. Many of his N-arys are in wire, but at least one other - Fullriggaren - is in wood and string, displaying a distinctly nautical motif. I don’t know how many of these puzzles were produced back in the day, but I have never come across them. I expect they grace the mantles of a shrinkingly small number of Scandinavian homes. (Ed - I don't have any at all - I NEED them!)

Erik Johansson’s Gärdsgården, 1984. Photo from http://www.tankenotter.se.
A preponderance of the puzzles are of wire-string-bead construction with a nice mix of both novel and classic solution types. As with the above masterpieces, most of these are long-since out of production and probably very difficult to find. Those that are currently in production can be found here, as well as through other means, as I’ll explain at the end. In addition to the wire and string, you’ll notice that Erik has also designed a number of puzzles utilizing self-standing wooden posts. I must admit that when I first came across my versions of these, I was not overly interested. We are all familiar with the many wooden post-type puzzles available today, most of which represent endless repackaging of two or three basic puzzles. But luckily my puzzle buying compulsion overcame my disdain and I bought them anyway. I couldn’t be happier with the purchase. 

I should mention here that despite much of the above being in the past tense, Erik remains active in the field.  In 2002 he entered three very interesting entanglements in the IPP 22 Nob Yoshigihara Puzzle Design Competition. You can find them at the design competition page here. Or you can just look at the picture below. He’s obviously still got some tricks up his sleeve. Rope Ladder looks like it requires serious work. If anyone has played with these, kindly leave your thoughts below, I’d love to hear a first-hand account. And if anyone has copies for sale, you can easily maneuver Kevin and I into a very profitable bidding war for them. (Ed - Aaaargh!!!)

Most recent tankenӧtter from the mind of Erik Johansson. Left to right: Rope Ladder, Princess Heart, and Two Brothers.
Photos courtesy of John Rausch’s extremely helpful catalogue of IPP entrants
Now let’s get to the puzzles I actually know about. First up is Knopar, or as my box reads—“knots” (I like the Swedish better). Knopar resembles nothing so much as a very small Van de Graaff generator, but fear not, it will produce only mental sparks. This is the easiest of the four post-type puzzles I will talk about. Knopar consists of two posts and three rings, each of which has an attached length of string. The puzzle is to disentangle the string such that each length is only attached to its parent ring. The solution, as you can clearly see, will involve removal of a few lark’s head knots. Many of you will recognize the structure. Today these are well known maneuvers, but I suspect they were quite novel when Knopar was first conceived in 1985.

Erik Johansson’s 1985 knopar. A faithfully executed commercial copy, probably in beach. The back-side string (mostly hidden) is secured to the left-hand ring permanently and to the right-hand bottom ring with a lark’s head knot
(Solomon Islands two-dollar coin for scale).
This puzzle is not terribly difficult, although certainly not trivial either. Most experienced puzzlers will make short work of it. It’s a good morale builder. The packaging rates it as “medium” on a scale that runs from medium to difficult. That’s your basic puzzle marketing at work. I have it on good authority that puzzles labeled “easy” do not sell well. Consumers want to believe they will get a reasonable challenge for their money and buy accordingly. I understand that Hanayama cast puzzles of level 5 and 6 are overwhelmingly the best sellers (I don’t have a citation, but I swear I read that somewhere). Puzzle Master’s otherwise enigmatic 6–10 scale is probably another case in point. Who wants to buy a Level 1 puzzle? Not even my puzzle-challenged daughter would entertain a puzzle classed as Level 1. Well, regardless of marketing considerations, Knopar should be considered easy. But it should also be considered fun. For beginners it will take effort, but still won’t be a killer. If you are string-averse, please give this one a chance. It’s a good starter. 

Ringar. Solid mid-level disentanglement; labeled “hard” on the box.
Next up is ringar (rings, of course). Ringar is a substantial step up in difficulty, but still quite manageable. The puzzle consists of two large wood rings, one small wood ring, two lengths of string connected in various ways to the wood rings, and a pair of wood beads for good measure. These elements are attached to two posts, one of which has two longish slots, the other having only one. There is a metal ring at the base of each post and it is your job to remove them and then resecure them. Ringar has a pretty complex structure, but once you start manipulating, you’ll find that it can be progressively simplified. Although it bears a certain resemblance to the familiar Boomhower-type post puzzles and this family of movements obviously play a rôle - I consider it to be a new and innovative take.

Ringar took me not much more than 5 minutes of fiddling to work it out, disassembly-wise. However, I then proceeded to spend the better part of two days struggling with reassembly. For me this is the sign of a great (and frustrating) entanglement puzzle. This puzzle hides a really good move which is deceivingly unremarkable during disassembly. It’s so unremarkable that you’ll probably breeze right past it. During reassembly, however, when the situation is reversed, the move is far from obvious. This move stuck me for many hours causing much self-doubt and personal anguish. I hope this happens to you too, as it ends in a very gratifying a-ha! moment. (Ed - I NEED this one! Sob!)

Hängbron, front and oblique.
Close-up of Hängbron.
Getting progressively more difficult we have Hängbron or bridge. This is a truly fantastic puzzle. Here we are in the realm of, potentially, many many hours of puzzling enjoyment (I use the term loosely). I won’t bother describing Hängbron in any detail, just study the images above. It is archetypal Johannson. Well proportioned, vaguely nautical, and unlike anything else in your collection. Puzzle-wise, all you really need to know is that you are deep in N-ary territory, binary I believe (Ed I am sure Goetz will confirm or refute this as the world expert). The object is to remove the loop of string that encircles the structure, and then of course replace it. Hängbron took me a couple weeks to solve, puzzling off and on, at about two hours a session. As Kevin has so rightly remarked in the past, it’s easy to get turned around with N-ary puzzles and I ended up reversing myself more than once. Like others of its breed, Hängbron lures you into a semi-hypnotic state. Your brain gradually slips into autopilot mode, at which point you are in grave danger. Even paying close attention, it was a struggle sometimes to understand my ‘direction’. The loopy string structure is perfectly calculated to misdirect. Also, be aware that Hängbron is not simply a new N-ary variant. It has a trick up its sleeve that can cause you an enormous amount of extra pointless work. Like the best of the N-arys, there is more to it than just systematic movement. That makes it a very satisfying puzzle, and one to be proud of once you master. Hängbron gets my highest rating on all counts.

Politiken. A tough puzzle.
Here you can see the
structure a little better.
Finally, we have Politiken, or politics. This puzzle also gets my highest rating. Again, it’s an attractive Beech-wood puzzle with nice polygonal base and two posts. In this case, the posts support six wood rings which are interlaced with three nicely colored loops of string. A fourth string encircles the base, running between the posts, and this must be removed (and then replaced). Although I love the puzzle I have, it is worth noting that the commercial version deviates in one critical manner from the original, as shown at Tankenӧtter. The original design utilized four round holes in the posts, as opposed to the long slits used in my version. The holes look like they hold the rings, and thereby the strings, up and apart. This gives the puzzle an overall different stance. Aesthetically, I think the original is easier on the eyes. Puzzle-wise, however, I think the long slits enhance the difficulty. The long slits provide you with access to all the rings and strings, in any manner you wish to attack them. This can be very confusing. The original hole set-up, I think, provides more guidance. That’s just my opinion from looking at them. 

Original Politiken design. Rings and strings tauter and better proportioned overall.
Image from http://www.tankenotter.se
Make no mistake, Politiken is not an easy puzzle. This one will tax you. The ultimate solution is not extremely complex, but there are so many ways to go wrong. I, for one, could not manage to analyze the structure in my head. Like with Hängbron, you have to Think© as you work. Equal parts exploration and cogitation. If you do that, you will be rewarded with an exceptional a-ha! moment. Very pleasurable.

As a set of puzzles, I think these four Tankenӧtter make an excellent set. Each represents a different class of entanglement problem and they are, for the most part, quite distinct from other post and string entanglements on the market. Difficulty level progresses nicely up the range. If you are an entanglement enthusiast, or just want to add some novel Johansson designs to your collection, you need to pick these up. You really can’t go wrong. They are very reasonably priced. My puzzles were actually extremely cheap, and yours may be too. These puzzles are marketed in the states under the rather undignified brand name “Noggin Noodlers.” They were produced, exclusively it seems, for Go! Games. Go! is somehow part of the Calendars.com enterprise and can be found at your local shopping mall in the US during the holidays. Every year, right about this time, Go! franchisees open shop for the holiday season (and then close promptly when it is over). Many of you know just what I am talking about. I purchased my first puzzle several years ago. I was in a dusty box, clearly very old stock. I didn’t figure out exactly what it was until much later. Normal price for one of the above puzzles is about $15US, but I purchased a few this summer in the Northeast for half that. Many stores are trying to get these items off the shelf to make way for new items, so you just might get a deal. As far as I can tell, the Noggin Noodler line is no longer being produced and sellers are just moving the last of the old stock. The whole line, which includes a half dozen puzzles I haven’t described, is comprised exclusively of Johansson puzzles. If you can’t get one at a Go! store just keep an eye on Ebay and you’ll eventually find one. There should be many thousands of them around. If you’re patient, you’ll probably find one at your local thrift shop.

In my puzzle shopping and general internet exploration I’ve come across some very similar post puzzles—Johansson designs—in the Mi Toys line. These are single post puzzles, but some clearly exploit solutions found in the above two-post puzzles. I’m not sure if Mi Toys was involved in the manufacture of the Noggin Noodler line (both are Chinese-made), or whether there is some third party that produces for both Mi Toys and Go! 

Other Johansson puzzles are also out and about. If you study the Tankenӧtter website closely and get a feel for the style, you’ll start to recognize them everywhere, but curiously you will never see any attribution to the designer. Puzzlemaster carries more than a few here and here. Rob Stegman shows a bunch over here that were sold under the Mad Cow and Stirling Fox names. Mad Cow looks like they are still active

I can’t think of an entanglement specialist who has had such a diversity of items go into production on this scale. I sincerely hope he is getting compensated! But I do really wonder how many producers bother with licensing his designs, especially internationally. Only Erik and his lawyer know. For my own part, I am very happy to have stumbled across these Tankenӧtter. Don’t be misled by the cheap price and silly brand name, these are well-made puzzles that deserve your full attention.


Thank you so much for such an interesting and informative post Mike. Your descriptions have certainly whetted my appetite for these puzzles and if anyone should come across them then please let me know. Maybe you can buy them and ship them to me or if they deal internationally then maybe I can buy myself.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Ellishly Difficult but Ellishly Clever

4 L Puzzle
I seem to have fallen behind in my puzzle buying, solving and general fiddling - I just don't seem to have had much time and have been too tired in the evenings, plus it was compounded by the fact that the Bagua cube took me nearly 6 weeks to get the hang of and the process nearly finished off all my puzzling mojo. It got to halfway through the week and I had a little panic - I wasn't going to have anything to write about this weekend! I couldn't let that happen! I know that you are depending on me for your weekend fix. This spurred me one evening to go back to a puzzle that had stumped me for ages. I bought the 4L cube from Mineyuki Uyematsu at the same time as acquiring 2 of the winners of the IPP Design competition awards. I wrote about the Slide Packing and the Penta in a box here. The 4 L puzzle had not been entered in the competition but I couldn't buy and ship just 2 puzzles all the way from japan could I? I had to order a third puzzle to make it all worthwhile.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

I'm not clever enough for this technology

SMS Box from Mr Puzzle
I'm on call today and am desperately hoping not to be called in whilst I write this blog post - actually I'm hoping not to be called in at all as I am now officially too bloody old to be up all night! On to the puzzling mania....

It used to be that every year Brian Young (with the help of Junichi Yananose and, of course, Mrs Puzzle, Sue) produced a limited edition puzzle which over the years have slightly increased in number. For the last few years the pressure of producing a stunning high quality original puzzle of ever increasing complexity as well as all his usual work and also the commissions for the exchange at the IPP has meant that the schedule has slipped a bit and the limited editions have ended up every second year and often with a long waiting list. I have to say that with the incredible complexity of the last few I understand the delays completely. The puzzle addicts all over the world were waiting with baited breath to hear of the latest LE release after a couple of teaser emails and we were not disappointed when we were informed of the availability of the SMS Box sequential discovery puzzle on 24th June this year. The biggest surprise was that Brian and Juno had decided to produce 130 of these monsters so that pretty much everyone who wanted one would be able to get it and not be disappointed. The other surprise was the price - at $850US this is not for the fainthearted and only for the seriously addicted puzzler.

When the email went out that they were available I followed the link, drooled over the description, sat back in awe at the price and then, after a mere 10 second hesitation, clicked on the buy button. Brian and Sue are not out to fleece people - if a puzzle is this sort of price then it is because it is unbelievably complex and incredibly well made. My trust in the pair of them is implicit - if they are charging that amount of dosh then this puzzle was going to be worth that amount. If you are not sure then take a look at Allard's write up to see whether he agreed. Spoiler - he did!

The description on the site said:
How is it possible to receive an SMS with this old telephone? That is the goal of this puzzle.
To do this you will need to open more than one compartment in the SMS Box.  When you can read the SMS you'll know that you've solved the puzzle and found all the compartments.
All locks (and there's a lot of them!) in the puzzle are manipulated and solved with tools provided. Even though there are lots of magnets and springs you don't need to hit anything or use any external force. There are many tools provided to solve the many stages along the way and there is a tool for everything. No external items are required or allowed, so no raiding the office or kitchen drawers!
Unlike Katie Koala or the Opening Bat these tools are much more difficult to recognise and you'll notice at the end of solving you won't have anywhere near the same number of small pieces. The smallest piece that is removed from this puzzle is about the size of a micro sim card. Certainly there's no shortage of magnets, springs and other small moving parts inside the puzzle, it's just that they are not removable.
The puzzle has some deliberate booby traps built into it so even when you think you're on the right track you may have been going up the proverbial garden path. If you're into mapping puzzles another puzzling element will be to understand the booby traps themselves; a. To stay away from them and b. To work out how to get back out of them. When the first prototype was finished Brian and Juno looked at several aspects of the puzzle and decided they were ridiculously hard so they went to great lengths to make the solutions to different steps more straightforward and consequently more elegant.
Having read this, I (and all of you) should be warned - Brian said the tools are much more difficult to recognise and also that this time he had placed booby traps. He's not kidding - this is probably the toughest puzzle currently available in the world! The frightening thing is that having backed off the difficulty a bit from "ridiculously hard" he has still produced something that is simply OMG hard! I hope to God that he never really lets his imagination run riot as one day he may kill one of us!

Sunday, 30 October 2016

I packed something

OMG! So gorgeous! I want to produce stuff like this!
Last week I wrote about my causes for celebration! Today I have a rather large birthday (one with a zero on it - I will be 100!!) and I mentioned that some puzzlers had been very kind! Shane had given me some lovely gin and a copy of his first class Haleslock 2 (congratulations to him on selling the special copy of number 1 for $3600 going to Laurie's special charity) and Yvon Pelletier had sent me a package with instructions not to open until my birthday! Pictured above is the contents of that package. I don't yet know what it is called, who designed it or what level it is but I can tell you that it is stunning. Beautiful woods, great attention to detail with bevels everywhere, this is a burr consisting of a frame that comes apart as well as burr sticks and boards. This is going to be very tough indeed! After I have finished playing, it will have to go on display somewhere special because it is beautiful and it is a gift from a wonderful friend - thanks Yvon!

Chain Store
Today I am going to discuss the latest puzzles I received from Tom Lensch. Above is a picture of a packing puzzle called Chain store. Well that pretty much describes it perfectly - there's a chain (made very nicely from wood and a box (also made of wood) and the aim is to "store the chain in the box". Yes, I know I have said many times that I am not at all good at packing puzzles and do tend to avoid them most of the time because most of the solution process seems to be to be trial and error which I don't enjoy. BUT I couldn't resist this one for a few reasons: First it had won a Jury Honorable Mention for Goh Pit Khiam in the Kyoto IPP design competition and so it must be special - not just a lot of randomness to solve it. Second, it is made of lovely WOOD and like any self respecting bloke I really appreciate wood and things crafted from it (hence my rather embarrassingly large wooden toy collection) and.... Third, there was another interlocking puzzle that I also wanted to buy from Tom and it's pretty much an international law that you cannot just buy one puzzle at a time! Hence I ordered Chain Store from Tom just after IPP and he added it to his backlog of orders. Much to my surprise he completed it and requested some PayPal a little earlier than expected. I had some explaining to do to "she who stares with high powered laser"!

It certainly doesn't fit easily
I discussed this with a good friend when it arrived and he was very interested in my thoughts. This good friend of mine had been struggling for some time with it and had singularly failed. If he had failed then I was certainly going to struggle but I had to see what all the hype was about. The first thing to do is to compare the dimensions of the box with the links of the chain and this definitely reveals something very interesting - the width is exactly the same as a length of a single link. The depth on the other hand is an odd dimension and definitely confused me - it was not really related in any obvious way to the links. The height was also of interest and very useful.

Having looked at the dimensions I decided that this was going to be rather like the 4M puzzle and several others like it and I set about trying to do similar things. After a couple of evenings muttering under my breath I realised that I had been led astray and needed to try something else. It was time to try my hand at chain folding. The chain is a tricky thing to manipulate! Just as you think you might be getting 2 links into a useful configuration and you try to add a 3rd one, you discover that wood doesn't fold and you don't have enough fingers. My Aha! moment arrived on the third evening - I suddenly had a vision of what was needed (yes I solved it in my head first which amazed me - this was definitely a packing puzzle with a difference). It took me a little while to manage to manipulate the links the way I wanted (rectangular links need some special consideration to rotate and orient them properly) and I had an interesting shape in my hands. A moment later I just dropped it all in one go into the box and the Chain was Stored! An amazing design and I can absolutely see why the IPP jury loved it! This is a packing puzzle that you need to think about. I have subsequently teased my friend (who shall remain nameless to protect his reputation even if you all know who he is) about his inability to solve it.

No! There's no picture of it solved - it will give too much away. If you really need help with it then contact me and I will send some clues or even give a photo.



Little Kenny

Little Kenny (notice the TL craftsman's mark)
Little Kenny was the puzzle I had really been wanting to buy from Tom when the "rules" forced me to buy the Chain store too. Ken Irvine has designed (and made) some of the most interesting interlocking solid puzzles that have been seen in the last few years. Amongst his incredible designs are a group that fall into a special subset - the Turning Interlocking Cubes. My very good friend and international expert on the subject, Bernhard Schweitzer, had introduced me to these puzzles many years ago when I edited his series of articles on them for the CFF journal. Bernhard had made quite a lot of these fabulous designs for me and they proudly sit on my shelf to my right and come down frequently to be toyed with. When a new one comes out I just cannot resist them and of course when I saw that this had been entered into the design competition, I knew I had to have this one too.

The Little Kenny differs from the classical design in that it is a 4x4x3 cuboid rather than a cube but the principle is the same. Allard gave a rave review to this (and it's brother Little Bruce which is not available at the moment, sob!) The original had been made from jatoba wood by Ken himself but Tom had been given permission to make and sell copies - mine is a lovely rich Lacewood. It is sent out in pieces and the aim is obviously assembly. The inclusion of half unit cuts on two of the pieces make it really quite easy to establish the ultimate positioning of all the pieces BUT there is a problem:

It won't fit!
The last piece just won't fit in! I have tried putting that one in first or second but nope! Not happening! I have noticed that there is a design feature or 2 on some key pieces:

There corners are all nicely bevelled but 1 or 2 are VERY bevelled
The extra bevelling must be part of the solution but so far I have not been able to work it out. I haven't solved any of these TIC's for a rather long time and am out of practice. Allard mentioned that he has a 5 stage puzzle solving process:
  1. Thinking “this should be easy”
  2. “I must be missing something obvious” 
  3. Thorough bafflement 
  4. Believing it isn’t possible, until finally 
  5. Solving it!  
I am working through his process (it seemed like a good one) and think I have got past stage 2 onto stage 3! I plan on skipping stage 4 because I know that Ken wouldn't be that mean and Tom is far too good a craftsman to give me an impossible puzzle (Ah - I have just remembered that a certain "puzzle pusher" has done that to me in the past!) I suspect that I will be caught at "Allard stage 3" for quite a long time despite also adopting his custom technique of Thinking©.

It may be that I will need to ask Bernhard for a clue. I'll keep trying for a while yet. My previously mentioned very good friend has also struggled with this puzzle too which does make me feel much better! His is locked up in the wrong configuration just now - whoops.

If you get a chance to play with either of these two puzzles then you won't be disappointed. Tom is a fabulous craftsman and the designs by Goh Pit Khiam and Ken Irvine are phenomenal. I am really hoping that Ken decides to make a production run of the Little Bruce for the rest of us or that he gives permission for others to make it and sell it on his behalf. Come on Ken, put me out of my misery!!!

Now it's time to continue my birthday celebrations - she won't let me play with any puzzles though!!


Sunday, 23 October 2016

A Cause For Celebration!

Or Shane Does it Again!
Or.... He finally solves a puzzle! Almost!!!

Haleslock number 2
Last week, totally out of the blue I received a box which I wasn't expecting! It took some time to convince Mrs S that I hadn't placed a big order for yet more new toys. This box came from Canada and was not labeled as from Puzzle Master. It appeared to be a gift from a friend, a VERY generous friend! How did I know it was a gift? Well the outside had some very specific instructions on it:

Oooh! The temptation!!

A 43 piece burr!
What happens on 30th October? Ahem! It seems that it might be my birthday on that date. This year it's one of those birthdays that is a bit special....yes it has a zero on the end! I'm going to be 20.....AGAIN! I have been asked what I plan to do for this particular birthday and my standard reply is to "curl up in a ball and hope it goes away". Yes, it's a moderately large number! The gift came from a very generous puzzle making genius called Yvon Pelletier (SPELLING) who has given me a gift before (He gave me one of the very few copies of C2-1 made by Stephan Baumegger which is one of the most complex burr puzzles ever designed and made with 43 pieces). So it would seem that as well as having a big birthday to celebrate, I also have some great puzzling friends and that alone is a cause for celebration! I have so far managed to obey the instructions and the box is sitting in my dining room desperately calling out to me. I know that there will be one or two absolutely fabulously well made burr puzzles inside. I have watched in awe as Yvon has set out on a journey in which he takes many of the designs published on Ishino's site and crafts them out of beautiful woods. He is just an amateur but his skills have just gotten better and better. He still buys them but new ones seem to be made almost every few days - have a look at an amazing picture I stole from his FB page:

Jealous? Yep! me too!
Having returned from visiting the Outlaws in Edinburgh where I received a couple of very nice bottles of gin for my birthday, I opened the door to postie to yet another surprise package. This one came from Shane Hales and contained a card, a rather lovely bottle of gin for my birthday as well as a newly designed and produced puzzle:

More temptation!
Signed like all his previous puzzles
Now there were no restrictions written on the outside of the box, so I tore into it and found the Haleslock 2 which I promptly went to work on (the gin was not started straight away as it was only 11am and even I cannot justify gin at that time of day!) I am sure that my Box and Booze loving friend Steve can give me some fine suggestions for ways to drink the special gin. I am sure that it is frowned upon to drink it straight from the bottle?

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Going round the twist

The Vapors
Just a quick post today as I am out and about visiting the out-laws (Whack! Ouch!) and haven't really had much time for puzzling or blogging. I thought I would mention a couple of puzzles I have been working on over the last couple of weeks that I have had varying success with. Both are the brainchild of the combined genius of Derek Bosch and Steve Nicholls. They have been working together on these helical variants of burr puzzles for quite some time now and I have managed to acquire a full set so far. Steve went to the Kyoto IPP this year and had printed about 100 copies of one of Derek's designs as his exchange puzzle. Luckily for me (and a few others) there were significantly less participants than that in the exchange and hence some were left over.

When I was chatting to Steve on Facebook, he mentioned that he had some new helical puzzles to show off and of course I said that I would buy them when I saw him next. At the last MPP a few weeks ago, big Steve was there with a good few new plastic toys and he promptly handed me his exchange as a gift - he is SUCH a gentleman!

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Is it a box? Nope! It's an N-ary puzzle!

Bebox
Some time ago Eric Fuller updated his Cubic Dissection site with some new puzzles and there were a few that I had been looking for having had temptation thrust at me in advance on Facebook. The Bebox was a burr and an N-ary puzzle all rolled into one and (ahem!) maybe one could think of it as a box too. I really wanted one of these because as you well know, I lurve N-ary puzzles and burrs even if I don't (blush) collect boxes. I had been on-call at the hospital the night before Eric went live and his update didn't start until just before midnight UK time. I tried and tried and tried to stay awake for the update but alas, I faded and was unconscious long before the new toys were available!

Maze burr
Eric had made 88 copies in total with at least half had been held back for people who had paid to reserve a copy of one of his boxes (which had been abandoned). By the time I regained consciousness the following morning I was horrified to see that the 2 puzzles I really wanted (this plus the Slant cube) had been totally sold out. I understand that the whole lot of available Beboxes went in under an hour! Luckily when I contacted Eric to see if he might have any left over, he said that if some of the reserved boxes aren't taken then they will be made available within a few weeks. In due course an email arrived offering me one of them and some PayPal flew across the pond. It took quite a while for the UK postal service to deliver but eventually the gorgeousness was mine. The Bebox is gorgeously made from Maple and Walnut and looks rather stunning - it is similar in appearance (if not mechanism) to the incredible MazeBurr.

I had received a few wire puzzles (blogged here and here) at about the same time and was working through them so only had a quick look at the Bebox. By the way if you are interested in those wire puzzles mentioned in the blog posts then they are available just now from Wil Strijbos and it would seem that most are unique to him and will not be available through other stores - so go get them now!

Sunday, 2 October 2016

A Constantin Wire Extravaganza

U-Loop
At the end of July, I wrote a little article highliting the most recent wire disentanglements from Jean Claude Constantin. The ones I focussed on were the easiest 3 from that series. I bought my copies from my the wonderful Puzzle Pusher, Wil Strijbos but some of them should be available from PuzzleMaster soon and I am sure that Hendrik will be getting them in stock too. These puzzles are absolutely amazing and relatively cheap so well worth buying even if they may cost you a bruise or two from the inevitable Whack! Ouch! that you spouses may impart. I know that for a while I was covered in bruises and had a mild concussion when she started to hit me with kitchen implements (blunt ones luckily)!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Euro Falle 5 - A Public Service Announcement

The Euro Falle family - 05 at the bottom.
Hi guys, I've had a rather busy weekend at the end of a week of annual leave. My week has been full of household chores (leaving me rather stiff and sore) and then finished off with a special Midlands Puzzle Party in the home town of Dr Simon Nightingale, who has received more IPP design competition trophies than anyone else in history. We had a great time and lots of recent IPP puzzles were shown off and even a magic show was delivered. This has left me with very little time for a blog post so I am delighted that the Mike Desilets, the PuzzleMad roving reporter, has stepped up to the mark and delivered a public service announcement for you.

Aloha Kākou gentle readers,

It’s a rather sad occasion for me as I find myself the bearer of less-than-happy news about a new puzzle that has just hit the market. I actually had some other work underway for Puzzlemad, but a catastrophic puzzling experience this past week has stimulated me to produce this rush job of an article. I’ve rushed it to press because I suspect that there are folks out there with a finger hovering over the “buy” button for this particular puzzle and I wanted to get this information out quickly to facilitate informed decision making. Informed spending, I should say.

Euro Falle 05 - a Siebenstein Spiele production.
The puzzle of which I speak is the very recently released Euro Falle 05, the fourth in a series that seems to have started, oddly, at 02. You can find my review of the earlier Euro Falles here and here if you are new to the blog. With some slight reservations, I have been a fan of the series and was happy to have purchased and played with them. My misgivings were due largely to construction problems. I experienced more of these issues subsequent to the blog reviews, but did not see fit to make an issue of it. However, having plunked down yet more good money for the new Euro Falle 05 and given it a play, I feel I will now have to terminate my relationship with them, effective immediately (Ed - very strong stuff!). Unfortunately, I cannot divulge the exact nature of the deficiency without completely spoiling the puzzle. What I can say is that in the course of two solves of Euro Falle 05 (solved correctly, as designed, I assure you) the puzzle has become completely unusable. As you may know, damaged goods always find their way to me for some reason. I have come to terms with that fact and learned to take it in stride. However, I believe the issue with this puzzle is no fluke. I don’t think I simply got the bad one in the lot. The problem seems to be directly related to the engineering and construction of the puzzle. I could be wrong (I sure hope I am), but I think this is going to be the norm with this puzzle, and I want you to be aware of, at the very least, the potential to have completely wasted your money. Well, I guess you will get to play with it at least once, so not a complete waste, but nearly so.

That’s really the most I can say about it on the front page of Puzzlemad. However, if you already have this puzzle and have solved it (I saw a shot of it on Allard’s blog, amidst his IPP haul, so I assume there are quite a few out there already), or if you don’t intend to buy it anyway, or you do but you don’t care about the solving experience, then click the spoiler button below. Behind that button I show the innards and explain the nature of the problem in excruciating detail, as well as discuss repair options. Again, this will be a complete spoiler, so think it over before you click. Along those same lines, I may spoil other puzzles for you behind that magic button if I feel the need to make comparison with other puzzles and mechanisms. That section is really meant for the serious collector, designer, and/or puzzler who doesn’t mind an unbarred discussion. You’ve been warned!

One other piece of information I think puzzlers should know regarding Euro Falle 05 is that the solution is the same as for another very recently released, and very attractive, puzzle from Siebenstein Spiele. Exactly the same. If you are like me, you don’t really need to have two similar forms of the same puzzle. Or at least when you do, you make the decision consciously, due to some aesthetic or collectability factor. Personally, I was more than a bit disappointed when I discovered these two were functionally the same. And then, to add insult to injury, one of them self-destructed! Know, however, that the ‘other’ puzzle, although having the exact same mechanism, has functioned just fine so far and I am very pleased with it in all respects.

If you have had a different experience with Euro Falle 05, please do register your opinion in the comments below. If for some reason I received the only bad one in the batch, it would be good for everyone to know that and downgrade my dire warnings accordingly. If you are the adventurous type and just have to experience it for yourself, Euro Falle 05 is now up on the shelf at Puzzle-shop.de and, of course, Puzzlemaster.

Well, I am very sorry to write such a bummer of a post. Kevin works hard to keep Puzzlemad upbeat and positive. That’s pretty easy to do with the top-notch (burr pun) puzzles he reviews. But this, too, is part of the puzzling experience. Sometimes stuff doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. I’m just thankful I have a place to vent about it (Ed - I welcome all types of review and whilst I do try to keep positive, sometimes it is necessary to provide real world experience that may not be as we would wish). But I promise you that my next contribution will be wildly positive (Ed - thank Gawd for that!). In fact, let me say one positive thing right now: the Euro Falle 05, conceptually, is a great puzzle. That’s small comfort if it doesn’t work more than once. But the fact remains, it’s a great idea and it really stumped me for quite a while (I actually solved the ‘other’ puzzle first, so that was where the stumping occurred, but as mentioned, same solution). It is quite tricky and fun, and therefore all the more tragic to write about. There I go again. Ok, I think Kevin should take over from here....
Ed - I guess that is my cue to put one of those javascript hide and reveal buttons just about now....



It's not all bad....
But let’s end this post on a high note! Puzzle Box 001, also brand new from Siebenstein Spiele, is absolutely fantastic! It is quite a beautiful puzzle and functions perfectly. I very highly recommend Puzzle Box 001. It shows the heights that Siebenstein Spiele can reach when they are on their game.

Puzzle Box 001 front
Puzzle Box 001 rear
Pictures copied from PuzzleMaster


Ed - Thank you Mike for such a detailed exposition about the failings of a very popular puzzle in a great series. I personally do not own any of these puzzles and am very grateful for the warning. It has been said that I very seldom, if ever, post a bad review and this may make you feel that I am in the pocket of the designers and producers. Maybe I have been very lucky or maybe I just choose well but I have very rarely had a problem with any of my purchases. I do tend to not review something if it is less than good but if there is a systematic problem then I will not shy away from informing people of it.

If any other puzzlers feel the urge to post a review as a PuzzleMad roving reporter (good or bad) then please feel free to drop me a line via my Contact page. If English is not your first language then that's not a problem - I edit everything (even Mike's wonderful prose.

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