Sunday, 21 February 2016

Looking a Gift Horse (or Dragon or Lock or Wire Thingy) in the Mouth

It's a horse!
I have a very good puzzle friend in the Far East who is very good to me and always on the look out for puzzles that he thinks I might enjoy. We email often and I am constantly amazed at the sheer breadth of his puzzling knowledge and skills. I also am amazed when he sends me the occasional package. These packages contain puzzles that he has found for me or managed to obtain from his own friends. He never accepts payment for them so these are always gifts. Occasionally he asks me to source puzzles for him and I buy them and send them his way (which I am always delighted to do) but the majority of the giving is to my advantage. I consider myself a very lucky man to have such a great friend. Mrs S doesn't favour him so much because a lot of the puzzles are jingly and you all know how she hates that - the laser burning stare is terribly painful! I have told her this time that I can never look a gift horse in the mouth - this time literally.

Some time ago I received another package of puzzles from him which included some rare disentanglement puzzles and some new designs from Wang Yulong. The first one that I attempted was The Horse by Binary Arts - produced in 1985. I had noticed this many years ago and tried a time or two to get one on ebay but always missed it by a few $$. Knowing how much I love N-ary puzzles, my friend managed to get me this copy and I have to say it is lovely. In fact it is pretty enough that it sits on show next to me on my shelves unlike my other disentanglement puzzles which get shoved into a drawer. I love that the string in this is a piece of leather just like the reins of a real horse. The aim, obviously, is to remove the loop of cord and the wooden block which impairs movements. There are a few moves that need to be done in the right sequence - it is a lovely satisfying thing to do. Even Mrs S said it was a pretty one.

Well trained horse - not run away with the reins off
After solving this one, I was full of confidence and went straight on to have a play with another historic puzzle. This one was designed by Lambert Bright - the Ring Bearer. Jerry Slocum's museum image states that this dates back to 2003.

The Ring Bearer
detail of the loop
The ring sits on the hump of the dragon's back and is underneath the string. The string is looped several times around the neck and so when you lift the ring up it gets caught amongst the loops of string. My copy has a black stand which is different to the versions that appear on other websites (they had a brown wooden stand). That first evening after my puzzle package arrived I played with this and got absolutely nowhere. There is a LOT of string and that should usually be a warning sign. The designers always seem to give just enough string to solve it (or to hang yourself by) and with such a long length it means that the solution was going to be rather complex. Night after night I tried different approaches that I had learned from other puzzles but nothing worked. A subsequent email from my genius benefactor told me that he would rate the difficulty as 11 out of 10 on Puzzle Master's scale! GULP! that explains a lot.

For weeks now I have been fiddling with it and occasionally getting a bit of a knot but always managing to return to the start position. Finally last Friday after playing with Shane's Haleslock 1, and flushed with my success at solving that puzzle, I had one last go. I did a rather complex setup sequence which needed pretty much the whole length of the string and started to move the ring around and around. All of a sudden I had this:

Yeehaw! Finally solved the gift dragon!
Putting it back together was a challenge too - if you are not absolutely accurate then a knot ensues and the only way to go is back! I finally can say that my "Gift Dragon" is fully understood. Another one too lovely to put away in a drawer.

Of course I have to mention the Haleslock 1 - another great gift from Shane (I did offer to pay but he always insists on giving them away to me)! I had got stuck initially (much to Shane's delight) but managed to discover a pathway that he hadn't intended and got stuck again after that. After an email I was back on track and was able to advise him of a way to prevent the same thing occurring with the other locks that he is assembling this weekend. The Haleslock 1 is a small sequential discovery puzzle and to me was a delight to play with. It is not intended to be the massive challenge that is the Popplock series, but is aimed at being a pleasant fun diversion for a puzzler. He definitely achieved that aim. I showed it off at work and the guys who saw it were amazed that such a thing could be done to a lock. Ultimately the aim is to have this:

Genius! How does he do this at home?
If you are lucky enough to receive one of the Haleslocks then enjoy the small genius sequence of Aha! moments - I certainly did.

My Far Eastern friend has also acted as a go between with Wang Yulong and has obtained a few of his wondrous puzzles for me to play with. I started with the '3 Moons around the Sun' puzzle - the aim being to remove one of the moons; the one shaped like a keyring.

3 Moons around the Sun
The obvious thing is to unwind it like you would take a key off a keyring and obviously this would be cheating. The only reason that Wang Yulong used a keyring was to make the ring very rigid so as to prevent the puzzle being flexed during the solution process. It does look very similar to a classic horseshoe puzzle but no matter how much I tried to attempt that method, it would not work. If you look at the puzzle you instantly see that there can only possibly be one way the ring will come off but getting it to that point is really quite tough. The positioning of all the pieces needs to be absolutely perfect to the mm. Once you have everything lined up then the ring will just slide off but until you reach that point, no way. It took me a couple of evenings to get it sussed out. Very nice idea that is suitable for a beginning puzzler.

The Moon has fallen into the Sun
Another supremely tough puzzle that my FaceBook friends saw me solve is the 'Lucky lantern' puzzle also by Wang Yulong:

Lucky Lantern - a really tough challenge
This one attracted me straight away and I have been playing with it ever since it arrived. The exit point is not immediately obvious but I had seen that it was similar to another of Puzzle Master's puzzles and the exit had to be the same. The Chain Gang puzzle designed by Dick Hess is still available and I reviewed it here. I was wildly enthusiastic about that puzzle at the time and this one is even better. Having realised that the exit was the same as a previous puzzle, I was actually no closer to solving it! I knew the end moves that were required but getting the folding wire loop into the correct position to make it happen was proving a real problem. I carried this with me everywhere for weeks and just could not manage it when suddenly earlier this week, I found the puzzle in a new position and after an unusual further sequence I was able to achieve the "impossible":

My goodness that was tough!
After I solved it and revelled in the fact that it had happened after so many weeks of trying, I tried to put it back together. OMG! I couldn't get it back to the start position! I posted it on FB and moaned about my failure and a helpful soul showed me his own similar puzzle and claimed it to be easy. I tried his method and it would not work - Wang Yulong pointed out that he had deliberately designed this to prevent that easier mechanism of solution! The man is a genius! I played with it for a week and managed to get it back to the beginning again but had no idea how I had done it. Eventually I was sent the solution and must say that the design is fantastic - it uses every feature of the pieces to advantage. If any of the puzzle producers out there want to mass produce something then this is definitely one to consider - I can put them in touch with the designer if they are interested.

My next challenge is one that Mrs S already hates - it may only be lightweight wire but it is seriously jingly - 'The Long and Winding Road' is a bit frightening. It looks N-ary to me but so far I have been blocked after a few moves. There are several ways to start the puzzle but none of them have been successful yet. It is not helped by the fact that everything falls all over the place during the process!

The Long and Winding Road
Wish me luck!

So all of these puzzles today were gifts from good friends and they have all been absolutely delightful - a real challenge for which I will always be very grateful! Thanks guys!

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