Sunday 3 July 2016

Does Memory Serve Me?

Allard's Evil Puzzle
At last weeks' special Midland Puzzle Party in honour of the great Dick Hess who was over in the UK for his annual Wimbledon pilgrimage, the topic of memory came up in the conversation with Big Steve (and others). So I thought I might expand a little bit on that subject as it relates to my puzzling.

As a teenager and into my 20s I had pretty close to an eidetic memory which was very useful for O-levels, A-levels and medical school plus the first few years of postgraduate exams. It wasn't without effort but my memory for the written word or visual object was almost perfect. As I have aged, and aged, and aged, and..... you get the drift, my memory capabilities have fallen off. I suspect that it is lack of practice as I can improve it if I have to for work. But, by and large, I now tell everyone that my memory is appalling! All my chores and tasks are on an app on my phone as are birthdays and anniversaries. I tell everyone who will listen that I wake up every morning with a strange woman lying next to me! I always say that I have no idea who she is but that she tells me we are married. It cannot be! Can it? I wouldn't have been that stupid! Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear!

Twiddle Dum and Dee
One of the puzzles that I took with me to the MPP was the Twiddle Dum puzzle made by Big Steve and designed by Derek. I had managed to take it apart many months ago but have not got it back together since - it has been sitting on my desk next to me for months and months and I just cannot reassemble it! I was really hopeful that Steve (who has assembled dozens of them)would be able to remember how it was done and just pop it back together for me. In a chat with Goetz, it transpires that he is in a similar position to me but he has reassembled it once. Having sheepishly asked Steve for help, he even more sheepishly admitted to me that he had no idea how to put it back together. He did have the good grace to fiddle for a while before handing it back to me again in pieces. Damn!!! If anyone does know how to reassemble it and can show it off then please Contact me.

12 Piece separation by Stewart Coffin
Whilst I was sitting with Steve he showed off a plastic version of the classic Stewart Coffin 12 Piece Separation puzzle and told me to pick up a plastic bag next to me. In that bag were some rather lovely plastic pieces that he had printed off and he duly told me that it assembled into a solid piece with 10 identical pieces and 2 extras. He looked at me expectantly and I duly had a play but did not really have any idea what the fully assembled puzzle was supposed to look like so got absolutely nowhere. After 5 or 10 minutes I handed it across and Steve surprised and delighted me by being completely unable to remember how to put it together! Steve is a man I can truly bond with - he has as bad a memory as me - Yay!!! Having failed to assemble it he was good enough to let me have that copy as a gift (thanks mate!) and it sat on my chair for a few days after I returned.

I had no idea how to put it together and had to resort to using Jim Storer's very handy pages to give instructions. After about an hour of fiddling and a lot of effing and blinding I had this:

12 Piece separation in all it's glory
The assembly seems to require 3 hands and a lot of sliding pieces about which is quite tough when it is not really stable until the very last moment. Having assembled it once with instructions and taken the photo, I straight away disassembled it and scrambled the pieces (easy when 10 are identical) and then left it for a day before trying to assemble it again. So another quick memory test! Could I remember the order and the moves used? Hell no! Even though it had only been 24 hours, I had absolutely no recollection of Jim's instructions BUT I did have an understanding of the shape and the way they interacted now. It took me 2 days of work but I did eventually manage to work it out and I have to say this is absolutely FANTASTIC! I really REALLY want one in wood - if anyone knows where I can get a wooden copy then please let me know asap!

I'm sure you're all wondering what is up with the puzzle at the top of the post and why I haven't mentioned it yet? That puzzle is a beautiful disentanglement that Allard exchanged at the last IPP. It was contained in the Loopy box and Allard also gave it away to new IPPers as a "Greenhorn gift". I have been fiddling with it on and off for months and months now and regularly achieving a Whack! Ouch! from "she who hates me playing with metal stuff". I have carried it with me to work for many months too and gotten absolutely nowhere at all. Allard's main description of it is simply:
"It's evil!!!"
Cast Devil
The puzzle is effectively a modification of the Hanayama Cast Devil which I mentioned here. The Cast Devil is a classic puzzle and I seem to recall that I did not find it particularly tough when I first bought it from Professor Puzzle. Now yet again I have to sheepishly admit that my recall is not as good as it should be.... a colleague of mine bought a few puzzles for himself and his kids last Xmas and worked through all of them during a nice winter break but could not solve the Cast Devil. He was convinced that it was impossible and brought it to me to establish whether it had been assembled incorrectly by the manufacturer. I picked it up quickly expecting to just solve it in front of him and Nooooo! I couldn't remember how it worked! After 5 minutes of going red in front of him I gave it back and had to admit that I could not recall the solution but that it was definitely possible. I'm not sure whether he believed me and he must be convinced that I am absolutely rubbish at puzzles!

I took the opportunity to take the puzzle to Allard at the MPP and ask for a clue. Continuing my theme of poor memory, he told me that he couldn't remember how to do it either! Aaaargh! Luckily my friend Joe did have some memory and was able to give me a really good verbal clue for a preliminary shape that I needed to make before getting towards the exit point. I swear that I must have made that shape many many times before because as soon as he told me what to aim for I was immediately able to achieve that conformation but this time I was able to go that next step forward and take it apart:

He's right! It IS evil!
It is really clever and I have now done it several dozen times to try and get it to imprint on my feeble memory cells. I did put it together as the Cast Devil again and the first few times really struggled to take it apart. It is great having 2 puzzles in one even if I cannot really remember much about them!

Finally I do have to mention a gift that Dick gave out at the MPP. He had a beautifully boxed copy of his 5 keys puzzle. There are 5 keys on a trapeze and each is removed using a different technique. I had bought an original copy from him a few years ago and had really struggled with it - it requires simply perfect positioning to get the keys off. Could I recall the techniques I used?

A small and a large copy of the 5 keys! Both work the same.
I sat down on the evening I got home from the MPP and braved the laser burning stare and had a fiddle. Did my memory serve me? The theme of this post is that I have no memory to speak of at all but here I remembered the 5 solutions perfectly and had the keys off before she who must be flinched from could burn my flesh! This is a fabulous puzzle and I am really pleased to have 2 beautiful copies. Thanks Dick!

Luckily the present Mrs S doesn't bother to read my blog! If she did and realised that I can barely remember a puzzle a week after I have solved it then she would insist that I stop buying new puzzles and go back to the beginning and play with the old ones all over again. Don't any of you dare tell her that!


  1. I certainly won't be telling her anything! Well...not till the next time we meet in person anyway...

    1. I'm keeping her away from you mate!

    2. After several days, I've solved the U twins. It is so tricky. Unfortunately, the quality of this wire puzzle of mine is not so good as the other wire puzzle made by Constantin, the chrom was lost in some part. I bought it from Puzzlemaster Ca.

    3. Well done on solving a very difficult puzzle! It's a shame about the chrome but at least the puzzling remains good for other people to follow you.

    4. I would very much like to get my hands on a copy of Allard's Cast Devil mod. Using coat hangar wire, I attempted to construct the connecting piece to add to my copy of "Devil", but I'm not so sure I have the correct dimensions and it really looks terrible. Does Allard ever sell any of his creations?

    5. Hi Murray,
      These puzzles are Jean-Claude Constantin designs which allard bought took go in his exchange puzzle box. He doesn't have any left but other puzzle sellers might still have them like Hendrik or Will Strijbos.

  2. Thanks for your response. Using the designer's name, I was able to find the "U-Twins" puzzle at Puzzle Master and bought the last one they had. Here is the link in case others are interested and Puzzle Master gets more in stock.

    1. Well done! You won't be disappointed - it's a very tough puzzle.

    2. You are correct, sir! I received this puzzle about a week ago and just solved it today. Well, sort of. I got it apart but didn't see exactly how the one end of the connecting piece actually became separated so I didn't know how to put it back together. That's why I cheated and reassembled it by separating the gap in the wire and sliding the other two pieces back into place. I then tried solving it slower this time so that I could remember which move it was that started the disassembly process. Once again, I suddenly found myself with one end of the connecting piece separated from the rest of the puzzle. How did that happen? What did I do? I'm slightly annoyed at myself for missing this important process. I think this time I think I'm going to spend a bit more time trying to reassemble it again before I result to cheating again. I really like this puzzle but damn, it is evil!!

    3. I am sure that you are not the only one who has resorted to a little cheat before starting again. Despite such simple pieces, it is really quite infuriatingly hard to understand.