Mike seems to be uncannily aware when I need him and swings into action with a marvelous informative article for you (and me) to read - it is only fitting that I let him have post number 400. This article was going to be posted last weekend when Shane stepped in with his fabulous and pleasantly painful Viper which I was pleased to read also bit Allard. The puzzles reviewed in Mike's article are some of the wonderful selection of disentanglement puzzles available from my friend Tomas Linden's Sloyd puzzle store which you really should check out (I have bought some more from him as a result of Mike's post). So without further ado I hand you over to Mike....
Aloha Kākou readers. Let me start this post by noting that, without any prior planning, Kevin and I are usually pretty well synchronized in that my occasional guest blogs arrive when he is at wits end with work and home responsibilities (Ed - indeed - I am on call today and so may well be unhappily ensconced in an operating theatre when I would much rather be reading and writing about puzzles). Unfortunately, this was not the case over the holidays. I’ve kept myself offline over the last few weeks (except for some puzzle shopping, of course), and during that time, I now learn, Kevin had one foot in the grave with his lovely (Ed - and violent) wife soon to follow (Ed - she's still there!). Seems like things have corrected themselves now, but I can’t help feel that I should have been more attentive. I also feel sorry for all his patients who had to forgo anaesthetics (Ed - corrected spelling) during their operations (Ed - the screaming was awful - I had to put my earplugs in). Anyhow, maybe this post will give Kevin a few hours to catch up on everything that was left undone during his illness.
|Half Clover by Jean Claude Constantin.|
First up we have a handsome puzzle called Half Clover. It is comprised of a vaguely clover-shaped wire arrangement to which is attached a lengthy 45-centimeter string. The string loops through one of the clover leafs and is bound to itself with a small wooden ring. The string terminates at a wooden ball, which will not fit through the wooden ring, of course, but will fit through one of clover leafs (but not the other). The metal part measures 8 x 8 x 3cm, a good size for the hand. The wire is heavy gauge and looks to be nickel-plated steel. If you’ve played with JCC wire entanglements before, you know they tend to be stout.
|Half Clover from a different angle.|
Half Clover doesn’t seem to be widely available. I purchased mine at Sloyd about a year ago for the very reasonable price of 9.50€, but they are now out of stock just now. I don’t know where else you can find it, but you should make the effort. Those in Europe should have a better chance.
|4 Bague, another JCC triumph. With a little discomfort, it is pocketable.|
You can see the basic structure of the wire element in the photos. It shares some characteristics with Half Clover, but is really quite distinct. The linked loop is the most obvious difference, and is what provides the lion’s share of the challenge. Again, the string (actually more of a rope) must be removed from the body of the puzzle. It is constrained by a metal ring that loosely secures the rope ends to one another. As you can see, there are many many ways to go about manipulating this puzzle, only one of which will do any good. I haven’t counted the number of steps involved in the solution, but it is high. At several junctures you have make binary choices, left-right, inside-outside, over-under, etc. If any of these are wrong, you are in trouble. The whole series has to be correct, and it is not at all clear whether you have made the right choice until it's way too late. It’s simply too hard to see ahead and the errors tend to multiply quickly. The puzzle requires careful, deliberate exploration. That’s true for most entanglements, but doubly so for one of this calibre (Kevin, I intentionally saved you an edit there (Ed - eventually you will learn the correct way to spell!)). Undoubtedly you will go down the rabbit hole at some point. Finding your way back out can be difficult.
I don’t want to scare anyone away from 4 Bague. This is an excellent puzzle and unlike any you will have dealt with previously. It’s a real accomplishment to solve and will probably become a prized member of your collection. As with its cousin Half Clover, 4 Bague gets my highest recommendation. My only criticism, at least of the version I have, is that the rope is unnecessarily thick. I’ve seen photos of other 4 Bagues online that have a thinner line, comparable to Half Clover. The thick line is hard to push through the rings, sometimes very hard. This adds to the difficulty but I don’t think it was intentional. If you have a choice (unlikely) get the one with the smaller line.
For entanglement aficionados, or for any serious collector, I think both Half Clover and 4 Bague are must-have items. 4 Bague is currently at Sloyd for 14.50€, blessedly cheap. I think it is only at Sloyd, and I am almost certain that stock is low. I don’t know if it is still in production by JCC, but I wouldn’t chance waiting for another batch.
|Russian Heart, lovely in form and lovely to play with.|
Although not trivial by any means, I think the average puzzler should be able to solve Russian Heart in a modest amount of time. I did, and that’s a pretty good sign (Ed - I'm not as bright as you so this might take me a while when it arrives). Although this puzzle isn’t as challenging as the previous puzzles, I found it equally enjoyable. The solution can be a bit tricky if you’ve never dealt with the movement, but there is no intense pain associated with this puzzle (Ed - thats a shame! After Shane's Viper I have discovered that a little pain is quite exhilarating! Whack! Ouch! Thanks dear!). It’s simply a pleasant thought-provoking exercise. It’s fun and I continue to re-solve it every now and again. I should add that this is the kind of puzzle that you can, somehow, forget the solution to. Something to do with that topology. When I re-solve it, I usually have to work through it again. Hence the replay value is high. By contrast, I don’t replay 4 Bague much at all. Just enough so that I don’t forget the solution (Ed - I have so many puzzles now that I can barely remember any of them!). It requires full attention and I don’t want to spend hours fixing it if I inadvertently screw up. Half Clover is quite repayable and doesn’t have this danger level to it, but it’s not as fun as Russian Heart. The topology of Heart seems to make for a better playground.
|Russian Heart upside down, in case that helps.|
Ok, that’s all for now. Puzzlemad roving reporter signing off. But stay tuned for something on early twentieth century sliding block puzzles. My puzzle friend (and regular friend) Amanda has taken a break from mazes and gone completely bonkers for vintage sliding block puzzles. She has amassed a respectable collection, many of which I’ve been able to play with. Moreover, I think I’ve talked her into co-authoring a post at some point in the future. Hopefully the near future (Ed - that sounds great!). Luckily my editor is lackadaisical about deadlines (Ed - what's a deadline?)
Thank you so much for the great article - I have placed an order with Tomas as a result and whilst I was there chose a couple of extras to review at a later date. You all should also check out Sloyd - they have a huge selection of puzzles and great service.
Now whilst I am here I must say a big thank you to all my visitors for keeping me motivated - not only is this post number 400 but on Monday I actually passed the 800,000 pageview mark which is unbelievable to me! Between all of us bloggers (Me, Allard, Jerry, Steve, Gabriel, Gunnar, Tom and Jean-Baptiste) we hope to keep you informed and entertained as long as we can.
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