Sunday 29 January 2017

JCC Disentanglements and a Reason for Celebration

Hi guys, today I am very very grateful to the Puzzlemad Hawaiian correspondent, Mike Desilets, for helping me out whilst I am really busy - he has produced yet another really high quality guest post. This just happens to be the 400th post on the Puzzlemad website since starting out in March 2011 which is quite an achievement - I don't think I have ever stuck at a hobby for so long and I have to say that it is very much down to the wonderful community that I keep at it. Jerry has overtaken me by posting his 401st post a couple of days ago for which I give my hearty congratulations. At the bottom of this post is another reason for me to celebrate.

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.
As regular readers will know, Kevin and I share a love of entanglements. He has presented a great many posts on this class—more than any other blogger by a wide margin—and today I’ll add another one to the list. This set of puzzles were all produced, and I believe designed, by Jean Claude Constantin. Many of you by now will have seen, purchased, and hopefully solved his latest batch which exploit the confounding U-shaped pieces. I have to confess that a few of these are giving me a lot of trouble, so you won’t see a review of them from me anytime soon. Kevin has already covered most of them anyway (Ed - see my reviews here and here). But a while back, JCC produced a number of entanglements that were, to my eye at least, equally novel and challenging. I don’t have any historical information on these puzzles and I’m not even sure when they were first offered. I also don’t really know their lineage, i.e. if they are variations on existing designs or are reproductions of puzzles by other designers. They seem very original to me, and unless some reader weighs in with some actual information, I’m going to continue assuming that they are JCC originals. Comment below if you know otherwise. I say that in just about every post but it is quite rare that anyone comments. I know there are very knowledgeable puzzle collectors reading this blog. Please don’t be shy. We could use the benefit of your knowledge.

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.
The objective is to free the string from the clover leaf. Were it not for the ring, this would not be too difficult, since it is possible to manipulate the string to the other leaf, through which the ball could be threaded. That said, a ringless Half Clover would still be a worthwhile puzzle—a variation on many widely available loop-within- loop style entanglements. The presence of the ring, however, puts the puzzle on another level entirely. In a word, it’s hard. This puzzle took me quite a while to solve. I even had to put it down for a long spell, having become too frustrated. Like many good entanglements, you can go around and around forever, continually attempt the same moves, until they become almost hard-wired into your brain. It is really tough to break the cycle once you get started on it. This is a pitfall that all disentanglers have to deal with at some point (Ed - I am so relieved to hear that it isn't only me that this happens to). Luckily, and with much effort, I was able to get out of my rut and try some new things. The solution requires what was, to me, a very novel series of movements. It’s safe to say that you are unlikely to chance upon them through normal exploration. But once you get it, you are assured of a powerful a-ha! moment. It’s always good to finally solve a hard entanglement, but even more so when you master a really new technique. I can’t recommend the Half Clover highly enough. It’s really challenging but also very rewarding. And as expected from JCC, it is solidly constructed, a real quality puzzle.

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.
Next up we have a puzzle named 4 Bague, which you should not attempt until you have solved Half Clover. This is for the sake of your sanity. Hard-core entanglement specialists, I suppose, can just go for it. But for the average puzzler, you’d be well advised to master some basic movements with Half Clover first. Don’t worry, 4 Bague will be plenty difficult even with this knowledge. It is a very challenging entanglement.

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.
Finally, we have a JCC entanglement from a different but related family of movements. This is the Russian Heart. Here we have a puzzle that is a quite a few notches lower on the difficulty scale. The Russian Heart is, as expected, heart-shaped, still one of the best ways to make an otherwise abstract object marketable. Like the above puzzles, Russian Heart is fashioned from heavy gauge nickel plated steel. It’s quite substantial at 9 x 9 cm, with an additional 38 cm of line. Unlike the previous puzzles, the line is attached to itself via a ring that is permanently fixed to one end. An identical ring at the other end prevents it from sliding off. The body of the puzzle is a continuous metal loop with an interesting topological arrangement.

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.
All in all, Russian Heart is a fantastic puzzle that is suitable for all skill levels, and even for those who don’t generally like entanglements. This one is at Sloyd too, very reasonable priced. I haven’t seen it anywhere else. Again, my highest recommendation. You can’t go wrong with this puzzle.

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, GabrielGunnar, Tom and Jean-Baptiste) we hope to keep you informed and entertained as long as we can.

Main blog all time page views

Puzzlemad New additions page views
The only way to have a separate page for extra posts without repeating the sidebar was a separate blog



  1. Congratulations on the FIRST 400......... :-) cheers mate - Shane

    1. Thanks mate! You helped me get there by encouraging me to write and also giving me a fair bit of subject matter which I wrote about and LOTS of people wanted to read about!

  2. Congratulation Kevin. 800K viewers reflects how fabulously entertaining and informative your posts have been. Keep them mate - Paul M

    1. That was supposed to have read 'Keep them coming' rather than 'keep them'!!!!

    2. Thank you! I love what I do and despite it costing a fortune, I have no intention of stopping unless I run out of money or puzzles!

  3. Thanks for giving me 400, an unexpected and undeserved honor, but i'll take it!

    That graph is fascinating. Looks like an EKG. Do you know which posts/puzzles account for the huge spikes?

    1. You've put in a lot of work for me and I'm very grateful. Number 400 is yours with pleasure!

      Unfortunately the data I get doesn't include correlations with specific posts as it's just total views. I do have the number of views for each post but not across time. Blogger is very basic in what it provides and I've had to learn some HTML and JavaScript to achieve some things I've done in the past. I suspect that if I was starting fresh then I'd try SquareSpace or even a self hosted Wordpress site but it's far too late for that now.

  4. Congratulations on those awesome milestones Kevin! Good man...

    1. Thanks mate!!! You also know how much work it is.

  5. Hi, I’m Marc, from Luxembourg, I have an identical half-clover puzzle which was laying for many years in a drawer. It is the only puzzle I have not figured out yet. Could you give me a few hints? Thanks for your help

    1. I’m afraid that I don’t know. I don’t own the puzzle myself. This article was posted by the PuzzleMad foreign correspondent. It is sold by - you could contact them and ask if they have a solution for you.

      I should probably buy a copy myself!