Sunday, 24 September 2017

Jan Sturm's Collection Includes Some Amazing Puzzles

I have previously mentioned that I managed to get some early samples of the latest puzzles from Jan Sturm's new catalogue. I had gotten these from a friend who has been in contact with Jan recently but I now know that the usual "Puzzle pusher" has begun to get a few in stock and hopefully if you ask him very nicely he might let you purchase a few. For a full view of the puzzles in the catalogue have a look here at an online version (a paper version is also available too).

Some of the names of the puzzles in the catalogue (no, I don't have the whole lot!! Just a chosen few of them) are a bit of a mystery (as you will see later) but the puzzle pictured above is pretty obviously named Mammoth because of the overall shape, complete with tusk. The aim obviously is to remove the loop of string from the puzzle and then replace it. I would suggest if you do buy this one that you take a quick photo of the start position as it is easy to go back to what you think might be the beginning but is subtly incorrect. During my working on this I had to reset it quite a few times and the picture really came in handy.

This was the first of the group of puzzles that I actually tried whilst on call on a Saturday. I had a good registrar ploughing through the emergency/urgent work so I sat in the coffee room to supervise from there and set to on this puzzle. I started with that one because it was an interesting shape and rated only 4 stars out of 5. A quick glance for taking my photos also led me to think that it would not be that tough - I was sure that I saw a path that could be pulled through. My first fiddle revealed that a) it was not a simple pull through (of course Jan would not release anything like that) and b) there were 2 possible start directions. What I had been fooled by was those very sharp U shapes with rings in them - they have been VERY accurately made to allow the string to get inside but NOT pull through. In fact if you pull too hard then it gets wedged inside giving you a bit of a headache! During that day I did have to go into the operating room and work and was unable to finish the puzzle but over an hour or two in several sessions I discovered that there are a LOT of moves in the solution to this puzzle. My usual back and forth approach was not helpful as there were just too many moves to keep track of and one ring looks very like another after a while.

The nursing staff and waiting surgeons were very bemused periodically to watch me trussing up an elephant with a piece of blue string but by now pretty much the whole surgical side of the hospital knows about my "little" habit. Just before leaving at the end of my day there, we were all sitting waiting for the next case and I was chatting and idly fiddling when I noticed a colleague's jaw drop. I looked down and was a touch surprised to see the string in one hand and the wire in another:

Solved it! Lord knows what I did!
He actually asked how I did that (he'd seen me playing on and off all day) and I sheepishly had to admit that I had absolutely no idea how I had solved it as the last few moves were done without paying much attention. In fact, maybe I should try more puzzles that way? I might solve a few more! I took it home that evening and after eating with Mrs S and showing off how brilliant I had appeared, I proceeded to take my life into my hands and attempt the reassembly whilst watching TV with her in the evening....I failed and also got burned by the laser burning stare! The puzzle was even more challenging to reassemble and again took me almost a whole day. Checking my photo, I knew I had got to the start position and then tried again. Remember that no puzzle is truly solved until it has been done at least twice and proven to be understood. The second time was a little quicker and led to a real appreciation of the complexity and beautiful quality. I might actually be tempted to say this is a 5 star difficulty and not the proposed 4. I'd be interested in thoughts from any of you lovely readers.

Prince of Frogs
Yes the above puzzle is called the Prince of Frogs! I think this has been a translation error because the Czech name is Rybí Princ which should translate to Prince of Fish. The shape looks to me like a whale with its' blowhole spraying and of course, even if it is a mammal, what else could you use to call a whale? It looks like a prince of the fish family. It is a fairly simple structure and with a difficulty level also of 4 stars. The aim is to simply remove the ring from the top.

There are a few features of this shape that immediately made me recall previous puzzles and I had plans for what to try before I even picked it up. The puzzle did not take me very long and I would rate the difficulty as 2-3 stars only unless you are an absolute beginner with disentanglement puzzles. Despite the ease with which I solved it, it is actually one of my favourites. The sequence of moves to remove that ring are simply beautiful in their elegance! I love it.

Simply wonderful if not difficult.
Finally today I am visiting a new twist on a very old idea. Way way back in the mists of time I wrote about the Cast Menace/Devil which is a real classic puzzle which still fools many newbies to this genre of puzzles (I have a colleague at work who has owned it for over a year and is convinced that it is impossible). It was made tougher for Allard's exchange a few years ago and sold by Wil later as the U-twins. Well Jan Sturm has taken that basic shape and put a number together to make:

The Cloverleaf
Cloverleaf is very attractive and VERY jingly which Mrs S did not like. It has been rated as 4 stars in difficulty (I would say 3 stars) and if you don't understand the Hanayama 2 piece version then don't even attempt this one. The same move is required only more often and with a bit of fiddling to get the correct part of the pieces to reach properly. I knew what was needed having solved the original and very quickly had this:

Pieces of 2 Cast Devils or 1 Cloverleaf
Reassembly is where the real challenge comes in. Try not to pay too much attention to the positions where pieces are removed and then you get far more of a challenge later. The return to the beginning took me about an hour because I struggled to get the overlapping pieces in the correct orientation and the final link was a real pain in the A! It is a reassuringly solid puzzle and if your life is not endangered by a homicidal wife then I can definitely recommend it.

I look forward to getting a good few more from Jan's catalogue. He has implemented ideas from quite a few new designers and has really made them beautifully using very high quality steel wire and string. This has reminded me that I still have quite a few of Aaron Wang's puzzles in my unsolved pile - I must get back to them soon - I am falling behind!

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