Sunday, 31 December 2017

Happy New Year - My top puzzles of 2017

Hi folks, it's that time of year again....time for me to show off the top puzzles of the year and if I can, I try to show the "state of the unioncollection". I do this in parallel with the top 3 post booklet that is produced by Peter Hajek to coincide with his end of the year puzzle party where puzzlers visit his house for a get together and they present their opinions for the top puzzles they have acquired in the preceding 12 months. Unfortunately I live just a bit too far away to get to Peter's to attend the party but I always look forward to participating by email and receiving the pdf of what puzzlers around the world have bought and consider their very best of the year.

My own particular post here, however, differs slightly from the rules sent out by Peter. He wants to know the best puzzles acquired whilst I insist that this post shows ONLY the puzzles that I have solved in the previous 12 months. It does not include fabulous puzzles that I have purchased but not managed to solve yet - I feel that until I have solved them I cannot possibly fully assess how much I enjoy them. For example the Popplock T10 is a truly amazing puzzle which will surely one day reach my top 10 but so far in more than a year I have been unable to solve it. This is also the reason why there is no Hales puzzle in my top puzzle list this year (I received 2 new ones from Shane after the IPP but so far have singularly failed to solve them!)

It was a great delight and honour to post yesterday that, with your amazing tolerance, I have reached over 1 million pageviews before the year is out. This has really helped motivate me to write this final blog post of 2017 - I hope that you have managed to get at least a few of these fabulous toys for your own collection (some are still available with links given) and if you have anything to say about my choices then do please leave a comment at the bottom of the post.

So without further ado here are my top puzzles of 2017:

Honourable mention

Die Doolhof - a hidden maze with packing puzzle inside
Numlock with stand and Quinary pieces
Each year when I go through my database and look at how I have scored my puzzles I realise that I have far far more highly ranked puzzles than I can fit into my top ten. I therefore have been forced to add a "pipped at the post" section for some truly wondrous puzzles that are almost there. This year I received quite a few from my friend Johan Heyns and 2 really stood out because of either their beauty or complexity. Numlock is a member of one of my favourite categories, the N-ary puzzles. Johan made it beautifully and added extra dimensions to the original - how could I possibly resist? Then he also made something similar to the puzzle that got it all started - Die Doolhof is a hidden maze like a Revomaze which as a bonus contains an extra packing puzzle. Being made of wonderful Olivewood it is truly gorgeous!

10) Crazy Comet and Flowercopter

Crazy Comet
Yes, as usual I am cheating a bit! 10 puzzles is far too short a list for anyone (especially me). This has been a very good year for twisty puzzlers with quite a few new designs coming out and a good few of them being mass produced. I personally like twisty puzzles that add something new to the process with maybe an alternative way of looking at a puzzle or with something extra added to the solution of an existing easier one. The Crazy Comet (purchase here (UK) or here (USA)) looks really fearsome but it can be thought of as a rhombic dodecahedral shape modification of one of my all time favourites, the Curvy Copter. It adds an alternative view point and has just a little extra which shows up as an unexpected parity. This is wonderful and not impossibly difficult.

The Flowercopter (purchase here (UK)) is another fabulous new design that mixes (yet again) the Curvy Copter with something else...this time it is the Dino cube. It makes for a fabulously scrambling puzzle which again solves like both those puzzles but requiring an extra step or two. Even I, who am OK at twisties but certainly not anywhere near in the ranks of the brilliant solvers on the Twisty Puzzles forum, was able to work out what was required and produce my own fairly simple commutator for it. It is brilliant! I can see that I am going to run out of superlatives during this post!

9) Santa's Socks

Santa's Socks - aim to remove the shackle binding the 2 legs
Disentanglement puzzles seldom make it into peoples' top 10 but I adore this genre and I own dozens of them. The Santa's Socks was one of a batch of puzzles designed by the amazing Aaron Wang (many are available from the Felix Puzzle Company). He is one of the greatest disentanglement designers and solvers in the world and I always try to make sure that I get every single one of his designs when they come out. The Santa's Socks doesn't look like much but for me it had just the right amount of difficulty which was made perfect by the addition of the 2 tiny rings across the shackle. The Aha! moment is truly delicious! It is hand made and very nicely done and has a lovely amount of exploration and discovery. I left the reassembly for a while and then was stumped for quite some time.

8) Tronc Commun 3 and 4

Tronc Commun 3
Tronc Commun 4
No top 10 of mine could possibly be complete without something wonderful produced by the incredible Brian Menold. Over the last year or so he has begun to produce a number of puzzles that require rotations. At the beginning of 2017 I reviewed the Tronc Commun 4 and called it "probably the best turning puzzle ever" - it was simply amazing in it's solving strategy as well as the gorgeous woods used by Brian. A good friend of mine had told me that this puzzle would be good and when it arrived it beat my expectations. Then a few months later Brian produced the earlier Tronc Commun 3 and I had to have it partly to continue the set but also because Gregory Benedetti's designs are generally stupendous. The number 3 was just a shade less wonderful but I couldn't bear to keep it out of my top 10 - gratuitous wood photos always are welcome here!

7) Tortoise and Giegeldonk

2017 has been an absolutely incredible year for Jakub and Jaroslav's New Pelikan Workshop and I think I have bought every single puzzle they produced! The quality is stupendous and, like Brian above, they seem to choose some really interesting and challenging puzzles. It was no surprise to me that quite a number of their puzzles turned up in the top of my list and in the end I had to include 2 of them (it was nearly 4 or 5!) The Tortoise (available here)was one of several designs by a new man on the puzzle block, Alexander Haydon O'Brien. He seems to have the knack of producing very interesting shapes which also have rather ingenious solutions - some of the moves are very well hidden and can take quite a long time to discover. The Tortoise is not a particularly high level puzzle but it really took me quite a long time to dismantle. I also had to include the Giegeldonk (available here) is a design from the very prolific Klaas Jan Damstra. It is "just" another framed 6 piece burr but with a real twist to it! All the sticks are identical and it has a surprisingly high level solution. It kept me going for several days and despite being able to see easily inside it took quite a while to plan the escape of the first piece (and even several subsequent ones). Beautiful and fun - I am lucky to have a special version made by Jakub and Jaroslav for a few special friends.

6) Jerry's masterpieces (Burrnova and Pinhole grand cross)

Burrnova - this is AFTER the automatically solving part has done itself!
After so many years of communicating with Jerry McFarland I finally got to meet him at the IPP in Paris. He showed off his entry into the design competition (and winner of a Jury Honourable mention award) which I promptly purchased. The Burrnova must be the world's first self-solving burr puzzle (at least part way solved) - it has the absolutely characteristic look of a McFarland puzzle which is a wonderful thing and the sound made by the first 11 moves is something I keep doing just for giggles. Following that by a very well hidden sequence before removal of the first pieces makes this an absolutely unique puzzle - I love it!

At the same IPP I also picked up a puzzle that he had made called the Grand Pinhole Cross. Here I am cheating my rules a little - I have still not yet completed the full set of challenges yet (including the big cross) but I have made 4 or 5 of the challenges. This incredible Stewart Coffin design has been made like a Masterpiece here and I adore it! It is still sitting next to my armchair in the living room for me to take up the final 3 or 4 challenges. The attention to detail here is stunning!

Coffin's Pinhole Puzzle set (#20)
The 90º bend which caused me real difficulty

5) Sliding Tetris (hardcore edition)

Sliding Tetris (hardcore edition)
Amazing! My top 10 includes wire, twisties and now even a plastic puzzle! The Sliding Tetris (hardcore edition) is just too good not to appear here in my number 5 slot. Diniar Damdarian is well known as the King of the sliding piece puzzle - every year he has an entry into the IPP design competition with a new design which is often incredibly complex and often has a very high level solution. Usually these puzzles take the form of trays with sliding tiles. I have bought a number of these over the years and, whilst I enjoy the play, I am truly terrible at them and a number of the very difficult ones end up as random movement games for me. I just don't seem to have the skills to solve them systematically. This year he produced a 3D sliding piece puzzle with pieces that look like a Tetris piece. When I saw and played with the basic version at the IPP I found that I really enjoyed it and learned to plan my approach. A month or so afterwards, Diniar contacted me offering a greatly enhanced version of the one in the competition. How could I possibly say no? So many challenges and so beautifully made! Moving the ball through an ever changing maze towards the exit hole is surprisingly difficult and mesmerizingly enjoyable! Definitely worthy of a prize here. You can contact Diniar if you would like a copy for yourself

4) The Louvre

The Louvre
The Louvre was the 2017 sequential discovery release from the amazing Brian Young - made to coincide with the IPP in Paris. This puzzle has several steps and, like most previous designs is beautifully made from wood and several other metal parts (Brian has so much skill!) The aim is to open the gallery and find the French flag and pole as well as the missing Mona Lisa. This puzzle kicked my butt for a very long time. The mechanism is totally ingenious and requires a very "fingers out" approach. Yes, make sure that you obey Ali's instructions and "Don't put you finger in it"! Sequential discovery puzzles are my favourite genre of all and they are very difficult to design and make. This is really wonderful and is still available to buy here.

3) 3x3 Mixup Ultimate

3x3 Mixup Ultimate
A scrambled nightmare?
I couldn't resist having a twisty puzzle in my top 3 - especially if it is as good as the 3x3 Mixup Ultimate (purchase here (UK) or here (USA)). This wonderful twisty puzzle was designed Guan Yang and mass-produced by LimCubes. The basic premise is that of Oskar's mixup cube but instead of enabling 45º equatorial turns, it allows 30º turns and mixing up of centres and segments of edges into an unholy mess. It is particularly special because it adds something to a standard 3x3 that can be solved by anyone who can solve that with some additional intuitive logic and thought. There's also a fabulous parity! I am not a huge fan of massively complicated twisty puzzles - I want a puzzle that is based on something I know but forces me to think© a little more and advance my knowledge and skills further. This puzzle is absolutely perfect for that. If you are a twisty puzzler, this and the other 2 I have listed here are essential purchases for solving and collecting.

2) The Pirate's casket

The Pirate's Casket
Just last week I reviewed this! It was one of the last puzzles I received this year and smashed it straight into my number 2 slot (to be honest, it was difficult to decide between the top 2 - I nearly went for both puzzles in joint top position but that is avoiding making a decision). Designed and manufactured by the incredibly talented Carsten Elsäßer, this is a sequential discovery puzzle plus follow on information challenge. I am always amazed that some puzzle designers send me their puzzles for review and this one was one of the best of the year. With 3D printing in plastic and metal as well as judicious use of magnets this puzzle was something totally new and very exciting for me just before Xmas - it is stunning and only just beaten into second place. Everything that Carsten has ever made has been amazing and I cannot wait to show this one off at the next MPP. Thank you my friend you deserve your slot here!

1) Revenge Lock aka The Wanderer

The Revenge Lock aka The wanderer
Yet again one of Wil's amazing designs makes my top puzzle of the year. The Revenge Lock has been beautifully manufactured and is a wonderful voyage of dexterity, discovery and logic with multiple challenges for the unwary puzzler that has been beautifully thought out. How can anyone resist a puzzle that comes with a set of instructions/challenges like this:
"First Part:
1 - Discover your Number
2 - Open the Shackle
3 - Remove the Brass Key
4 - Find the Tiny Wanderer
Second Part:
5 - Replace the Wanderer - Brass Key - Shackle
6 - Put the Lock back in the Frame.
7 - Fix the Lock back into the Frame.
No Magnets - No Banging - No force needed - Spring-loaded
     Take care of the "Spring" and the "Wanderer".
Even having done the first part and disassembled it, I left the reassembly too long and it subsequently proved to be a massive challenge for me which took me several weeks to resolve. I still enjoy opening and closing this one and admiring the manufacturing perfection as well as the beautiful sequence of moves required.

Thank you Wil!  It is one of the best puzzles in my collection.

The State of the Collection

Several times over the last year I have received a series of Whack! Ouch's! for letting my study and living room get into a truly ghastly state of disarray! I sort of admit to myself that I probably deserved it but don't anyone tell Mrs S (luckily she NEVER reads my drivel here). I have been forced to tidy up a few times and one of those times was fairly recently whilst I have been off having had surgery.

The study started as this utter shithole:

Whack! Ouch! Get it tidied! Yes dear.
So I set to and cleared a few shelves of books into storage and this gave me some more space. A little reorganisation was required (and probably still is) but the desk is finally a good bit clearer:

Nice clean desk (sort of!!!)
We have N-ary puzzles and 3D printed puzzles as well as sequential discovery
The other side of my computer is a little space for a few more puzzles and I have kept a similar theme:

More sequential discovery and my Bosch genius puzzles!
The shelving is where it really starts to look good - it is a fully fitted study, done about 12 years ago and is nicely packed but still has a little room for more.

From the left:

Vinco puzzles, Pelikan wonders, Baumegger specials and a few others
Above the N-ary puzzles on the desk we have an embarrassment of riches:

A top row of MrPuzzle's puzzles, Menold menagerie, a few Demirrhans and full of Fullers!
Above my computer I have some truly special toys. The shelf immediately above the computer is also above a radiator so cannot hold wood. My metal and glass collection is so heavy the shelf is starting to sag! I really must turn it over someday soon!

More MrPuzzle limited editions, the McFarland central and assorted others
I have rather a lot of interlocking cube puzzles thanks to Bernhard! They are all in the next section along with some from Juno and more from Brian Young!

A whole lot of interlocking solids, books assorted extras and bespoke twisty puzzles
The cupboard holds my twisty puzzles and a whole load of wire and other assorted plastic puzzles. I know it is still a mess but luckily Mrs S never goes in there and doesn't see the mess and hasn't thought of sending another Whack! Ouch! my way.....yet!

The dining room holds my Hales collection and most of my Heyns puzzles - this is because they are beautiful and need to be on display as well as because they tend to be too large for the study:

The living room is not left out but most puzzles in there are hidden by Xmas cards.

Spectacularly beautiful toys!
Notice the Lucida remains unsolved!
Big N-ary burrs and a Stickman I still cannot solve!
Twisties waiting for play
My "to be solved" pile never seems to go down! Periodically I shuffle them about to placate Mr S but my backlog is ahem rather large!

One day these will be solved!
The Grand Pinhole Cross is still there ready for me
Wow! Writing this has been a prodigious effort and has taken many many hours! But I hope you think that it has been worth it?

All that remains is for me to wish you a truly PuzzleMad New Year - may it be a happy, healthy one full of family and friends as well as lots and lots and lots of wonderful new toys! Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear!

Just as well she doesn't know that my first puzzle of 2018 is already on its way. Whack! Ouch! Oh dear! It would appear that she does know! 😱 😱 😱  ho ho ho! 😜


  1. "Periodically I shuffle them about to placate Mr S but my backlog is ahem rather large!" Oh I am so very sorry, I always assumed that you in a partnership with a woman! In this day and age this is an unforgivable "gender specific" mistake on my behalf. An I expect that Mr. S will love a large backlog :-)

    1. Blush! Well spotted Gus! There is definitely only a Mrs S as the guys who attended the London IPP will attest. I'll need to edit the mistake.

  2. Oh, and I love the collection, even though you say it is a mess and must take up a lot of room, 99% of mine is packed in boxes in the loft :-(

    1. Hi Gus, that's very sad! I have a couple of boxes of puzzles packed away in the garage and a while cheesy of drawers packed with wire and Hanayama puzzles plus some more plastic but I do think that wonderful wood needs to be on display. My study is tiny but fully fitted so good for displaying them.

  3. Hi Kevin! Wow, seems you have quite the collection going... I am really amazed that Mrs S puts up with it!! I was wondering if you bought any of the puzzles from the last cubic update. There were some real beauties there! The frankenstein was above my usual budget but, as usual, I simply could not resist. My other question was concerning where to source new wire puzzles from, as I just finished the puzzle master series. Preferably very hard ones (along the lines of chain gang and the yak, which took me a month to solve!). Thank you so much for bothering to read my comment! Happy puzzling!

    Noah P

    1. Hi Noah,
      I'm glad you like the collection! Mine is quite a small collection compared to many other serious puzzlers. Mrs S prefers that I play with puzzles than take up booze, drugs or start riding a motorbike. As middle aged man hobbies go this is quite a benign one..... Certainly better than getting a girlfriend!

      Wire puzzles accumulate slowly. I have almost all the puzzlemaster ones and there livewire full set. Others have come from Aaron Wang (via the Felix puzzle company). There rest came from Dick Hess and a few from eBay. There's no secret source I'm afraid. Just keep your eye out.

    2. I definitely agree with you, puzzling is a VERY good hobby/addiction to have! I started out with just one hanayama to see what these strange objects were like, bought a few more in quick succession, and then found your blog. Needless to say it was all downhill from there! It's been a little bit of an expensive ride, but overall completely worth it.

      I will be on the lookout for wire puzzles from those particular sources. I checked the Felix puzzle company and it actually seems as though they have quite a good selection! Another puzzle order may be on its way soon...

      Noah P

      P.S. congrats on not giving up on grilladin! I noticed it in your pile of unsolved puzzles.

    3. I very seldom give up on a puzzle. I may leave it for a day, month, year or more but I'm known for keeping at them until I eventually get it. Some puzzles have defeated me for years!

      I apologise for getting you hooked and choosing you money!

  4. No need to apologize to me! I am very contented in my addicted state. Now, there are other people though that are probably not as satisfied with my current spending habits as I am though... well, I am sure you understand :).

    1. My advice is to always be at least 2 arm spans away to prevent receipt of a Whack! Ouch! If she has weaponry then you are in trouble!

  5. Aloha Boss,

    I have to agree with Revenge Lock in the number one seat. It was my personal number one of the year as well. Perhaps for the last few years even. One of Wil's best efforts, and that's really saying something!


    1. Hi Mike,
      It’s good that the Puzzlemad team agree on what are the best puzzles of last year.



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