Sunday 18 November 2018

Variants Revisited

I know many of you will recognise these pieces immediately - Hectix original
Mrs S has begun to mutter again about the number of puzzles lying around the house and seems to have developed a murderous look in her eye periodically. That terrible feeling of fear I get from her violent tendencies used to be limited to when she booted me in a kidney at night for snoring my head off. She always calmed my fears by asking whether I had to "breathe like that?" More recently, the feeling of incipient termination has worsened now that she has taken to booting me and asking me when I wake with a start, whether I "had to breathe?" After 28 years as a doctor, I am fairly certain that breathing is not optional and, despite her telling me I am just a vegetable, that I cannot photosynthesise.

Over the last week or so a number of additions to the collection have arrived and I have not had any time to put them into the crap heap which my study has become...again! Occasionally she hears me exclaim after my Aha! moments that one or other puzzle solves just like another. The murderous look reappears and she asks "why have you bought it then?" to which I have to reply that I could not tell until I solved it! She has also continued to ask me why I don't go back and solve my ever-increasing backlog of unsolved puzzles. I don't have a Louis like Allard has to solve all of his puzzles and so have to keep putting them down and returning later. The theme of today's article is on revisiting puzzles voluntarily or inadvertently:

Last week I was contacted by my friend Rob Stegman - he knew that I had been wanting a copy of the original Hectix or Hexsticks puzzle. A cheap Japanese copy had come up for sale on eBay and I jumped at the chance. I did not expect much for the price but was pleasantly surprised when it arrived quickly in a rather small box in the disassembled state and was much better quality than expected.

The 2 versions of the original 3M productions of the Hexsticks puzzle produced in 1970

I already had 2 copies of this puzzle in my collection given to me by a very very good friend and which I have not dared to disassemble partly for fear that over the last 48 years, the plastic might have become brittle and also because if I took them apart I suspected that reassembly might prove impossible - you all know that I am rubbish at assembly puzzles.

The Hectix/Hexsticks puzzle was discovered independently by both Stewart Coffin and Bill Cutler in around 1968 and Stewart patented it in 1973 (You can download the patent here). I have had these 2 plastic puzzles sitting within arms reach and never done more than admire them and be pleased that I had a nice piece of puzzling history.

When this arrived and I had reassured myself that Mrs S was not going to burn either it or me, I set to trying to put it together. As you can see it consists of 9 identical pieces and then 3 more with an additional notch. There was an obvious way to start and I got to the point of having 8 pieces in and 4 more to go. The next piece always proved impossible. Mrs S refused to lend me an extra hand and the cat didn't have the dexterity! Every time I attempted that final piece it would start to collapse and quickly became unsalvageable before dropping on the aforementioned cat who was less than impressed. This ridiculous state of affairs continued for several evenings and eventually the swearing got too much for Mrs S - she forced me to leave it alone for a while. Today it was photo taking time and I was determined to get it done for the blog. An hour of effing and blinding gave me a wonderful Aha! moment and I realised I had been going about it all wrong. Apparently, according to Jim Storer's site, there are 3 solutions - I will be going back to them to see why I had so much trouble.

Assembled - it only took me 5 days!
Now I am very happy to have 3 copies of this lovely puzzle. If you see either a plastic or a wooden one up for sale then don't hesitate, it is perfect for any puzzler.

I do have a copy of the Hectix revisited which I wrote about here and the Improved Hexsticks (from Bernhard Schweitzer) which I wrote about here. Maybe I should try them again?

and I am really not sure when I am ever going to dismantle this monster:

Hexagonal Porcupine

Another Unexpected Puzzle Revisit

At the last MPP, Louis had brought me a few puzzles from Wil's stock to go through and buy if I wanted. There were a couple of extra wire puzzles from Jan Sturm and I took all that I didn't already have. The Sailboat looks remarkably familiar but also has some changes. It looks very similar to the classic Ball and chain puzzle which catches me by surprise every time I attempt it. It requires a very particular sequence of moves and if they are not done right then the puzzle gets very very knotted. You can see the similarity but also the subtle changes. I took this to work to show off and my ODP/anaesthetic assistant grabbed it whilst I was busy checking on the blood cell salvage machine during a case. She managed to get it knotted within just 60 seconds and my heart leapt into my throat! Rule number one - DON'T give a string puzzle to a newbie! I was delighted that I had not lost my touch on this type of puzzle - after I had grabbed it back I managed to undo her knot and then solve it too - all in just 5 minutes! Phew!

It's a very nice version of the classic - worth adding to the collection

...And Another!

Snail-U-String - not the name from JCC. I don't know what it is supposed to be called.
A few months ago I received a batch of Jean-Claude Constantin's wire (and string) from Wil and had been failing dismally. Again after the MPP, I had gone back to a few for a fresh look. The addition of the U pieces to many of his latest puzzles really makes a huge difference to the complexity of the puzzle. It is almost like adding a Möbius strip to a puzzle. Eventually, after months of getting no-where, I had a little thought© which is a very alien phenomenon for me. There was a small hint of a similarity to the simply brilliant Russian Heart and Aaron's Möbius ring that I had reviewed here. Both of those puzzles have a common idea and as you can see they share a feature with the Snail-U-String above. The new features still make a difference but after another few nights of exploration my Aha! moment was complete and I had my 3 pieces:

I hope to God that I can get it back together!
It took me another evening to reassemble the damn thing but can definitely say that if you enjoyed the Russian Heart then get this one too. If you don't have either then go and get both I am sure that Tomas will be able to provide the Russian Heart for you.

I also received a few new ones as a gift from my friend Terry - I am most grateful and pleased that Mrs S didn't mind when I told her that I hadn't paid for them! They will be shown on my New Additions page soon. Don't tell Mrs S but there might be some more puzzles coming very soon! Whack! Ouch! too late!

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