Tuesday 31 December 2019

Happy New Year - My top puzzles of 2019

Happy New Year Everyone! I hope that the new year and, indeed, the new decade will be a great one for you!

In 2019 I seem to have done rather well (especially in terms of the amount of hard-earned cash spent) in my accumulation of toys. Mrs S is less than enthusiastic but as long as my study is kept tidy she tolerates it...barely! 

I am always triggered to start writing this post when I receive the annual email from Peter Hajek asking for a puzzler's top 3 acquisitions (for his end of year puzzle party). My aim in this post is to highlight the very best puzzles of the year - I only include puzzles that I have actually managed to solve this year in this list - if I receive a puzzle in a previous year and solved it in 2019 then it stands a chance but others that I have bought this year but not solved will not be in my list this year.

I try to make it a top 10 but that is totally impossible and so I cheat by bunching puzzles into groups too. It might not be technically right but it's my blog and I'll do whatever I want as long as Mrs S lets me. Whack! Ouch!

So let's start off by breaking a rule straight away!

Fabulous Puzzle Not Allowed In This List

This year Mrs S and I celebrated our suffering of 25 years of wedded bliss (Whack! Ouch!) and to commemorate that we gave each other some lovely gifts. Mrs S received some specially commissioned jewellery and I, at last, received the one(?) puzzle I had lusted after for quite a lot of years. I managed to get a copy of Miguel Berrocal's Goliath. This has taken me months of wheedling and cajoling and it finally arrived in time for our anniversary. Why is it not in my proper top 10? For 2 reasons mostly - first of all, I have really had an incredibly busy year this year and had no real time to spend on a puzzle of this magnitude. Mostly I have not solved it because Mrs S is very frightened of the weight of it - it is MUCH too heavy to solve on my lap in my armchair during my evenings in front of the TV. Mrs S won't allow it in the kitchen for fear of a tile or granite catastrophe. I, therefore, need to organise a space in our dining room and this has not happened yet. Hopefully, in 2020 I will have the chance to explore this beauty fully.

Drum roll..................And now on to my "Top 10ish puzzles of 2019"

Continuing with breaking the rules lets start at number 12!

12) 136 Minute Cube/205 Minute Box
136-minute cube solved and ready for reassembly
Reassembled as the 205-minute box
The sequence cube was an incredible design by Aleksandr Leontev which he shared with me at the beginning of the year and when he tried to make a copy discovered that it proved to be impossible to construct in a stable manner. As a compromise (which probably actually saved my sanity) he created a variant with only a single removable piece rather than entirely dismantleable. This was called either the 136-minute cube or 205-minute box depending on which pieces were used. Those numbers were supposed to denote how long it should take but in my case, the numbers were considerably higher! It was a wonderful piece of 3D printing and a masterpiece of N-ary puzzle design.

11) Rex Beats Me

Kusing 25
Rex Rossano Perez has continued to produce top quality sequential discovery puzzles made from laser cut acrylic. I received the Kusing 25 as a wonderful surprise gift earlier this year and which I solved without understanding initially. It took me another 3 weeks to decide to cheat and open it up and look at the mechanism inside. Even with being able to see inside, it took me a good ½ hour to fully understand the mechanism. It is a work of absolute genius and beautifully implemented

10) RDS Interlock Puzzle

RDS Interlock PLUS
My Bulgarian friend Stefan worked with the genius that is Derek Bosch to produce a full analysis of the RDS interlock puzzle and produced a wonderful set that included all the pieces needed to make all the possible constructions. In total, there are 27 assemblies possible with the provided pieces and I had a wonderful time trying to find as many as I possibly could. This was made all the more challenging by the dexterity needed to hold all the pieces in place whilst placing more into the puzzle. Inside the outer shell is another puzzle which is also great fun, the 4 Dimensional Trapsticks which has only one assembly which took me 3 days. Apart from the superb puzzling provided by this multilayered puzzle, this was made all the more special by the incredible 3D printing by Stefan (in my opinion he is the best in the world) and especially the fact that this was given to me as a gift. Thank you, my friend! 

9) Ternary/Quinary Cube
Ternary/Quinary Cube
Johan Heyns has been producing wonderful wooden creations for a few years now and I have managed to obtain quite a few of them. He has also developed a fascination with the N-ary puzzles and after a discussion with Aleksandr Leontev, he produced a batch of Ternary/Quinary cubes. These gorgeous puzzles smell as good as they look and provided a wonderful challenge. Arriving in the Ternary form, they require steps to solve and then the maze plates can be flipped into a Quinary form which requires 1251.2.2.2 to solve - a fun challenge...EXCEPT that I had not paid attention to how my plates were originally orientated and had the additional challenge of assembling it into a fully functional puzzle - it only took me 3 or 4 hours to work it out. After I had put it away, we were informed by Jack Krijnen that this puzzle actually has 4 challenges as the orientation of the maze plates can be mixed and matched. Brilliant puzzle!

8) Combination Lock
Combination Lock
The Combination lock is a wonderful sequential move puzzle that I bought from Diniar Namdarian. I actually hesitated to buy this puzzle along with the others because I was feeling a little guilty at the amount of money that I had spent! Diniar argued with me and I am soo soooo glad that he did. The combination lock here is a reproduction of a classic puzzle produced by the Combination Novelty Company and designed originally by DE Dow. I finished off my review with the statement that if you order other puzzles from Diniar then make sure that you pick up a copy of this. No matter how many times I have solved it, I struggle to do it again. Brilliant!

7) Brass Monkey #3
Brass Monkeys all lined up
My very good friends, Big Steve and Ali have formed a wonderful puzzle company which produces items of quality! The third in their series of Brass 6 piece burr puzzles (BM#3) was released this year and apart from being beautifully made, it is also a lovely clever challenge which might also be rather painful to solve. As a set, they look incredible on display and the weight of them makes Mrs S nervous when they are played within the kitchen. It was a wonderful challenge which took me a while. Whilst you are at their Etsy store, you should also buy a copy of their Nova Plexus and the Hyperboloid burr or to save on postage in North America buy from PuzzleMaster.

6) Fidget Burr
Fidget Burr
Whenever Jerry asks me if I am interested in offering feedback on a new design, I just say yes! I don't think about it - the answer is always gimme gimme gimme. After a little exchange of PayPal and a long wait as the Royal Mail holds things hostage, I get to play with a puzzle that is classic Jerry (you can tell who made it instantly). This puzzle can double up as a fidget toy - it has magnets in like the last few that he has designed and it makes a wonderful noise as you move pieces around. It is quite a challenge to find the second move with this one and when you do, the Aha! moment is wonderful. Even after the very well hidden move has been found, there is still a real challenge ahead to fully dismantle the puzzle. It requires a lovely piece of logic to solve and then reassembly is just as much fun.

5) TICs Galore
A BIG bunch of TICs from Bernhard

Let's not forget the rather large number of TIC's that I bought from Brian! This is just a small selection

Andrew Crowell has taken the puzzle world by storm! He has been designing Turning interlocking cubes the last 2 years like the world was about to end! They vary in complexity from relatively challenging to totally mind-boggling. I absolutely adore them! Initially, I wanted to receive them fully assembled into beautiful cubes and work out how to take them apart but now as my skills have improved I can actually appreciate the challenge of them entirely as assembly puzzles. Some are still kicking my butt but it's a very enjoyable failure. Of course, absolutely no-one makes these as well as the incredible Brian Menold! who's choice of glorious woods is inspired!

4) Derek & Eric'S Marvellous Split Mazeburr
Magnificent Mazeburr
When Derek showed me his designs for a new version of his Mazeburr puzzle (I had previously adored the rhombic version) and promised me that I could have a 3D printed version if he could perfect the design, I was over the moon. I love to have series’ of puzzles and this would have been great. Then the Doctor of wood, Eric Fuller, decided to have a try at making one, I knew I had to have a copy. In fact, whilst pacing the Post-operative care unit, looking after a bunch of patients at 6pm, the email came in and I took the required 60 seconds on my phone to buy a copy. It was stunning in wood and the booklet that Derek had designed to go with it provided a whole lotta fun for several months. I’ve only scratched the surface with it but it has to be one of the best designs and creations of the year!

3) Pelikan Packs A Whole Lotta Brilliance Into 2019

A Whole bunch of Packing puzzles designed by Osanori Yamamoto

When Jakub and Jaroslav team up with the amazing Osanori Yamamoto then you are absolutely guaranteed a fabulous puzzle! It will be beautifully made and the puzzling will be just the right level of difficulty - a stunning challenge to go back to again and again. The pictures above are not all they produced this year but they were some of my favourites of the entire year. I am generally not good at Packing puzzles but these are making me change my mind - they have just the right number of pieces to ensure that trial and error are not required and we are left with a puzzle that is a delight to solve.

Incredible designs by the unbelievably talented Volker Latussek

Of course, there were a number of puzzles designed by Volker Latussek this year and 2 were produced by Pelikan - The Dunant was an amazing and very interesting challenge which was one of the very few where I began my review with the words "Go buy it now" as the very first thing I wrote. It is a tremendous and very difficult challenge which took me a few days to work out with a wonderful Aha! moment. Then also by Dr Latussek, there was the Harun/Guillotine puzzle. My copy was a wonderful gift from Allard of the basic Rombol version but both Eric and Jakub produced more beautiful versions. This also is a tremendous puzzle finishing out the year of wonderful puzzles from Pelikan.

2) Juno’s Sequential Discovery Puzzles
The most amazing sequential discovery puzzle of the year - the Slammed Car

Sequential Discovery Board Burred Box
Chubby Crocodile - being attacked
Juno had an incredible year - he produced a bunch of sequential discovery puzzles which the world swooped on very quickly. They rapidly gained acclaim from puzzlers everywhere including on my blog - Slammed car, Board burr and Crocodile. The Slammed car won the 2019 Jury grand prize in the IPP design competition and for very good reason - it is a Tour de force puzzle with so many steps and a very complex end step which kept me stumped for many weeks. The quality of the craftsmanship and the extent of the puzzling make this one of the very best puzzles of the entire year.

Juno has released (on Boxing day) a new SD puzzle which may be of interest to you all - the Ring Case is a box/SD puzzle and is still available at the time of writing - you may want to check it out as there is a chance that it might end up in next year's top ten.

BUT Juno is beaten out of the top spot this year by another fabulous challenge that may be a surprise to many of you:

1) Skewby Copter Plus

Yes, my puzzle of the year for 2019 is not made of wood! It’s not a burr or an interlocking puzzle! It’s the best twisty puzzle I’ve ever seen - an amazing work of design and manufacturing ending with a fabulous logical challenge. It’s the Skewby Copter plus, designed by Diogo Souza and manufactured by MF8,  is an incredible hybrid of the Curvy Copter Plus (an improved unbandaged version) and a Skewb. It is so complex that one needs a plan just to scramble it and end up with a horrific mess. The approach to solving it is a multistage process which is logical and fun. There are no complex algorithms as the solution uses basic principles. There are several fun parities to contend with as well and I think, one of the best puzzles ever designed and produced.

Do you agree with my top 10? If you have any different thoughts then please comment below or even use my Contact page to tell me how wrong I am. I look forward to your thoughts.

Usually, I try and show off some photos of the "State of the Union/Collection" but at this moment in time, my study has relapsed into being a huge shithole again with puzzles and papers everywhere. I will, no doubt, be forced to tidy up again before long and then I will endeavour to update my collection photos.

Sunday 29 December 2019

I Just Don't Understand It!

Hanayama Cast Rotor
Today's post is going to be a quickie because 1) I don't have much solved to write about today and 2) I have been writing my New Year's Eve "Top puzzles of the year" post which has taken me quite a long time! The Hanayama Cast Rotor is the latest puzzle from the Hanayama company and continues its Huzzle series with an extremely difficult level 6 out of 6 challenge. My copy was bought from the UK based Nic Picot here but for those of you in the Americas, I would suggest buying it from PuzzleMaster here. It is great value for money like all of the Hanayama puzzles at approx $13USD/€9.50/£8.65.

This puzzle was designed by the amazing Kyoo Wong who also gave us the Cast U&U, Cast Delta and Cast Trinity. This puzzle, like many Hanayma puzzles, consists of 2 complex metal pieces (in this case they do appear to be identical) which need to be separated from each other. I personally categorise this puzzle as more of a Maze type puzzle than a Disentanglement. This is because a pathway through a pretty complex maze needs to be navigated to get the pieces into a position where the can just slide apart.

Two seemingly identical pieces
I am sure that you are wondering why my post is entitled "I Just Don't Understand It"? Well, let me tell you that I have managed to solve the puzzle just the once BUT there are 2 reasons for my Exclamation - firstly, I always maintain that a puzzle has to be understood to be truly solved and as a mark of this achievement, it is essential that it should be possible to repeat the task at will. It may require a fair bit of work to solve it each time but it should still be possible. I have managed to disassemble this puzzle twice now but cannot say that I know it well enough to do it at will every time and therefore I just "Don't understand it!". The second reason for my title is that in the 2019 IPP Design Competition this puzzle won a Jury Honourable Mention (I'll not dwell on the incorrect spelling they use of honourable on the results page!) I have to say that I cannot possibly understand how it won that prize. Most puzzlers spend a few hours each day of the IPP playing with the competition entries and usually only a short period on any one specific puzzle. I personally think that this puzzle is MUCH too difficult to have been solved by many people there to allow them to appreciate this as worthy of such an award.

Obviously, the puzzle won the award fair and square but I really don't understand it! I wonder whether someone had solved it and thereafter it had been left in a state near to the solution and hence people did not struggle with it as much as me? Or, much more likely, I am just showing off that I am really NOT terribly bright and my lack of understanding of this puzzle is just me being generally inadequate. I'll let you decide the truth of that - comment below......on second thoughts, please don't let me know how inadequate I am!

Right then, back to the puzzling experience...the Rotor consist of two 3 spoke wheels and the rim of the wheels have gaps in them between each spoke. The spokes are quite thick apart from 1 on each piece which has a groove engraved through it which is obviously there to allow the pieces to slide apart. It quickly becomes apparent that the gaps in the rim won't go across the groove unless the correct gap is used and it must be done in exactly the correct orientation. Very unhelpfully the pieces arrive with the pieces arranged so that they are 180º out in their orientation on each other and they must be manipulated so that they have been rotated into the correct orientation but also at the same time placed into the correct position at the same time. This is where the puzzle gets tough...only certain movements are possible at first and later other ones become available.

My problem here is that there is no way to keep track of what you are doing and no way to make a definite progression whilst being sure that that is what you are doing. It is a maze that almost changes as you solve it! I very quickly got lost and then was unable to backtrack to the beginning. I did start with the intentions of keeping track and even took a few basic notes but rapidly realised that I could not adequately describe on paper what I was doing and taking photos just produced dozens of identical-looking pictures. After a short while, I thought I had found a pattern but this just led me back to the beginning again and I needed to find something else to do outside of the pattern. I found a few things possible and followed them and promptly got lost - unable to return to the beginning. At this point, I was left trying lots and lots of random movements. I knew what I needed to achieve but none of the random movements allowed it to happen in a single move and yet more random moves were needed. Eventually, by pure chance, I recognised that the 180º move had occurred and then I needed to advance towards the correct position. After about 2 hours, with a little squeal of satisfaction, I separated the two pieces:

Finally! 2 Hours of random movements!
Mrs S looked up with annoyance at the noise (I'm surprised she tolerated the clinking noises, to be honest) and I was forced to admit that I had absolutely no idea how I had solved it!

OK! Time to put it back together. The entry can only be done one way and thereafter the maze needs to be negotiated. Another 2 hours and it was at the beginning...again, pure chance. I thought that maybe a second solve would help me understand it and I began again.

All I have to say is that I got it apart for a second time but have no real clue what the correct moves were to achieve it. I agree that this is a pretty tough puzzle, very worth its' 6/6 star difficulty rating (PuzzleMaster 10/10) but, unlike many of the other puzzles of this difficulty (in particular, the Cast Enigma - reviewed here) I found this one less than pleasing. For those of you who collect Hanayama puzzles then this is an essential purchase. For those of you who like to struggle for a long time then also buy this but if you just want a bit of fun then I'd look elsewhere.

I still do not understand how so many puzzlers at the IPP could have rated this so highly - maybe I am just terribly dim?

On New Year's Eve, I hope that you will join me on the blog for my summary of my top 10ish puzzles of the year! In the meantime, here are my top tens from 2018, 2017, 20162015 and 2014.

Sunday 22 December 2019

It's The Time of Year For Packing

5 wonderful new packing puzzles from Yavuz Demirhan
No! Mrs S has not chucked me out of the house just before Christmas! Although that may still happen when my latest order from Eric arrives! If anyone has a spare room for me to sleep in that may be very useful soon. At this time of year, it's the time for giving, which means present packing...or in PuzzleMad terms, packing puzzle packing.

If you are wanting wonderful packing puzzles in the New Year, then you should head over to the amazing New Pelikan Workshop and whilst there you can order the puzzles that I reviewed last week. Most of them are still in stock (although Euklid has sold out already). If you are in North America, you could buy the 3 Osanori puzzles (and a few others) from PuzzleMaster here.

The puzzles pictured above are from the amazing (and very lovely) Yavuz Demirhan. He announced on Facebook that he had a series of 10 packing puzzles, beautifully made from Walnut, Maple, Ash and Acrylic/Perspex coming up for sale. A lot of us jumped on them when they went up for sale and they sold out very quickly (none left just now). With my recent spending (puzzles and Xmas), I could not buy all 10 of them (although I now wish I had) and chose 5 that looked the most interesting in terms of low numbers of pieces and less likely to be just trial and error to solve. My choices were Raya Box 1 to 4 and Snake Pit 2. They arrived earlier this week and I set to playing with the first one straight away.

Raya Box 1
Lovely detail on the base
So where to start? Ermmm maybe logically at Raya Box 1? I removed the pieces from the storage position and took my photo and started playing in the evenings this week. The woodwork is lovely - the Walnut box is 70x55x42mm and has beautiful shouldered joints and nice edge beveling. The base is floating and appears to be made from a different wood (maybe Mahogany?) Set into a groove at the top is a precisely cut acrylic lid with a fairly large window cut in it. The interior space is 60x45x30mm (a 15mm voxel) and interestingly the window is set offset from the voxel positions meaning that pieces clash as you try to put them through the gap in the top and really adds to the difficulty.

As I usually do with these puzzles, I set trying to find an assembly with the right shape outside of the box. This was surprisingly awkward! I managed to find a couple of assemblies and then set to trying to put them inside. Trying to be systematic, I realised that each of my assemblies had 4 possible orientations to try and put inside. This is just delightful! I felt I was being logical and clever and then I realised that the offset lid (which does NOT slide at all) really gets in the way! Damn! I couldn't put all the pieces inside! In fact, having quickly worked out that I needed to leave it so that a certain 1 or 2 pieces were placed last, I managed only to place 2 pieces inside and couldn't even get the third in! After one evening I had to give up and go to bed! I was sure that I'd get it the following day...WRONG!

I worked on it for 4 evenings this week and got myself into a real "thought rut"...I was completely fixated on a certain arrangement of the pieces as this would perfectly allow the entry of the final pieces. It was obvious from early on that rotations would figure here (Burrtools would not be helpful) but there was very little room around the pieces inside to manoeuvre rotations. Last night, just as I was running out of puzzles to write about, I had an ecstatic Aha! moment and realised my fixation had been a bad thing (they usually are). I worked out an alternative assembly and realised that this was much easier to get inside the box (still tricky and needing rotations but perfectly doable). After nearly a week of work I had Raya Box 1 packed:

Very heavily obfuscated - this picture really gives nothing useful away!
This puzzle (and I assume the rest) is a perfect packing challenge for experienced and newbie puzzlers alike. I will be bringing this to work for a while to challenge/torture my colleagues.

Yavuz has sold out just now and I don't know whether more are coming - keep an eye on his Etsy store. If you are interested in other puzzles designed by Yavuz then have a look at these on the PuzzleMaster site.

Missing Tile
Also packing a punch for me this Xmas was my latest delivery from Tom Lensch. These puzzles had been requested many months ago and have arrived just in time. Unfortunately, I only have 2 days off to play but intend to work hard on solving some new toys as well as writing my Top 10(ish) of the year.

One of the beauties, I received from Tom was Missing Tile, designed by the incredible Goh Pit Khiam. There is a beautiful wooden tray and 8 rectangular or square pieces. The aim as stated on the paper is to pack the tray full with 7 of them (minus the small square) and then redo it with all 8 pieces and still completely filling the tray.

It is a lovely chunky puzzle and a few very interesting quirks to the 3D shapes of these pieces. Once this has been properly understood then it takes just a fun ½ hour or so to manage both packings. It's not hard but IS quite clever and perfect for a beginner puzzler.

Another puzzle (in fact 3 in 1 puzzles) which arrived from Tom was the, wait for it.......3 in 1, also designed by Goh Pit Khiam.

3 in 1
A beautiful Yellowheart tray with a circumferential lip under the edge and 3 sets of 5 pieces providing, yes, you guessed it, 3 puzzles in 1. The 3 in 1 is considerably tougher than missing tile - so much so that in 3 weeks, I have completely failed to find even one of the solutions! It makes a wonderful worry bead which is just as well but it does tend to stimulate the odd swear word!

Now I should probably get back to packing Mrs S' Xmas present!

Have a great time over the Holidays (yuk! I hate that Americanism!) Look after yourselves and your loved ones and don't forget to look up from your new toys to actually enjoy each others' company. I will be back with one more post this year for you next weekend.

Sunday 15 December 2019

Pelikan Prepare Perfect Presents

Ribbon made from Zebrano and Bubinga
Sorry that this is late, we have had a kitchen appliance emergency that called me away to try and repair things!

As it approaches Xmas and you are thinking that your loved one needs to buy you something that you will really appreciate more than the customary clothing that no children really want (let's face it, all of us puzzlers are just rather overgrown old children!) Jakub and Jaroslav arrive in the nick of time just to provide something reasonably priced, great fun and beautiful too for a late Xmas present.

They gave me advance access to the latest batch of their puzzles which they hope to release very soon from their website, Pelikan puzzles and they will also be available at the same from PuzzleMaster if you live in North America (I have seen that they have already received these and are waiting for the go-ahead to sell them - they do have stock of the ones I reviewed from the last batch). This time we have another 3 wonderful packing puzzles from the incredible mind of Osanori Yamamoto as well as another genius challenge from the rather warped mind of Dr Volker Latussek.

I will start with the easiest of the 4 puzzles, Ribbon. I received a copy with a Zebrano box and Bubinga pieces (and they kindly gave me a gift of another one in Ash and Bubinga which I will use as a giveaway next year). Osanori has moved into slightly bigger puzzles with the last challenges and these having to fit a 3x3 cube shape inside the boxes of ever-increasing complexity. The box here has two full height corners missing which, as with all previous puzzles, need to be filled completely. The premise is the usual simplicity of just 3 odd-shaped pieces:

Just 3 pieces
The pieces are quite interesting W shaped pieces which require multiple moves to insert through the restricted openings in the box and a block which also cannot just slide easily inside. My usual approach is to make the shapes outside the frame and then attempt the insertion. This one can form a cube in a few ways but the key feature of filling the corner gaps completely severely restrict the options and as far as I could tell left just 2 to try and place inside. There is a very nice exploration and 2 pieces fit in quite easily. Fitting the 3rd shape inside is a bit more of a challenge but perfectly manageable within a nice ½ hour of puzzling. In all the puzzle requires 17 moves (the disassembly is level 8.5.4)

Ribbon in Zebrano solved
And again in Ash - I'll give this one away next year
This one is perfect for both beginners and advanced puzzlers alike and, of course, like all of the Pelikan puzzles it is made beautifully.

Tulip 1 in Padauk and Wenge
After my early triumph with Ribbon, I moved on to the next one, Tulip 1 - my copy made from a vibrant red Padauk and contrasting Wenge. The name seems to allude to the shape of the opening in the box. At first glance, it appears like a standard 2x2x2 shaped gap but after a moment of play with the puzzle, it rapidly becomes clear that the opening is severely restricted by a diagonal segment covering 2 of the interior corners. osanori has used this method of constraint quite a lot over the last year or so and it really ups the level of challenge. Having taken the pieces out from the frame (Jakub packs them nicely to keep them safe but give no clue as to the solution), I discovered that one of the pieces was particularly complex and should severely restrict the ways the pieces can be inserted. Maybe that will make it an easier challenge? Who am I kidding?

Just 3 pieces - how hard can it be?
With this one, I even struggled to find a 3x3x3 cube assembly which covered the large hole at the front and the unit hole opposite at the back. Eventually, I discovered 2 possibilities and set to trying to insert it into the frame. At this point, I realised that this was a serious challenge! That large complex piece is heavily constrained and if I place it first (there are not many positions it can go in) then the placement of the other 2 pieces is made very difficult. The key to this is to think© (damn! That is tough for me!) and try and use every single feature of the puzzle. The holes are not only for covering they are also intended to aid the movement of the pieces. Once I had thunk about that then my positioning was constrained further which both helped and hindered. I worked on this one for 3 days before my Aha! moment hit me and I packed the puzzle properly - it is a genius challenge. The total move count is 18 which is an indication of the difficulty (disassembly level 13.3.2).

That is one hell of a challenge
especially if you are not good at assembly like me!
I took this one to work to torture my ODP (anaesthetic assistant), Dave. He never seems to get fed up with the torture but I do wonder whether I detect a slight flinch every time we work together now. I should probably stop when I see him start to sob in the corner of the operating theatre!

The day that I tortured Dave, I also had a senior registrar with me to gain experience of major revision/redo arthroplasty techniques and during a quiet moment, I brought out one puzzle for Dave and another for my trainee. She seemed quite captivated but did exhibit a rather alarming orthopaedic tendency by requesting access to a hammer and a saw! Aaargh! The puzzle that I tortured the lovely Kerry with was the toughest of the 3 in this batch, Eggplant 1. I have no idea why it's named that way, we don't use the term eggplant in the UK, we prefer the French Aubergine but either way, it does not look like that particular vegetable.

Eggplant 1
The Eggplant 1 that I received has a lovely complex frame made from Wenge and 3 Maple pieces inside. This looks at first glance like it should be the easiest of the 3 puzzles and it actually was the first one I attempted. It took me an hour in an evening to realise that it was actually bloody difficult and I moved on to the others instead and came back to it. The frame has 3 giant 2x2 holes as on 3 faces surrounding one corner and a single unit hole at the opposite corner. There is so much room to place pieces that it appears rather easy but as I did initially and Kerry did at work, this is a really big challenge.

There is a big set of holes to cover with relatively small pieces
My first challenge which stumped me for quite a while (because I am not very bright) was to construct a cube which would cover all 4 holes in the frame. This was very tough - taking an embarrassingly long time and then, of course, I expected that it would be relatively easy to pace the fairly simple shapes inside through the large holes...except, I couldn't get it to work - there was always a piece which would not go inside. After 2 days, I had a rather sneaky suspicion that the master Osanori had done something nasty to us! I expanded the "sphere" of what I considered allowable and Aha! I had a breakthrough. Having done that sneaky move the rest of the assembly was a challenge but not too hard. I was not sure whether I had cheated and asked Jakub - he confirmed that I was correct and Burrtools also showed me the truth.

One damned tough puzzle
poor Kerry didn't stand a chance!
This is a VERY clever challenge and maybe a little unfair to give to my poor trainee - she probably will never come near my operating theatre again!

Euklid by Dr Volker Latussek
The final puzzle in the upcoming batch is another of the packing challenges by the incredible Dr Volker Latussek who's other puzzles are available from PuzzleMaster here. It is a "straightforward" packing puzzle where 7 blocks need to be placed into a box. Sounds easy, doesn't it? Well yes, it should be since the pieces can pack into the volume inside the box in hundreds of ways (Burrtools found 2444 assemblies). The problem here is that like the incredible Casino puzzle (available here - BUY it - it was my number one in 2018), the box has a lip on each side and the pieces need to be inserted through a slot. This restriction severely restricts the moves.

1 box and 7 blocks - how hard can it be?
Having taken it out of the box for the photo and failed over the first evening to get anywhere, I wanted to put it back in the box in the clever way it was supplied...with 2 pieces filling the top slot completely, just proud of the top surface - Embarrassingly, I was unable to manage even that straight forward feat - it took me 2 days to work that out! Jakub did post about this one on Facebook a week or so ago and an interesting comment from Bernhard stated that this was an amazing mathematical puzzle. This did get me thinking and rather worried. I brought out my ruler and measured away - the puzzle is based on a 7mm voxel with every side of every piece being a multiple of 7. I started to work out the ways that a cube shape can be made with these pieces (the final cube is 9x9x9) but, having found a few, I realised that getting them into the box with that awkward lip was going to be very hard and a brute force approach was definitely not going to work.

My next approach was to think about how the final piece or two could be inserted into the puzzle once all the rest had been placed. This was a very helpful idea as it narrows down the pieces that should be considered as final pieces - I thought that the bigger pieces could not possibly be inserted last. I found something which I thought was absolutely ingenious but ended up stuck being unable to get piece 5 inside. I spent a week on this and under the pressure of having a deadline to get a review to Jakub, I asked for some help. A pdf was sent to me with the solution which confirmed that my original idea had been perfectly correct (I AM a genius) but I could not follow the solution to get the pieces inside and had to ask for help. A video later and it was packed!

Euklid solved
Carefully edited so as not to give anything away!
This puzzle by Dr Latussek is a masterpiece! It is not for the fainthearted because it is seriously difficult but the eventual solution is simply superb! Anyone who is interested in packing puzzles needs this in their collection and should expect to spend a very long time on it.

The latest batch from Pelikan should be up for sale very soon.