Sunday 27 January 2019

A Fascination with Cubes

Mayer Cubes - 4x4 Interlocking cubes
Mrs S is often exasperated with me for the constant procession of packages containing yet more and more puzzles! She cannot seem to grasp why I keep buying them when they are "just all cubes". When I tell her that they are all different and provide new challenges and fun she reiterates that there is no difference between them and that they are "just all cubes". Looking at today's blog post, she might have a point - they are a lot of cubes but certainly not "just cubes"!

At the end of last year, I was reminded on Facebook of the existence of the fabulous puzzle designs for 4x4 interlocking cubes designed by Derek Mayer. As far as I know, only one was ever produced commercially and that was a very long time ago by the Pentangle puzzle company (sadly now no longer open). Looking back using the Internet Wayback machine, they used to sell what looks very like Mayer cube 9B. In the entire 8 or 9 years, I have been puzzling they barely ever had any stock of anything and all I was able to do was drool wistfully. When I saw (and commented) on some of the designs someone had posted on Facebook, my very good friend (and interlocking cube expert) Bernhard offered to build a few for me with some offcuts of nice wood that he had left. The very first delivery of 2019 was a series of 4 of the best Mayer cubes. From the left, there is Christmas cube 3, Mayer cube 9B, Mayer cube 10C and Mayer cube 7B.

Mayer cube 9B
I quickly set to with 9B and, as always with Bernhard's craftsmanship, everything was very nicely finished and beautifully tactile. A few moves were found quickly and I proceeded with my usual to and fro to ensure a muscle memory developed of the path back to the beginning. Considering it is only a 4x4 puzzle, this was remarkably complex. At some point during the process, I must have been holding the puzzle the wrong way and it sort of collapsed on me. Mrs S, who had been watching me play for a few minutes, burst out laughing at the sort of horrified look on my face! I had absolutely no idea how it went back together.

Lovely pieces!
According to the Pentangle site, the real challenge is the reassembly. Hell yes! They are not wrong! I could easily work out where everything was supposed to go but for a very long time, I could not reassemble the damn thing. Eventually, after about 3 hours, I finally managed to get it back together with a huge sigh of relief and then proceeded to make a Burrtools file for my (and Derek's) collection.

Mayer's Christmas cube 3
Next up, after a few days breathing space to collect my nerves, I moved onto the Christmas cube 3. It did not take long to take it apart and yet again, collapsed into a small pile of wood but this time without the gale of laughter from "she who mocks me".

More lovely pieces!
Somehow I was able to reassemble these fairly easily - it is a really nice sequence of moves which I find quite soothing to make over and over again. Of course, a Burrtools file will be essential for the collection. Next up I moved on to Mayers cube 10C:

Mayer cube 10C
This seemed very unstable from the moment I picked it up and I realised that one of the glued joints had come apart on a piece. This happens not infrequently and I am fully equipped with clamps and wood glue. Under the beady eye of "the frightening one" I carefully glued the piece back into the puzzle and clamped it being very careful not to get any glue on the granite worktop! No matter how many times I tell her that wood glue is easy to remove, she always gets upset whenever I bring glue into the kitchen (Whack! Ouch!). This time no glue escaped the cube but it did seem to escape the confines of the pieces that I had glued deliberately together - I prefer to glue within an assembled puzzle to ensure that everything is perfectly squared off as even a tiny error in angulation will mean a puzzle becomes impossible to assemble. Unfortunately, the little escape of glue onto an adjacent piece had the disheartening effect of rendering the second move impossible - I had glued the pieces together! In fact, I did not know what the second move was supposed to be - Aaaargh! I was too ashamed to email Bernhard for help straight away and an in-depth internet search revealed a photo of the second move on an auction site. At least I knew what was supposed to move and which direction but how to achieve it? It took me 2 evenings of many different attempts before I worked out where to put my pressure and during a particularly riveting episode of Silent Witness on TV I pushed really hard to achieve a sickening crack and a fully functioning puzzle.

Yet more lovely pieces!
After that, a quick disassembly was possible and I established that I had only broken the incorrectly joined pieces and then a rather prolonged reassembly occurred over the next two evenings! Delightful! Another Burrtools file to be made!

Mayer cube 7B
The last one I had was 7B. This one was left until last because of its' instability. When I picked it up and rotated it around a bit, 2 pieces quickly dropped out. Rather put off by this I decided to put them back and wait until I could be seated in my comfortable chair. When I got around to it, I immediately and carefully removed the 2 pieces that fell out the last time and continued to explore.- promptly another 2 pieces fell out of the core and the rest of the cube made a sliding movement and collapsed on me! OMG! I had no idea where the interior pieces came from. It didn't take long to separate the last pieces and examine what I had. I don't think I have ever seen an interlocking puzzle with simple sticks of length 1, 2, 3 and 4 in it. Very weird!

Lovely but odd pieces!
I did worry that there must have been another joint fracture in the post but there is no sign of that on any of the pieces at all. This puzzle is essentially a frame with a tiny packing puzzle inside - it is not difficult to reassemble from scratch but still quite enjoyable. Another Burrtools file done! Thank you, Bernhard, these were great fun and are a really nice addition to my collection.

This pushes all my buttons!
Next up, it was time to try a more complex cube (maybe Mrs S has a point?) - I had bought the Pushbutton burr from Tom Lensch after the IPP had finished last year. This was a design by the amazing Ken Irvine which had been entered into the IPP design competition in San Diego. Tom had made it beautifully from Canarywood with Indian Rosewood push buttons. It is wonderfully heavy in the hand and looks stunning. The dark buttons need to be pushed in just the right order and one ends up with a nice spikey cube. Only after all the buttons are pushed out is it possible to move any of the frame pieces and then a really pleasant sequence for the removal of frame and buttons occurs one at a time. It is quite therapeutic to do it and I left a nice carefully arranged line of pieces on my lap and the arms of my chair ready for the same sequence in reverse to put it back together again. Suddenly both cats zoomed across the room, over my armchair and across my lap. I screeched due to a claw or two in my delicate parts and they zoomed off after each other again! Once my eyes had stopped watering, it was clear that I was going to need to assemble the puzzle without help from my arrangement - the pieces were everywhere!

There is no way I will be able to assemble this!
I tried to put it back together for days! It is possible to get most of the way there with relative ease but for me, no way I could put it back together. Time for another trek to Burrtools. I have disassembled this puzzle multiple times and still cannot remember the sequence and orientation of the pieces - one day I will manage to work it out from scratch...hopefully!

I thought this was the Sequence cube
I also recently received yet another cube (OMG! She is right!) from Aleksandr Leontev. I had thought that it was the incredible Sequence cube with an enormous level for the complete disassembly (8190.4094.2046.1022.510. It is an N-ary puzzle which I adore despite some very disparaging comments on them on Facebook. I set to work on it during the week and quickly got lost and produced many many more moves than were needed! After 3 evenings of toil I had the first piece removed:

All pieces moved 1 unit
First piece out - Phew!
After removing the first piece, I continued the sequence (I did it several times because I a) got lost and b) hit a dead end and back-tracked several times. I could go no further and so I emailed Aleksandr. It would appear that the sequence cube cannot be built because it is too unstable to work with and this particular puzzle is a variant with only one removable piece - this puzzle is the 136 minutes puzzle with 8189 moves. I assume the name is for how long it should take to get from beginning to end - it certainly took me MUCH longer than that! I also have an extra piece which you can see in the first photo. Using this piece turns it into the 205 Minutes Box puzzle and requires 12,282 to assemble and disassemble - Do I dare to attempt it?

Move 1 done - 12,281 left! GULP!
The question is...what puzzle should I attempt next? I seem to have gotten a bit rusty at twisty puzzles - it took me nearly 2 minutes to solve a colleagues 3x3 Rubik cube which she had brought in to work for me to fix for her. That is shameful! I think I should move onto a puzzle that has been taunting me for a while - the Elite Skewb. I had absolutely adored the Master skewb puzzle when I reviewed it way back in 2013.

Elite Skewb
4 layer version of the Master skewb
I had been looking at it with fear ever since I received it from Calvin in late 2018. It was time to get to it! Despite having no idea how to go about solving it, on Friday I threw caution to the wind and did this:

What have I done?
In reality, I did not just scramble it. I was seeking algorithms and got lost on my second attempt and the scramble just happened by accident! Lord help me!

Hmmmm! There appears to have been quite a lot of cubes here! Is Mrs S actually correct?

Sunday 20 January 2019

Finally solved! The Hanayama Cast Trinity

It's not holy but it is beautifully put together!
This review has been almost a year in the making! The Hanayama Cast Trinity was released in January 2018 and I was lucky enough to get a copy very quickly before they came to Europe from my friend Nic Picot who runs a puzzle store in the UK (Trinity is here). If you live in the Americas then it is probably best to buy from PuzzleMaster here - they have an incredible range of metal puzzles. I have carried this with me for 10 months and it has taken up until this week to solve it. I think this one well deserves its 6 out of 6-star difficulty rating (level 10 - Mind Boggling on Puzzlemaster's scale).

It was designed by Kyoo Wong and is part of Hanayama's updated range, now known as the Huzzles. I really do like the new packaging they have produced to go with the range and the Trinity, in particular, has a rather impressive black box. Despite the nice packaging, the boxes always go in the bin. I really don't have enough storage space to keep all the boxes for the 2000 odd puzzles in my collection.

The three pieces here are cast in metal that has been made to look like brushed antique brass and 2 of the pieces have been stamped with the name Hanayama Trinity. This is particularly useful as it will help you keep track of what you have tried with each piece. At least, this would be the case if you either a) solved it fairly quickly or b) were brighter than me! I do always try to keep puzzle orientation fairly uniform during a solving process but this proved particularly difficult with this one.

The pieces are similar but the stamped names help distinguish them
I have a friend at work who loves the metal take-apart puzzles and I have kept him waiting for a nearly a year - Steve, you will get your chance on Monday! When playing with it, the pieces rotate and slide through each other in numerous ways and at times get very tight. It is important NEVER to force the puzzle past this tight point - it is not necessary at all. When done correctly, the solution is perfectly smooth and easy with no catching.

I initially thought of this as a simple disentanglement puzzle very like the simple wire puzzles everyone has played with. After just a few moments of play, it becomes clear that this is not the case. When I got the pieces into a similar position to the wire puzzles, I immediately realised that the third piece was going to block the movement but more importantly the "heads" of the pieces are formed very carefully to allow passage only with very precise orientation. If you examine the picture above then you can see that the top 2 pieces have a gap aligned in the direction of the length of the piece but the third one has the gap aligned at 90º. Time to Think© - preferably have the correct thoughts if you can, otherwise, like me, you might take a year to solve it!

I had formed an idea of how I would separate two of the pieces to form a linear chain and then the final separation would be trivial. I am ashamed to admit that my first thought was completely incorrect and I could not get the pieces aligned to slide through each other no matter how hard I tried. The positions that you can get the pieces into is very constrained and 3 or 4 definite pathways seem to be possible but none of them allowed the alignment to be quite right - or even close! As with all of this type of puzzle, try to keep a muscle memory of what you have done so that you have any chance of a return to the start.

A few months ago, whilst chatting to Ed (amazing blind puzzler) he shamed me by telling me that he had managed to solve it without too much difficulty and was even able to reset it too! This made me wonder whether using my eyes was making it harder. I spent a few rather ridiculous sessions attempting to do it with my eyes shut! This made a simultaneous watch of the TV with Mrs S rather difficult and I found that I could do almost nothing with it. Kudos to Ed managing it - I find that sort of talent totally unbelievable. The last 2 months I resumed puzzling with my eyes open and still failed. I would play for a few hours over a few days and then put it away again for a week or so.

Thinking of Einstein's definition of insanity, I was forced to abandon my preconceived idea of how it might disassemble and spent a while just fiddling to see what new shapes I could make and the Aha! moment hit me like a hammer! What I had been trying to do was completely wrong and the real movement was something I had not conceived of being possible. Trying a totally new idea was still not a piece of cake, the positioning needs to be really very precise and there are definitely quite a few more moves than one would expect. Suddenly, a nice new position occurred and everything slid nicely until I had them in a chain and from there total separation was possible - even that is not trivial!

The difference between the pieces can really be appreciated once the puzzle has been dismantled.
I really thought that I had taken the right approach to remember how they had been oriented as they separated. I thought wrong! The reassembly proved another big, but very enjoyable, challenge. I did sort of recall the type of movement that was required to get all three interlocked but unfortunately did not remember how the individual pairs had been arranged as they slid together. For several hours I managed to make a number of different chains but the crucial interlocking move proved impossible again and again! Whilst frustrating, working this part of the solution out proved to be a great deal of fun and I think in the process I realised that it is possible to assemble the Cast Trinity into at least 2 more conformations that are similar, but not exactly the same as the true start position. Each time I realised I had assembled it nearly but not quite right, I had a little panic worrying that I might not be able to disassemble it and start again. Finally, on Friday night I had my final Aha! moment and it was back to the beginning. I do not know how many other assemblies are possible - if anyone knows then please leave a comment below.

Even having fully disassembled it and returned it to the true beginning once, I still struggled to repeat the process. It took another hour or so before I was happy that I could repeat the whole pathway easily at will. Despite the 10 months it took to solve this puzzle, I really like it!

This is definitely a level 6 and unlike the Cast Quartet or Vortex, is much more enjoyable. It is certainly a great choice for your collection and at £9/$16CAD provides a lot of puzzling for you pound or "buck". Go buy it here (UK) or here (Canada).

Sunday 13 January 2019

Stickman Apprentice's Takabakaro Puzzlebox

Rick Jenkins' Takabakaro Puzzlebox
You very nearly didn't get a post today! A nice lie-in occurred and then a gentle start to the day was brought to a jarring halt by the sudden sound of a cat puking. He likes to be in the bathroom with me whilst I shower and obviously decided at some point that he had eaten too much. Of course, a cat in that position has only one thing on his mind:

Every bloody time!
Yep, he shot out of the nice tiled bathroom into the bedroom and did what only a highly agile skilled cat can do... he managed a full-speed running barf! Quite a large area! Aaaaargh! The cleanup took so long that I almost didn't have time to write a blog post for you. Luckily the purchase of a fancy carpet cleaning device did speed things up a little bit and finally, after other chores were done, I had a little time to sit down.

The Takabakaro Puzzlebox is the first independent creation by the Stickman apprentice, Rick Jenkins. An email went out from Robert saying that Rick was producing his own design and offering pre-orders for a deposit. Knowing Robert, he wouldn't vouch for anything or anyone that was not going to be really good. He had previously stated that he had trained Rick fully and that he was capable of producing very fine work up to the Stickman name. My rule is that anything that has the Stickman name on it is something I would love to own and experience. I have obtained a number of Robert's puzzles and love them. In fact, I have still not managed to open the perpetual hinge or the Time for Tea boxes but do go back to them periodically and am happy to have them on my shelf taunting me.

Quite a nice Stickman collection (amongst others)
It would appear that Rick had considerable difficulty making these puzzles and they were delayed by at least a couple of months - mine finally arrived on Friday and I set straight to it.

I can hear Oli and Derek screaming at me that these are boxes and I should not own them if I don't collect boxes! BUT they are a Stickman adjacent puzzle which I do collect. Plus this one had a remarkable resemblance to a burr which I do collect. It also had a tool(s) that had to be used to solve it. Hence it also was a sequential movement and sequential discovery puzzle...again I do collect these. So plenty of reasons for me to own this puzzle.

It is certainly quite pretty and really rather solid - I have no idea what woods have been used. My initial fiddling revealed that there was a rattling inside and that a small stick would fall partially out through the slats on one side when it was tilted in a certain direction. No matter what position the stick was nothing else seemed to happen. Further investigation revealed that he had used at least 2 magnets in the construction - another piece could move but it did nothing else. After half an hour on Friday evening, I was stuck! Not terribly bright!

It keeps falling out but is not removable - what is it for?
I fell asleep in front of the TV and that was as far as I got. The following morning, Mrs S FORCED me to go to the gym with her in an attempt to fight the flab and achieve "the body slightly less horrific" - I use it as an excuse to watch the nice ponytails jiggling in front of me as motivation to keep going on the cross-trainer or stepper - unfortunately these often belong to a bloke which does come as a bit of a shock! Mrs S does not like me to spend too much time at the weekend puzzling and after the gym, she FORCED me to help do the weekly food shopping. It is truly a hard life in PuzzleMad headquarters! Whack! Ouch! Eventually, she allowed me some time in the afternoon to go back to my new toy.

I did the same thing over and over again for a while and when nothing new happened I moved on to inspecting other parts of the box. Aha! I found something new - it had been obvious the whole time but I had been unable to see it. After this, another move was possible which made a really big thing happen and then I got stuck again. Back to doing and undoing the same old moves over and over again...Nada! Think© - that didn't work so I tried another approach called "Look and Think©" which revealed something else which had been obvious the whole time - my brain needs an upgrade!

Now I had a tool (or two) and no idea what to do with it/them. What does one do when one has something that looks like a key? Yep, one pokes it into every hole one can find. It didn't seem to help much but yet again I went back to attempting the same thing over and over again without success...except just one time it worked and I made something new happen. This revealed a little bit of the "mechanism" and really got me thinking©. A few minutes later I managed to make more movements happen and the box was a rather unexpected way. It would appear that I have number 20 out of 40 puzzles in this series.

That's all you're going to get to see I'm afraid!
Having opened the puzzle, it was possible to see how simple the mechanism was but how it would require a very exact set of movements to allow it to be solved. It was just as much fun to work out retrospectively what was happening inside as I made the various movements happen. Rick had sent out an email with a picture attached showing the correct way to reassemble the puzzle (I had been careful not to look at it until now). My only concern seems to be that a full reset of the puzzle requires an extra outside tool to be used to position a couple of the pieces but this doesn't really detract from the fun of solving it.

This is a very nice first production from the Stickman apprentice - he has definitely learned his craft and it is certainly possible to see the marks of Robert on his workmanship. If you get a chance to play with one of these then go for it - it is really quite clever (unlike me). I still do not know what Takabakaro means though! Anyone have any ideas?

Sunday 6 January 2019

Starting the Year With a Winner!

RDS Interlock PLUS
Back in October at an MPP, I had seen Allard's copy of the RDS interlock puzzle made from wood by the absolutely incredible craftsmanship of Jane Kostick. I think I gently had a look at it then and shied away from doing any more than pulling the first pieces out and then adding a reminder to my todo list to ask Jane about getting one of these. I did not proceed as I did not want to leave Allard with a pile of sticks that I had been unable to put back together - others seem not to have the same compassion when it comes to my own puzzles! I sort of forgot about the puzzle until the last MPP of the year when we gathered again and Stefan from Bulgaria (Trifcho on Facebook) showed off a puzzle that he had spent hundreds of hours working on manufacturing. The puzzle he had produced was the RDS Interlock puzzle (complete with extra inner puzzle(s) too). He had gotten permission from Jane Kostick to make a few but not commercially - he could only make a few and they could be for his own personal collection and a few could be gifts (not for sale). I am well known for having a wood fetish but when I saw these I was absolutely staggered by the sheer beauty of them and the quality! These did not look like they had been 3D printed at all, I actually thought that he had cast them. I have never seen such quality before and waxed lyrical about them. One of the reasons for the length of time it had taken him was the resolution of the printing - it is pretty much impossible to see any printing lines in these. Getting the alignment just perfect also required metal rods to bridge the joined pieces and this was also was incredibly time-consuming. The other feature of them that makes them so special is the speckling that showed so beautifully in the dark grey plastic ( several of the later photos will show this off very well).

Having been so enthusiastic about them and having a very brief fiddle with them and grilling him on the manufacturing methods, he offered to let me have one of them as a gift! I was flabbergasted that he would just give me something so special and slightly ashamed that he may have felt pressured into it by my rabid enthusiasm. At the end of the day when we packed up, I didn't mention it again just in case he wanted to forget his rash offer. Over the next week or so my goldfish memory let it go and I settled into puzzling on other stuff. Then in December, he dropped me an email asking what my postal address was and I was delighted to realise that the offer had been genuine and not under pressure. With bated breath, I waited, hoping for an intact package and was so pleased when I got even more than expected:

The RDS interlock (with hidden but interesting filling) and "extras"
In the meantime, Stefan had been working with the genius that is Derek Bosch to perform a full analysis of the puzzle with Burrtools. The outcome of that is that there could be a series of puzzles if you have the requisite pieces - thanks to Stefan, I have those required pieces and have even more puzzling to do.

Stefan had asked that I not release any more photos after my initial one that I posted on Facebook - he wanted for the other recipients to receive their copies first. Of course, I obeyed this wish and ended up putting the puzzle aside for a couple of weeks. It turns out that my workload around the Xmas period was pretty high and I barely had enough time to solve a puzzle and write a blog post. Even on Christmas day, I worked and then had no time to puzzle when I got home in the evening. New Year's Eve was a normal working day for me and only on New Year's day did I finally have a chance to play! We sat together in our conservatory (heated floor for the cats!) and alcohol in one hand, the puzzle in another and a very happy cat moving back and forth from floor to lap and back.

I first found one piece that could be removed and then another and finally a third. After this, I was able to remove the contents of the RDS interlock and placed that on the arm of my sofa to be played with next. At this point, the rest of the RDS interlock puzzle fell apart on me and I was left with a whole pile of pieces:

RDS Interlock puzzle and central 4 Directional Trapsticks
Beautifully presented in net bags
My plan was to play/solve the assembly of the outer puzzle a few times before working on the 4 Directional Trapsticks puzzle. Whilst Rich had managed to assemble all of the puzzles made by Jane Kostick separately, I seriously struggled with the dexterity required to assemble the outer puzzle - it tended to collapse in on itself. My solution to that was to assemble a base and then put the inner puzzle onto the base and thus give some support as I proceeded to add pieces around the outside. Assembling the RDS Interlock is not trivial - I struggled for about 20 minutes - it may have been the alcohol, it may have been the distraction of chatting with Mrs S and it may have been watching the TV. I failed several times to put it together and put it all down "safely" to take another sip/glug of my fizz and watched in horror as a really enthusiastic cat who had been happily chewing the ribbon tie of the nice bags that the puzzle came in, jumped up and knocked the 4 Directional Trapsticks puzzle off the arm of the sofa - Aaaaargh!

This was NOT what I intended!
I had absolutely no idea how the inner puzzle had been assembled! Did it split into 2? Did it come out piece by piece? Not a clue! I figured that I had better work on the inner puzzle first and then form a nice stable centre to work on the RDS interlock afterwards. There is a third little puzzle inside the second one - it is a variant of a Stewart Coffin design that Stefan had modified to fit. I didn't even dare try that at this point!

Another puzzle inside!
That's a good plan! But... I'm not very bright! I'm not good at assembly puzzles! I had had a moderate amount of fermented grape juice. AND I was really quite tired from overwork and insomnia. Absolutely NO CHANCE that the 4D middle puzzle was going back together that day!

It actually took me 2 days to assemble the middle puzzle - the pieces initially look similar to the RDS but it is a totally different puzzle:

It looks impossible! For me at least.
Finally! 3 days had passed!
I think that there is only one way to assemble the 4 Dimensional Trapsticks puzzle and it took me 3 days to do it. After that, I had a play with the inner puzzle and struggled to find a way to take it apart! Nothing moved despite pushing and pulling all over the place. It's almost a bit like one of Stephen Chin's beautifully made Pennyhedrons. To my surprise, it popped apart into 2 pieces and to my great relief it did not collapse into a heap:

Beautiful - no further disassembly is possible.
I finally went to work on the RDS Interlock outer puzzle. The analysis by Derek revealed that there are 11 possible assemblies using the original pieces - I have found 4 or 5 of them so far. They are great fun to play with. I am not sure whether I will be able to find all of them as it is quite hard to remember what I have done before in terms of assembly positions.

Now the additional pieces come into use as more challenges are possible. The third picture in the post shows that there are three types of puzzle pieces: Receivers (R) are composed of five sticks (top row in that photo), Standard pieces (D) are composed of four sticks (middle row) and Sliders (S) are composed of three sticks (bottom row). Stefan provided me with an extra 4 standard pieces giving multiple challenges:

16 pieces, 3 different groups of puzzle assemblies, 27 total solutions
The challenges are to assemble 12 pieces around a hollow centre:
Use 4 R's, 4 D's, and 4 S's (11 solutions) - the original puzzle.
Use 3 R's, 6 D's, and 3 S's (14 solutions)
Use 2 R's, 8 D's, and 2 S's (3 solutions)
So far I have singularly failed to find any solutions to the other challenges! This is a tough one and ENORMOUS fun! I know that these have been modelled in Burrtools and I may just try to do this myself for another challenge - I know Derek would share his file with me but I am really bad at using the rhombic and triangular grids in BT and so might enjoy the learning process that goes with modelling these puzzles myself. Of course, it is highly likely that I will fail and still have to ask my genius friend for help!

This puzzle is absolutely FABULOUS - both in quality and puzzling challenge - I am so so sooo grateful to Stefan for his wonderfully generous gift and have to say that on week 1 of 2019 I have probably found a contender for the top ten already! Wow!

Please don't badger Stefan for a copy - he has only been given permission to make a limited number to give away as gifts - he cannot make more for all and sundry. If you wish to have a copy of this wonderful puzzle then you have 2 options: 1) Contact Jane Kostick for a glorious wooden version (I have and will get a wooden version later this year) and 2) the pieces can be purchased from Derek's Shapeways store with Jane's permission - I think that would be well worth your money.

What a great way to start a new year - thank you, Stefan and Jane and Derek!

There might have been a delivery already! Whack! Ouch! Bernhard offered to make me a few of the best of the cubes designed by Derek Mayer - the boyz were delighted to see another box:

What are they looking at?
I love interlocking puzzles and cannot wait to play with these:

From the left:
Christmas cube 3, Mayer's cube 9B, Mayer's cube 10C, Mayer's cube 7B
Drool!!! Thank you Bernhard!

Tuesday 1 January 2019

Happy New Year - My Top Puzzles of 2018

Happy New Year Everyone! I hope that it's a great one for you!

In 2018 I seem to have done rather well in my accumulation of toys that Mrs S says have no purpose other than to prevent me from doing something useful! She might be right as they are a major distraction and that was why I got into puzzles in the first place. I will try and take photos to update my "state of the union collection" post soon.

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 2018 then it stands a chance but others that I have bought this year but not solved may appear in next year's list.

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 with my close 11th puzzles (yes plural!)

Honourable Mention(s)

We had an absolutely amazing year for new and complex twisty puzzles! Some of them had flaws and were difficult to turn or difficult to keep from exploding on you during a solve but we also had some absolutely incredible puzzles for solving! I am not a great twisty puzzler but here were four amazing puzzles which looked absolutely horrendous but I managed to solve them myself without asking for help from the internet. The complexity of these puzzles is fabulous - we live in a great time for twisty puzzles. Every time I am asked for advice from new puzzlers on what to focus on, I always encourage them to look at twisties and spend the time learning the techniques (not algorithms!) and it really pays off - they are impressive to non-puzzlers, actually do look quite lovely in a collection and provide a LOT of puzzling for a small outlay. Here were the best for me this year.

Multicube - a 3x3 inside a master skewb!
Son-mum cube - split centres and 45º turns
Ordinary Unicorn cube
Crazy Unicorn cube
Interestingly the Crazy unicorn and the ordinary version have completely different solve processes making them both essential purchases! I still have a bit of a backlog of other twisties to attempt.

10) Sequential Discovery Puzzles

Rex Rossano Perez' Barasoain puzzle
I have known Rex for many years and seen him develop from a twisty puzzle modding specialist into a very skilled puzzle designer now working in Acrylic. I reviewed a few of his creations recently and the Barasoain was my favourite (reviewed here) - there is much more to it than appears at first sight. This is truly a sequential discovery puzzle as a tool has to be found and used correctly. Absolutely stunning and I cannot wait to see what he comes up with next.

Free Me 6
The Free Me 6 puzzle is another sequential discovery masterpiece from Joe Turner was an entry in the IPP design competition this year and a thoroughly fun puzzle to solve. There are a good few pieces to play with and the ever-present risk of losing a piece or having a ball bearing shoot across the operating theatre into an operation site definitely kept me thinking! I would love to get copies of his previous creations one day. This also needs to be in the top 10 somewhere and there have been so many wonderful toys that I've been forced to put it all the way down at number 10!

9) Interlocking puzzles - a BIG part one

I absolutely adore interlocking puzzles. I especially love the puzzles that are different from standard burrs. If there are rotational moves involved then that is even better. Here are one or two or... of my best acquisitions this year.

Spiral Lock
The Spiral Lock (reviewed here), designed by my good friend Christoph Lohe and made by the incredible craftsmen, Jakub Dvořák and Jaroslav Švejkovský of Pelikan puzzles created a beautiful puzzle in the shape of the lock - it was tremendous fun and the reassembly also a brilliant challenge that is definitely achievable.

Another cube called Ka'apuni (reviewed here) from Brian Menold was received by luck from my friend Jamie. It is one of my favourite types, the Turning Interlocking Cubes and caused significant difficulty for me and one of my colleagues at work! Like all of Brian's puzzles it is beautifully made and a wonderful challenge - one of my favourites of the year.

Interlocking Cube #4
Another very special challenge this year was, unusually for me, a 3D printed plastic puzzle. the Interlocking cube #4 (reviewed here) was an absolute triumph as an assembly puzzle. I would never usually have taken this away in pieces but my friend Shane had taunted me earlier at an MPP that some puzzles were far too easy for me to have as disassembly puzzles and he forced me to assemble them from pieces. This gave me the confidence to take this one from Rich Gain as pictured above and spend quite a few days working to put it together. When I finally managed it the triumphant feeling was simply wonderful!

Finally let us not forget the 2 most amazing simple designs that were sent out as assembly puzzles and which took me months and months and months to solve! These interlocking puzzles were incredible. Trenta designed by Chris Lohe which took me a whole year before I finally solved it in June 2018 and Osanori Yamamoto's Lucida which I obtained in 2017 but did not manage to solve until January 2018. These puzzles were simply amazing!

Trenta - sent out as an assembly. It took a whole year!
Lucida - so simple but such a huge challenge!

8) Wire/Chinese ring puzzles from Aaron

Aaron Wang has been incredibly prolific this year and I have bought pretty much every single puzzle he has produced! The quality is amazing and the complexity and solution process just superb. I have solved a bunch of them but certainly not all - many are so difficult that even Goetz, the master of the N-ary puzzle, has not managed to solve all of them. The ones pictured below have been my favourites from the ones that I have solved - Of course, the wire puzzles that I put in my "top ten" have got to be N-ary!

7) Boxes, boxes - are they really boxes?

Ixia Box
I know, I know! I don't collect boxes! For someone who makes that claim, this number 7 in my list is rather embarrassing! But, in my defence, these all have something extra to the puzzling. Juno has been absolutely amazing this year - his creations have been spectacular and the puzzling has been very clever. One of the first of his boxes that I bought from him was the Ixia box (reviewed here) and this was purely down to the enthusiasm of Messers Strijbos and Coolen at an MPP. It took me the best part of 6 months to solve it and even then it required help from a blind man before I was able to manage it - Thanks, Ed!

I can't really just mention that one because, embarrassingly, I might have a few more that have kept me very entertained for quite some time:

Quartet Box
Heart Case
The Quartet box, whilst being stunning, also did something that I have never seen any other puzzle do before - it had fancy hinges allowing shapeshifting during the solution - incredible! The Heart case is a case and NOT a box but is fairly unique in that Mrs S approved of it! She's a softie really. Whack! Ouch! Maybe not! Both were reviewed here.

Juno even left me something funny inside for me to counter the protection provided by George!
I also cannot leave out a box that involves a mathematical constant. The Pi Box was a stunningly beautiful puzzle from Jesse Born - I thought it might just be the most beautiful puzzle that I had ever seen. I had a few issues due to the incredible heat and humidity we had this year but after fixing the issue, this now forms a centrepiece in my puzzle collection.

It is just BREATHTAKINGLY beautiful!

6) Cubes - oh, so many Cubes
Interlocking puzzles - an even BIGGER part 2

Arne's Cube
Anke's Cube
This is Interlocking puzzles - part 2!
I absolutely adore interlocking puzzles and burrs. When I saw that Alfons Eyckmans had designed a couple of wonderful looking interlocking cubes with a medium difficulty level, I could not resist. They reminded me a lot of the Cutler cube which took me several years to solve and were a hugely fun couple of puzzles to work on - then playing with Burrtools topped off my enjoyment. I reviewed them here and was careful to let it be known that they were not my fault!

Of course, Alfons could not stop there and started to design a bunch more which I just "had" to have in my collection - three are even named after my cats! I have not actually managed to dismantle all of these. At that point, I thought he would stop there but he decided to branch out into the Happiness cubes from the Japanese puzzle designer, Sekog Yukiyasu. I started with "just six" of them!

Houston, I have a problem!
Holy shit! A HUGE problem!
After the last MPP, I really had a problem - the B%$t@&ds dismantled them all and left them in a pile! I still have 5 of them in pieces in a bag at my feet!

Erm! Whilst I'm in the mood for a confession...Bernhard might also have helped me with my cube fetish!

Interlocking #1
Interlocking #2
Juha's 10
Thanks, Bernhard - you are a great friend and enabler!

5) Jigsaws - yes, you read that correctly!

Jigsaw 29
Jigsaw 19
I cannot believe that I have a jigsaw (or even 2) in my top 10 of the year but these puzzles were a huge hit at the IPP in San Diego this year and I had to find out why. After contacting the truly delightful Yuu Asaka and arranging for the purchase of a puzzle (and then another puzzle) I saw just why these were so so good! Jigsaw 29 (reviewed here) and 19 which I also really loved were a truly amazing challenge with quite a few aha! moments and ending with a huge grin after my rather prolonged solve process. Absolutely brilliant - keep an eye out for more from this designer, he is very talented.

4) Locks, Locks, Locks!

This was an amazing year for lock puzzles! I am not particularly good at solving them - the Popplock T10 still sits on the shelf above my desk waiting for me to have a miraculous aha! moment. I still buy them when they become available (especially as my very good friend Shane Hales has become a Master Locksmith and produces the most fabulous puzzle locks and I cannot possibly let him down by failing to solve one of his fantastic creations). There were 3 absolutely standout puzzles this year that I have cheated with and bunched together - they are all fantastic for different reasons.

Rainer Popp's incredible and very large Popplock T11
The T11 (reviewed here) is a tour de force of a puzzle! It took Rainer a very long time to manufacture them and the sheer extent of the puzzling has to be seen to be believed - this is one of the most amazing puzzle locks the world has ever seen. However, I cannot leave this number 4 slot alone with just the T11 because we had 2 other great puzzle locks which were far more accessible to the every day puzzler and also were created from existing real locks.

Hokey Cokey Lock
HalesLock 5
The Hokey Cokey Lock was designed and produced by 2 more very good friends - Ali and Big Steve have collaborated on a new venture making machined metal puzzles of very high quality - the Hokey Cokey lock (reviewed here) was Steve's exchange puzzle and with the fabulous dance that went with it, made it a big hit with the puzzle community and an essential purchase for me. Their puzzles can be found on their Etsy store here and there is even a single Hokey Cokey lock available as I write this. When solving you need to think of the dance and that gives a big clue!! Shane's HalesLock 5 was reviewed here - this also was a modified lock and involved several mechanisms to get to the rather outstanding solution - I have never seen a lock like this and did not understand at all how it worked, thus, it took me rather a long time to solve. Again, a clue to the solution is in the name of the puzzle. Both these are fabulous additions to my collection! Thanks so much, guys!

3) Burrnova 3D - aka Magnetic Madness
Interlocking puzzle - a well deserved part 3

Just a glance and you can see that it is a McFarland puzzle!
In third place is the Burrnova 3D (aka Magnetic Madness) puzzle from Jerry McFarland (reviewed here). This is the third mention of interlocking puzzles in this years top ten and this particular one is incredible. This is the usual McFarland magic of interlocking burr pieces and an even more impressive self-solving section than the previous year. It was made even more challenging by the addition of an extra locking mechanism and then the requirement to disassemble completely to rescue the princess inside - great humour too when discovering that she has been dismembered. Beautifully made with a wonderful sound effect too.

2) Sequential discovery burred box

Just a six-piece burr? Hell no!
Second place has to go to Juno's Sequential Discovery Burred Box (reviewed here). He already has puzzles in my best of year list but this is right up there at the top - hard to separate my top 3. It could be in any of the 3 categories but for me, the use of tools makes it a truly delightful sequential discovery puzzle. It looks like a totally innocuous six-piece burr but once inside the masterful craftsmanship shows through - there are very few craftsmen who can work with wood and metal but Juno makes it look easy. The puzzle is not particularly difficult but there are several wonderful Aha! moments that put this up there with the very best puzzles ever. I loved it!

1) Casino

Finally, my puzzle of the year for 2018 is "just" a simple packing puzzle! Except it is anything but simple - the Casino (reviewed here), designed by Volker Latussek and beautifully made by Pelikan can only be described as a puzzle masterpiece. The premise is just so simple but finding the solution is just such a challenge and requires wonderful thought and planning. This puzzle kept me occupied for a happy hour or so and is still a challenge now - just BRILLIANT. It is perfect for advanced puzzlers and newbies alike - I carried it with me to work for months to show it off and challenge colleagues.

I am so delighted that Jakub and Jaroslav get to be my number one - they work so very hard and almost everything they do is a masterpiece but this one is on a whole new level - I cannot wait to see what they produce for us all next year! Well done guys!

It just remains for me to wish you all a very Happy New Year - I hope that 2019 will be a happy, healthy and certainly very puzzling one for you all. I look forward to either meeting you in person or hearing from you by email or my Contact page.