Sunday 10 March 2019

Cubes, Cubes, CUBES!

Or How a Fixation is My Undoing

They don't look much like cubes! From the left:
HypnoTIC, OcTIC, PackTIC and StarTIC #2
Many of you will have seen the shiny new website and the latest gorgeous production run by Brian Menold, the "published professor of wood". It included yet more of the amazing designs from the incredible 3D mind of Andrew Crowell. Andrew has been shall we say, rather prolific recently! Bernhard who is the world's foremost expert on Turning Interlocking Cubes has mentioned that there have been at least 27 new designs recently from Andrew and I, of course, wanted to get as many as I possibly could because I have a cube fixation! At least that is what Mrs S thinks. I reviewed the previous TIC from Andrew and Brian here and of course, it was fabulous. When Brian released another batch of four, I jumped straight away and the four beauties pictured above arrived.

StarTIC #2
You will have realised straight away that these don't look like cubes! Brian asked whether I wanted them sent out assembled or disassembled and gave me a little advice. Only StarTIC #2 arrived assembled - it is a cube in a frame. I started with this one because I always find disassembly much easier than assembly and wanted to give myself a little headstart for the blog. made from Walnut and Maple, there is 1 easy to find move (it works under gravity) and then another fairly easy to find but rather unexpected move. At this point things get interesting. Opening up spaces in the interior further pieces can move and then the inevitable and confusing rotations begin. Oh boy! This gets fun very quickly! During the disassembly, several pieces have to rotate and I found it fun to explore. I think it took about an hour to take it all apart and as a starter puzzle, it was perfect.

Looks very innocuous
Having scrambled the pieces, I set to reassembling which was definitely a tougher challenge. I had very rapidly forgotten the orientation and managed to confuse 2 of the similar-shaped pieces. Reassembly took me well over 2 hours and quite a lot of swearing. Why swear? Because if I could not put it back together again there was no solution and Burrtools would not be able to help me. Plus, remember that I am rubbish at assembly! I have to say that 3 hours plus of puzzling for $60 is pretty good and I had a beautiful wooden ornament/worry bead to display/fiddle with.

OcTIC - notice the reinforcing pin where a joint may get stressed
Next up was the one that Brian suggested would be the easiest and definitely best sent out in pieces, OcTIC. Not sure why that particular name when there are 5 rather than 8 pieces but he was right for it to be the starter. There are 2 nice large chunks of cube which are a good pair to begin with and not much of a problem working out how they fit together. Having done that, it becomes fairly obvious where the remaining pieces fit inside even if they won't just slot in. My fixation on the cube shape was my undoing! I could work out how to put most of the pieces inside (even with the nice easy rotation move for one of them) but I could not get all of them in. Everything I tried ended up with one piece outside. My fixation was killing me! It took a couple of hours before I finally let go of the initial cube shape and started with other pieces first. Then I discovered another unexpected rotation and a lovely sliding sequence before my Aha! moment was complete - beautiful!

It took an embarrassingly long time!
So I was 3 days into my puzzling when I got sick and ended up with a nice pile of new deliveries and no energy to open them! 2 days later I was back and puzzling again! I went with the HypnoTIC cube which Brian had said was pretty tough but doable as an assembly puzzle.

HypnoTIC pieces
It has vibrantly stunning woods and also a couple of those nice brass pins. I found that I could fathom the positions of the pieces pretty quickly and progressed quite rapidly. In fact, within a few minutes, I shouted my Aha! and was very pleased with myself until Mrs S pointed out that I had not made a proper cube:

Oh dear!
Embarrassed, I started afresh and every time my assembly ended up with this. I could not for the life of me see any other way to assemble this puzzle. This was supposed to be "not too bad" and I was in danger of having yet another unsolvable puzzle in my collection! Time to go to bed and try again another day. The following evening I continued to get stuck at the same point. It took me a whole extra evening before I overcame yet another fixation! I had quickly found a very nice way to assemble the initial cube starter shape - it fitted together beautifully with an easy sliding motion and I was convinced it was correct. Only after 2 evenings of failure did I reassess and realise that my easy start moves were wrong and there was an alternative (harder to find) starter:
Looks great? WRONG!
Ashamed to say that it took 2 days to find this!
Having done this the next 2 pieces fit in with multiple rotational moves and setups but a very satisfying search. The last piece fits in ONLY if things are absolutely perfectly aligned. It requires a very subtle rotation and position - if you are out by a degree or 2 and not aligned right then no chance. Another day to find this and finally after many hours AHA!

OMG! It nearly killed me!
Wow! What a challenge! I was exhausted and feeling very stupid but also exhilarated about the new skills I was obtaining. Again, fantastic value for $60. Finally, it was time to attempt the tough one, PackTIC...

A packing puzzle with rotations? Hell yeah!
 Again, a gorgeous choice of woods and I could see that with so many smaller pieces to be packed inside that this might be a little challenging for my tiny brain. As usual, I started with the larger pieces and immediately struggled. Each of them could fit into the larger cube but would not leave enough space for the other one to go in and extend the full 4 unit length across the cube. I gradually found a second method of adding a long piece but it still would not leave a channel for the other to pass through. Uncharitably, I did start to think that Brian might have put the wrong pieces together in the box but I quickly shrugged that suspicion off. I was fixated...YET AGAIN! It took me the whole of Saturday evening before I could even put the first 2 pieces into position! Damn! I am rubbish at puzzling!

Having worked out the 2 big pieces it was time to work on the smaller one. How hard could they be? Stupid boy! There are a number of ways that 2 or even 3 of the small pieces can go inside and once or twice I found a technique to get them there. After that, I either discovered that the space for the final piece was split into 2 sections or it was impossible to put it in there. The sequence and positioning took me another 3 hours and the Aha! moment was fabulous! I could not believe how clever that assembly was. Brian was right that they should have been sent out in pieces. Only just before writing this article did I finally solve it - nearly missed my deadline! Phew! Another stunning cube for my fixation and to reinforce to Mrs S that all my toys look the same!

Packed them in! Brilliant puzzle!
If Brian or anyone else produces these again then just say yes and hand over your cash without question! They are wonderful additions to anyone's collection.

Finally able to take a collection photo!
Now how should I store them? Assembled or not? It's a bit of a dilemma.

I might have received a few more of this series of puzzles from a certain German "enabler" friend of mine. How many? More than I am letting on to and enough to make Mrs S very VERY angry! OMG!

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