Sunday 4 August 2019

A Puzzle that Smells as Good as it Looks

...and is a Wonderful Challenge!

Ternary/Quinary Cube
As I write this the IPP is coming to a close and the prizes have been given out. I will leave the winners announcements to the official channels but the winners are well deserved. I try to keep those of us who cannot attend amused with tales of puzzling, failure and eventual success (no violence on my person this time).

The boyz are always keen to investigate any boxes that arrive - who knows, maybe there might be treats inside for them or, failing that, there will still be a box for them to sit in. This week, however, they were particularly interested in this box. It came from South Africa and maybe it had some of my (and their) favourite Biltong inside...Drool! They went crazy sniffing at the box and kept pestering until I eventually got around to opening it. I think they might have been slightly disappointed in the lack of meat inside but I was truly delighted with the puzzle I received. My good friend Johan Heyns has collaborated with the incredibly talented designer Aleksandr Leontev (Александр Леонтьев) to produce a stunning copy of his Ternary/Quinary Cube. I was delighted with my copy of the 136-minute cube and 205-minute cube (variations on the Sequence cube) which I reviewed here. Aleksandr seems to be the current Master of the N-ary puzzle which I am completely addicted to.

When Johan offered this puzzle for sale, I immediately said yes and hoped that it was possible to manufacture it. This type of puzzle can be fraught with unexpected difficulties. The original Sequence cube proved impossible for Aleksandr to produce in a stable fashion and the Ternary/Quinary cubes have not been without significant challenges and a setback. Luckily for me, Johan persevered and I received a wonderful puzzle in the post. Why were the cats so excited? I'm not entirely sure but Many of Johan's puzzles smell absolutely wonderful. This particular puzzle has a lovely cinnamony smell - I had no idea the cats would be attracted to that aroma but they definitely gave the puzzle a good investigation when it was freed from the packing.

It is made from Angolan Kiaat (corner blocks and smaller sliders), South African Kiaat (large sliders) with the maze plates made of Wenge separated by Pau Marfim. There are also brass side brackets and steel screws. It is a decent 9cm cube with a few protuberant screw-heads - very tactile and pleasant to play with. Also in the box was a small Allen key (only Johan and Eric have ever provided a tool with their puzzles before) and a leaflet with a little information on it as well as instructions on how to change between the two setups. The puzzle arrived setup for the Ternary challenge which is a nice easy level challenge.

The evening that it arrived I set to work. The very beginning of the Ternary cube was immediately unusual because it had an entry sequence before the N-ary component began - I don't think I have ever come across that before. After about a ½ hour, I had come to the end:

At the end of the Ternary solution sequence
Interestingly, the maze pathways are completely hidden for almost the entire process with only the very early segments visible at the very end. I removed the four sliders and balanced them on the sleeping lap-cat to examine how the puzzle was constructed.

Incredible design and construction
I had not paid any attention to the sliders that came out and where they had originated. I assumed that they were identical...STUPID BOY! At this point, a small expletive might have left me as I realised that I could not put the sliders back in and reverse the process to the beginning. The next 10 minutes required a fun and very close examination of the pieces and the pathway and how they may interact at the very end of the solution. Another Aha! moment arrived when I understood how it had been constructed and I was finally able to embark upon the reverse process. That evening I was happy with my progress and went to bed reassured that I was able to finally solve something. The following day I went to the end of the solution, took the sliders out again and then read the first step of the instructions to set up the next (Quinary) challenge. I was a little alarmed at the instructions
I disassembled the parts that I was supposed to and marvelled at the tremendous skill in the design and construction:
Two halves separated releasing the maze plates

Details of the maze pathways (Quinary)
It is possible at this point to see how clever they have been in creating this masterpiece...the maze plates are held tightly onto the separation plate by small (but strong) magnets. Without paying much attention I pulled the plates off and set them back on the separation plate with the Quinary mazes pointing outwards. I quickly put it back together only to realise that I had absolutely no idea how it had all been oriented when I took it apart and, you guessed it, I could not put it back together again! I repeat...STUPID BOY!

I disassembled it again and rotated a plate and...nope! I tried again and rotated the other plate and...nope! OMG! I was in trouble! I reset it back to the Ternary setup and...nope! Aaaargh! I really should have paid attention to how it came apart. I spent the whole evening trying to assemble the puzzle and was rewarded after an hour or so with finally getting it back to the puzzle that I had already solved...PHEW!

The following evening I tried again - unscrewed all the nice screws that the instructions told me to and then removed the maze plates but left the sliders in place. The maze plates can be rotated either horizontally or vertically so I picked one and put it back together. Yes, you guessed it! That's a nope! Aaaargh! At one point I did manage to get to a conformation that would allow the screws to be screwed tight and with some relief, I went to work on the Quinary challenge (level 1251.2.2.2) only to find that after 4 moves, I was blocked from doing anything else - NOOOOOOOO!

So I took it apart yet again! Looking at the maze plates, I realised what I had done wrong (it took me another 20 minutes) and rectified the situation. That was the end of that day's puzzling. Yesterday I was finally able to have a play at the quinary solution. It is interesting that I found the longer challenge much more confusing than I was expecting. I have solved the Kugellager 7 (septenary) and 8 (Quinary) puzzles and apart from getting lost due to not paying attention, I solved them without difficulty. The Quinary cube took me by surprise with the confusing sequences in the solution. The fact that it is a blind solve makes it really difficult to predict the moves and it requires constant exploration. I was watching a film with the current wife, Whack! Ouch! and did find myself getting lost on several occasions and only realised it when I reached a position that was very obviously not a progression. The Quinary solve was VERY enjoyable and took me the best part of 2 hours (probably 2500 moves).

At the end of the Quinary solution
I am truly delighted with my purchase - Aleksandr continues to prove that he is a master of N-ary design and Johan is an incredibly talented craftsman. The fruits of the collaboration are revealed properly when the puzzle is solved and disassembled:

Inscription on one side of the separation plate

Johan's stamp
Intellectual Craft
I recommend a regular visit to Johan's store to see whether there is anything of interest to you. His workmanship is wonderful and puzzles are always a bonus when they smell nice and let's not forget that many come with a nice stand too. I still have my copy of Matrix next to my armchair taunting me - one day I WILL solve it!

Doesn't look like much - I have failed at it for 2 years!

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