Sunday 22 September 2019

I Needed Some Zen Puzzling!

Quadrupled Quadlooplet
Life at PuzzleMad HQ has been pretty stressful the last few weeks! There has been some hard (and occasionally quite sad and harrowing) work at the hospital which has kept my mind from any decent concentration when at home. Plus some general life and health stuff at home has also led to a general inability to work on any puzzles. What I needed was to regain my Zen focus. I don't mean that I should go and read my friend Ken Irvine's blog (which I do religiously)...I needed to do something requiring focus and a certain degree of repetitive movement to help achieve me achieve an inner balance again. I decided it was time for a bit of a focus on N-ary puzzles again!

The first one that I began to work on was from my Azerbaijani friend, Namick Salakhov. Last year (2018) he had 2 entries in the IPP puzzle design competition and I had already bought and solved the amazingly complex Loopy Lattice puzzle and had asked for a copy of his other entry that year. These puzzles are terribly difficult to make and hence the wait can be prolonged. It arrived a month ago - I was surprised by the enormous beauty of it. Called the Quadrupled Quadlooplet puzzle, there are 2 challenges:
  1. Start with the looped rope threaded through adjacent holes of the core plate. Release the rope, and then return it to the starting position.
  2. Start with the looped rope threaded through opposite holes of the core plate. Release the rope, and then return it to the starting position.
If you get stuck or tangled then Namick has included a quick-release link within the string loop which I am ashamed to say that I did use a couple of times. It looks absolutely horrendous but luckily for me, it is quite intuitive and a positive pleasure to work out and I quickly achieved my required trance-like state of puzzle-solving! Very therapeutic.

Phew! That was fun. 
The disassembly was fun but did not lead to a full understanding as I discovered when trying to put it back together. I think that Zachary understood it before me - at least he realised that chewing on the string was very satisfying and had I not snatched it away quickly may have lead to an unsolvable puzzle and kebab shits!

He's studying hard!
After 4 or 5 days of experimentation I think I had the puzzle understood and could move back and forth between end states:

String through two opposite holes.
As usual, Namick has designed something captivating and confusing at the same time but definitely solvable with just a little concentration and help from a cat. His workmanship in this very unique material is wonderful and I look forward to the opportunity to obtain more in the future. 

So far my fevered mind has achieved a very small boost from my first N-ary puzzle. I was still far from soothed and not yet able to concentrate on some of the very complex new puzzles I have received over the last few weeks and months (most of the TICs remain unsolved)! I still needed more relaxation. Next N-ary puzzle to be played with was the White Bow Tie made from 3D printed plastic by Aleksandr Leontev:

White Bow Tie
This version is the smaller version of a puzzle (Black Bow Tie) that I spied in Allard's possession at the recent MPP. This lovely object is a rotational version of the Kugellager. The large one was determined by Goetz to be a 9-ary Kugellager requiring 13,122 moves for disassembly. The one I had bought was a dual puzzle - a ternary and a quinary Kugellager requiring 170 and 1251 moves respectively. I was not sure how it had been made as both possibilities and so I set to find out. There is a lovely sequence of moves to be discovered and of course, it had been supplied to me in the quinary assembly. The interesting feature of the quinary puzzle is how the logical sequence that is apparent at the beginning changes over to another sequence partway through and does it again at least another 2 times. This became quite confusing and caused me to get lost on several occasions putting my move count considerably above the proposed 1251. I discovered that this is not a puzzle to work on when one is sleepy as the zen aspect leads to automatic movements and dozing off and then getting inadvertently backtracked whilst dazed. Having woken back up, I discovered my mistake and continued in the correct direction until I had my 5 pieces and could see how the ternary version could be possible:

Even more brain soothing done here!
A game of 2 halves - the Ternary version is flipped
The ternary assembly is achieved by flipping the ring and assembling from the opposite direction - very ingenious. My savage brow was soothed even more by the 170 moves in the opposite direction! I really couldn't face all 1251 moves in reverse!

Next up was a puzzle that I had initially thought was a disentanglement puzzle but it turns out is actually also N-ary, the Chinese Soft Ring! I can never resist buying any of Aaron Wang's amazing wire and string puzzles even if I struggle to solve many of them - they are all beautifully made and a pleasure to play with. I have one of Aaron's puzzles with me pretty much at all times.

Chinese Soft Ring produced by Aaron Wang
The puzzle is supplied as above with a 3 loop assembly on 2 end rings - needless to say - the string does NOT fit through the little gaps in the rings. There are also 2 more rings and 4 more loops and a sheet of paper with a number of challenges. At the IPP design competition, it was supplied in the 3 loop version.

I am rather ashamed to say that this took me several weeks to understand even vaguely understand how this worked. I honestly thought that it was a simple disentanglement puzzle and set about trying to undo the provided version. I got absolutely nowhere. After a couple of weeks, Michel van Ipenburg shamed me by describing that he had solved it fairly easily and I joined a couple of other people who had failed. In the end, this appears to be a binary puzzle (according to Goetz) and at this point, I had an idea. Maybe I should keep the triple assembled as a reference and try and make a simple one or two with the other loops? It required a little thought© but I managed something easy in an evening of TV (I was supposed to be watching the TV series "Chernobyl" but it was so frightening that I was pleased to be looking elsewhere).

Easy peasy!
OK! I might be understanding
I think I am getting there.
I had quite a bit of help from my own string expert and managed to get up to 6 loops:

Zachary is very good with string!
I said on Facebook that I was thinking of stopping there as it had been quite difficult to get to that point in terms of concentration and dexterity. Unfortunately, the puzzle-solving machine that is Louis Coolen took offence at me being a wimp and taunted me with a photo of his own success. Zachary looked me in the eye and told me in no uncertain terms that we were GOING to do this! The following evening I set to and after only a couple of knots and having to backtrack, I had my Chinese soft ring seven loop set:

Man! That is a really unusual puzzle and very enjoyable to work out!
I even achieved a zen state during it once I had understood what was required.
If you like disentanglement puzzles and are interested in N-ary puzzles then you really cannot beat this as both types in one. Multiple challenges make it even more value for money. I still need to work on the further challenges at some point but I sort of got sidetracked yet again...

Vertical by Aleksandr Leontev
I had been putting this one off for a while because of the sheer number of moves required. However, my mental turmoil demanded yet more soothing repetitive motion. The Vertical puzzle is based on Goh Pit Khiam's Num Lock puzzle but set in a cylindrical frame to be compact. The original was Ternary and I think that this version is too. I discussed a beautiful multiple base version of this made by my Woodmaster friend in South Africa, Johan Heyns but I could not resist a new version. This puzzle is supposed to require 14,999 moves to dismantle.

Tongue poking out!
I started work one evening trying to find the sequence. After about 20 minutes of experimentation, I was on my way and gradually settled into a wonderful rhythmic sequence of moves which I could do whilst watching the TV or otherwise sitting with a blank head! Mrs S did comment on several occasions that my expression during the solve of this puzzle was rather like that of my puzzling guru, Zebedee. We both often sit there with our tongues hanging out having no brain power left over to be able to retract it into our mouths!

At times I was able to solve this one at about 1-2 moves per second but had to rest periodically because my tongue was drying out the most moved piece was actually causing me to develop a callus on my finger which was really quite painful. The puzzle was a mammoth effort spread over 4 evenings. Finally, this morning, I had this just in time for this blog post!

OMG! The effort!
Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to the reassembly! My zen state will need to be re-instated to put it back to the beginning! Lord help me!

I do hope that all this zen-puzzling has helped my fevered mind recover a bit so that I can begin to solve some other puzzles soon - only time will tell.

If you are intrigued by the idea of a lovely N-ary wooden and acrylic puzzle then Johan has one left of his Septenary cubes which require a pleasant 4802 moves to open. If you would like to buy it then let me know and I will put you in touch with him. Don't wait too long!

Septenary cube - last one available


  1. I'm glad that you are enjoying the ZenPuzzler blog. I'm assuming that Mrs. S is appreciating the Chinese Soft Ring puzzle. Less clanging than the traditional Chinese Ring puzzle.

    1. Your blog is fab, Ken!

      Mrs S doesn't like the big clanking noise made by the large metal rings but, so far, she is allowing me to survive!

  2. I've been enjoying Chinese Soft Ring. As a disentanglement-challenged puzzler, it is proving difficult. Adding one ring ... trivial. Adding a second ring ... easy. Adding a third ring ... impossible. I guess I do not understand how this works! Great puzzle!

    1. Glad that you are enjoying it - it's a terrific idea.You are not the only one struggling to get more than 2 loops attached. If extra help is required then I could make a video for showing to puzzlers in need.

  3. A video would be most helpful! I managed to get the third ring off ... once, as this is the way the puzzle came. But I cannot seem to get it back on! What I really need is a strategy for getting the 3rd ring on, which ideally would help me with 4+. It is hard to understand what moves are possible on this puzzle, and I can't seem to visualize an intermediate state that would be useful.

    1. I will try to make a quick video later this week or at the weekend. I'll put it on my YouTube channel.

    2. Hi George,
      I've posted a video on my YouTube channel. You can find it here: