Sunday 30 August 2020

A Wonderful Gift - I'm Not Worthy

Just the first of a bunch of puzzles from George Bell
Can you tell??? This blog is now MUCH faster than it was! My old iMac was a mid 2006 vintage and was desperately slow - it took 90 minutes or longer to boot up. Finally when a new model was announced a few weeks ago Mrs S threatened me with worse violence than a Whack! Ouch! if I didn't upgrade - isn't she a wonderful woman? A new iMac was viewed, specced up, ordered, manufactured and arrived this week. It is lovely (nice 27" display) and screaming fast as you can tell when you read this. All my crap gets out there with extra speed...lucky you! It will take a while to get the software working as I like but I am getting there.

Before I carry on drivelling about my wonderful gifts from George Bell, I would like to sincerely suggest that you support my 2 very good (and very talented) friends, Big Steve and Ali (aka the Two Brass Monkeys). You will have seen me show off and thoroughly gush about many of their wonderful creations on the blog, including the Hokey cokey lock (reviewed here) which made it to my number 4 slot of 2018 and still available from their Etsy store or from PuzzleMaster. Now, not only can you buy from their store but they have set up a KickStarter for a particularly fabulous (and BIG) creation, the Kong Puzzle.

Kong Fully Assembled
Kong in Case
I played with a prototype of this wondrous brute at the last face-to-face MPP and it was amazing! It is beautifully tactile and a proper challenge - needless to say, I did not solve it there and neither did our Burr magician, Rich. This masterpiece is solid brass and weighs in at a monstrous 4lb 2.6oz (1.89Kg) - the dimensions of the assembled puzzle will be 70 x 90 x 90mm and it will be sent out in an aluminium briefcase for protection of those oh, so fragile pieces/postal workers.
Slough - don't go there!
For those of you wanting to save on the price of postage they have found a way to reduce the packaging (no aluminium case) to 110g and this will save you quite a bit of cash. If cash is not a worry for you then you can have it (along with their first prototype) personally delivered to your door by one of the 2 brass monkeys. It's quite expensive but probably worth it...unless you live in Slough, UK! They might consider going to Antarctica or even a war zone to deliver your toys but NOT Slough - if you've ever been there then you will understand why!

So, go to KickStarter right now and join us all in a wonderful (heavy) experience - it's passed it's finance threshold so is definitely happening but if you want to be amongst the first and want a version cheaper than that to be sold later on their site then join the happy crazy crew - there are still 12 days to go.

Now, on with my regularly scheduled broadcast/blog...during the height of the first wave of the pandemic in the UK (I know that the US and other similar third world countries never managed to get beyond the first wave), I was contacted by my friend George Bell asking how I was doing and informing me that he wanted to send me some gifts to keep me occupied in my downtime. I am always staggered at how generous and kind the puzzle community are and this is just one example of it. I assured George that, apart from working too hard, I was doing fine...and then I caught the bloody virus! Luckily, after about a month I am fine again. A nice big box arrived and the ever vigilant/paranoid Mrs S quarantined it in the porch for a couple of days before allowing me to open a treasure trove.

The puzzle at the top of the blog is my favourite so far. The Pyradox was George's exchange puzzle at the IPP in San Diego in 2018. I did not attend that year and Mrs S won't let me participate in a 100+ puzzle exchange so did not obtain a copy when they were given out. It consists of 3 grids of varying shapes and 5 bunches of glued together spheres. The aim is to put all 5 pieces onto the grid in a stable manner and create a pyramid at the same time. I had been aware that this was a real challenge because I had read George's article on it published in the CFF journal and even edited his article on polyspheres a few years ago. As soon as I got this one I had to play and spent a happy afternoon in our nice warm conservatory with Mrs S and the cats - she was delighted that I had a puzzle that wasn't noisy. I quickly found the solution to the basic pyramid but really struggled on the other 2. I retried the one that I had solved first and then was slightly horrified to realise that I couldn't recreate that one again. Don't look - spoilers below:

The puzzle took me 3 days in all to solve all three challenges and I have to say it was a wonderful diversion - it looks great too - George gave it out in a nice clear plastic box which displays all the pieces nicely. This is well worth adding to your collection - all of George's puzzles are available at a very reasonable price from his Etsy store (this one is just £16!).

Next up, I played with the Fusion puzzle - George has really adopted the world of 3D printing and it allows him to explore his fascination for poly-spheres. This fits beautifully in a clear acrylic box and is remarkably stable. I tipped it out of the box expecting it to fall apart but it stayed together beautifully. First challenge - work out how to separate it into its' component pieces. and then...yes, you guessed it, put it back together again! It's quite clear which pieces are which but not obvious what you need to do to take it apart. I spent a good 10 minutes pushing and pulling at various bits before it suddenly burst apart and landed on a sleeping cat who did not even notice (these are very light puzzles).

2 identical pieces plus one extra
OK - reassemble...quickly! Not gonna happen fast for me. After a few minutes it becomes clear that these pieces clearly can interlock in only one way but holding them right so that they can be clicked together is entirely a different challenge - one piece or other kept pinging out of my hand. Eventually I got it and produced a rather pleasing stable structure again. This one definitely has worry bead potential - I fiddled for a whole evening.

Hole in none
The Hole in none puzzle is made from a wonderful bright luminous yellow printed plastic (I think it glows in the dark), it looks like one of the classic 6 piece star interlocking puzzles...until you attempt to take it apart and that definitely won't work. I then spent a few minutes pushing and pulling on various bits trying to get something to move. It took me a while to find the right position for my fingers and it suddenly pinged into 3 pieces on the cat again - there is definitely a theme to my puzzling!

Again, 2 identical pieces plus one extra
Yet again, I had 3 pieces that were completely different to the classic star puzzle and needed to work out how to fit them back together. This one is a completely different type of puzzle to the Fusion - I classify it as a coordinate motion puzzle. I am very impressed that George managed to make it slide so smoothly when made from 3D printed plastic built up in layers. It's not a tough puzzle but again, a nice worry bead diversion.

Clock Solitaire
This is probably the puzzle that gives the most bang for your buck. Clock Solitaire was George's exchange at the Paris IPP. It is a very nicely made puzzle made by Dave Janelle at Creative Crafthouse - it is available from both Dave's and George's store (George slightly cheaper at £16). We are all familiar with the standard 33 hole Solitaire puzzle we played with (and usually failed to solve) as kids, and this is one (out of many) possible variants on the theme. The puzzle itself is very nicely made laser cut wood forming a box for the turned wooden pegs and a booklet of multiple challenges.

So far I have only attempted the basic first challenge to remove all the pegs leaving one remaining in the centre hole. I've been at it for several hours and singularly failed. I have been hampered by needing to remove a peg from a cat's mouth on multiple occasions! I don't know whether this is particularly difficult or I am just being dim. As a teenager, I was actually able to solve the standard solitaire puzzle but this one seems to be beating me so far. If and when I beat the main challenge then there are quite a few more in the booklet.

I think that all puzzlers should own a copy of the basic 33 hole puzzle (many are available with gorgeous wood or marble pieces and make great coffee table displays) and for such a small amount of money, it is well worthwhile getting a copy of this one to go with it - if you are anything like me then you will be kept busy for days if not weeks and months.

I have subsequently realised that George is one of the foremost authorities on the peg solitaire puzzles in the world, having published some very interesting articles on the possible variants. He has a fascinating webpage to start you off on your odyssey. It includes a very full reference section pointing to real scientific articles that have been published on the subject in genuine mathematical journals. When I get some time I will collect and read some of these articles - just to complete your image of my complete nerdiness, I collect and read recreational maths books and follow a lot of recreational maths YouTube channels.

Thank you so much, George! The puzzle gifts have been absolutely wonderful and have kept me busy for many hours so far. I really don't understand how your brain works and kind of wish mine worked like it (actually, it would be nice if my brain worked at all!) I have yet to make significant progress on your packing puzzles (Chocolate box, Double chocolate box and Melting F). These interesting multifaceted shapes fit together in very interesting ways but I cannot fathom an approach to solving the challenges with them. So far I have spent the most time with Melting F and have decided that I need a helper, an octopus or extra digits to solve it - every time I make some progress with a few pieces, it explodes on me. I'll keep trying! Maybe I'll take it to work to torture a med student with - I'll tell them that 3D visuospatial ability is vital.

Chocolate box

Double chocolate box

Melting F


  1. You definitely deserve free puzzles! You sure stepped up during the pandemic, I am happy to contribute to your happiness ... er, frustration. Stay safe!

    1. Thank you so much George! I am eternally grateful!