Sunday 2 August 2020

Aaaargh! A Newbie Teaches me to Look Properly!

Lock Out Puzzle from Andrew Coles
These days I don't often get to torture anyone with my toys. Trainees are being diverted into general practice training and there are less of them about. For some reason my ODPs (anaesthetic assistants) tend to run away when I start to go rummaging for a puzzle in my stash. You might ask..."What about the surgeons?" And my reply would have to be that they don't count! They are basically legalised psychopaths with ultra sharp knives and sometimes a hammer! By and large, you should NEVER trust anyone who approaches you with a knife or your puzzles with a hammer! The surgeons tend to have no interest in my toys or even what I am doing unless the patient is not doing well or they have cut something pulsatile that they shouldn’t have.

What has this got to do with Andrew Coles' Lock Out puzzle? Well, I had been working on it for a few weeks and getting absolutely nowhere until, on Wednesday, when I suddenly found that during a major lower limb orthopaedic list I was accompanied by one of our very senior trainees. In fact, so senior that he starts as a consultant (attending physician) next month, and therefore did not need any significant teaching. This allowed me lots of opportunity for “torture”!

Beautifully presented
Going back a month, on the day that it arrived, I took it to work and showed it to a friend and we marvelled at the quality. I sagely told him that the keys are seldom particularly useful in the way one would expect and to prove the point I inserted one of the provided keys into the keyway and demonstrated that it would not even insert fully - it came to a hard stop. At that point both of us were a little surprised to see that, with the key only 4 or 5 mm inside, the key could turn. Wow! was I going to solve this immediately without trying? Of course not! In wonder, we both watched as the key turned and then there was a click and it stopped dead - no further movement possible. That was interesting, what actually happened? The key now was able to be pushed all the way into the lock and…yes you guessed it, wouldn't turn.

At this point I had what appeared like a normal fairly heavy duty Abus 83 series padlock with 2 identical keys, none of which would turn. Up until the fateful day with my trainee, I had been doing all the usual tricks that one does to a lock. I had tried the keys inserted to varying depths, tried pushing them in the wrong way (won’t work), tried all sorts of angles to hold the puzzle, tried shaking it, spinning it, blowing on or in it, submerging it in gin (which definitely diminished the taste of the gin) and even tried solving it standing on my head. Nothing worked, so in desperation, I took some advice from Allard which you all know is a very stupid thing to do! Celery, of varying freshness seemed to do nothing apart from clog things up.

Taking the puzzle to work, I exhibited all the useful things I had done and handed it my colleague and told him that I write the consultant on-call rotas and if he failed to open the lock (or help me to do so) then he would be on-call every single Christmas day until my retirement. This was adequate motivation and he stepped up to the mark. We started with our first two cases and despite all the mechanical noises of a hip replacement going on to provide motivation, he did not manage anything. So disappointing! Our big case was a redo hip replacement which was going to take quite a lot of hours and whilst I looked after the patient he continued to explore the possibilities.

I have learned over the years and told many other puzzlers that the single most important thing that you can do is to LOOK at you puzzle properly. I had told him that and it would appear that he learned from me. He did learn some medicine too (like how to do a high anterior sciatic nerve block and my approach to decreasing blood loss during major surgery). In fact he proved better than me at looking properly at the puzzle! Something very interesting was found and to my horror, I realised that I must have been completely stupid! I HAD actually seen what he had and not taken it the next logical step forward. In fact I had just dismissed what I had seen and carried on with the celery thing.

We were now in a position where we could think about manipulating the lock further. He handed me the lock and I tried some more celery-free moves which didn't work so I handed it back to him for a while. After about a ½ hour he had not done anything else (much to my satisfaction) and I tried again. Allard’s thinking© process came in handy - I looked even more closely at what I had and realised that something was not right with this lock - it was now obvious why the key would not turn and I tried something new. This was something I would never have thought to do to a lock and realised at that point why everyone at the MPP where Andrew released the puzzle had raved about it.

After this very special manoeuvre, I placed the key in the keyway and BINGO! the lock sprung open. OMG! Both me and my trainee were slack-jawed at the design. That was something really rather clever - I have never seen anything like that done to a lock. It is not even that complex (although I think the manufacturing process will have been pretty difficult) but the importance of looking and thinking© is absolutely critical here. The guys at the MPP managed it within a ½ hour of play but me…I took 3 or 4 weeks! Obviously it's something I am rubbish at and everyone around me is better than me (even newbies). I am hoping to have enticed a new puzzler to the dark side!

The Lock out puzzle is being made in batches by Andrew as and when he has time - contact him at his website and get onto his waiting list. You won't be disappointed. Phew! One down and several dozen more in my backlog to go!

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