Sunday, 19 September 2021

Some Seriously Wonderful Puzzles Coming From Pelikan

The pressure has been on me this week! I received the latest batch from Jakub and knew that he really wanted to put them up for sale this weekend. This little fact was dropped by Ivan Danik who runs the Puzzle Guy YouTube channel. Ivan also received the puzzles so that he can film them and do the product photography for the Pelikan store. Ivan let slip that the puzzles should go on sale in a week and so I had better get a move on and get working! Gulp! I'm a rubbish puzzler at best and solving 7 gorgeously precise puzzles that fast was going to be a huge challenge!

Play-girl 2

Play-girl 2 by Alexander Magyarics

How can anyone resist yet another wonderful packing puzzle designed on a triangular grid by Alexander Magyarics? Play-girl 2 has been beautifully made with such supreme precision that the corners are sharp enough to break skin! The lovely diamond-shaped box, made from pink oak has identical, rather wide openings on each side which allow entry of the Wenge pieces but then must be left filled at the end. Working outside of the box reveals through simple logic how the pieces should be oriented - this process alone is quite a nice challenge and then there is the much harder problem of assembling inside the box. This has to be done by working out how to disassemble them through where the holes should be. It’s quite a dexterity puzzle as well as a logic problem as the triangular pieces want to spring apart in certain configurations. The disassembly sequence is a level 11.3.3 which is pretty tough to remember to do then in reverse. It took me 3 days and I loved every moment of it!

A lovely challenge
It is also huge fun entering the puzzle into Burrtools as I am not used to working with the triangular grid but you should definitely do this for practice as I’m sure there will be more puzzles like this coming from Alexander and Pelikan.

Get Trunk 1

Get Trunk 1 by Alexander Magyarics
I adored the Bugs packing puzzle which could be hung on a wall as a piece of art and this is another along similar lines - it is very large at 21cm square, it has a clear acrylic cover and has been drilled so that it can be hung on a wall for display. It’s almost as if this puzzle was designed by Alexander and made by Pelikan specifically for me. With my family history of elephant collecting which I inherited from my late mum, I would never be able to resist another fun challenge with the same theme. This time we have an Oak and Maple frame and 6 different elephant shapes made from Acacia, Padauk, Wenge, Cherry and Zebrano (2 pieces). 

I started playing with this before I knew the instructions. I was trying to place all 6 pieces in the frame for quite a while before Alexander contacted me to tell me that there are 3 challenges. Each one is to place "just" 5 elephants inside. The first 2 challenges are to use just one of the Zebrano elephants alone with the other 4 pieces and then a more difficult supplementary challenge is to use both the Zebrano pieces and fit another 3 of the others inside the frame (but which pieces?). The shapes only differ in the position of the trunks and the complexity of their shape makes this a much tougher challenge than expected. 

So far I have only found one of the solutions…I blame my failure on the others on the cat on my lap who won’t lie still whilst I balance this on top of him. I cannot show a picture here because you don't want to cheat and see a solution do you? Get this puzzle - you really won't be disappointed. It is seriously tough.

Octopus 33

Octopus 33 by Osanori Yamamoto
Osanori Yamamoto and Pelikan have made yet another sequential movement puzzle in which 4 pieces are held in a maze and can slide and move in very restricted ways - the aim is to remove those pieces by carefully navigating the maze and orienting the pieces in such a way that they can be slid out through the single hole that will allow it. The last one of this type was the Waffle which I really struggled with. The Octopus 33 is made with a Bubinga and Wenge frame with 4 identical yellow Garapa L-shaped pieces providing a lovely contrast in colours. This seems to be probably the most restricted of this type of puzzle that Osanori-San has created. It’s quite obvious early on where the exit point is and obviously rotations will be required to get all the pieces out of the frame. However, the obvious moves that you want to do are apparently impossible. The 8 “tentacles” of the Octopus make the movements that you want to do really quite hard to achieve. 

A significant challenge
It’s a nice series of discoveries to find how to manoeuvre the pieces and the Aha! moment has a very unexpected aspect to it which actually made my jaw drop when I realised what Osanori-san had managed to design.

Hidden Curry no 90

Hidden curry no 90 by Dr Volker Latussek
When I received this batch from Jakub, I was rather surprised at the name of this puzzle. It doesn’t look much like an Indian meal. Dr Latussek, a master of the unusual packing puzzle (I have still not managed to solve Fermat or the Euklid for Nick puzzles!) has informed me that this puzzle has been designed and named for Paul Curry, magician and apparent inventor of the missing square puzzle. The Garapa pieces fit into the square Acacia compartment rather like a tangram (it’s not quite the same shapes as a tangram). 

Quite a deep lip to get the pieces under
The aim is to tip them out and fit them in the frame on the other side. This is extremely difficult due to the overhanging lip. I failed initially and decided to put the pieces back in the top frame for storage…this proved tougher than expected. There is definitely something odd going on with the dimensions of the pieces as they were rather harder to put back than they should be and some orientations won’t work. Have a really good look at the pieces before trying to solve it and then it will become a much nicer challenge. I didn’t properly look until I’d spent a couple of hours failing! I think I got lucky with this one - I suspect that it is really quite difficult. Of course I am not going to post the solution for you - that would spoil it for you.

Half Soma

Half Soma by Dr Volker Latussek
This puzzle remains unsolved for me. It is another of those anti-slide puzzles that Dr Latussek has created where the pieces fit easily into the box but that is not the challenge. The Zebrano pieces are Soma cube pieces where every single cubie in each piece has been cut in half before being put together. It arrives with all but one placed and a nice smooth surface on show. The aim, very like the previous Shrinking Soma, is to assemble all the pieces into the Pink oak box so that the smooth surface is flush with the top and, despite there being many gaps underneath, none of the pieces will slide at all or drop down to a lower level.

Really interesting pieces
I am just about able to assemble shapes but creating assemblies that won’t allow pieces to move is a logical arena that I just cannot seem to comprehend. I have actually struggled to assemble the Soma cube with the pieces cut down like this and got nowhere near solving it. This is a puzzle for someone seeking a seriously difficult challenge. If anyone has any idea about how to go about this type of puzzle then I’d be very grateful for some assistance in technique.


Turtle by Alfons Eyckmans
Alfons Eyckmans designs wonderful burrs…many shapes and many different piece numbers but amongst my favourites are the hidden piece burrs with a contained animal inside (Goetz refers to this as the Burr zoo). This one, Turtle, is a significantly difficult challenge at level 46 ( It has been beautifully made by Pelikan using Pink Oak, Jatoba, Acacia & Oak and all the pieces slide perfectly despite the rather humid conditions we have here just now. I did not expect to manage to solve this in time for the release of these puzzles but had a thoroughly fun time exploring and not too long getting lost (maybe I was lucky?) There are quite a few blind ends and a number of choices to make during the disassembly which makes it a pretty challenging solve but not impossibly so. It took me all day on Saturday before the magnificently decorated turtle could be removed.

Simple burr sticks and a very large turtle
The turtle is unexpectedly really big, taking up a huge amount of the interior of the puzzle. This will explain why there is so much movement possible during the solution because to make space for such a large central figure the burr sticks prove to be quite shallow and simply designed. The reassembly will definitely require Burrtools. If you are into burrs at all then this will be an essential purchase - it is stunning!


Dragster by Stephan Baumegger
Another hidden piece burr with a motor vehicle theme from Stephan Baumegger. This puzzle looks stunning made from Jatoba, American Walnut, Maple and Wenge. It has a very unusual shape and little glimpses of the Dragster inside can be seen if you peek between the burr sticks. 

The original by Stephan
I actually own an original copy of this bought from Stephan back in 2015 and have never managed to solve it! I was quite a lot better at burrs back then which gives a hint at the difficulty of this puzzle. It may be that I can solve it this time but with my deadline to post reviews by this weekend, I’ve not had time to try yet. Puzzlewillbeplayed tells me that this burr has a disassemble level of so you can be certain that this will be a fantastic challenge ending with the removal of a wonderful little car hidden inside.

So which should you get? That's a terribly hard thing to tell. I personally cannot resist the elephants and the special packing puzzles by Alexander. But the incredibly tough challenges by Dr Latussek are brilliant too. I really wish that I had the knowledge of the logic required to solve anti-slide puzzles but until someone explains them to me, I will never be able to solve them. The wooden disentanglement/sliding piece puzzles by Osanori-san are very addictive to me because everything is visible and yet working out what to move where is still a huge challenge. Then there are the burrs with hidden pieces inside. Almost no-one else makes complex burrs as good as Jakub and Jaroslav and so for me these are an essential purchase. Keep an eye on their store as they will be going up for sale quite soon.

Don't forget that Peter Hajek's book is already up for sale - it is a Tour de force production with beautiful pictures and the definitive history and analysis of all the puzzle world has to offer on the subject of puzzle boxes. It covers puzzles both old and new, European, American and traditional Japanese as well as the wonderful creations by the Karakuri Group. There are even puzzles discussed which I can justify owning as not traditionally thought of as boxes. 

Take care everyone - the Pandemic has not gone away - go get your vaccine as soon as you can to help protect yourself as well as others in your family or those in society who are more vulnerable. With the hundreds of millions of doses administered we can definitively say that the vaccines are safe (especially compared to getting the illness) with a very low chance of temporary side effects and no real long term effects to speak of apart from the intended immunity.

Sunday, 12 September 2021

I'm Rubbish at Puzzles!

A Week of Failure

Res Q
Over the last couple of weeks I might just have annoyed the hell out of Mrs S by taking ownership of a rather large number of additional beauties. I have photographed them all, catalogued them using Airtable and put them onto my dining room table for future play. This is because my study has turned into a shithole and there is literally no room to put more until I find time and energy to tidy up:

This is out of date - it's even worse than this now
Also my living room pile o' puzzles to play with has reached the point where it might fall over and Mrs S has threatened to commit mayhem upon my person if I muck up the living room any further. Unfortunately, with my work commitments (clinical and administrative) I seem to have very little time to actually play with my precioussss beauties. When I get home I either have to talk to "she who is so ferocious that I have been known to hide under the bed from her" or do various chores or cook. I do also like to read some sci-fi occasionally and am trying to keep to my year challenge of 15 books. 

After a small chat with Andrew (he who designed and created the fabulous Lock Out puzzle, I decided that I should try again to solve the ResQ that he had lent me. This wondrous creation was made by Eric Fuller (and design in collaboration with Frederic Boucher). I had wanted to buy my own copy but whilst logging in to PayPal and choosing a postal method it sold out from my cart and I missed out. A few weeks after Andrew had solved his copy (lucky bastard!) he offered to lend it to me because he felt it was something I should be reviewing on my site and he seemed not to want to write his own review and post it as a guest post here. He sent it to me way back in June and I set right to it and found something straight away (Yay!) and then hit a brick wall.

I played with it every evening for 3 weeks or so and never found anything else (shaking it gently certainly revealed that there probably was more than just a bunch of wooden blocks inside). In the end I put it down for a while to have a rest from it and to play with other toys - I desperately needed to solve things for the blog! True to my usual modus operandi, I would pick it up every week or so and play, get nowhere and put it down again. Recently Andrew nudged me and so did Derek so I tried again. The first play had found the first tool(s) but nowhere to use it/them. I have put this down to me being a man of a certain age and needing multifocal contact lenses to be able to read/puzzle as well as see the TV. Despite these wonders of modern science and the fact that the living room doesn't have blindingly bright light in the evening, I really couldn't see well enough to work out my next step. I told Derek, that this weekend I would take it into the conservatory and play in nice bright natural light. I did that both Saturday and Sunday and.....
Not got anywhere - I am rubbish at puzzles!

Then I moved onto some of the wonderful new designs that Aaron sent me - Many of his string based puzzles are ferociously difficult and frighten me to death but the wire only puzzles are less scary (I buy both types anyway). if you want to buy them then either contact Aaron via facebook or look at PuzzleMaster for them (I am sure that the latest ones should be in stock soon). I thought that I would start with one of the easier ones - Dig ears is a level 9 on Aaron's scale (which I really don't understand) and to my very gullible eyes, looked really quite possible to a puzzler of very feeble brain.  Dear Lord! I was terribly wrong - if this is an easier one from the batch then I am in serious trouble! I have greatly upset Mrs S by jingling away every evening for a week and then swearing aloud when I got nowhere - at least it doesn't get tangled into a knot! I must keep trying! 
I cannot seem to do it!
Not got anywhere - I am rubbish at puzzles!

Thinking that maybe Aaron had just rated it incorrectly, I moved to the first one from the Sax trio - a level 10 but I have done others of that difficulty:

These look absolutely fabulous and should be as much fun as the Scissors were. They had taken me quite a while but I did get some good Aha! moments fairly early on. I have played with Sax 1 and 2 and managed...
Absolutely nothing!
Not got anywhere - I am rubbish at puzzles!

What about some N-ary puzzles? I can hear you say that you are quite good at N-ary puzzles. I should probably see someone about these voices that keep appearing in my head. I had received a few rather beautiful N-ary puzzles in the batch and usually, once you have worked out a rough system then the solution is quite logical. I started with probably the most beautiful metal N-ary puzzle I have ever seen - Hippocampus.

Yes it is wonderful! Yes, it is easy - I should imagine that on Aaron's difficulty scale of 1 to 10 it must be a minus 52. It's a lovely little thing and having solved something, I moved on to another of the N-ary puzzles. These are rather special and come in a lovely box:

Nice box for storage and protection in transit
I picked what I thought might be the easiest of the 3 complex N-ary puzzles, Cableway. Goetz has done a preliminary analysis which looked promising and sort of confirmed that the others would be MUCH more difficult.

I have spent an hour so far and, to my eternal shame, have not even found a vague idea of a pathway/mechanism. The vertical rods attached to the base really get in the way. I had sort of hoped that it might be a variant on a Chinese rings but alas, no.
Failed again! 
Not got anywhere - I am rubbish at puzzles!

I really must try harder or this blog is going to end up very very boring!

I have received the latest puzzles from Jakub's Pelikan puzzles. There look to be some fabulous creations there and they should be available quite soon - keep checking their website. I have put my initial photos on my New stuff page but in the meantime they have put a book up for sale. Peter Hajek is the host of the New Years puzzle party in London every year and many of my friends attend to show off the best puzzles they have acquired the previous year (I have not managed to attend due to the distance involved and work commitments) then Peter creates a book of everyone's favourites each year. Peter is also one of the most knowledgeable puzzle collectors in the world and a true connoisseur (unlike me who will buy whatever is shiny!) He has written an incredibly beautiful book about the history and secrets of Puzzle boxes - it is a stunning creation. It is now on sale from Pelikan puzzles here and in a few weeks a special locked version will be available with a new lock designed and made by the incredible Shane Hales (I don't know how he finds the time to do it!) - I have not seen the lock/locked version but if it is made by Shane then you know it will be fabulous.

A simply stunning book by an authority!

Sunday, 5 September 2021

Beautiful Brass From Phil

Phil Wigfield is a new puzzle manufacturer based in the good old UK. He makes stuff the old fashioned way using lathes and measurement and creates things of beauty. He then sells them via his Etsy store. When Allard showed off the Bolted puzzle and gushed about it, I took note and thought that when my finances had recovered a bit from other puzzling expenses, I would make contact and buy something lovely in brass...except he had sold out by then. At that point I send him a message and he revealed what a great guy he is. He promised to make some more once he had managed to restock with raw materials and would let me know as soon as they were available again. It seems that with the pandemic and Brexit etc. stuff has gotten quite a bit more expensive but he honoured the original price seeing as I had asked to buy before he had reposted new stock at a new price which made it worthwhile his efforts. Top man!

It took him quite a few weeks to get raw materials in manufacture my puzzle and send out my new toy. I was very impressed with the packaging. It is beautifully presented in a nice wooden box with a metal catch. It screams "open me".

Even Mrs S was impressed by the presentation (even if she was not impressed by the arrival of yet more toys for me). Opening the box revealed a lovely pair of interlocking bolts on a padded interior.

Now, I have played with (even if I don't own) almost all of the bolts produced by Rocky Chiaro (whose website seems to be offline just now). One of the advantages (?) of being friends with Ali, Steve and Allard is that (prior to the bloody virus) I would get to drive a few hours to Birmingham every couple of months and could be tortured and made fun of by a whole bunch of fellow sufferers when I tried and failed to solve a whole bunch of puzzles that were not in my own collection. I am terrible at bolt puzzles! I am not much better at many other types but I don't seem to have the right brain processes for these - I just don't seem to be able to think about how they could possibly work and then also cannot interpret odd noises and feelings as you move them about to work out what might be inside.

I showed this off on FB when it arrived and wondered how many years it might take to solve it. Allard certainly loved it and was impressed with it which meant that I was going to struggle. What do we have? There is a nice chunky brass bolt with an appropriately big nut halfway down it. So far so easy to understand...except this large nut has another smaller bolt screwed right through it and the large bolt with a nut on one side and a couple more on the other. You have to do the obvious and try and simply unscrew everything don't you? The tow small end nuts whizz right off revealing how beautifully the fit has been made. At this point try unscrewing the small bolt from the rest of the puzzle...and of course it won't come out! There wouldn't be much puzzling if it did! It wiggles a little revealing that it should come undone at some point but it's not straightforward. Maybe the small bolt doesn't actually go through? Yes, I know it's silly but you kinda have to do the other obvious thing and try to remove the large nut from its' bolt with the smaller bolt attached and yes, I knew it wouldn't work but I did it anyway! I never claimed to be clever or even a good fact, this website has many instances of me claiming to be not terribly bright. Once the two obvious things had been tried with no success, I was quite stumped. It wiggles a tiny amount in each axis of expected motion but that is it.

Time to THINK©! Well, I thunk and nothing happened so I went to bed and nothing occured to me overnight. I was resigned to having this beautiful piece of craftsmanship sitting on my pile of shame next to me in the living room for months. At this point, I thought to myself: 
"Self, if you were going to make something like this then how would you do it?"

Well, I haven't gone completely crazy and there were no voices answering my question. There was just a high pitched Scottish voice in my head complaining about how many toys were littering my study - oh, that was Mrs S...I can ignore that voice. Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear.

I did manage to think of a possible way that I would make this work and tried to see whether Phil had done the same thing I would. Aaaaaannd, nope! That didn't work. Back to sleep on it for another night. The following evening, I had a very rare occurrence...a thought. Not a special radical thought (I am not capable of those) but a thought that was similar to my first one but with a little twist (pardon the pun). Oh! that's interesting and rather beautifully done! Then I did something else and Bingo!

Very impressive work
That is stunningly well made - Phil did say that he had to spend a whole lot of time with a micrometer when making these and I can see why. It is a lovely idea, beautifully implemented and very well hidden. I will have to show this off to my orthopaedic friends because they will really appreciate the precision of the manufacture and the clever idea behind it.

These are still available on Phil's Etsy store - go get one, you won't be disappointed. I suspect that I will need to make another purchase from him sometime. However I will need to let my finances recover from my recent purchase of Aaron's newest creations.

What's in the boxes?
Amazing stuff!

Please be careful out in the world guys, We are seeing very high numbers of Covid infections throughout the world and hospitals are still very full. The unvaccinated or partially vaccinated are still getting very sick and about 10% of our hospitalised Covid patients are in the ICU either on CPAP or ventilated. If you haven't yet...GO GET YOUR JAB! Wear a mask when you are amongst others in an indoors environment. I know many places have not mandated mask usage but it is a simple thing to do and certainly effective in decreasing the risk. Ignore the crap about them raising your CO2 - this is utter bollocks! As an anaesthetist dealing with breathing circuits and ventilators all the time CO2 removal is core to what I do and masks do NOT cause it's retention (even in COPD or asthma). If you feel crap breathing through a mask with your COPD then imagine how crap you will feel with Covid-19 on a ventilator!

Sunday, 29 August 2021

Sometimes I Just Gotta Think©

Sometimes I Just Gotta Think Over and Over Again!

Grooved Three Piece Board Burr
Sometimes I think that I am really not terribly bright - Mrs S agrees with me about this almost all the time apart from when she wants something. The beautiful piece of joinery above is the Grooved three piece board burr designed by Kouki Kusumi and fabulously made by the Doctor of wood, Eric Fuller using Maple, Wenge and gorgeous Zebrawood with some tiny acrylic dowels to engage with the grooves.

This very simple design was released at the beginning of August and I couldn't resist it because the design looks so simple (just 3 identical pieces) with a nice challenging level of 8.2 and also because it won a Jury honourable mention in last years' remote IPP design competition. This alone would make it worth purchasing but mostly I have come to accept Eric's choices. He loves interlocking puzzles and burrs but they have to be something really special to pique his attention. He could make anything he wants with extremely high level but he almost never makes that sort of puzzle. Eric only produces puzzles that he personally finds clever and interesting. 

This sat next to me for a few weeks whilst I worked on some of my new toys from Mine and the latest twisty puzzles. Finally I had a little time to play and out it came. The premise is simple - interlock the pieces into a standard board burr shape. A teeny tiny bit of thought© allowed me to deduce how the pieces should end up and where the dowels should be. It is trivial to get two of the pieces to interlock and then when it's time to get the third piece in, it is immediately revealed that the dowel gets in the way. Take it apart and try a different orientation and same result. Doh!

That took some rather special thinking©
I spent about an hour the first evening doing the same thing over and over again but in different orientations with no success. How can it be that hard? The following day, I tried again and had some more thoughts© - I tried to be logical and move pieces around in preparation and Aha! I had my assembled puzzle. That was wonderful - why had it taken so long? I disassembled it and left it for a half hour and tried again...NOPE! Wasn't happening. For some reason, despite having a vague memory of the sort of moves required, I just couldn't reassemble the bloody thing! I kept ending back at the same place as the first day. Time to finish for the day and go back to it the following day...same problem.

More time to think© and I eventually manage to relax my feeble brain enough to let a new sequence in and I had it assembled. There is something wonderful about this design. It is really not terribly complex but it still seems to me to be really challenging. When I try to think to hard I cannot assemble it - I seem to have to try and achieve a relaxed brain thinking© each time before I can solve it - I don't actually think there are very many puzzles quite like that. Random movements won't do it and thinking too hard is counter-productive. The delight here is a sort of unfocussed thinking. This is rather different from the next puzzle.

Puzzles from Mine - no real detail visible
Koichi Miura has designed a packing puzzle called Croissant which has been produced by Mineyuki Uyematsu (Mine) and was put up for sale on Puzzle of Mine via his private Facebook group. He announced the latest batch of wonderful designs way back in May and having taken rather more orders from fans than he was expecting, it took quite a few months for all the puzzles to be cut, assembled and distributed. I think from one or two of his posts that Mine was knackered at the end of it. I cannot post a photo of the puzzles - Mine hates that some people recreate his productions from photos either for their own use or for sale and he prefers that I none of us publish photos on our blogs that might facilitate copying. I have therefore not put any here - Googling for them will almost certainly provide you with some images that will give you an idea. Sorry!

Recently a good friend of mine has set up a wonderful new Facebook group which is dedicated to Mechanical puzzles. I and several very active puzzlers in the community are moderators of the group (there are very few significant rules - mostly no spoilers allowed) and we frequently chat behind the scenes. The Croissant puzzle has been the focus of quite a bit of discussion as several of us have been working to solve it. I couldn't resist the premise of four identical croissant shapes to be placed in a tray with a limited entry hole. The first 2 pieces can be inserted easily and then they block the next. Certain movements are required to make room and then the third piece goes in. After this no movements are possible which can make room for the fourth. OMG!

It's very tough not showing any photos!!! This one also requires lots of experimentation to make a discovery or two and then some more thinking© which won't work until you think© again. It took me 4 days to assemble this one and the Aha! moments were wonderful. Even the genius that is Derek Bosch is currently stumped on it! I am sure that he will get there soon but it needs just the right type of thinking and until you have done that you just gotta try again and again and again! A candidate for my puzzle of the year, I think.

Sunday, 22 August 2021

Skewb Extras

New Twisties
The middle two look really fearsome but the outer 2 aren't that bad
A very long time ago, probably about 18 months into my puzzling "career", I published one of my most popular posts of all was an article in which I described to people what directions were open to them after they had learned how to solve the basic odd and even order Rubik (face turning) cubes. There are lots of pathways and all are hugely fun because everything you learn on the basic puzzles can be utilised later on different geometries, different rotations or puzzles with "extras". This post was so well received that I had to write a follow up once more varieties had been released. In fact, when I do get asked by beginning puzzlers what they should buy, I always try to entice them into twisty puzzles - they have huge variety, they tend to be less expensive than many other puzzles, they are truly logical and the repeatability is fantastic. Yes, I know that for many other puzzlers the twisties are a group that many of you just cannot get your heads around but I still believe that everyone should try the cubes and a few other variants before making up their minds. The rewards are fabulous. You may need some help early on from fabulous puzzlers on YouTube like SuperAntonioVivaldi or Pete Wyspianski (and many others) who show off the basics with great explanations as well as the solution to incredibly complex puzzles. Once you have got these basics then you just gradually build them up and use what you learn in more and more complex ways. The Twisty Puzzles forum is full of help as well.

I am by no means an expert on these puzzles but somehow I have managed to acquire nearly 200 different twisty puzzles and have solved most of them (sometimes with help). Recently there have been a whole lot of new and ever more complex puzzles manufactured by those clever chaps in China (why in China? It seems that they have easier access to the tools required to manufacture complex plastic puzzles)

Arrived this weekend - Master mixup cubes (type 1, 4 & 6)

One of the routes I advise newbie twisty puzzlers to go down is into cubes that turn through different axes and one of the classic is the Skewb - it's effectively a deep cut corner turning 2x2x2 cube. I found this really quite challenging when I first bought it and it must have taken me a week or so to master. This is not because there are difficult algorithms to learn (you only use the famous up, up, down, down sequence to solve it) - it's because the change in turning orientation really upset my rather feeble bwain! Once understood it is a lovely little design that makes for a fabulous worry bead and also really really upsets non-puzzlers when they see it and try to move it. It does seem rather unnatural.

I was quite excited when my favourite twisty puzzle store (HKNowStore) had a bunch of new Skewbs available - the Meilong Mixup Skewbs come in 3 variants with extra semicircles in the middle of the faces. I have previously extolled the virtues of cubes with circles in them as they effectively provide a second puzzle within the first puzzle and then extra approaches to the solution order. I could see that the version with only whole semi-circles was going to be fairly trivial so I ordered the type 2 and 3:

Meilong Mixup Skewb type 2
Meilong Mixup Skewb type 3
As you can see the deep corner turning cuts are there so it is "just a skewb" but after a partial turn the semicircles become complete and can be turned:

Semicircles aligned and turned
More possibilities for the rotation
Having got these and taken some pics I just threw caution to the wind and scrambled them - I was ever so slightly pleased with myself for my stupidity/courage and I was delighted to have something rather beautiful once scrambled - there was a small chance that it might just end up staying that way. When I showed off the scramble on FB I received encouragement that it really wasn't that tough a puzzle.

Gulp! Gulp!
So how to go about them? I am not going to go into huge detail but I decided to start trying to recreate the semicircles on the 2x2 version which was a fun and logical set of moves which got just a little harder as I got towards the last few and then with the last couple it took a little working out to make sure that the last pieces were oriented right. This, again, doesn't require any special algorithms, it just requires thought©. After that the Skewb solve is just as always - except for the fact that I have not solved one for quite a few years and it took me quite a while to work out how the up, up, down, down worked when used with different puzzle orientations. After an extra hour of swearing at my feeble bwain I had the puzzle reassembled.

The Mixup Skewb version 3 was MUCH tougher for me. I know that others had said that it was easy but I had failed to realise that the reassembly of the final semicircles was going to cause me significant challenge and a lot of swearing. In the end, after at least 5 days of forming one semicircle whilst destroying another I had a wonderful AHA! moment. These pieces could be 3 cycled very like you would 3 cycle the centre pieces in a 4x4 or higher order face turning cube. It is easy to move a piece from the front face to the top (in the equivalent position) and the piece it displaces moves to the front to one side of the starting piece and then that pieces moves across. This exact idea can be performed on the "centres" or circles in the partially turned Skewb. This 3 cycle can get a little confusing because the left, right and centre wedges of the semicircles are not equivalent and it can take a little while to work out exactly which wedges need to move where. With a little trial and error, I got it. 

Here you can see a three-cycle and how the L and R wedges can be out of place
There is a sort of parity where one semicircle is mixed up and won't get fixed simply but this is an error of "false equivocation" - a piece from one semicircle needs to be swapped with one from an equivalent colour. Yes it's such fun!

I have to reiterate that these puzzles are enormous fun and are just part of the natural progression within your Twisty puzzling journey...start with a simple 3x3 cube, learn it (don't bother with speed as that is mostly for teenagers) then go for a 4x4 and understand the differences. Then branch out and try other types of rotation or other geometries and then you are all set for puzzles with "extras".

Go for's fun. The water is all warm in here.

Stay safe guys - the pandemic is still going and still highly transmissible. The unvaccinated are filling hospitals and intensive care units. GO GET A VACCINE!!!!

Sunday, 15 August 2021

The Best Helical Ever - Polar Burr

 aka Twisting the Night Evening Away

Polar Burr
Over the years of this blog you will have seen quite a few of these. They are helical burrs all designed by the genius, Derek Bosch. It is quite a telling thing that out of all the incredible puzzlers in the world, only he has designed this sort of puzzle - this is for several reasons...primarily he is a genius but also because he thinks in 3D in a non-linear way that the rest of us normal human beings cannot think and especially because he has a very twisted mind! I personally would be grateful to have a mind at all let alone an evil twisted genius one. Mrs S often berates me for my lack of brains and she is absolutely right (see, I admitted it and she is not standing behind me brandishing her lochaber axe!)

I had reviewed the "He'll lick all bare, too" a few months ago and described how I had dismantled it whilst having gotten lost in the move sequence and then had no idea how to put it back together again. I survived the daggers (aka the Sgian-dubh - my, aren't I full of the Scottish weapons of violence??) that Mrs S threw at me with her glare at the noise. The nature of the 3D printing process always mean that these are built up in layers and they make a rasping noise as you move the pieces about and this noise is particularly annoying to wives (or is that just my wife?). 

Big Steve (from the TwoBrassMonkeys store) showed off the latest creation from Derek's twisted mind and claimed that the Polar burr (named for the snowy white peak) had the highest number of moves yet for any of these helical puzzles. Of course, how could I resist and a short chat with Steve had me sending some PayPal his way and he posted me the next in the series the following day. "Yay!" said Mrs S. Except she didn't. In fact when the box was opened and I gleefully showed of the puzzle that was supposed to have 36 moves to remove the first piece she stared at me long and hard as if to dare me to play whilst we watched TV. GULP!!!

Being extremely frightened of Mrs S and her assorted weaponry, I took the puzzle to work and annoyed a few surgeons with it but couldn't really work on it there because the stuff that I tend to anaesthetise requires a lot of concentration and attention to what is going on (I probably cannot afford to lose focus when doing an AAA repair). This meant that I had to risk possible retribution from Mrs S and play in the evenings. I would wait until she had a cup of tea and a cat on her lap to pin her down before I would get the puzzle out and hope that she had not brought her throwing knives into the living room.

Over the next few evenings I explored the burr in a back and forth manner as I usually do to lay down the pathways in my memory. There is quite a lot of movement in this puzzle which makes it a lot of fun. I personally find that burrs with too many false paths rapidly become less fun to play with because it is really tough to keep the decision tree in my head (I have a minimal capacity brain). The Polar burr is nice because it has quite a few false paths but none are so deep or have multiple branches to leave you getting lost. Several times in the process, I got very close to removing the first piece but it was always blocked. One problem with these rotational puzzles is that false movements are sometimes possible if pieces are rotated in an unintended way. With Polar burr this is not possible - a few times it did become a bit rickety and nearly ready to fall apart but remained stable.

Nearly there? Not for a while yet.
During the process there are several lovely moves that make you almost gasp in delight. Back and forth the pieces dance around each other gradually moving towards the exit. I say "almost gasp in delight" but remember that "she" is armed and dangerous and I cannot afford to risk upsetting her any further. 😈

Finally after 4 evenings I removed the first piece and yelled silently (see my reasons above). I was slightly concerned that I had not really understood the last few moves as I had been watching TV at the same time. Without moving anything else, I decided to put it back together again and relearn all the steps...except I could not reverse the 2 or 3 moves that I had done to take the piece out. Damn! Swearing at my stupidity I spent a rather fraught ½ hour desperately trying to put the loose piece back in much to the amusement of Mrs S who delights when I am in pain. Eventually it went back inside and I returned to the beginning. Now, how did I manage that last move? It took me one more evening to finally solve it and completely take the puzzle apart with the confidence that I could return it to the beginning again:

Just 4 pieces but rotational moves make for a huge challenge!
I have to say that I think this is the very best one yet - the level 36 is huge but this is very solvable even for a puzzle idiot like me. If you want to play with it then Steve has put a few up for sale on PuzzleParadise - they take a very long time to print so will only be made in small batches - keep an eye out for Steve's items there if they are sold out - the Twobrassmonkeys store is kept for metal puzzles and the plastic goes up on Paradise. I seem to have been quite busy with these over the year:

Lots of helicals (one might be lost somewhere in my collection)
The one in pieces is either TwiddleDum or Dee - I can't remember and can't reassemble it

Stay safe everyone - despite what the UK government has said, it's probably too soon to be abandoning masks in public - the Delta variant is extremely infectious so every little thing you do to protect yourself will help. The numbers in our hospitals here are increasing inexorably and this includes the younger population. If you can have a vaccination then take it - any of the vaccinations are effective. We have had hundreds of millions of doses now with almost no significant adverse effects (a few hundred blood clots out of hundreds of millions of doses is insignificant). We know for certain that the vaccine works - pretty much ALL the patients admitted to hospital with Covid now in the UK are the un- or partially vaccinated or those with immune compromise. GO GET A JAB...NOW!


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