Sunday 26 December 2021

A Simply Incredible Gift!

It lasted a year!

         The Stickman(no 35) - the One Hand PuzzleBox aka Pandora's Box
At the end of 2020 I received a fabulous gift from the incredibly generous Asher Simon. I offered money but Asher wouldn't say yes and insisted that this was a gift for the effort I had put into my blog and he wanted to know my opinion of it as a puzzle. He had been working on it for quite some time with Robert Yarger aka Stickman. After I said yes thank you lots and lots of times and offered again to pay, I waited and watched the tracking and waited and waited. It arrived in the UK and got stuck somewhere. Now, those of you who have had dealings with customs department will all get that chill in your bones. 

Instructions/Info included
I don't know what they saw but I guess their X-ray machine may have thrown up some red flags. There are, after all, a LOT of magnets in this puzzle and Asher had said there was something inside especially for me (maybe this enticed them as well?) After being held hostage for quite a few weeks my package arrived with another sign to chill the bones...there was the "inspected by customs" tape on the box. In the meantime, Allard had already received his copy and solved and reviewed it. He is a MUCH better puzzler than me which is another reason that I have had to wait the best part of a year to be able to write about it. Mrs S kept the package in quarantine for a few days, as she has for all our post since the pandemic began. I can't really argue with her logic and am too frightened of her to even think about it.

Slide the lid and a grenade pin pops up!
The box lid will not slide any further
A few days after it arrived I got to open the box where the full horror of the situation was revealed. Customs had slid open the box, and pulled all the pieces out and then proceeded to try and force things back in and tried to force the mechanism. OMG! Instead of 9 pieces, I had 11 and a very unhappy PuzzleMad. I couldn't even work out where the broken pieces were supposed to fit together...Sob! I reported the catastrophe to Asher and he was mortified! It was not his fault at all but he felt guilty and was determined to make it all good. Luckily for me he had a spare copy which he packed up and a couple of months later sent out to me with dire warnings for the customs department and he included a set of instructions/solution specifically for the customs meatheads so that they would not need to force anything like they had before. This time it arrived completely untouched by any other human hands. Thank goodness for that! I take the obligatory photos and marvel at the design and craftsman prowess that went into making this. The lid slides inone direction only and meets a little resistance. Encouraged by the comment to Allard that a little force is required to open the lid, I gave it a push and could see that presumably a hollow in the lid had housed a bevelled piece that was pushing up into it. The little force pushed the lid over that bevel and what can only be described as a grenade pin pops up. Oh boy, the temptation is huge! Do I pull that pin? What will happen? Hopefully nothing will break. 

Whilst part of me wants to just admire the puzzle for the rest of eternity, that is not going to help me solve it or even understand why it's a puzzle. It's time to be a brave little boy and pull the pin:

After the "explosion" there are 9 pieces with lots of magnets pushing and pulling all over the place. 

Look at the precision of those pieces! Look at all those magnets!
Even arranging the pieces so that I could take the photo was a challenge...they kept moving and either clicking together or repelling out of the correct placement. No Stickman box is complete without the Stickman logo somewhere inside and here it is - branded onto the beautiful wood box.

The usual logo inside the box
OK, here goes! Not only is it a box but it's also a packing puzzle. Apparently, if I pack the pieces back in and get them in the correct orientation then the magnets will trigger a hidden mechanism that will unlock the covered compartment. Yay! This should be fun. But let us not forget that I am rubbish at boxes, rubbish at packing puzzles and generally rubbish at puzzles! Mrs S often asks why I keep buying puzzles that I cannot solve and I shake my head and tell her that I don't know - I have to own up that I have an addiction. My name is Kevin and I am addicted to puzzles! There, I feel much better for that.

One of the main "features" of this challenge comes from the name..."one hand". Yes that dastardly designer did not just make a complex 3D packing puzzle which would be tough enough for a man of my limited skills. He also insisted that this puzzle should be solved using just ONE HAND! OMG! I discovered almost immediately that the way I thought some of the pieces should fit together was quite difficult - they really wanted to spring apart from each other and as soon as I added an extra piece or two, I found that either I didn't have enough fingers or my joints didn't point in the right direction to hold everything together - maybe it should be called the Stickman double-jointed box? After a few days of attempting the impossible I read the rest of the instructions and realised that I had been doing it all wrong (this explains quite a bit of my home life). The puzzle should not be solved by dexterously holding together a bunch of repelling pieces before stuffing them in the box - they can/should be inserted into the box with one hand one piece at a time. Aaargh it gets harder and harder! The last paragraph of the instructions says:
"This puzzle is far more diabolical than it appears"
No kidding! I have spent MONTHS on this - it has been sitting on my desk since it arrived in March. I have had it right next to me ever since then so that every week after writing my blog, I can pick it up and try again and again. Hell! For most of the last 9 months I have been completely unable to put the pieces back into the box! Yes, it is that difficult. At some point during the first couple of months I spent a happy few hours making a Burrtools file from the pieces so that at least I might be able to leave the pieces in place. Except, to my horror, I discovered that there are 900 different assemblies of those 9 pieces in the box cavity! In the end I had to go back to my photos to and the video to at least find how to put the puzzle back to the start. Yep, this might take me quite some time.

One thing that bothered me about reading Allard's review was that he mentioned a distinct Aha! moment and I had not come even close to one of those in many months. I was not trying to exhaustively work my way through the BT solutions as that might be construed as cheating and to me was just too much like hard work...especially as I frequently had to retrieve pieces from under my chair as they shot off when I ran out of fingers in my "one hand" to hold them inside. What was I missing?

In the end I opened up Asher's beautifully illustrated solution book which he had left for the customs guys should they need it. It walked me through the reassembly back to the beginning. Well that was very nice but wasn't getting me into the second compartment. Over the last few months I have become quite accomplished at reassembling the puzzle back to the start (I must have done it 50 or 60 times).

Last week, I looked at the next page of the booklet which I had been studiously avoiding and OMG! You sneaky bugger! How had I missed that? Rule number one of puzzling...Look at everything, don't trust the designer at all, things are often not what they seem. The booklet showed me something new and I had a whole new avenue of puzzling open to me. Immediately after that Aha! moment there was another. I think that if you don't try something straight away then you might get lost amongst the possibilities but luckily I did and then I made a major breakthrough. Sheer genius! 

The lid is off and there is a very ancient coin inside
It appears that this is an ancient Greek coin because Pandora's box is Greek mythology. I do wonder whether it was this coin that might have excited the customs officers and made them take my puzzle apart.

The mechanism of the lock is absolutely ingenious and absolutely foolproof. It works every single time.  If you are offered the chance to play with one or even better, to buy one than jump at the chance - it is a Stickman and it has been designed by a master.

Asher, thank you so much for a whole year of excitement, complete with highs and lows and a monumental Aha! moment. This is probably one of the most difficult puzzleboxes that I have ever seen. It will certainly end up in my top puzzles of 2021!


Sunday 19 December 2021

Locking Heaven or Locking Hell?

Mind the gap.
Just a quick blog post today - I am working yet again and don't have much time to solve and write, I'm afraid. Thanks to Mike last week, I did at least have some time off from the pressure of writing whilst I have to work so much.

I can now say that Andrew Coles produces VERY nice puzzles! That will be plural. I really loved his Lock Out puzzle back in August 2020 (it was a very welcome relief from the pandemic and definitely made me feel much better having had the virus and felt absolutely awful for a month in the early summer). We have all been waiting to see what he came up with as a follow up and he has certainly done something quite wonderful here. He has used a very "non-standard" padlock (certainly not one I have ever seen before) and modified it so that it doesn't open properly until you do something to make it open properly. It is not available for general sale yet but will be coming soon - a bunch of previous customers and friends got a chance to buy it a little early and I am very grateful for that opportunity. Andrew describes this puzzle as one of medium difficulty and I would agree with that. Maybe even a simple puzzle as a numbskull like me solved it in about 20 minutes. This does not detract from the pleasure - it is a very nice mechanism which has been beautifully made. If you collect locks or metal puzzles then you HAVE to buy it. 

Mind that gap!
It is a fully brass lock with the exception of a screw in the top (obviously a modification from Andrew) and the steel keys. It didn't occur to me straight away but the routed ring in the shackle is also a modification (surely Abus would not deliberately weaken a metal shackle?) and the routing work gives you something to think about. Of course, you have to do it even if you know it won't work! Put the damn keys in the lock and turn them... I got a fright - it went click and the shackle moved quite a bit.

Nope the lock didn't open - it just moved a bit and made a gap. Remember that you have to "mind the gap". Absolutely would not go any further. Now what? Time to have a look at what you have and think©. I thunk for a bit and my simple mind sort of said to me..."what if I???" Ooooh that's interesting! Now what?

The gap is minded!
I cannot give anything away but after the "what if I???" moment, there is a very nice Aha! moment and then another one of those maybe I should try ??? ideas will occur to you. It is all quite logical and before long you will have a proper gap and a little satisfied grin on your face. Mr Coles has engineered something very clever and quite logical. I dropped him a message with a photo of my open puzzle and my appreciation of his mastery. I knew it would be good - Shane Hales is an expert on locks and lock puzzles and he said this had a mechanism that he had not thought of before and that it was a good puzzle. I trust Shane implicitly and I handed over my money as a result - let's just say...he was right yet again! When it comes up for sale - you won't be disappointed.

Loki - a devil of a lock!
Next I go to hell with Loki from the incredible Boaz Feldman. I have played with this every evening for over a month now and I am convinced that Boaz sent me a broken one! I am not the only one - my friend Neil (an incredible puzzler) has also singularly failed to open his copy. Now, you must know that I am joking about broken puzzles - Boaz' engineering skills are superb (this can be seen when you see the solution to the original B-Lock (available here and here) and the Danlock which Boaz is now making (also available here)). What we have here is a master at making trick locks producing something that is too difficult for a simple medical practitioner like me to figure out. 

Key turned and removed.
As usual, yet again, you put the key in the lock and sometimes the key turns and sometimes it doesn't. When it does turn, the shackle moves a bit which gets your hopes up and then it stops with not a hint of a gap there. Sigh. So you turn the key back again to "lock" it and sometimes it turns back and sometimes it doesn't. Boaz has definitely broken this lock rather badly!

After inspecting the puzzle for any other signs of things I can do, I run out of ideas rather quickly so it's back to turning the key. I noticed that when the key is turned the shackle won't open and the key won't come out again...except if you do something special then the key will come out. That is very interesting and has gotten me absolutely nowhere! What else can I do? I have no idea! I am a simple man - I sort of think that you put a key in a lock and you turn it and you expect something to happen (usually it opens) but here sometimes something happens and sometimes it doesn't and I think I can make it do all of those things at will whenever I want them happen. 

That is unexpected!
I spent a happy few evenings doing the same things over and over and over again getting nowhere when I suddenly found that there is a way to turn the key in the lock, still remove the key but then be unable to reinsert the key more than a few millimeters. That is very interesting far completely useless!

I am certain there is more to this than I have found so far but just like with the B-Lock, it will require very close examination and thought - this could take me years! Loki is a the name of a norse god and is supposed to be a trickster or little devil and so far over a month he has lifted me up a little bit and taken me to hell. I have absolutely no idea what to try next and am reduced to doing the same things over and over again in the vain hope that something different might happen one time. 

If you want a challenge then you should definitely buy one (at the moment they are only available direct from Boaz' site). They may be available from PuzzleMaster or other vendors in the future.

Sunday 12 December 2021

Mike Saves My Bacon...Again!

Happy Sunday everyone! I have been rather strapped for time yet again - work has been very busy both with clinical stuff and quite a lot of admin too. I had to work yesterday and have not really had any time for puzzling. Despite this, thanks to my good friend, Mike Desilets, the official PuzzleMad foreign correspondent, I still have a fascinating post for you. I don't know how he does it, Mike always seems to sense when I am struggling for time and comes up with the goods for me/you. This time he did it in the guise of asking for some help with a puzzle he had been struggling with but I know that he is too good a puzzler to need help and it is just an excuse to get in touch with yet another article. I hope to get back to normal puzzling this week (although I am working next weekend as well) - if anyone else has a nice article for the PuzzleMad readers then please get in touch. Over to Mike...

Aloha kākou puzzlers,

I know we have yet to close out the story of the Great 13, but let’s please forget about that for a while longer. Instead, the PuzzleMad Foreign Office, Hawaii Branch, offers up this quick and dirty post, designed specifically to provide Kevin with a free weekend (Ed - yay!). Free from blog posting, that is to say, not free from his actual day job, which does not respect weekends. He deserves so much more, but this is all I can muster at the moment. Today I share with you some recent output from the PuzzleMad Workshop, which is conveniently located in a sub-basement 200 feet below the current Mrs S’s house. (Ed - how come I don't have access to this area? It would definitely solve my storage issues)

John Horton Conway (1937-2020)
Years ago, George Bell turned me on to a very interesting problem known as Conway’s Soldiers. This problem was first proposed in 1961 by the eminent mathematician John Horton Conway. John has, tragically, left the room, having been one of the very early covid victims. But he left behind a massive legacy in a variety of fields. The Conway’s Soldiers problem, or puzzle, is surely among the mildest of Conway’s accomplishments. If you’re not familiar with John Conway’s varied contributions to mathematics, go check the wiki right now. They’re quite remarkable. And, unlike the great majority of mathematics (and mathematicians), also interesting, relevant, and accessible to the average fellow, at least in broad strokes. Most puzzlers probably know Conway from his combinatorial game theory work, of which Conway’s Soldiers is a small piece.

 Disentanglers might be familiar with his knot theory work. Everyone is surely aware of his Game of Life (Ed - I programmed this into my school Tandy TRS80 in 1979 and even learned Assembly language because the Basic was too slow). If you hadn’t kept pace with his recent work, Kevin, then I highly recommend checking out his (and Simon Kochen’s) Free Will theorem and its implications for the ever dubious, but somehow inextinguishable, deterministic worldview. I actually thought that whole thing was put to bed decades ago, but I suppose people are still free to choose determinism (or are they?). Anyway, the point is that you will benefit greatly, and in unexpected ways, from engaging with Conway’s vast and varied body of work. 

Conway’s Soldiers, the mechanical puzzle.
For my part, being a simple puzzler, I was drawn especially to Conway’s Soldiers and its peg solitaire aspects. A couple years ago, in a flash of brilliance, I realized that creating a physical version of this abstract puzzle was within my ability. It is truly the simplest of designs, consisting of gridded peg holes and a line dividing the plane. A full year and a half after the initial inspiration, I made the puzzle. The lag was partly due to the location of the PuzzleMad Workshop, which is not convenient for me (or Mrs. S, for that matter).  (Ed - I NEED to know how to get there - it will allow me to make puzzles and even get a 3D printer!)

Conway’s Soldiers poses a simple question: Using conventional (but non-diagonal) peg jumping rules, how far above the “line” can you get your pegs? No amount of trial will ever prove an answer, of course, so in terms of a mechanical puzzle, it is not really a “solvable” problem. The question can only be answered (proved) mathematically, and Conway did this, showing that the fourth row is the maximum possible. His proof utilizes the golden ratio, by the way, which is fascinating in itself. It was later shown that allowing diagonal moves will get you as far as the eighth row. There are numerous web pages about the puzzle where you can study previous work and variations. You need to read the 2007 article by George Bell and his colleagues Daniel Hirschberg and Pablo Guerrero-Garcia, The Minimum Size Required of a Solitaire Army. Bell et al. solve a problem that actually does make a good puzzling objective: what is the minimum number of pegs needed to achieve a given row?

Look at those rings Kevin!
(Ed - drool! That is some beautiful wood)
Although not rigorous, you can kind of work this out yourself on the board. The trivial row 1 and 2 arrangements are shown below, mostly as an excuse to insert more pictures of my pretty game board. But I won’t give the solution to rows 3 or 4; you’ll have to read Bell et. al. or do the experimental work to figure those out. You can, however, assume that the number of pegs needed to achieve row four is equal to or less than the number peg holes on either side of my board (Ed - OMG - that looks quite a tough challenge). 
Solution for row 1, requiring two soldiers.
Solution for row 2, requiring four soldiers.
As you can probably guess, the PuzzleMad board is made from American Black Walnut and the pegs were scavenged from an old Setko puzzle. It is fairly simple to construct, just drill a grid of evenly spaced holes and insert a dividing line. Drilling the grid was tedious but straightforward. The line, in this case, is an inlaid half-rod of brass. Inlaying it was actually very tricky and stressful, but it did turn out well in the end. I learned in the process that you can use a drill press as a rudimentary router. I was afraid this might overly stress the bit, but it was actually a really smooth cut. Overall, a nice little DIY project for the amateur puzzle-maker.  (Ed - sob! One day I will make some puzzles...probably after I have retired)

In perspective.
John Conway has left us with a very enjoyable little diversion in the Conway’s Soldiers puzzle. Even if you cannot follow his fourth-row proof, you can surely figure out, eventually, how to arrange and sequence your army to achieve it. You can also, if you like, dwell on the more philosophical “diminishing returns” aspect of this problem. I think most people would intuitively believe that any level above the line is achievable, given enough soldiers, but the truth is that there is a hard theoretical limit, and that limit is surprisingly low indeed. 

That's about all I can muster for this mini-post Kevin, please take us home my friend...

My goodness! Thank you so much Mike. That was wonderful! You have given me (us) a nice bit of enjoyable reading to do and anything involving JHC and also George bell is always fun! I absolutely love the beauty of your home made constructions (even if they were apparently made under my home - I was totally unaware that I even had a basement).

Mrs S has had her booster yesterday and is feeling quite poorly - I had better go and offer her something sweet and sustaining as well as maybe some paracetamol or ibuprofen. Be careful out there everyone. Go and get your booster shots. The evidence seems to be that Omicron is significantly more transmissible and even if it tends to cause slightly less severe illness overall (we don't actually know that for certain yet) then by sheer numbers, a lot of unvaccinated people are going to end up in hospital or even dead. In our hospitals, the ONLY Covid admissions are the unvaccinated or the immunocompromised. The current vaccines with booster DO protect against severe illness. A Covid death is a very unpleasant way to die - go and get yourself immunised and help protect your health services as well as the vulnerable and yourselves.

New PuzzleMaster kickstarter campaign
Whilst you are here, there is a Kickstarter campaign being run by the PuzzleMaster guys: They are crowdfunding the production of three fabulous looking new metal puzzles. The skull is a design by Jerry Loo and consists of 67 interlocking pieces - it looks incredible! The other two puzzles are level 9 and 10 on the PuzzleMaster scale and also look fun.  This will run until New Years Day and certainly looks worth your attention - I have backed it (backer number 25).

Mind the gap
Also, my friend Andrew Coles, has created another puzzle lock, the "Mind the gap" puzzle. It will be available to order from his site quite soon. I have received my copy and hope to play soon. 

I have had no luck yet solving Boaz Feldman's latest creation - Loki, and suspect that locks are too difficult for me!

Sunday 5 December 2021

Is it too late? Xmas Puzzles From Pelikan

9 puzzles arrive - the race is on!
On 23rd November a package arrives from the Czech republic...yes, Jakub and Jaroslav have done it again! They have been beavering away to produce a bunch of new toys for puzzlers the world over to enjoy as Xmas presents. I unpack, photograph and admire and begin to play - yes they are all simply stunning! What more would you expect from such masters of their art? After my initial email back and forth about which ones need me to write reviews, I am asked if I can write something about them all for their website and can I do it in 6 days? Gulp! Erm! probably not but I might manage something within 9 or 10 days. What was the reason for such awful dereliction of duty to the puzzling world and Pelikan? Well, there is quite a lot of work to be done in hospitals these days and at the end of that week, I had to go to Edinburgh to visit the outlaws. A journey from South Yorkshire to Edinburgh takes a minimum of 5 hours and this time took 7 due to road and weather conditions (England gets caught by surprise every single time it snows!) I would suggest that you subscribe to Ivan Danik's YouTube channel - he gets them a few days before me (due to being in Europe) and can advertise them faster than me.

But, I set to on them and managed to get most of them solved by Monday evening and sent off my spiel to Jakub for the website. They went on sale a couple of days ago and quite a few have sold out already. If my blog is the only way that you get to see them then I do apologise - I did show off a photo on Facebook and if you follow me there you might get advance notice.

Mini Lock 2

Mini Lock 2 by Christoph Lohe
Mini locks - a lovely pair

Minilock 2 is extremely cute, just like the predecessor. This delightful puzzle is not terribly difficult. It consists of a key, a shackle and 2 burr sticks. It requires only linear moves so do not try to turn the key. Like all of Christoph Lohe's creations, it is a lovely little puzzle to explore. Finding the correct path is more fiddly than tough but is a nice little diversion which at the end left me astounded at the precision required to make something like this move so smoothly. It also looks gorgeous and will be very nice on display in any collection. 

Just amazing precision - everything slides like a hot knife through butter
Reassembly from scrambled pieces is definitely possible (although it took me a whole evening). 

Christmas tree

Xmas Tree by Stephan Baumegger
I can't have a Christmas tree at home because the last time we did have one it was destroyed by the cats in a most upsetting manner. They are absolutely fascinated by it and whilst tinsel may look funny going in the front end, it very much is NOT funny when it exits the other 😱😱! This year, however, I shall have a Christmas tree on display in my living room! It will be on my is a beautiful design from Stephan Baumegger (go and explore his FB page here - it is wonderful). It looks like a burr puzzle but initial exploration shows that it is more like a wood chuck puzzle. A piece slides and then another and then I got stuck for a bit. After a close look at what was revealed I was able to proceed and after that quite rapidly had a pile o'pieces. The disassembly probably took me 10 minutes and was quite fun. 

Not really a burr - I classified it as an interlocking puzzle
The real challenge is to reassemble it with all the colours in the right place. The first couple of times I put it back together with great satisfaction only to realise that the light cubies weren't all aligned properly. It took me an extra 5 or 10 minutes of fiddling around before I got it right. This is a perfect seasonal gift and a nice little challenge for the new puzzler. 

Den cube

Den Cube by Osanori Yamamoto
This lovely cube is stunningly made from a maple frame and 3 interlocking bright yellow Garapa burr pieces. The aim, obviously, is to separate all the pieces from the frame but they are quite well interlocked and despite quite a lot of possible movements (all of which are beautifully silky smooth), in almost all directions, they seem impossibly intertwined. Being systematic allowed me to find one pathway that looked better than the others and on we go. This is very like untying a knot whilst it is inside a box that you can't quite see inside of. It's actually a lot of fun. 

I didn't realise until taking this that the 3 sticks were identical
Having taken it apart I tried to put it straight back together again and couldn't do it. I had forgotten one crucial part and had to work it out from scratch. Even that is possible for the experienced puzzler with a bit of thought and an extra hour on their hands. A wonderful challenge. I have now reassembled this from scratch a few times and it is quite a fun challenge - the disassembly will make it good for new puzzlers and the assembly challenge for experienced burr solvers.


Bison by Jack Krijnen
Not a model of the mother in law!
A first look at this puzzle leaves you absolutely stunned - it is breathtakingly realistic! The intricacy of the design and manufacture is incredible. I am amazed that this can be produced in any numbers and indeed, Jakub did tell me that it was very difficult to produce. Jack Krijnen designs some wonderful puzzles and this year he produced a very small run of these Bison puzzles and then allowed Pelikan to make some more. This is a new category for me. Kumike is a very old Japanese tradition but not something I've ever played with before (apart from very simple plastic puzzles as a child). My friend Frank is a world expert on these - have a look at his very extensive site here

This is a delight to play with
It is not a terribly difficult challenge but is an absolute delight to look at, hold and to dismantle. There is a nice surprise inside. Whilst not hard to do, there is something compulsive about it and I keep dismantling and reassembling it with a big smile on my face. It is not suitable for young children or clumsy people as the interlocking sections are quite thin and could be broken if inadequate care was taken. 


Ronde by Dr Volker Latussek
I am absolutely terrible at assembly/pattern forming puzzles and anything by Dr Volker Latussek is going to be a challenge so I approached this with some trepidation. The aim of this is to assemble the 5 pieces so that the puzzle creates 5 whole yellow (Garapa) cubes amongst the Wenge cubes and also incidentally is self supporting. All of the yellow cubes have been cut in half diagonally and attached to the whole cubes oriented in different directions. This means that an assembly appears to be progressing nicely and then suddenly the final piece positioning is either blocked or just won't meet up where it's needed. This could be solved by brute force trial and error but there's no fun in that and the best approach after a little experimentation is to think© and actually plan it out. It's not terribly hard but it's quite a pleasant diversion. This is suitable for kids/newbie puzzlers as well as experienced solvers. Dr Latussek contacted me to tell me that he intended this as a beginners puzzle but I still really enjoyed it.


Tutu by Dr Volker Latussek
This puzzle was designed by Dr Latussek as a tribute to one of the best packing puzzles ever designed and made. Volker and I agree that the 4L puzzle by Yasuhiro Hashimoto is an absolutely tremendous puzzle. I recall that the 4L took me a very long time and it was with some considerable trepidation that I set to work on this - at least 2 other packing puzzles from Volker remain unsolved by me so far (Euklid for Nick and Fermat). So, you're all wondering, how does it compare? Right up front, I have to say that this puzzle is absolutely FABULOUS! If you have solved 4L then it will not be quite as challenging but it has a couple of truly lovely Aha! moments. If you've never done 4L then expect a really fun challenge with thought and planning. It is also made perfect by the sheer quality of the woodcraft and the wonderful choice of woods used. 

Solved! No spoilers here.


Serpentarium by Lucie Pauwels
Another stunning creation by the incredibly prolific Lucie Pauwels. She always produces designs that are interesting to look at either as pieces or as an assembled puzzle. This has been made by Pelikan in Wenge with a Padauk box and is simply stunning in the depth of colour. Of course the woodwork is superb. There are 4 different snakes along with 2 smaller pieces (?eggs or ?food) to be placed inside the caged box. The entry is very limited and forming the 3x3x3 cube through such a small set of holes is a big challenge. 

Solved it
This took me quite some time as my intuition for where to place the small pieces turned out to be wrong. The solution level is not terribly high but it is a significant challenge worthy of any decent puzzler. It also will look gorgeous on display. I had left it in the solved state for a few days and it actually proved a considerable challenge to dismantle as well - I would suggest storing it unsolved.


We have two Mooses (or are they Meese?)
Both are absolutely gorgeous
Moose is another fabulous creation from Alfons Eyckmans. He has designed quite a lot of members of the Burr zoo and each one is a wonderful challenge. Most are not too horrifically difficult but are certainly a very decent challenge that will take all but the very best of burr solvers a pretty decent amount of time. As I write this for Jakub, I have spent 3 evenings working on it. I've made some decent progress (I think) but have not yet solved it. The puzzle is available in two versions. There's the standard one with alternating Maple and Purpleheart burrsticks and then there is the gorgeous version made using the same woods but created in a totally new way for Pelikan...the burrsticks are all made from Purpleheart and they are edged with bevelled Maple on every face. This produces a stunning looking puzzle. The moose hidden inside the 12 piece burr (both versions) is made from American Walnut. Obviously the solution is unchanged with each version but the look is extremely different and very striking. If you have a lot of burrs on display then the special version will need to be placed front and centre. I hope to solve this in the next few days. 

Well, a few days have gone past and I have still not managed to solve it - here's hoping!

I apologise for my delay - I hope that you all managed to buy what you wanted and will get them in time for Xmas. Mrs S is starting to get upset again because the puzzles are everywhere and not organised in any way (I tell her that I do know where they all are). I really need to find some time to tidy up and organise things better...better than strewn all over my desk. Maybe over the Xmas break? Except I am not getting a break - damn! They will just need to remain spread out everywhere. Whack! Ouch!

Sunday 28 November 2021

Solved it and Can’t Repeat it

Grooved 6 piece board burr #6

I’m visiting the outlaws in Bonnie Scotland this weekend and have tried my hardest to find a way to produce a little nonsense for you to read. It will be short and sweet because using Google's Blogger platform on a 7 year old iPad Air 2 is a bit hit and miss (mostly miss). 

This is (so far) the last in Juno's grooved board burr series and is, by far the toughest. It is gorgeous having been made from their original home made plywood. Satin Sycamore in the outer layer and the yellowish timber used for the inner layer is PNG Rosewood. It is just as tactile as all the others and demands to be played with.

The grooves in this one are in the outside of long lengths which is different to the last few. There are initially only a few possible moves and confidence grew quite quickly. I really seemed to be making progress as the puzzle stretched out enormously. Despite this, when it looks like something will come out being really precariously held in place, the blasted thing remained very well held together by the small dowels in the grooves - nothing else was holding it:

This looks so unstable but it’s very well held
Juno said about it:
"This little beast requires a maximum of 35 moves among the Grooved 6 Board Burr series to remove the first piece from the assembled shape. During the solving process, you may feel that the pieces are no longer interlocking together, but none of the pieces will come apart in a simple way. A few pieces tend to partially rotate and become very unstable especially around 14 moves from the assembled shape but there seems to be no shortcut solution for the first piece using rotational movements. It is somehow like playing with cast puzzles."

He certainly wasn’t kidding when he called it a "little beast"! It’s a monster! I spent nearly 2 weeks going round and round in circles. I got completely familiar with every single possible move in the first 20-25 moves. Nothing would induce it to go any further. I looked for hidden pathways but couldn’t for the life of me find anything new - it had been quite fun doing the initial exploration and gradually finding the pathway. Somehow the crucial step was obscured for me and I started playing with the Bubinburr that I had also received (got nowhere with that one either!)

At some point I must have inadvertently taken a hidden pathway and not realised it. I do suspect that I should not multi-task whilst puzzling. My pea brain barely manages to breathe and puzzle let alone watch TV, talk to Mrs S and puzzle all whilst breathing! Having found myself somewhere new, I tried to return and couldn’t. Oh well, let’s see where it takes me.

I have absolutely no idea how this happened!
Whilst it was really quite exciting to achieve this, it was a little disappointing to not understand it. But I was going to have fun with Burrtools. The model I finally produced (using quite a large grid) wouldn’t work so I asked for advice from the BT-meister, Derek, and he explained what to do (Juno also sent a copy of his file). The beast was reassembled and I tried again…

Nope! Nope! Hell nope! It’s not going to happen. Having solved it once by accident, I cannot do it again. I will keep trying but I cannot seem to find that hidden step. If you like Burrs, especially board burrs and are happy with grooved versions then this one is absolutely fabulous. It is still in stock here. You might find a few other beauties whilst you’re there…it would be a shame to just buy a single puzzle, wouldn’t it.

In the meantime I have another few beauties to work on. There will be a new bunch of releases from Pelikan very soon. Driving back from Edinburgh to Sheffield today in what looks like terrible weather. Hopefully no mishaps. Gulp! 

Sunday 21 November 2021

Ali and Steve Annoy Mrs S...Again!

Brass Monkey #5
Just a short one this week - I am going to struggle to write much without giving significant clues. About a month ago, Allard posted his review of the 5th in the Brass Monkey series by Steve and Ali. He had received an early version to play with and had absolutely loved the idea. As soon as it went on sale, I couldn't resist and bought a copy - you cannot have too many burrs apparently and these are very nice heavy burrs...or are they? They certainly are burr-shaped but only number 1 is actually a burr - the rest unlock in a variety of different ways, each of which will leave you laughing out loud at the boys' cleverness and cheekiness. 

Brass Monkey #4 had me gasping in disbelief at what they had done - it was fabulous and beautifully implemented so I was very keen to find out what they could possibly have done to make yet another identical looking puzzle be fun. It arrived a couple of days later, much to the disgust of Mrs S, and unfortunately had to sit for a while before I could find some time from work to play.

It looks, as I have said, just like all the others. It's a cylindrical brass six piece burr with a circle etched into the end of each burr stick and a hole drilled into it. Each of them have slightly different variations of the hole and etching to set them apart from each other. It is a very significant chunk of puzzle at 70mm across each axis and weighing in at almost 800g - do NOT drop this on a tile, kitchen work surface or foot! Actually Mrs S has told me in no uncertain terms each time that if I damage any part of the kitchen then she will make me wish I had dropped it on my foot! 

So, what do you do to start with them? Well, they are burrs, so, despite the fact that you know they are not really burrs, you do the totally useless thing and try and push/pull each piece in each direction. By the time you have worked out how to keep track of all the possible moves, you have wasted at least a ½ hour. Now what? As you all know by now, I am a bear of very little brain so I move on to the next best thing to pushing and pulling and I start to shake it wildly in every possible direction. Aech shake has to be interspersed by pushing and pulling each stick in every direction before trying to shake in another direction. As you can imagine, the possible combinations mount up very fast and I take notes on my ipad for what I have done. In this fruitless way, I pass a very happy 2 or 3 days of effing and blinding and start to really get on Mrs S' nerves.

Finally I have run out of combinations of shaking and pulling and move on to swirling it in different directions and about different axes before pushing and pulling again. Yes, that didn't work either! After several days it is time to think© and it hurts! I go back to all the suggestions made over the years at MPPs about how to solve a puzzle - Mrs S stops me from submerging it in gin as she wants to drink the gin and that certainly calms her inner "savage beast" (she is Scottish and the savage beast is very close to the surface). I then put it down for a while and chat with Derek again. He hadn't solved his copy but had noticed something and suggested that I do something unthinkable to see if it would happen with my copy. Unthinkable? Very much so! I gird my loins and try it. Now that really gets noticed by Mrs S and she is very unhappy about it! In fact she tells me in no uncertain terms to "STOP THAT RIGHT NOW!" Gulp! I stop it...after cheekily doing it one more time just for fun.

Needless to say, it didn't solve the puzzle - apart from annoying "she who scares all living creatures", it  did nothing apart from to make me think© what else this particular feature might indicate. The only thing I could do was to look very closely at the puzzle and notice some unusual features. Aha! There is something odd that I had noticed when it arrived but only Derek's idea made me think harder about it. What if I??? Oh! That was unexpected! Quick, put it back and try again. Yep, not a fluke. Suddenly the burr come apart and the mechanism is visible - no I am not going to show it to you!

It's a six piece cylindrical burr.
No clues here!
So as a clue to you, you have to do something unthinkable and then think© hard before doing something even more unthinkable and try not to piss off your wives/husbands/pets in the process. Over the last week, I have been deliberately pissing off Mrs S because every now and then a bit of violence can be exhilarating! 😈

Yet again, I cannot believe what the boys have done! This is so clever and beautifully implemented. The engineering precision to make this work is tremendous. Don't hesitate, if you are a serious puzzler then this is an essential purchase - buy it direct from Steve and Ali at TwoBrassMonkeys (all 5 are available) or if you are in North America then maybe wait for it to be in stock at PuzzleMaster.

Loki from Boaz Feldman
Boaz Feldman recently showed off his latest lock/sequential discovery puzzle on Facebook and I was forced to wait a little while for work to settle down a bit before I remembered to buy it. Like all of his (and his Dad's) creations, the aim is to "open the lock" and then "close the lock". So far I have done neither even if I have discovered a few peculiarities. With my puzzling skills, this could take me months!

Boaz is obviously a cat lover and he knows how much my boyz help me with my puzzling and he was very kind to provide a special Hanayama Cats puzzle in the package - thank you so much my friend.

The cats said that, not me!

The news has been full of the problems occurring in parts of Northern Europe with Covid19 with very high infection rates and the health services almost being overrun. The problems are occurring particularly in places that have poor vaccine uptake. The UK and Israel have shown that with high vaccination rates the number of people getting significantly sick and ending up either in hospital or worse, in critical care, is massively lowered by having a vaccine course (and booster). Yes, it is not 100%, but the only people getting critically ill in my own hospital (and others around the Western world) are those who have chosen not to get vaccinated (including young people) and a few of the vaccinated who have significant immunity problems. So my advice to you if you want to protect yourselves, your families and the population in general is to go and get a jab! Getting a bit under the weather for a day or so is nothing compared to the illness itself (I know, I have had Covid and the jabs)

Sunday 14 November 2021

Mrs S has Really Good Taste

and Kelly Makes A Fool Out of Me!

Mrs S bought me a wonderful birthday present
A few weeks ago I showed off the lovely gift that was given to me by the present wife - she's doing OK for a first wife after over 27 years! I can't afford a divorce and the patio is nicely done so I cannot put her under there - I guess that whilst she continues to put up with my $hit then she'll be a keeper. I was delighted to get the next 2 in Juno's grooved 6 piece board burr series - #5 (right) and #6 (left) as well as a new one, Bubinburr, in the centre.

Stunning series
I have to say that as a set, they are simply gorgeous. Plus, as a series of puzzles they are also a brilliant and fun challenge. I am not a particular fan of board burrs in general (they tend to be very prone to rotational shortcuts) and tend to only be interested if there is something else really special about them. The grooved board burr series definitely have that something special...not only are they made from Juno's own beautiful home made plywood but the addition of the dowels and grooves turn these into a real challenge. At times during the solutions these really look like they will become very unstable and cheating rotations may become possible but the clever designs prevent this from occurring and we get a fabulous tough but not impossible challenge. My reviews of the others are here: #1, #2, #3 and #4 - every single one has been a special challenge in it's own right and I was only too pleased to see that Juno has continued the series. Don't just take my word for it - Mike at Puzzlepusher has been working on these recently and seems to also have loved them. The recent 2 are still in stock at for the moment. 

The puzzle is made out of their original plywood. American Rock Maple is used for the outer layer and the darker timber used for the inner layer is Amora. The grain on the Maple is understated but still lovely and the contrast between the two wood colours is lovely. These are nice chunky puzzles, very satisfying to hold and play with (even if this means storing them is harder) - they are 8.2cm in each dimension (apart from time).

According to Juno and Yukari, "the fifth version of the series has a configuration very similar to the first version. Also, the number of moves needed to disassemble the first piece is the same as #1, 22 but #5 has a tricky feature. That was the reason why Juno thought he should produce this version."
I have to agree - I cannot remember the details of solving #1 but this new version led me in the wrong direction for quite a while.

"The grooves are set to have a symmetrical orientation when assembled to give unification, but not to spoil the unique solution. A few grooves are added or extended more than necessary. Thus, not all the grooves are used during the solving process." This definitely was part of my struggle during the solution process - the temptation during all the moving about of the pieces is that when they slide within a groove to always slide to the end of a groove because the thinking is that why would he make the groove longer than it needs to be? To answer that...he would make it longer because it either a) makes a fool out of me or b) looks nicer/symmetrical.

In my usual fashion, I started work on this in the evenings in front of the TV with Mrs S (she got to see me playing with her birthday present and appreciated that for once I wasn't making a lot of noise whilst she wanted to watch television). Unfortunately these puzzles really need decent concentration and I struggle to uni-task let alone multi-task! I got nowhere the first evening. I can't really remember but I must have done the same sequence of moves 20 or 30 times without realising it. The 10pm news was full of doom, gloom and death and I used that as an opportunity to actually concentrate on the puzzle. I finally found a new configuration that I had not expected - it was a little side branch off the path that I had taken several times. I stopped there and back-tracked to the beginning ready for trying again the next day.

The following evening I couldn't find the new move again and went around and around in circles for a while before finding it again almost by accident. From here, I needed to find the next move(s) and was delighted and very surprised to see something totally unexpected happen and the first piece came out in my hand. Brilliant and very unusual release method. I spent a few minutes admiring that and decided to put it back and head back to the beginning...except I couldn't find the pathway. Aaargh, not again! Mrs S was less amused when I started to swear like a navvy - it took me another 20 minutes or so to reset the puzzle. Phew! Time to continue having learned that reset sequence. I removed the piece again and expected that the next pieces would be easily removable...they weren't! Even with a piece missing, this board burr remains pretty stable and there is quite a decent pathway to remove the next 2 pieces. This design is absolutely superb! Finally, after 3 evenings I have managed to take it apart:

Well, that took me an unexpectedly long time!
As you can see, the pieces are beautifully constructed. Initially, I was able to reassemble and disassemble this puzzle several times from memory. Today, however, in disassembling it for the blog photos, I discovered that I could barely remember the sequence and having dismantled it with a struggle and taken my photo, there is absolutely no way that it will be going back together again without help. Burrtools will be coming to my aid - luckily the making of the BT files is all part of the fun for me - no burr is complete until I have modeled it. 

I am looking forward to solving #6 but this is proving (blush) a little, ahem...awkward! The bloody thing won't come apart for a simpleton like me! I'll keep you all posted. Go buy these, you won't be disappointed.

Kel's Spend me not box
One Handed Box remains unsolved
My friend Kelly Snache makes beautiful boxes. At least one of these boxes has scared the bejeezus out of me when I solved it at an MPP a few years ago. I don't own many of his puzzles because, as you all know, I don't collect boxes. I do own a few because they either have something extra to them, or they are Stickman boxes (I still have the latest one designed by Asher Simon sitting right next to me in pieces on my desk after I pulled the pin from the grenade...) or they are simply beautiful.

Kel showed off his latest production run on Facebook and it looked gorgeous to me - I couldn't resist the Zebrano,Wenge and Purpleheart combination and also there is a butterfly inside. It was the butterfly shooting out of the box at the MPP that scared me. The lovely little box has been sitting next to me in the evenings for a few weeks and I have been completely unable to find anything at all to move and open it. Then earlier this week, I noticed something and and wondered how it could be used. I knew that it had to be significant but I got no further until I had a little think© and noticed something in the interior. With a smile I then quickly opened the box (it only took me 3 weeks) and took my photo today.

Pretty isn't it?
Having taken my photo, I suddenly realised that Kel has had the last laugh...I closed it up for the photo with the butterfly outside and now cannot open it again to put the butterfly back! Doh!!! Now I really need to think© and now you can see why I shouldn't collect boxes! Thank you mate - it's a delight.