Sunday 3 January 2021

Happy New Year - My Top Ten(ish) of 2020

Dear Lord! What am I going to do with this?
Happy New Year to you all! 2021 already! Doesn't time fly when you are having fun? Oops, sorry...doesn't time fly when you are (pick whichever combination applies):

a) working your arse off
b) scared shitless
c) sick as a dog
d) trapped at home
e) all of the above

Yes, it has been a bloody awful year for us all! My thoughts go out to those who have been (or continue to be) very sick and those who have lost friends and loved ones to this cursed virus. I really do hope that 2021 is a better one for you all (in fact for all of humanity). This last year has taught us all the value of life, the need to prepare for the worst as well as how to keep each other sane or stably insane (yes, I am aware that I am at the wrong end of that spectrum). the puzzling community has carried on as if nothing was happening, buying puzzles and tantalising each other with the new toys that we bought. Many things had to move online but still were fun for everyone who managed to attend. I never made it to any of the online meetings due to my stupid work schedule but hopefully, before long, face to face meetings will be reinstated. My second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is was booked for 6th January (our idiot government has abandoned the science and cancelled it for 3 months). I hope that you all get vaccinated soon and can get out and about again without fear of infection or passing it on to your nearest and dearest.

Enough melancholy - you're not here for that! How was my puzzling year? According to Mrs S, it was much better than I deserved and indeed, I did acquire quite a large number of new toys and even solved a few despite not actually having a lot of time to myself. Every year Peter Hajek asks a bunch of influential puzzlers for their top 3 "acquisitions" of the year for the booklet to go with his End of year Puzzle Party (EPP) and this always triggers me to think about what I have to be grateful for in the preceding 12 months. As is my routine (it must be a routine as this is my 8th year of this), I am going to show off my top ten(ish) puzzles of the year but they are different to Peter's request as mine are not necessarily acquired this year...they are puzzles that I solved this year. I add a little commentary and display my inability to make any real decision - hence top ten(ish).

As a new feature which I am kinda hoping becomes a yearly regular event, the PuzzleMad saviour/foreign correspondent has sent me his top puzzle of the year - over to you Mike...

Foreign Office - Vintage Puzzle of the (yester) Year

THINK dissected cube, produced by Chadwick-Miller, made in Japan, ©1968
I call this THINK because it is in capital letters on the side and there is nothing else that looks like a name on the box or instructions. This is one of my favorite finds this year. It’s a very interesting dissection which explodes (gently) into 10 individual pieces (9 shown in picture, 1 remaining internal). 

That looks absolutely fabulous
It comes with a handy little push-pull tool which is pretty much required. This is a very delicate puzzle made from a light, dry, and brittle wood. Definitely don’t pass this one to non-puzzle friends. It’s a reasonable challenge, confusing at first, but quite logical once you get into it. Part of the fun is trying to figure out the cut sequence to make such a thing. This would be a great candidate for reproduction in hardwood or precision metal. (Ed - I absolutely love it! Another one to add to my eBay search list

And finally we are there - it's been a long year!
Here are my own fudged sort of top 10 puzzles of the year:

Almost there...

Triangle cube 3
Triangle ring 3
I am terrible at packing puzzles but when Osanori Yamamoto does a packing puzzle then it is so much more than just stuffing a huge number of similar pieces into a box. He has simple small boxes with specially shaped pieces to fit through constrained but simple entrance holes. This turns them from a "stuffing" 'em in puzzle to almost a zen-like interlocking burr sequence. When you combine Osanori-san with Jakub and Jaroslav's incredible craftsmanship, then you have a truly winning combination. The fact that these have been pipped at the post for the top 10 shows how damned good the others must have been. These are still available from PuzzleMaster (Pentaring, Triangle cube 3 and Triangle ring 3 (or direct from Pelikan)
Yin yang
Yin yang pieces
I couldn't leave out Dr Volker Latussek's contributions to my year! His packing puzzles are on the other end of the packing spectrum to Osanori-san but they are also NOT stuffing 'em in puzzles. They also have something special about them. My favourite of the year was the Yin yang (closely followed by Santa all produced by Pelikan puzzles. These are still in stock at PuzzleMaster - Yin yang & Santa.

On to the top ten (sort of):  

11) Ansel from Puzzled Wolf

11? Yes, I know! Top ten my ass/arse! But how could I possibly cut this one out? Ansel is a wonderful debut to the puzzling world by Brandon Wolf (aka Puzzled Wolf). It is a fabulous themed sequential discovery puzzle made from laser cut wood with some extra pieces inside. It took me quite a while to work out and required me to map what I thought was inside the interior before I could fully understand what was going on. Simply genius and hopefully just the beginning of a brilliant future puzzle designing career.

10) Lock puzzles from 2 new designers

I couldn't take either of these out of my top ten(ish)/eleven so I decided to put them both in. It's my website so I will do whatever I want with it!

Lock Out

Lock Out by Andrew Coles was first seen at an MPP and I didn't get a chance to play there. When it was released commercially I jumped at the chance to buy and was delighted at the quality of the puzzle even if I couldn't solve it. It took me nearly 2 months of play to finally open it and the Aha! moment was terrific. I cannot wait to see what Andrew produces in the future.

Titan's Treasure Lock
This fabulous sequential discovery puzzle lock had me stumped for quite a while (I had to ask my puzzling guru, Shane for help with it) and absolutely adored the final sequence. Sashko sells this puzzle on his Etsy store and it is well worth your hard earned cash. In most years this would be much higher in my list giving an indication of how good a year we had for puzzles at least.

9) Packing puzzles by Alexander Magyarics

Super Magnetic
Alexander teamed up with both Brian Menold and Pelikan to release a few absolutely amazing packing puzzles. Just like with the Osanori Yamamoto puzzles, they are based on a very simple premise...a simple box with a small number of relatively simple but not uniform shaped pieces to fit inside. The difference is that the entry holes into the puzzle are really very restricted adding a huge extra dimension to the solving process. They are amazingly compulsive to solve and just beautifully brought to life by these two amazing craftsmen. I cannot choose one favourite so will show off 4 that I particularly loved.
These are still available from PuzzleMaster - Super Magnetic, Hydrant and Pincers.

8) Popplock T12

Popplock T12

Every single time Rainer Popp produces a puzzle lock, I buy it without hesitation despite the cost and absolutely adore finding the puzzling sequence to open these masterpieces in brass and steel. I wondered whether he could possibly match the T11 for complexity and fun. It's not quite as epically amazing as the T11 but is actually more approachable for the solver - it is still an incredible puzzle and one that I actually managed to solve without assistance. If you drop any of these it will break your foot or your floor but don't let that deter you from trying to get hold of a copy. 

7) Alligator by Stephan Baumegger and Pelikan

Look at the cross-section

Designed by Stephan Baumegger and beautifully made by my friends Jakub and Jaroslav at Pelikan puzzles, Alligator is one of my favourite types of has a hidden piece inside (you really cannot help but giggle at the lovely alligator figure) and is a 6 piece burr based on a 3x3 grid in the y-z plane. This is the 5th of these I own and I adore the fun maze like properties of the solve. Still in stock at PuzzleMaster.

6) Ring Case by Juno

Ring Case
A year never goes by without Juno making it into my top  puzzles of the year.

Yes, I am not into boxes in general even if I do enjoy playing with them and I have to sheepishly admit that this will be the second (or third...or even fourth) box in my top ten(ish) for 2020. Really though, the common denominator is not the box it is the other part of the description - sequential discovery and even more important the designer and craftsman...Junichi Yananose. I adored this for its simplicity of design and yet also has an incredible fun sequence of moves including a very nice unexpected final stage. Just lovely. Plus, who can resist any box when it has bread inside?

5) Lock Box by Eric Fuller

Lock Box - how on earth can this be down at number 5?
OMG! Another box! This one doesn't look much like a box. It is beautifully made by eric Fuller and is yet again, actually - a sequential discovery puzzle. This will have been many people's puzzle of the year - you cannot beat craftsmanship by Eric and the puzzling process here is absolutely amazing but, unbelievably, there are even better puzzles for me this year. This was pretty tough and I did need a little nudge from Derek to reach the end but this did not detract at all from my experience. It is so gorgeous that it has stayed on display in my living room and Mrs S has not complained.

4) Caged Cube and other rotational challenges

Caged Cube 1 & 2
When Andrew Crowell designs something new, a whole lot of us sit up and pay attention. He is the master of the Turning Interlocking Cube (TIC) but has also branched out into Rotational Interlocking Plate (RIP) puzzles. My favourite of the year stands head and shoulders above the rest for the sheer fun of the challenge as well as the stunning beauty of the end result produced by Brian Menold. Caged Cubes 1&2 are TICs with the added fun of needing to be assembled inside a wooden frame. Number 1 took me ages, is currently assembled on display and I cannot for the life of me take it apart again. I keep going back to it and getting nowhere! One day I will need to ask for a solution!

Whilst I am discussing these I should also mention PedanTIC (also made by Brian) which took me weeks to assemble and BioTIC made by Eric which was a hellishly tough challenge and most enjoyable. I am very poor at assembly puzzles but these seem to be just a perfect challenge for me and my very small brain. I seem to be struggling with the RIPs - the freedom of movement possible in all of them is just making it impossible for me to find the assemblies. I will keep trying and who knows, maybe in a year or so I will be writing about one here?

3) Burrlephant by Jerry McFarland

I cannot resist anything produced by Jerry and when he created something stunningly beautiful in the shape of an elephant which reminded me of my late mother, I was overwhelmed. It is also a terrific fun puzzle. It has multiple locking mechanisms and is a lovely fun little challenge. It isn't the toughest of the puzzles from Jerry and doesn't have any automatically solving sections like the Burrnova 2D and 3D but it is immediately obvious as a McFarland puzzle and is gorgeous.

No spoiler here - even in pieces it is stunning!
It looks so good that Mrs S has actually put it on display on our mantlepiece!

2) The Joy of Hex Set by Ali and Steve

The Joy of Hex - how much innuendo can a puzzle have?
I had been urging Steve to create and sell a 3D printed hexagonal burr set complete with a list of puzzle challenges after showing off a big pile of plastic pieces at the one and only in person MPP of the year and he outdid my wildest expectations by joining forces with Ali to create a solid brass version complete with a wonderful book full of innuendo. Simply amazing hours and hours of fun. I have only had time to have old fashioned Missionary position Hex but it was very satisfying and quite a 'relief' when it all slipped in place smoothly. Mrs S even joined in with the spirit of things by laughing at all the SHex jokes doing the rounds (primarily by me). Like all of the TwoBrassMonkeys' work this has been beautifully made with even the display/storage boxes being perfect. I am eternally grateful for the friendship from the pair of them and also the sheer time and effort they put into making perfection (even if I cannot solve them all). I cannot wait to see what they produce next.

Aaargh! Do not have oral Hex with Big Steve!

I did wonder whether I might have to do some photoshop trickery to show you the next photo but last night I had a fun time with a bunch of Loom bands and a very shaky hand (I'd sobered up!) and managed to get the incredibly tough Bish, Bash, Bosch coordinate assembly puzzle assembled without any aid from Mrs S.

Yessss! That was a whole lotta fun - just another 27 designs to try.
I also have to mention that burr sets are one of my favourite things in the puzzling world - I did manage to add another two of these wondrous beauties to my collection and have some fun with them last year as well:

Phoenix burr set by Jack Krijnen
DDD burr set by Eric, Daryl and Bryan

1) SDBB Master by Juno

SDBB Master from Junichi Yananose
This masterpiece is the culmination of Juno's sequence of Sequential Discovery Burred Boxes and I was lucky enough to get hold of a copy. It was about time that Juno won the top slot with one of these - the original reached the number two slot in the top 10ish of 2018 and the follow up board burr version was also number two last year. A combination of 6-piece burr with tools to find and cavities to open made it a brilliant challenge and I have seen from the draft EPP booklet that it is number one for many other puzzlers. The release of this one nearly killed Juno's website and I suspect the experience may prevent him producing any more. 

I am so pleased that I now have the complete set.
Congratulations Juno (and Yukari - he could not possibly do all he does without her support), you totally deserve this grand prize this year. I cannot wait to see what you produce in 2021 (I seem to have missed out on your latest batch of puzzles already).

Do you agree with my top 10? If you have any different thoughts then please comment below or even use my Contact page to tell me how wrong I am. I look forward to your thoughts.

Usually, I try and show off some photos of the "State of the Union/Collection" but at this moment in time (as you can see from the photo at the very top of the post), my study has relapsed into being a huge shithole again with puzzles, books and papers everywhere. I will, no doubt, be forced to tidy up again before long and then I will endeavour to update my collection photos.

Take care everyone, stay safe and here's hoping 2021 is a fabulous year for us all.

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