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.

Sunday 7 November 2021

Interesting Challenge but NOT Fun

Fangshi SuperZ 2x2x2+Skewb
I received a bunch more twisty puzzles a couple of weeks ago - I peruse the HKNowstore site avery week or so to see what is coming out and this year there have been quite a lot of really interesting and tough looking challenges. Some of these challenges (like the Andromeda cube) look much too difficult for me and I actually decide not to buy them - yes, there are a few puzzles that I do not buy! Other puzzles look much too difficult for me but I buy anyway because they look like something that is an essential part of a collection (in this case the Double crazy cube) and I hope that the internet (or Derek) might provide me with a hint on how to get passed a particularly difficult section. 

Most recent purchases
In the most recent batch was a puzzle that particularly intrigued me - anything that involves a combination of two or more different axes of movement is always something that I find challenging and fun. There have been quite a lot of these over the years...most recently there was the Butterflower cube (shallow cut corner and edge turner) and earlier the fabulous Skewby copter plus (deep cut corner and edge turner). The Fangshi SuperZ 2x2x2+Skewb is a hybrid twisty puzzle combining a simple 2x2x2 face turning cube with a deep cut corner turning puzzle (the Skewb). I really couldn't resist it and was delighted to receive it amongst the others. 

A couple of turns only
The SuperZ 2x2x2+Skewb frightened me less than the others and I had an initial play quite quickly to see how it worked and how it looked after a few turns. I was not disappointed in what it would do but got my first inkling that this might not be as much fun as I had hoped. As one would expect with a puzzle like this with quite deep cuts and several axes of rotation, it is quite squishy... just gripping a face to turn it can make it squish together along the skewb axes. Then when you try to turn the faces, things get really catchy. Sometimes it feels like I am about to break something inside when I try to make a move. To be fair, this was just a sensation and at no time did it actually break but the experience was unpleasant.
My usual initial exploration involves making some basic moves - corner and edge piece series but using alternative axes and combinations of them. This will hopefully provide me with some useful algorithms without having to get really fancy. I am terrible at working out my own algorithms and really don't understand how guys like SuperAntonioVivaldi and Pete the Geek do it - I know the process but I struggle to manage it and once I have, usually inadvertently, scrambled the bloody thing then it is too late for me.

I set to looking for basic algorithms and as expected, scrambled the bloody thing by accident:

It took an extra effort to get no colours adjacent for the photo!
So how to go about it? I had no real idea but my first thought was that maybe the inner triangles were like the corners of one of the 4x4x4 crazy cubes. I started solving these possible corners and rapidly realised that was the wrong approach. They are not corners - as I have said before...I am not great at twisty puzzles. After a bit of thinking©, I came to the conclusion that the best approach would be to use skewb moves to reduce the puzzle to a 2x2 cube. How hard can it be?

OMG! This puzzle is a long laborious solve process moving a puzzle that does not want to move in the direction that you want it to. The skewb cuts are quite deep meaning that each turn affects all but 2 of the cubies. Early on it was just a matter of aligning inner and outer triangles on a few and then moving them to safety (on the 2 non-affected cubies) whilst I moved a few more into place. Once a few were in place then it became really clear that very careful planning of positioning of every cubie and every orientation of the cubies needed to be planned in advance. It could have been fun but the squishiness of the puzzle turned it into an ordeal. I don't mind a long laborious solve but the puzzle really needs to do what I want without a fight. This was a struggle - so difficult to turn it properly and so so many cubies to arrange exactly right.

I solved it once at work much to the amazement of colleagues at work and I decided to be foolish enough to scramble it again and see if I could find a better approach (I couldn't) and also because I needed to take my photos. Solving it a second time was still a huge fight but at the end the fight was justified when I found something very unexpected:

A corner parity
Actually, I should have expected it. This sort of parity occurs when a reassembly of a piece has a false equivalent. It did go some way to making the puzzle a worthwhile purchase. I had a vague idea of how to undo this issue and yet again organised all the cubies where I wanted them and made my skewb turn to align the corner and edge triangles. Having done that, I solved again and had the same bloody parity! Except it was rotated the other way! Time to Think© again. I had done something but had obviously done it the wrong way - try again. Finally after 3 days of swearing at both the puzzle and myself, I had solved it - Phew!

Should I try again? I am very hesitant with this and that is not normal for me with a twisty that I have mastered. Usually I would scramble and solve 6 or 8 times to learn the nuances of it but I am not sure that I can face it with this. I will probably head to YouTube to see if there are any tips for making it more usable as well as any better approaches to the solve. I can at least say that I have solved it.

Brass Monkey 5
Another new arrival this week is the 5th in the series of Steve and Ali's Brass Monkey puzzles. This beauty is available now from their website and according to Allard is fabulous. I have not had time to play at all yet but hopefully soon.