Sunday, 31 July 2022

Don't Stop Believin'

Designed by Christoph Lohe and made by Matthew Nedeljko
At the end of last weeks blog I showed off a new puzzle that I had acquired from a Facebook friend who had started making puzzles commercially a couple of years ago. I had admired his work from a distance but never actually gotten around to making a purchase. I was finally motivated/forced to buy when Christoph informed me that his last in the series of TICs produced with the design assistance of the TIC-Meister himself, Andrew Crowell were only going to be manufactured in a couple of small batches by Nedeljko woodworks. This series began with Cyburr and Chamburr produced by Pelikan and they were a stunning pair of challenges which I absolutely adored and which sold out very quickly.

Most of my previous TICs that I have in my collection have been sent out to me in pieces with the challenge being assembly. I have to say that I am very pleased that these puzzles in this series were sent out as a finished puzzle as I really don't think that I could possibly assemble them form scratch. I know a few people who could manage it but I have no shame in telling you that I am not one of them.

The disassembly of this masterpiece took me over a week to achieve. There are a few moves possible from the beginning but one pathway quickly appears to be more promising than the others and off you go. After a few moves and changes of direction the pieces can be properly inspected and an odd diagonal cutout in a piece appears. This is a clue - use it! It told me that a rotation was going to be needed in such a way that the cutout was the only way that the piece could turn. So make enough room with the other pieces and turn away! This was quite fun to find. Having done so and fiddled with what might come next, I decided to backtrack to the beginning. Except, I could not seem to get to the position to make the space for the rotation to occur. Panic set in! I really don't like getting lost in the disassembly of these puzzles because Burrtools is not going to help me.

It took me a full 2 evenings to get back to the beginning. At this point I made sure that I would absolutely know what position the pieces were in - I took some photos! I am getting to be bloody ancient and my memory is not what it used to be so photos were essential. Then I went back to that rotation and had one of my rare thoughts... is this the correct rotation? I moved it back and forth very carefully and I actually think that the diagonal cut is not really needed for the move that I had made. Because of this I wasted another evening desperately hunting for an alternative. Having failed to find one, I continued on the original path. From here there are a lot of very interesting moves possible including some very enticing rotations of another piece. I was really enjoying myself! 

Despite all this enjoyment, I actually did not seem to be making any progress. Quite frustrating that after several days I was stuck. At least I was able to go back and forth to the beginning (in fact my muscle memory for the sequence was getting to be really good). I took it to work and during a spare moment I tried again. Much to the amusement of a bunch of nurses who were watching me play, I finally yelled my Aha! aloud when looking down from above I noticed something that I had been missing for several days. I had been so busily focussing on the rotational opportunities that I had not even looked at linear moves. I could clearly see an alternative path to try. Whilst being watched, I made another few moves and my first piece was removed. Probably the first time I have ever received a round of applause! Unfortunatelyit was time to do some work so reluctantly I put it back together again. At home that evening I started again and quickly removed the first and then the second piece. The final piece removal was not terribly tough but required some really wonderful rotational moves. 

Simply delightful!
This was a truly brilliant completion of Christoph's TIC trilogy. I enjoyed them all immensely and really do hope that he works with Andrew again and designs some more. I seldom mix the display of puzzles up but I think that the 3 TICs will have to be put together.

So, despite losing faith, I continued to push, continued believin' and solved a puzzle. I still had to do another...

Gobstopper v2 (Gamexy version) pieces
Another puzzle left hanging at the end of last week's blog post was the second assembly of Steve and Ali's Gobstopper v2. I had managed to disassemble the easy assembly that it had been sent out in and having gone back and forth several dozen times, I was really quite certain that I would not be left with a pile o' pieces. BUT... the real challenge was to find the other more difficult assembly.

I really don't know how to go about this sort of thing apart from brute forcing them by attempting every possible assembly I could find. This is not really a great way to go about it when there are 12 pieces and you don't have the compute power of a modern computer. I actually struggle to assemble the six piece burrs unless they are level 1. I was chatting the genius again and he let slip that the second assembly was actually very easy to find. Sigh! He confirmed his genius by finding the second assembly in just a few minutes whilst also chatting to me. His excuse was that he had plenty of practice with the Joy of Hex set (if you don't have it but you love Hex then buy a copy of the set here asap).

I was forced, having tried for a few days and not really knowing how to go about it, to ask for a clue. Derek was very generous and said that one of the vertical pieces in the easy assembly needed to be inverted. Huh??? I asked and like a true friend he said "well other pieces will need to be moved to make that possible". Truly, I am not terribly bright and especially so in the shadow of his genius. I have spent the last couple of evenings trying and failing to make it work and annoyed the cat a lot by dropping brass pieces on his back. This morning having done my weekend exercise and had some breakfast with Mrs S, I risked playing with a heavy brass puzzle on my glass table. The swearing started to get on Mrs S' nerves but I was determined. 

Finally! After several hours of work, the loss of most of the remainder of my hair, and a huge number of swearwords, I finally found the Gamexy assembly.

I am sure that you can tell looking at that photo that is the other assembly - 😈

I have finally managed to assemble something complex and despite needing a clue, absolutely loved the process! This is an essential puzzle for everyone's collection.

Sunday, 24 July 2022

I Lurve a Multi-Tasker

I also love a uni-tasker!

Six out of seven
This will be a really short article! I have been home alone all week as Mrs S went "oop north" to visit the outlaws and amuse herself with friends and not me. I had to stay home and look after the cat and the house, go to work, do some DIY (I'm a dab hand with silicone seal!) and try not to burn everything down. The pressure weighed heavily upon me and hence, I had very little chance to play with my toys. We also had a rather nasty heat-wave last weekend and the first few days of the week (my garden thermometer in the sun read 42ºC) which meant that sleep was hard to come by. The lack of sleep was not improved by the furry boy finding the movement of my feet under the sheet absolutely irresistible! I woke up several times a night for 4 nights with a blinding pain in my tootsies as hunting mode was engaged and he pounced, bit and killed. I just had no time or energy for puzzling.

Heaven in a cardboard box (or Hell?)
One thing I did manage occurred just as the heatwave began. I had been forced to sit and do nothing one afternoon and evening and just watch some crap on Netflix (stuff that Mrs S wouldn't normally tolerate) and I picked up something that my heat addled brain could just fiddle with. At the end of last year the Amazingly talented Alexander Magyarics had sent me a lovely (not so little) gift. he has bought himself a 3D printer (sigh! I wish I was allowed one) and had made copies of a bunch of his tray packing puzzles. Over the months I have even managed to solve a few of the easier ones but, unsurprisingly for me, I had failed to solve most of them. In my defence, a few of them are 2 layered packing puzzles with the layers interacting with each other and, with my skillz, I would have almost no chance. The Six out of seven puzzle should not have beaten me but what can I say? I am rubbish!

Being immobilised by heat and cat, who, for some reason, still insisted on lying along my legs despite the heat, I had no option other than to play for several hours with this puzzle which had been within reach since December. As the name implies, there are 7 challenges each of which uses six of the pieces. I have never used tetra-hexominoes before but they are rather tactile interesting shapes and really add to the complexity. This is much more difficult than had we just had ordinary square tetrominoes. The instructions said to place one of the pieces inside the tortoise shape and then fill the larger area completely with the other pieces. Man! The green and the red pieces have shapes that really work against you. I found the challenges that had one or other out of the equation only took me about 10 minutes each but the remaining puzzling that involved both of them was a huge challenge. 

It took me two whole trashy movies to solve all the challenges! I was so pleased with myself! Luckily, the end of the puzzling and the movies meant that I could disturb the furry hot-water bottle, get off the chair, and get myself something cold to drink before I expired from heat-stroke!

There are also symmetry and shape making challenges to go with these pieces which Alexander has sent me as pdf to print out:

As I say in the title of the post...I lurve a multi-tasker! I have been trying these in what limited time I have had this week and had almost no success at all but I am really enjoying having so many challenges in one puzzle. What an amazing gift - thank you my friend!

Later that evening:

Gobstopper v2
Gobstopper v2 pieces (I think)
I have had Gobbstoper v1 on display for ages and been too frightened to take it apart - I cannot model these hex structures in Burrtools and figure that if I get something apart there is no way that I will be able to put it back together again. For some reason the Gobstopper v2 had been left lying on my armchair next to me since it had arrived rather than being put straight on display with the rest of the Two Brass Monkeys stuff. My excuse was that it's very tactile and nice to roll around your hand. I never expected to actually take it apart. Apparently the v2 is the same shape and solution as the original Gamex puzzle by Bill Cutler. I do have a Hectix but I am really not certain whether that is the same. If it was then I might be able to try a simultaneous solve.

So what happened here? I picked it up in the evening and too my utter horror, I had oriented it in such a way that several pieces fell out all at the same time. OMG! This might get bad. I quickly wrapped my fist around it to prevent any more pieces falling out and worked out how they went back in. This wasn't too bad. I got bold and then sequentially took more pieces off whilst hoping that it would not collapse on my cat who seems to have razor-sharp claws again despite me clipping them a week ago. To my surprise, the disassembly is pleasant and stable (I should have realised that from the product description - but I had reflexly purchased without actually thinking about it). I had my pieces and took my photos. I can now assemble and disassemble this one at will.

This puzzle is a "duo-tasker" - there is an alternative assembly (apparently much more difficult to find). Can I find the other, more complex assembly? Hell no! I am terrible at assembly puzzles even when they are rectilinear. Hexagonal geometry upsets my feeble brain. I have singularly failed so far. If the Hectix (of which I do own 3 different copies) is the same as the Gamex and the same as the Gobstopper v2 then I might be able to try a simultaneous assembly. If anyone knows then please let me know and I will give it a try! I think that my pictures of the wooden Hectix that I own, the pieces look different. Maybe it is the Hectix revisited which I also own?

This weekend, in between cleaning the house before "she who scares the who world to death" gets home, doing more DIY and emptying the dishwasher, I received and have been playing with a Uni-tasker. This is Climburr, designed by Christoph Lohe and beautifully made by Matthew Nedeljko. This is the final one of the series that was designed alongside Andrew Crowell. Apparently, this was a difficult one to make and only Matthew would take it on. I had adored the previous two and basically HAD to buy the final one! So far it has been interesting and after making a small amount of progress, I am stuck!

My first puzzle from Matthew Nedeljko

It does appear that I had a better week than I thought! Maybe Mrs S needs to go away again? 😈😈😈

Sunday, 17 July 2022

How Do They Keep Doing This?

Latest releases from Pelikan
Having received the new puzzles from Jakub and Jaroslav, they promptly went on holiday and I thought I might have had plenty of time to solve and write about all these wonderful new designs. Oh boy, I was very wrong. Even whilst on holiday (vacation to the yanks) they still think about all their devoted puzzle friends and sent me a message asking if I could have a review to them before Friday 15th. OMG! The pressure is on! I really went for it. This was not made particularly easy by the fact that there are several difficult packing puzzles this time and I am terrible at packing puzzles. Many of you will have read my reviews when they went up on the Pelikan store describing the puzzles - if you have then no need to read on. I just didn't have time to publish the reviews with decent photos here until now. 

I have not managed to solve them all but I certainly have a review on them all for you and hope that this helps when you are choosing what you should buy. Without further ado, on to the puzzles:

Typhoon S1

Typhoon S1 by Osanori Yamamoto
I absolutely love this particular subgroup of the interlocking/caged burr puzzle. A lot of the high piece number caged burrs can be extremely difficult and quite a few have completely beaten me. There are a small group consisting of a frame with just 4 burrsticks sitting inside that I really enjoy the process of exploration and disassembly. The reassembly is a challenge but definitely possible with such a low number of pieces. 
Galaxy Z
Mysterious Galaxy
The master of this type is Osanori Yamamoto who began my love of these with the incredible Galaxy, Galaxy Z and Mysterious Galaxy puzzles. This kind of puzzle can be expanded to make them more difficult and maybe slightly more interesting (as Dan Fast did with the Stir the Coffee puzzle in the last release. Osanori has designed a lovely little challenge here which Jakub and Jaroslav have brought into the world beautifully using Jatoba and Wenge. The fit is perfect and the exploration is great fun. There are quite a few short blind ends and it's possible to go in a loop. I got stuck at one point and could not find the critical move - everything is visible as you progress but due to the ends being at 90º to each other I found my moves were easily blocked. After a couple of evenings of play I suddenly found my hidden move and I was able to take out the first piece. 

It's a fun reassembly too
Having disassembled it, I scrambled the pieces and attempted reassembly and really struggled. I did manage to work out what went where and in what order but the hidden move that I had found fro the disassembly was also hidden on the way back to the beginning. Brilliant puzzle which is just the right level of difficulty and beautifully made.


Insider by Alexander Magayarics
Pelikan will be sending these as disassembled puzzles
This absolutely stunning puzzle designed by Alexander Magyarics was sent out to me fully assembled. I suspect this was done to prevent the captive piece rattling around in the post and getting damaged. If Pelikan does decide to send it out assembled then I would very much suggest that you get your significant other puzzler in your life to take it apart for you and then you treat it as an assembly puzzle. It is truly gorgeous having been made from Zebrano and Jatoba - the grain is just stunning! It is also a substantial puzzle in your hands being an 8cm cube. This size is very welcome so that you can easily get your fingers inside to manipulate the pieces. There are 3 pieces and the box which has some pretty big holes in it. Only 2 of those pieces can be removed and the other has to remain inside. 

Insider pieces (the third is captive inside)
The disassembly is a nice little exploration and after that the captive piece can rattle around into any orientation. This means that as a packing puzzle you cannot create your shapes outside before working out how to put the pieces back inside. Mrs S never agrees to play with my puzzles and I dismantled it and scrambled all 2 of the pieces and left them for several days. As expected (Alexander had suggested that I do this), the reassembly is a significant challenge - I am critically dependent on creating my shapes first and working backwards. This is not possible and I had to try and do it in my feeble mind. It took me a couple of days before I succeeded and that was only because I understood the disassembly. If I stared from scratch then I might still be doing it! Beautiful AND brilliant.

Golden Pot

Golden Pot by Yavuz Demirrhan
When Yavuz designs something, I always pay attention. He is an amazing designer as well as a superb craftsman. The belief that there is a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow is a wonderful piece of old Irish folklore and it is quite surprising that a Turkish man living in Germany can get a pair of Czech craftsmen to make it but even without a hint of Ireland in the manufacture, this is a simply wonderful puzzle. It is made with an American Walnut pot, a Merbau, Purpleheart, Garapa and Maple rainbow and Grape pieces. Yavuz has used a subset of the Soma cube pieces (including 3 that are doubled up). The aim is to pack all of them into the pot so that the gold forms a level surface with the rainbow buried in it. This is made really challenging by the fact that there is only a 1 voxel clearance around and underneath the rainbow's end making the insertion of several pieces quite challenging. I still struggle to assemble a soma cube and anything like this with a restricted entry is a huge challenge for me. Random trial and error didn't work for the first couple of days and eventually I had to think©. It is actually the restricted entry that is the most important part.

This is one that I will put on display in the assembled form - just gorgeous!
It made me stop and work out how I could get the awkward pieces inside - there is only one assembly but there are 2 ways the pieces can be put inside. A really difficult puzzle for me and will be beautiful on display in the puzzle room.

Soma 6 Pack

Soma 6 Pack by Lucie Pauwels
Lucie Pauwels is well known for designing really clever and fun challenges which are often variations on a familiar theme which she extends or alters to make them more interesting. Jakub must have seen how good this was and decided that we all needed to experience it. He has created a stunner using very vibrant Padauk and Wenge. In essence this is "just" another Soma variant - take the simple tri-ominoes and tetrominoes and create a 3x3x3 cube! But, and it's a really big BUT... Lucie has taken away one of the tetrominoes. Does this make it easier? Yes, it makes it very easy to create a cube with a 4 voxel gap in it but the she has made the puzzle MUCH more difficult by giving us a 3x3x3 box to assemble the cube in with a rather restricted opening and that 4th tetromino is actually fixed into the roof of the box - yes, the roof of the box is part of the shape. I find this also quite mind-boggling because I cannot create my complete shape outside the box easily. Having taken the pieces out to take my photo, I couldn't put any more than 4 of them in and actually needed a rotation to do that! OMG! This was going to be really tough for a Soma idiot like me.

"Just" a soma cube? Not for me it wasn't!
It took me several hours to solve this one and a huge sense of achievement. It is perfect for anyone who really likes to collect all the Soma variants out there (Haym Hirsh has created quite a few that Brian Menold has made over the years and they are massive challenges).


Scrooge by Alfons Eyckmans
This gorgeous construction is another magnificent burr design from Alfons Eyckmans. This one made from Bubinga and Wenge looks ferociously difficult. Anything with this number of pieces frightens me but I still cannot resist them. My fear is always getting badly lost in the disassembly and then being unable to return to the beginning or make progress. This puzzle is complex but not so complex as to worry anyone about being unable to make progress. The reason that Pelikan decided to make this is because it is effectively a 6 piece burr (albeit with stick length of 8 voxels) held within a frame made from relatively simple burrsticks. I absolutely loved the initial exploration of the movements as there were not too many available and certainly no chance of me getting stuck. The first piece takes 25 reasonably logical moves to release and thereafter the rest of the solution progressed very enjoyably. The puzzle remained remarkably stable (if a little squishy) even after 6 pieces had been removed and I eventually managed to remove the entire frame (which consists of 6 identical versions of two types of piece) and was left with the 5 piece burr intact and remaining to be dismantled.

The pieces look fearsome but it was a really fun disassembly
The reassembly will definitely require Burrtools but that is half of the fun.

Minas Tirith

Minas tirith by Tamás Vanyó

This incredibly striking puzzle is yet another fabulous creation by Tamás Vanyó. It has been made with Elm to match the pale city that was shown in Peter Jackson's amazing Lord of the Rings films. Like the Caste builder set in the previous release, the Minas Tirith is constructed using 2x2xN sized pieces that fit in a frame which has restrictions in it. Unlike the castle builder set, the frame actually forms part of the outer wall of the puzzle and greatly restricts the ability to insert the pieces and means that the order of insertion is crucial. I have to state that I have not had time to solve this puzzle. The aim is to create a "city" so that none of the inner rooms are visible externally and also there is an extra challenge which Pelikan have added. Once the puzzle has been dismantled you will see a bunch of interior channels cut within many of the pieces. The aim is to assemble your city so that the supplied metal ball bearing can be inserted into the hole near the top and then can navigate the carefully assembled maze so that it can exit the exterior door after tilting it back and forth in the correct direction. This will be a huge challenge for any puzzler and will leave you with a stunning puzzle to put on display afterwards.

So which should you buy? Well all of them of course! I know that most of you cannot buy them all so will state that my favourites are Insider for the extra challenge of the captive piece, Golden Pot because it is just so beautiful and Scrooge because it is still a six piece burr but made more interesting!

Now I had better reassemble Scrooge before a certain cat runs off with a piece or Mrs S chucks them away for cluttering up her kitchen!

Sunday, 10 July 2022

They Are Insatiable!

Yet More Hex and Screwing Around With Steve and Ali!

More Toys arrive to upset Mrs S!
I sort of knew that "stuff" was going to be made available from the Big Steve and Ali (aka The Two Brass Monkeys) sometime after Allard had posted a review of one of their latest delights, the Six Hookers. I was rather surprised when not just that, but 2 others were also released last week. Needless to say, I cannot resist having Hex with Steve and Ali and immediately fired up my credit card. These puzzles are beautifully made like everything else they have made to date and you won't be disappointed.

Not sure where the new ones are going to go!
Little blue box!
Mrs S was ever so slightly horrified that another 3 had arrived (and to give away a secret, I also received another bunch from Pelikan to review). The desk is kinda stuffed at the moment and the stash in the dining room is getting larger - this is quite impressive when you consider that I am not supposed to be storing any puzzles in that room! 

I did show her one of the boxes and reiterated the well known fact that all girls are supposed to have at least one "little blue box" in their jewellery collection (Guys, if you don't know then you need to get with the program...all girls want something from Tiffany & Co at least once during their lives). Mrs S was not amused that I might think of her as a hooker and was even less amused that I might have 5 others on the go as well! That idea almost got me a second Whack! Ouch! and she actually said that she had enough Tiffany jewellery in her collection already. I wish I had recorded her saying that as I am sure she will deny it vigorously in the future.

It probably isn't going to be of interest to most girls!
When I opened up the box and showed her the interior, she admitted that it was very nicely presented but was definitely not something she wanted to play with or wear and she warned me that I had better not break the granite or a kitchen tile with it. Gulp! The puzzle is 65mm square and weighs 380g. It feels special.

This puzzle design is not a new one and not Steve and Ali's own invention. It is based on a previous puzzle entered into the IPP design competition back in 2001 by Lynn Yarbrough (way before I began my puzzling career) who applied for the patent for the design in 1999. I love how the puzzle insert has misspelled Lynn's name. The original puzzle entered into the competition was made with square based sticks which were oriented on their edges but did have a full description for a hexagonal design which had never been made. Now Steve and Ali are masters of Hex and seem to have it all the time, all over the world so they could not resist the chance to create something new. When they decided to offer me some solid heavy hex then I couldn't really turn them down could I? Not when someone had said it was a good idea over 20 years ago.

It is pretty stunning!
I was a little premature, which is not a good thing when you are having heavy hex! I couldn't resist playing with it straight away and if you are going to have hex with Steve and Ali, you really should be prepared and take your photos first (and maybe get some protection like a suit of armour)! On picking the thing up I had no idea how it was held together and actually wondered if it was some kind of burr. I quite quickly realised that this wasn't the case as pushing on my ends did not have any effect at all and I saw that it was pretty stable in most directions with only a tiny amount of wiggle of all the pieces. It was a bit "squishy" in certain orientations and whilst squishing it I sort of realised what sort of puzzle it was...just as it fell to bits on my lap (or rather on the cat who was on my lap). It was apparent that you really can't have hex with the Two Brass Monkeys on a comfy chair and definitely not with a cat on your lap! After patching up the mess from when he shot off scratching my legs, and stopping swearing I realised I had 6 identical pieces:

Ali and Steve make beautiful hex!
The other side is hidden behind a button - don't look if you don't like spoilers!

I had watched in a sort of slow motion horror as it dismantled itself when I squished it and had a pretty good idea how it needed to be put back together again's a fiddly little bugger and definitely not something easy to do if you are a bit cack-handed and certainly not on a nice comfortable chair with a pissed off cat trying to settle back down again. I couldn't do it. The next day, I sort of desperately attempted to reassemble it so that I could take my photos. Much to the amusement of Mrs S, I was sitting next to her at the breakfast table and effing and blinding as every single attempt to reassemble it failed. I knew what was necessary but really couldn't seem to manage it. A request for an extra pair of hands was met with a snort of derision (she's an unforgiving woman) and the statement that it was more of a puzzling challenge if I did it myself. Eventually, I managed the reassembly and took my pictures before realising that I am a dimwit and had not taken the photo of the pieces first! Aaargh, I had to do it all over again. I have done it several times and it has gotten a little easier each time but will always be a challenge. 

This puzzle is an interesting one - it is pretty easy to work out what is going on but really quite tough to do what is required. I think this would be perfect to give to a smart aleck friend who thinks that many of your puzzles are easy. He will take this one apart and then get very frustrated trying to put it back together. It is beautifully milled and polished.

The Tetrahedrane puzzle is a wonderful remaking of the original Screwballs design from the amazing Oskar van Deventer. Oskar had originally created it in 3D printed plastic and Steve and Ali decided (with permission) to remake it but they "had no balls" and had to change the name to that which described the shape (tetrahedron is the shape that theoretically would be created when the C4H4 molecule is eventually synthesised (if it ever is)).  This one is 6cm tall and weighs 120g. It is a pretty tactile object.

Tritalon and Tetrahedrane
I had played with and enjoyed a possible predecessor of this puzzle way back in 2012. I had bought the Tritalon from Wil and had a nice time working out how it comes apart and then after scrambling the pieces had to work out which orientation everything needed to be in to reassemble it. It was clear that Tetrahedrane was going to be a similar challenge but MORE! They had written the following description:
"The puzzle has six identical stainless steel rods with right and left-handed threads at the end, and four different vertices, each with three threaded holes. The object of the puzzle is to assemble a tetrahedron.
When the boys offer you a chance at screwing around, you definitely take it. I had a little fiddle with the assembled puzzle and worked out which dowels turned in which direction before working my way sequentially around the whole thing until the balls that are not balls fall off. I took my photos and scrambled the vertices so that I did not know which had been in which position.

Beautifully engineered!
Again, I was a fool and attempted the reassembly whilst sitting on an armchair with a cat who really was interested in my brass bits. I had to tuck everything under a thigh to stop him running off with them and gradually worked out what went where. On several occasions, I realised I had got it wrong when I could not orient a rod that would fit on bot end pieces. This was going to be more than just random trial and error. I had to think© - this doesn't come easily. At some point I even lost one of the rods and had to stop puzzling for a while until I had an opportunity to get up and rummage down the side of the armchair for it.

This requires a fair bit of thought and patience - it can't be assembled sequentially as the threads have only a certain length to them and thus the screwing needs to be done simultaneously and gently (as all good screwing should be done). It took me about an hour in all and left me breathless - screwing with Ali and Steve is a tough thing made tougher if you get your ends mixed up. Another fun addition to anybody's collection.

I have a pair of hexy balls - made from brass of course!
It was very nice of the boys to let me have a nice pair of balls! Mrs S is not sure that I should be allowed to keep them as a boy with balls only gets into trouble! On the left is the Gobstopper v1 which is based off the Joy of Hex Missionary puzzle and in the recent delivery is the Gobstopper v2 which is an identical shape but based on the original Gamex design from Bill Cutler. It has 2 assemblies and is sent out in the easier one. The challenge is to find the tougher one. I have not dared to disassemble either of these two beauties yet - they frighten me to death. They are beautiful on display, though. Steve's mum has one of his balls on display!

Mrs Butter (I have no idea why!)
As an extra little gift, Steve had put this in my box. It is called Mrs Butter for no obvious reason. I suspect that after too much hex and with sore hexy balls maybe you need some soothing by spreading some butter about? This lovely little 3D printed delight kept me busy for a good hour. Initially I couldn't work out where the pieces went and then struggled with controlling the pieces for the coordinate motion solution. I got there eventually, though:

Don't click the button if you don't want to see the assembled cube.

Thanks to Steve and Ali for some wonderful hexy time! These puzzles are available now for you from their store. You won't be disappointed!

Sunday, 3 July 2022

Puzzling for Leisure With Stephan

After the horror of realising that I had created my videos of the skull puzzle from PuzzleMaster with quite a lot of the movement and piece removal out of the camera's view, I spent a lot of the evenings this week desperately trying to put it back together. It took all week and a lot of trial and error but gradually it went back together and my Skull is complete! Phew! If anyone has a full BT file for the puzzle then please let me know.

I have been trying to broaden my puzzling a bit recently. There are obviously some very big producers and sellers of puzzles and I buy a lot from them. This means that my blog is rather top heavy with puzzles from Eric and Jakub and the other manufacturers get seen less. I do try to branch out and try other manufacturers and also try to go back to the more mass produced puzzles a bit including getting back into twisty puzzles. Unfortunately, I seem to only have a little bit of time during the week to play and often actually solving something is a challenge in the time I have. My week this week was absolutely horrendous with a lot of big operations being done and finishing late and a fair bit of admin that I needed to do in my non-theatre time. The evenings were spent on the skull.

I had bought a couple of new creations from Stephan Baumegger (he sells via his Facebook page, PuzzleLeisure) way back in April and they had been idly fiddled with but had not really been attempted properly since they arrived. I have been leaving my new arrivals in the dining room for the last few months as a storage area to ensure that I don't lose the new ones amongst all the stuff that is solved and waiting to be put away (yes my study is a shithole again!) Mrs S looks in the dining room periodically and when she has tidied away all of her acquisitions then notices that mine are still there and then grumbles at me with a violent "I might just burn them" look in her eyes. Gulp!

This, along with the wish to try some other craftsmen's stuff, made me wander into my "accessory puzzle store" 😈😈😈 and pick up the Tetraboard and give it a try.

This puzzle is a new design from Stephan which he had originally designed way back in 2013 with the help of the incredibly talented Stephane Chomine and produced in very limited numbers at that time. At that time, my puzzle budget had been quite a lot lower than in recent years and I had marvelled at it but been either too frightened of the level (56 in total) or had not been ready to spend more money. Stephan had decided to make a few more this year and I couldn't resist the wonderful stepped look of it and the 2 contrasting woods (Wenge and Maple). 

I picked it up on Saturday morning thinking that I would have enough time to solve it that day. That was before I realised just how difficult it would be and also that Mrs S would send me out into the garden to do some maintenance work there whilst she cooked a Moroccan chilli for dinner (Yum). I managed to spend an hour on it before I was banished and had found a few moves which went nowhere and that was it. Four hours of gardening and a bout of sciatica later, I was back inside feeling sorry for myself and started again. It is quite hard to concentrate on a puzzle with lightning pains shooting down the back of your thigh! But for my readers, I persevered! It took me another hour to find a very well disguised move that would open out quite a lot more movement in the puzzle. The puzzle is made from a cubic frame and 5 plate burrs which are very tough to get oriented. I repeatedly found that if I put the puzzle down for a bit then I couldn't easily work out the correct orientation to start again. The way they interlock seriously constrains the movement and every time I thought I was getting somewhere, I came to a halt and could not seem to advance. Luckily returning to the beginning was always a simple task. 

I had explored all the paths I could find and was never able to get more than 10 or 12 moves into the solution before I came to a dead end. I was missing something. It is pretty difficult to see inside the puzzle and plan possible moves so I was stuck. At the end of the day, I went to bed with an unsolved puzzle, a headache  and back pain! Damn I'm getting old and useless!

This morning I bounded out of bed after my cat decided he was going to lick my nose, face and the top of my head! He has a very rough tongue and bad breath! Time to get up and feed him (which was what he wanted). A bit of painful exercise on the rowing machine and I was ready to puzzle again. Refreshedin body and mind and only a little residual sciatica left over. I did what I had done multiple times on the previous day and immediately found a new move. I have no idea how I missed it (it must have been very well hidden) but I wasn't going to backtrack and lose the progress. A few minutes later and the first board came out.

This was a cause for celebration but not complacency. There had been 18 moves required for the first piece and the next was going to need another 18. With the removal of the first board the puzzle was still 100% stable and a few new moves were opened up as possibilities. None of them worked and I was stumped again. The view inside was slightly better but not enough to really help plan future moves. I was missing an idea. An hour later, I had backtracked the remaining pieces almost to the beginning of the puzzle with the one board left out. I quickly realised that another sequence had been opened up from almost the beginning and a new short path was available which allowed a second piece to be removed. Yay!

Now, with 2 boards removed, it was still very stable(just a little bit wobbly) and I could properly see inside. Now I could easily mange the next 12 moves to remove the third piece and there after it was fairly trivial (it did not collapse at any point which is quite refreshing for a burr disassembly). Amazingly, I realised that one of the boards had not moved at all during the disassembly of the first 3 pieces. I had tried on numerous occasions to use it in my solution but it just was totally trapped. Very clever puzzle design. I took my obligatory puzzle piece photo:

Tetraboard pieces
All in all, about 6 hours of puzzling and now I had the extra delight of making my Burrtools file which is always part of the fun. I was definitely going to need it for the reassembly.

I love these challenges - it needs to be just the right level. I am not a burr genius like Goetz and when a first piece requires about 18-25 moves that is just difficult enough for me. If you are interested in buying any beautifully made burr and interlocking puzzles from Stephan then get in touch via his FB page.