Sunday 25 September 2022

Ali Was Wrong But Also Very Right!

Akaki's Picnic Basket from Eric Fuller
Correctly solved Tsubomi
Just a quick one today, I’ve been up in Edinburgh visiting the outlaws and wining and dining with Mrs S. it’s been a lovely break but not much time for puzzling. I have to start with an admission of error…

Last week's blog post was me raving about the amazing Tsubomi packing puzzle from my wonderful generous friend Frederic Boucher. I had owned it for an embarrassingly long time and failed to solve it due to a combination of working my arse off and having too little time, doing a huge number of big cases at work which definitely don’t leave me any ability to solve or play with toys at work and, much to the delight displeasure of Mrs S, I might have acquired rather a large backlog to solve before and after Tsubomi arrived.

I wrote about the puzzle having been delighted and dismayed when Ali solved it at the MPP in under an hour. I should not have been surprised because Ali solves most puzzles in under an hour - he is a machine!! Unfortunately Ali got it wrong. He did solve the puzzle sort of but in the wrong way. I had totally misunderstood the aim and thought that just placing the pieces in the box using linear moves and those were the instructions I gave him. I was contacted by Frederic the following day to tell me that I had got it wrong and hence made Ali get it wrong. The actual aim was to place all the pieces in the box leaving no visible gaps. This requires rotational moves. I will need to give it back to Ali to play with again. I, of course, have singularly failed so far! My friend Theo has made his own copy and had it solved (hence the photo) in under 24 hours - he’s amazing.

Whilst at the MPP Ali waxed lyrical about the Akaki's picnic basket puzzles. I admitted that I had bought them from Eric when he produced 3 from the series back in August last year. I then had to rather shamefaced admit that I had not even touched them beyond taking a photo for the database. I had carried them around at work for a few mo this but never found time and then I put them away in the study in my "to do" pile which completely buried them and I lost them for several months. Having been told that I MUST get them played with by Ali and everyone else who had played, I decided to put them in my bag for my trip up north.

Clearly from the picture at the top, I had not really worked out what was needed. I referred back to the instructions on Cubic dissection to establish what was required. Eric wrote:

"Akaki's Picnic is a wonderfully creative Packing Puzzle. The goal is to pack each 3x3 cube into the Picnic Basket so that all pieces are flush. Assembling the cubes outside the basket is trivial; the challenge comes when you try to fill the container. The handle of the basket blocks your progress, causing you to analyze the situation and think outside the box.

Akaki named the cubes after different foods you might find at a picnic. Each has a unique solution, representing a range of difficulties. We have chosen three of the more challenging cubes for this release. Each cube has four pieces and requires rotations:

  • Egg (Birch) has a level solution
  • Sandwich (Jatoba) has a level solution
  • Wine (Bloodwood) has a level solution"
At least I now realised that the mixed up colour pieces were just the delivery packing.

I started on the Sandwich and struggled to even make the bloody cube! I had to persevere - Ali had insisted. After about a ½ hour, I had the cube and then time to put it in the beautifully made Zebrawood basket. Luckily I knew that rotations would be needed and I didn’t waste any time. With 2 missing voxels in the exterior, this left me just 3 faces that could point upwards and 2 possible orientations of each face. Some possibilities could be dropped very quickly because there was no way on earth one of the larger pieces could be packed that way even with rotations. This was tricky but fun. It actually took me a couple of evenings to find it but when I did the delight was palpable. The perfect craftsmanship made for beautiful smooth movements and I was delighted to be able to take my first picture:

The Sandwich is packed
Next up, the Egg. This must have come from a Wombat's rear end because…cubic!!! I was on a roll as I managed to find the cube quite quickly but with only one vacant voxel on an edge I had 4 possible top faces with 2 orientations. The shapes had less restrictions to their insertion and orientation but the basket handle really does cause issues. It took me another whole evening of play and annoying Mrs S by ignoring her whilst on holiday but I was able to annoy her more with a shout of glee and showing her something she had absolutely zero interest in.

One Egg in a basket
I had saved the Wine to last. It had the highest solution level and one of the pieces was huge and very restricted in its' ability to be inserted in the basket. I actually spent quite a long time trying to find the cubic assembly before I could continue (as you know, I’m really not terribly right). To my horror, there is only one central empty voxel meaning that there are 5 possible top faces and 2 orientations. None of the assemblies was easy to drop because it was possible to get the pieces in all of them individually but only later in the assembly did it become apparent that the interaction of them blocked a lot of moves and allowed certain orientations to be ruled out. This final assembly was really tough for me. There is a big clue in that one of the pieces is a simple 3x1x1 cuboid but there was no removal of a piece with a single move which helped a lot to cut down the choices. The solution to this last one is superb! It was so. I have fun that I could not help myself and assemble and disassemble it repeatedly. Eric's beautiful wood finish made this a delight to play with.

Wine generally best in a bottle rather than a basket
The Bloodwood is absolutely gorgeous in this puzzle.

So…whilst Ali was wrong initially with one puzzle, he was absolutely dead right with another one. If you can get hold of this then don’t is beautiful and a whole lot of fun. I am told that Akaki sells these in plastic from his Etsy store and you can buy the stl files to make your own. There are also a whole lot more in the series. I would love it if Eric made some more of them to fit in his basket as I’d buy them ina heartbeat. But failing that, it would appear that Akaki's version will work with Eric's basket too. WTch this space.

Sunday 18 September 2022

Humiliated by Fred and Ali…


A unique puzzle (VLE = very limited edition) from Frederic Boucher
Quite a long time ago I received a wonderful puzzling gift from a very generous friend of mine with a bunch of fabulous new toys to play with (including the amazing Visitor Q which I parallel solved with a loan copy of Res Q from the very trusting Andrew Coles). These have kept me occupied for the best part of a year. One of these beauties was the Tsubomi packing puzzle. It is named for the Japanese word for Bud and the puzzle has 5 buds to be placed inside the rather beautifully made wooden box. Frederic's craftsmanship is always quietly understated - he doesn’t use fancy woods but everything is perfectly made and the contrast in colours along with some lovely grain is always a delight. I am really proud to be one of only 2 owners of this particular puzzle.

Minima XIII
In my odyssey with Visitor Q which took me such a long time, whenever I put down one of his puzzles, I would invariably pick up another to try. It was often Tsubomi or Minima XIII (which I solved after a few hours only to be later told that Fred had made a mistake and once he had sent me an updated version I cannot solve it). The Tsubomi had frighten me because of the sheer complexity of the pieces and I was somehow convinced that there might be a rotational move. I had picked the puzzle up probably 30 times over the year and somehow could never manage to solve it. Humiliated by Frederic again! Aaargh!

At the recent MPP XLII the Tsubomi was in my box of puzzles for people to try. A few people had a look at it but no one seemed keen to sink much time into it. I was kind of hoping that someone would solve it to give me some confidence to try it again myself. After lunch Ali picked it up, asked a few questions which I didn’t know the answers too and set to it. I was heartened to see that he takes the same approach to these as I do. Part of me always wonders whether I go about them completely wrong which might account for how I seem to struggle. I guess that if we have a similar approach and I continually fail the best explanation is that I’m not very bright or very good at puzzles! To my shock/horror Ali solve the bloody thing in about an hour. I was flabbergasted! I took it home in the saved state and the following day took the pieces out and saw that the solution was entirely linear (I had tried rotations on several occasions but there is very little space inside the box for such bulky pieces to be allowed to rotate. Humbled by this, I scrambled the pieces and put them aside. I then got really really busy at work and did not find time to play for a good couple of weeks.

Eventually I got back to it and, as expected, discovered that I had absolutely no recollection of the solution (or even the order that the pieces went back inside). Yet again, try to make a 4x4x4 shape - there will be quite a few gaps and 6 of the missing voxels will need to coincide with the cubies attached to the interior of the box. Humiliation!!! I still couldn’t do it! I was a able to make a cube but not coinciding with the captive cubies and then eventually after a few hours I managed to make a cube that would fit in the space but the orientation of several of the buds was such that they couldn’t be fed through the 4x2 entrance hole at the top of the box. Wow! This was some challenge for a man who is a self confessed packing puzzle idiot.

I couldn’t let it go! I had to solve it… I had a blog post to write. Just this morning, I still didn’t have it finished. By pure luck whilst considering my failure, I absently put the pieces together and I had a cube with gaps in the right places and, ooooh the pieces oriented correctly. I hadn’t even really been concentrating. Was it right? I did the reverse of the solution outside of the box and… YESSSSSS!

Months and months of attempts and I solve it by accident!
Such an amazing feeling to finally get it solved. Frederic Boucher designs and makes incredible puzzles (this is why I could not resist buying his latest collaboration with Eric -  the jammed gem). I was rather shocked at how difficult this one was but the sense of achievement when I finally got there was enormous. 

I cannot wait to see what the next production and designs bring for us. He is simply incredible! Thank you my friend.

Sunday 11 September 2022

The Limcube Fission Skewb

A Skewb Which Doesn't Solve as a Skewb

The Limcube Fission Skewb
Stuck after 3 steps!
I bought the Fission Skewb way way back in May this year along with a few others and have not touched it apart from to explore what it does when it moves. Why buy it you might ask? I adore these fancy new twisty puzzles! The technology in their design and manufacture is incredible and there is so much more to them than the old style Rubik cube. BUT I am a simple puzzler who is not terribly good at most puzzling and the problem with the new twisties is the very thing that attracts me to them...they are just so so complicated. So many things move in so many different ways and I am terrified of scrambling a mess and getting totally stuck. I know that the internet is full of solution videos but I really don't want to cheat like that. So I waited until I had some courage - plus I recalled that someone had said on FB that this particular puzzle really isn't that hard. I had been playing with Angry Walter and after the first 2 or three steps had gotten completely stuck needing some more of that darned Thinking© so I decided I had better try another puzzle or else not have a blog post for today.

I picked up the Fission Skewb and reminded myself of what it does. It is of course a deep cut corner turner (hence the skewb moniker) but also is an edge turner. I would like to say that it is similar to the Curvy copter but it is not because the edge turns to not overlap with each other...interesting!

One edge turn followed by a skewb turn
A partial skewb turn with an edge turn
You can see why this frightened me!

As usual, I started out with a gentle exploration trying to ensure that I was able to undo any moves I had done to get back to the beginning and as usual I got lost within about 2 minutes and ended up with a mess that I couldn't back out of! Aaaargh! Well in for a penny...

That was a really silly thing to do!
After my initial panic I figured that I had better get rid of all the spiky bits and make it cube shaped again. At this point I realised that some of the V shaped edges are now obstructing some of the Skewb moves and a bit of planning is required to allow the wanted moves to occur. It's not hard but needs to be watched for. Some of the straight edges can be formed by just lining up to wonky ones and Skewb twisting to make them straight. After the easy ones were done then the remaining ones were a little awkward because straightening them broke others but in the end a little thought© and intuition got this sorted out and I now had a scrambled cubic puzzle.

What approach was needed now? Do I reduce it to a Skewb by solving centres and then making the edges up and finally solving as a Skewb? I thought that this seemed like a good approach because creating the Skewb centres is pretty easy:

Skewb centres created and placed
Wrong approach
It only took me about 5 minutes get all the centres in place - I was on a roll! Maybe I am not a dunce after all? Hahaha! What a ridiculous thought! Having done that it was time to work to put the edges in place and... Bloody impossible! I could put them in no problem but each time I did so it removed the centre edge pieces that I had already placed and after placing a few of these outer edges I couldn't place more without destroying what I had done. Yes, I know, this is the perennial problem with twisty puzzles but I had no fancy algorithm and could not work one out on my scrambled puzzle. Oh no! Was I going to have no blog post? I had to keep trying.

I scratched my empty noggin and then removed the splinters from my fingers before having another Think© and decided to try the outer edges first. Initially I was not sure about this approach because it seemed such a difficult thing to do but in the end it was a nice intuitive thing to do requiring no algorithm and just an easy three cycle of the pieces. It got a little more awkward as the final ones needed placement but really not tough and just a little figuring out.

Outer edges all placed - quite easy really
So how could I move the inner edges around? I searched for some kind of 3-cycle that would work as it had on my abortive attempt but I could not find one easily that would not destroy what I had. At this point I had a brainwave which is very unusual for me - the word "commutator" floated into my head and I realised that there was one very easily available because of the simple Skewb centre swap. Performing a simple Down, Down, Up, Up using the top front corners as axes moves the centre squares about.

That bottom front edge only has a single white edge in it
Rotating that edge and undoing the center swab does this
A simple 4 move set up followed by an edge flip and undoing that 4 move set up produced exactly what I needed. Time to work through it. Mrs S was much annoyed by me reciting Right Left Left Right Flip Left Right Left Right over and over again. Sometimes she was so fed up with it that she would randomly call out Left or Right to confuse me which, of course, worked very well and I descrambled the bloody puzzle! After amusing herself a few times doing this I growled at her and she let me continue in peace. Phew!

Nearly done - about 8 to go
As I worked my way through it I had to do set up moves to get the triangles in the right place for the commutator to work but surprisingly complex setup moves were never required. At the end I was left with just 3 triangle edge centres to place and needing a single setup to make it work.

R->B->O required.
The edges are not placed correctly but a single Skewb turn fixed that
After another 10 moves and it was done! Flushed with success, I immediately did it again and again. This is quite a fun puzzle and is really not that difficult once you have that realisation that a simple commutator is required. It would have been better to have realised it early on before I scrambled the puzzle but the actual sequence is so simple that I was able to find it even on a scrambled puzzle.

In the end, this is a Skewb variant that doesn't rely on any Skewb methods to solve it. This hit me by surprise and actually added to the enjoyment because Skewbs are very confusing to me. It is definitely worth any puzzler buying - if you are a true twisty puzzler then it is essential (if not terribly tough) but if you only dabble in twisty puzzles then this is a nice one to try before you get into the really tough ones.

Sunday 4 September 2022

Pelikan Summer Release Part 2 - The Wonders Continue!

Seven puzzles due to be released soon
Last week I reviewed the first four of the upcoming Pelikan summer releases and they were all amazing. I had to keep the final 3 back as they are much more complex and were going to take me a LOT longer to solve. Thank heavens there was no pressure from Jakub to solve them quickly!


Arrival packing position
Pieces are very odd
The reason for the name
I have to start off by saying that this puzzle is the pick of the whole release this time. It is abso-bloody-lutely amazing! Dr Volker Latussek has a mind like no one else and he comes up with some absolutely stupendous challenges that will keep you incredibly busy and will have you sitting back open mouthed in wonder after you have solved them. The Tau puzzle is possibly one of his very best yet. 

I had been a bit mystified at the name - none of the pieces looked like the greek letter and I had not really looked terribly hard at the arrival position before taking the pieces out and even if I had, it actually requires a bit of squinting the eyes and some photo editing to realise it. It actually took an email from Volker himself with a photo to make me understand. In the arrival position, the gap in the top surface forms a letter Tau. I am not terribly bright and I actually struggled to put the pieces back into the box in the start position to take a proper look (yes this is another challenge for you. The aim here, like quite a few of the recent Pelikan challenges, is to pack the four interesting pieces into the box such that the top surface is completely covered (the inside will have quite a few gaps in it). Volker did tell me that the challenge had been influenced by the wonderful No holes barred puzzle designed by Laszlo Kmolnar and beautifully made by Brian Menold that I had reviewed a few years ago:

No holes barred
The single 45º cut single voxel in the entrance to the box was going to be a major issue with the solution here but that was only one part of the considerable challenge. First of all you have to find a shape that you can build that would fill the entrance and be stable sitting on a work surface. There are quite a few ways to make that shape but not many are self supporting and then you need to find one that is even vaguely possible to be placed into the restricted opening left by the half cube. I had imagined all sorts of nice diagonal sliding movements and whilst there is one of these sliding movements, it is not where I expected it to be and was a relatively minor part of the challenge. I found it a fun challenge to reduce my solution set to just one possibility. Having convinced myself that I knew the placement I had to work to put them inside. OMG! What a tremendous challenge! It has taken me a whole week to find the solution and on numerous occasions I had convinced myself that I needed to go back to the drawing board with my assembly to start finding new possibilities. It was with huge relief that I made the cat shoot off my lap with a shout of joy! This puzzle is BRILLIANT! Volker is a genius! Buy it!

The version that Jakub and Jaroslav had manufactured had been made from wood that had not dried out enough and had shrunk after manufacture. This does not interfere with the solution but leaves a bit of looseness in the packed puzzle and they are remaking the whole batch. This may delay them going on sale.

Dino 2

Dino 2 by Alfons Eyckmans
One of the most prolific burr designers in the world, Alfons Eyckmans is producing some fantastic and beautiful puzzles. My favourites are either his cube or cuboid puzzles (of which I have an embarassingly large number) and the burr zoo with all sorts of creatures hidden inside many different types of burr shapes. This particular beauty is an unusual 14 stick burr with a dinosaur inside. The woods chosen by Pelikan are a gorgeous vibrant Purpleheart, Padauk and Wenge with an Acacia dinosaur. Many of this type of puzzle can be impossibly difficult and consequently not so much fun unless you are a huge fan of ultra complex burrs. Jakub's skill here lies in choosing the versions that are just the right challenge and still a whole lot of fun to explore. The movements are beautifully smooth with the puzzle being just tight enough that pieces don't slide about without your control and there is a very nice logic to it. The solution level is which for me is fun and challenging without becoming impossible (fun is what I am after and not horrendously difficult). Amazingly, once I had found the removal of the first two pieces, I thought the third (adjacent) piece would follow straight away but this was not the case. This had me stumped for a good 15 to 20 minutes as I desperately tried to free up a piece that was not going to be released until 2 others had come out first. After the first 5 pieces are out the puzzle is remarkably stable but now there is a LOT of possible movement and this is where most people will get stuck. I had tried everything possible - it was all moving all over the place but nothing was coming free (remarkably there was only one rotation at this point and it was not useful). I was getting anxious that I would be left with a tangled mess of sticks that I could not advance or go back when suddenly I had another Aha! moment and a critical pieces was removed (I had my dinosaur). This made a lot more space for disassembly and it rapidly came apart thereafter and I was able to take my photo:

There is no way that I will reassemble that without Burrtools but that is part of the fun. My burr zoo is getting quite extensive and I love it!


Yes, you have seen this puzzle before on my blog! This wonderful design by Terry Smart was previously made by Stephan Baumegger. I wrote about it in 2016 when it made it to my top ten puzzles of the year.

I am delighted that Pelikan have decided to make more copies available to everyone as it is a stunning burr that looks lovely on display (the twins are on display on my mantlepiece along with my other animals) and as well as that, it is a really fun challenge with some really hard to find moves. The disassembly level is not terribly high at but several crucial moves are incredibly well hidden and there are a lot of possibilities that open up to you as you work your way through. I remembered that I really struggled with Stephan's version and I did it again this time. Don't tell Mrs S but I could probably go back to all my old puzzles and have absolutely no recollection of them and solve them again as if I'd not done it before - I probably don't need to buy any new ones but where is the fun in that? 

After a couple of days of desperately trying to find the missing move, I had my breakthrough. Even after that there are still a lot of moves to sort through o find the rest of the disassembly. I had a wonderful time and now have to go back to my BT file to reassemble it. This one is beautiful on display and a perfect medium challenge.

The grain of the wood is gorgeous.

I don't know when these will be released but I doubt it will be very long. Which ones should you buy? All of them of course but if you cannot afford that then I would suggest that Tau is an absolute essential and after that it depends on your personal tastes. If burrs are your thing then Maahes and Dino 2 are wonderful and fun and of course the Zeus by Osanori-san is a beautiful object which is easy to disassemble and tough to put back together. You cannot go wrong with the classics from Stewart Coffin and mixing the two together adds a whole new dimension to them. If packing puzzles are your thing then don't underestimate the multiple challenges of the Broken box by Lucie.