Sunday 25 December 2022

Merry Christmas!

Dayan Double Circle Crazy Cube
I had hoped to have a wonderful Christmas tale of triumph over adversity! But of course, it was not to be. I bought the Dayan double circle crazy cube at the end of last year and had been much too frightened of it to do any more than idly test its' movement. First of all, I have to say the movement is absolutely bloody awful (which didn’t help me get the courage to properly play). I put it down for a year until my good friend, Jason Burgo, contacted me again after a long time away from puzzling. He had been playing and setting it up in various configurations to find interesting solves and finally convinced me to play with I in an adjacent face setup:

As you can see the red and yellow faces turn like Rubik cube faces, the blue and orange faces have the inner circle fixed in place and the green and white have the inner 2 circles fixed in place.

The end result is a monster:

What have I done?
My aim was to use simple Rubik cube algorithms like the Edge piece series and SUNE to rotate pieces around and pair up the circle pieces with their corresponding outer parts and then solve as either a Rubik cube or a Circle cube.

Unfortunately, a week into trying I am stuck with the last 3 edges impossible to recreate. I need to think© and my head hurts. I hope that this will not prove impossible for me because it is a wonderful idea with so many possibilities.

I hope that you all have a wonderful Xmas and a happy New Year. I will join you on New Year's day for the top ten(ish) puzzles of 2022.

Sunday 18 December 2022

New Kid on the Brick

The aMAZEing PuzzleBox
Out of the blue a few weeks ago I was contacted Peleg from Quizbrix. He had just completed design and manufacture of the aMAZEing PuzzleBox and wanted me to have a look at it and offer him feedback (as well as a review on here with a view to sending him some customers). I don't often do this and suggested that it would be more appropriate to send the box to Steve at Boxes and Booze as he was much more competent at puzzleboxes. To my surprise, Peleg accepted that but wanted to send us both a copy. In the face of such a keen producer and my inability to turn down a free puzzle, I accepted, chose the black version over the whilte and a package was duly posted from Israel. Despite the best efforts of a striking Royal Mail workforce, it arrived pretty quickly and I unpacked it to find a very solid feeling puzzle.

It has been made mostly the thin (⅓ height) lego bricks with a few full height ones in there too. Most are black in my version but there are a few white and a few clear ones and some holes allowing a limited view inside. It is 104x80x48mm in size and came with a credit card sized instruction leaflet. I had to take a photo of the instructions and blow the photo up to see them as the font was absolutely tiny. If you have raging eyesight like me then reading the card is impossible. The card said:
  • This is a PUZLLEBOX made of original LEGO® bricks
  • Your goal is to find the GOLDEN BAR
  • To do that you have to solve all the steps in the puzzle
  • All the steps are sequential (you can not bypass them)
  • Pay close attention to what you do (things move)
  • You can push, pull. turn and do what ever you want to solve the puzzle - BUT:
  • DON'T use too much force (if it doesn't move - maybe its not the time)
  • DON'T use your fingernails or any object that is not part of the puzzle
  • DON'T pull apart the puzzle (it will break)
  • If you are disconnecting a piece of from another piece - you are doing something wrong

It is described as a level 7/10 puzzle (I am not sure how that number has been decided) with 30+ steps.

There are lots of places to explore initially and all you can do is push at things with your finger and I was reassured that if it was not necessary to use a finger nail to poke tiny parts in or out. Only the tools provided should be used. Before my puzzle arrived I had been given an additional instruction to prevent a potential bypass. It is apparently possible to insert one of the tools into a hole and use it to pull something out. I was told not to do that and, to be honest, it would never have occurred to me to actually do such a thing. It just seems like the wrong thing to try and do.

After a few minutes, I found the first move and retrieved a tool which obviously could be used in quite a lot of different places on the puzzle...except in the vast majority of these places it did nothing. After another five minutes or so I had found that the tool would do something very specific and then several more specific things. I liked how the same tool could and should be used in multiple places but only in the correct order. These moves led to another very small tool dropping out onto the usual sleeping cat. At this point I decided to set it back to the beginning (also quite fun) and put it away so that I could play without the aid of a pussy boy who seemed to find tiny pieces of Lego very interesting. The second tool could quite easily be swallowed by the cat and it was definitely best to play without him around.

A few days later, I restarted and retrieved everything I had previously found and then discovered the reason for the name of the puzzle. There is a very small maze inside which needs to be navigated and then something else triggered. I got stuck here for a day. I learned the maze (it's not that challenging) but nothing happened at the end. I was missing something. As usual, I got focussed on one aspect for a while and could not get past it. Time for another reset and a think©. A day later, I started again and found what I was looking for - I had missed a whole sequence of moves which gave me another tool and then I could combine the use of all the tools into a fancy manoeuvre which moved me into yet another phase of the puzzle. It was reassuring to realise that if I could fit a small tool inside somewhere then I could always manipulate it either forward towards the solution or undo what I had done and retrieve it. At no point was there anything that I could do that was irreversible or would do harm.

I had out it down last night due to being unable to either get time without a cat or due to feeling under the weather (I have my first cold in over 2 years!) and then continued play this morning. With a very nice final Aha! moment, I retrieved the gold bar:

Gold bar found
The bar was attached to a tray with a QR code on it which took me to a congratulations page and links to videos which showed me how to reset the puzzle and also a video walkthrough of the solution. This is a very nice touch and greatly appreciated as I was not sure that I would have been able to reset it fully after one solve.

So what do I think? This is my first ever Lego puzzlebox and almost certainly not my last. There are now a couple of Lego based puzzle makers and if this is an example of what is possible then I am hooked. Could I design my own? No, I don't think so - Mrs S will NOT allow me to start buying Lego sets and I really don't know how to go about the design process. This is absolutely terrific and well worth the current $99 price point. The "full price" should be double that which I think is a bit steep but at sub 100 it is perfect. 

If boxes are your thing then you will like it. If, like me, you don't collect boxes then the box description is very loose. It does have a very small cavity but in reality this is a Sequential Discovery puzzle. You should buy it - I got mine for free but this has not influenced my review in any way. Buy it here whilst stocks last.

Sunday 11 December 2022

Several Twisty Challenges in One - The Dayan Gem X

It's Definitely a Little Gem!

Dayan Gem X
Yes, it's twisty time again! Don't run away - this one is really good and is actually solvable with a intuition alone and doesn't need any fancy algorithms or even making up any commutators. This Dayan Gem X is a fabulous little gem of a puzzle that can be scrambled and solved as a number of different challenges.

I would love to show you a photo of all of the Dayan gems but I have a bit of an organisation issue:

The gems are somewhere in there!
I can see a couple at the back but the thought of getting them out fills me with a sense of dread
Gem 1
The Dayan Gem series are a fabulous bunch of puzzles and this is the 9th to be produced - I have no idea what happened to the Gem 9 but I do hope that it will be coming. The Gem 1 (which I reviewed here way back in 2012) and Gem X look identical as truncated octahedra but they move differently. The whole point of all of this series is that they are interesting geometries and very interesting ways of moving. SuperAntonioVivaldi has made a fabulous summary video about the series). The original Gem 1 was a pure edge turner and had a similar solve process to a Curvy Copter. It was a fabulous challenge that mostly solved by intuition including the jumbling, double jumbling and shape shifting. I adored it...especially seeing as it didn't need a lot of fancy algorithms. Other Dayan Gems had similar truncated shapes and had face turning, deep and superficial cut face turning and even mixed edge and face turning. They were wonderful challenges that varied from easy intuition to mind-bogglingly difficult (especially for a bear of little brain like me). Every time one has come out I have been unable to resist adding it to my collection and frightened of them to varying degrees.

Of course, when I saw the Gem X come out I couldn't resist it and for once did not hold off scrambling and playing. As a general rule for you twisty novices or twisty-shy puzzlers, you should definitely embrace the edge turning puzzles. In my still extremely popular Twisty advice for beginners post and the follow up extension post I expounded on the delights of the edge turners. The addition of jumbling to a puzzle (with or without blocking) is so much fun and once you have got your head around the concept it really makes for extra interest. 

One edge and one face turn
So what does the Gem X add? First of all it turns on the same edges as the Gem 1 (see the purple and yellow edge is turned in the picture) and on top of that the square faces (of which there are six) also rotate (note the top left yellow face is turned. The end result of this is that we have 3 or even 4 puzzle challenges. Firstly I went for a face-turn only scramble and solve which, despite being extremely easy, was a lovely little challenge as a warm up for the more difficult puzzle scrambles.

After the face-turn only solve then, of course, there is a I went back to an edge only solve just like the Gem 1. It had been 10 years since I touched the original Gem and I had no recollection of the solve process at all. But keeping in mind what happens with the curvy copter, it is perfectly doable with just some intuition and thought.

After that then there is a mixed scramble of edges and faces but no jumbling and then attempting to solve that with only edge and face turns whilst avoiding jumbling in the solve (a jumble move has a very specific effect on the piece positions). Finally there is a full scramble with jumbling, double jumbling, and finished with shape shifting - GULP!

First of all, the face turning challenge:

Square faces only scrambled

The effect of face turning is to mix up the bicoloured edges and move them all over the puzzle whilst keeping the square faces intact. The solution to this challenge is pretty simple. It is effectively an octahedral version of the Dino cube and needs nothing more than my old favourite "up, up, down, down" sequence to move all those edges into place one at a time until the puzzle is left with a single 3 cycle which is also solved with that simple sequence. Stunningly easy and a perfect start to boost your confidence.

Next up the original edge (Dayan Gem 1) scramble. Like all edge turners the moving pieces remain in orbits and can be scrambled and solved logically just by moving the pieces within their orbits until you have 3 remaining to move into place and they solve with a simple intuitive 3-cycle. This, non-jumbling scramble was my second method of scrambling and solving. It is not difficult but it IS great fun. Then of course, once you have gained a little confidence then it's time for a jumble - this involves partial turns of adjacent edges and once lined up properly the edges can be rotated with shape shifting and pulling pieces out of their set orbits to add another facet to the challenge posed by this puzzle. The jumbling can be a double jumble which works like this and leaves the puzzle in the correct shape:
Two partial edge turns 
Then turn the central edge
End result 2 edges swapped
Performing an edges only scramble with double jumbling leads to a nice challenge - it looks much more scrambled than the face only scramble but it quickly becomes apparent that on the hexagonal faces 3 of the pieces are all in the correct place.
Edges only turned with double jumbles
Step one reveals it not to be too tough
The process of solving this puzzle is identical to the Gem 1 and if you have not bought that then there is no need to. It can be shapeshifted by single jumbling but I saved this for later.

One quirk of the double jumble solve is that occasionally it all solves leaving one or occasionally more edges flipped:
This is easy to fix if you remember the same thing on the Curvy copter
The reason for this is that the double jumbling can be done from 2 set up directions and therefore the solution is to redo the double jumbling twice. Extra fun for you.

Next up was a combined edge and face scramble that DID NOT utilise jumbling. Why bother with this? Because the next challenge is to solve the puzzle without using jumbling. It is not an easy challenge. The edge turned pieces are no longer within their orbits because the face turns disrupts the orbits. But, having scrambled it without jumbling I decided to attempt to solve it without jumbling:

It looks like any other non jumbled scramble
The difference here is that everything is scrambled and no simple turns will suddenly solve half the face pieces. I picked a hexagonal face and built it using a combination of face turns and edge turns. After that I basically worked my way up the puzzle in an almost layer by layer fashion adding pieces as I found them. I did not memories the colour scheme and had to work out which faces went where on the fly. Occasionally I would realise that I had placed pieces wrongly and did not realise it until I had 2 identical coloured faces adjacent to each other or reached a point where there was no bicoloured piece that would fit in the required space. This led to me rearranging hexagonal edges into different arrangements until I found a colour setup that was possible. I never got too far into it before realising my mistake (you could just memorise the colour scheme and avoid my pitfall). Once the colour scheme has been fathomed, then it, again, is mostly intuitively combining of pieces and working my way up layer by layer. Once I was above the equator line it began to get tougher. There was less room to move. Despite this there is a fabulous fun process that is STILL INTUITIVE! Or so I thought...

I solved the puzzle in this way a couple of times and was brimming with confidence until I hit an awkward moment:

Ooh! That shouldn't have happened.
I had to undo part of the top of the puzzle and reorganise it with one of the square faces turned through 90º. We had a parity caused by the fact that all the pieces on the square faces can be moved and if one of them is reassembled with the interior rotated then it is reflected in the exterior of the puzzle. I was scratching my head over that one for quite a few hours! All part of the fun.

Finally, we also have the ability to shapeshift by not pairing up the jumbles (i.e. single jumbles) which leads to a fearsome looking scramble:
Single unpaired jumble
Full face and edge scramble with ALL the jumbling
It looks horrific but having done the interim non-jumbling solves then it isn't too awkward to solve. The return to regular smooth shape just requires a bit of fiddling about until you learn how to line the gaps and the sticky-out bits properly and then twist them into each other. It is very satisfying to return it to proper truncated octahedral shape.

Having done that then the remaining solution proceeds just as I had with the combined scramble above. Mostly intuition is needed at the beginning and then towards the latter half it became obvious that I needed to use double jumbles to move pieces about as well as intuitive combinations of edge and face moves which rotate pieces into place. As long as you know what the double jumble does then it is fun
 to use it. The final process for this big scramble involves sometimes long complex setup moves which move the 2 pieces to be exchanged into the correct positions with respect to each other, performing the double jumble and then undoing those setup moves. Because I have the memory of a dementing goldfish, I had to write down a list of my setup moves so that I could undo them without mucking up all my hard work. 

The Dayan gem X is a fitting new member of the Gem family. If you are a collector then it is an essential purchase. If you are a twisty puzzler then it is an essential purchase. More importantly, for those of you who are just occasional twisty puzzlers and frightened of the more complex puzzles then this is definitely one to add to your collection and you can safely scramble and solve it in any of 5 different ways and have great fun playing and solving intuitively. Go for it - you won't be disappointed.

Sunday 4 December 2022

The Surgery Went Well - Angry Walter is No Longer a Danger

Angry Walter from DEDwood Crafts
I can't remember when I learned about Walter. I think it must have been at the end of last year that initial discussions began to happen and then Brent wrote a fabulous review of it in January. I was intrigued but somehow forgot about it completely due to pressure of work during the 5th or 6th wave of the pandemic. I may have sort of dismissed it because it had been labelled as a puzzle box and I really do try to steer away form these in a desperate attempt to keep my bank balance (and marriage) intact. The fact that it was more of a Sequential discovery puzzle didn't really impinge on me until much later when my friend Dominic asked me my opinion and was then horrified that I had not bought it (especially for such a silly reason). 

Suitably ashamed, I contacted Dee Dixon, the head honcho, and ashamedly enquired about purchasing a copy. Luckily he did not hold my earlier reticence against me and informed me that a new batch was about to be released and I manages to get hold of a copy which arrived in September with some rather frightening instructions. I particularly liked the "No crying or whining" line!

My copy was absolutely gorgeous made from some very vibrant woods. There is of course a bunch of magnets and  some very striking Canarywood, Peruvian Walnut, Bubinga, Claro Walnut, Sapele and Yellowheart. It is a pretty substantial item at 135x125x55mm. Mrs S was not impressed with the size of yet another toy left in the living room, kitchen, conservatory or wherever I happened to be (no puzzles in the bedroom)! She did agree that he was strikingly beautiful in an angry sort of way.

Dee says on his site:
"He's back...
Walter wasn't always angry. He was the world's best robot-friend, but time passed and the novelty wore off. He was left to rust in a junkyard alongside other abandoned robots. Walter swore revenge and started patching himself with whatever parts he could scavenge. He then began building his army. With his minions behind him, Angry Walter would emerge from the forgotten fields of misshapen metal mad as hell and ready to exact the revenge he promised on mankind. For humanity to have any hope of surviving his robot rage, you must find and remove his green power cell before it's too late. Stay calm as you make your way into Walter's inner workings and discover the tools and tricks you need to protect us all. It won't be easy, but the moments of discovery along the way will keep you from going mad. Now go forth and see if we can still be saved!"
So it would appear that my new patient needs some surgery to remove his green power cell. I have been known at work to scrub in to various surgeries (mostly orthopaedic) when the surgeon needs an assistant and if I have a suitably skilled junior doctor with me to give an anaesthetic. I do occasionally find it fun to wield a drill/saw or suture but not enough to make me want to change career. Luckily, as a robot he doesn't need to be anaesthetised whilst I perform surgery (it is not allowed to do both at the same time!)

That is usually quite painful!
There are lots of pieces that will obviously need to be removed. Just from looking at him, the eyes move, the mouth wiggles and so these may well need to be surgically manipulated. The ears and nose are rock solid however. During my initial viewing I turned him "prone" and did it without the usual Wilson frame and Proneview mask and eye tape. The cat in my lap (we don't usually have cats in the operating theatre!) was not impressed when Walter's right eye fell out on his head. It was quite heavy too! Well, encouraging for a Puzzlebox idiot like me, I had made progress straight away!

His left eye did not fall out but would rotate in its' socket which is not something I would advise any of you to do to yourselves - free medical advice for you!

For puzzles like this, I often bring out my trusty compass to allow me to detect magnet position and there are a LOT of magnets in Walter. I was obviously going to have to manipulate them somehow. I am usually rubbish at this but the early steps had very few choices for what could possibly be tried. It is down to the lack of options that I made progress and not due to any particular skill on my part. I moved stuff, I made things go click and before long Walter was being dismembered (actually, as an isolated head, he had already been dismembered but I don't know the word for having bits of his face ripped off surgically altered. After a while I had a few bits and needed to work out what to do with them. Here I stopped for several weeks. 2 of my "organs" were magnetic and I attempted to use them on all the other magnetic bits inside and got nowhere. I have no previous experience of Dee's puzzles and so tried everything I could think of...for a month!

Eventually Dominic contacted me to ask how I was getting on and I explained what I had and what I was trying to do. I could feel his exasperation across the pond and he admonished me to stop such silliness and just look at the puzzle again! Sigh! Yet another friend who realises that I am not terribly bright and am truly rubbish at puzzles. I stopped my silliness and did as he told me. 
Aha! That was very clever. That Dee Dixon hides stuff very well. The mechanism for that step I had missed for 4 weeks was  beautifully constructed and I should have noticed it earlier but I got fixated on the magnets. I now had another tool and could carry on working. Walter got more radical surgery and I found a small coloured ball bearing. I wondered whether that was me finished (was that a blue-green and his power cell?) and asked Dominic. I could almost feel his surprise that I hadn't noticed something else. He said I had more to try. I had noticed the other "thing" but had thought that it was related to the construction rather than the solution and had ignored it. 

It was back to trying everything I could think of and I couldn't think of much (not terribly bright) - back to the magnets again. In general, I am not a huge fan of having to blindly manipulate the interior of a puzzle with magnets because it is too much trial and error and just flailing around in the dark. But sometimes puzzle designers make you do that and I usually spend way too long failing to find the right moves. After a further 2 weeks or so of getting nowhere, Dominic contacted me to ask how I was getting on (he is not very patient!) and after I described my attempts, he gave me a clue. Not much of a clue but it was absolutely perfect - he said:
"Be brave!"

That was it! Just be brave. I knew what he meant by this and I "screwed my courage to the sticking place" and did something that I had previously thought was very silly. A metal piece then got stuck to a magnet in a hole and I couldn't for the life of me get it out again. I tried using a different magnet but it wasn't strong enough. Eventually, I retrieved that metal piece and tried a different object and promptly lost it! 😱😱😱

After my initial panic, I realised that this was what Dom and Dee had intended. I could hear it rattling around and then had a special thought..."what if I???" Now another piece was stuck in the wrong position. Quick! Backtrack a bit and think©. I wonder? I tried something else - similar but slightly different and Walter powered down!

The green power cell has been removed
Walter is no longer a threat to mankind and even after I put him back together he seemed very docile. Over the last day or so, I have heard mutterings from him about taking over the collected animals in the living room and forming a dictatorship. Each time I remove his power cell and he stops his nonsense and is as good as gold when I power him back up

If Walter takes charge then we may be devoured in our sleep!

My verdict? Absolutely brilliant! It will be a contender for my top 10 this year that I will be publishing on New Years Day. Of course, you all know that already because I am very late to the party here. It is beautifully made and very logical. My slow solve was due to my incompetence and I know that other puzzlers would sail through it much quicker than me. 

Thank you Dee, for a marvellous and beautiful puzzle that will remain on display in the living room rather than a cabinet and, thank you Dominic, for encouraging me to buy it and then just nudging me in the right direction without giving anything away! I cannot wait to try any new creations from the workshop of DEDwood crafts