Sunday 28 May 2023

Worth the Extraordinary Long Wait

For the Last of Eric's Signature

This was the last of the puzzles that the sadly missed Eric Fuller personally had a hand in making and the last puzzle that he personally signed. When this went up for sale after the devastating announcement, there was a huge queue of people attempting to get both a fabulous puzzle as well as the last of Eric's own handiwork. I was poised and ready logged in and nabbed my copy immediately before they sold out in just a minute or two.

I had to have it because the lock design looked fabulous (if Eric personally chose a puzzle design it meant that there was always something truly special about it), it was made from some stunning woods and, of course, because the designer Girish Sharma has proven himself to be an amazing designer despite being relatively new to the sphere.

Having placed my order, it took a week or so for the guys at Cubic dissection to catch up and post the puzzles out (March 15th). I watched the package wend its way through America to a postal port. It left the US within about 5 days and I saw it arrive in the UK and, as usual, it was trackable via the Royal Mail site...except after its arrival it stopped moving. All of us in the UK are used to this and we just wait a couple of weeks (sometimes 3) and it re-enters the postal service with a ransom note and sometimes there is evidence that they have attempted to solve the puzzle. This time, it did not re-enter the postal system. After a month I tried to get help through the Royal Mail helpline which took an hour on the phone and was no use whatsoever apart from acknowledging that HMRC had it somewhere. There is no way on earth to track it in the dark hole of HMRC. Eventually I was advised by Royal Mail to get the sender to try and track it via their claims system but this revealed that it was going to be sent back to the US with no explanation why. Aaaargh! Then 2 months later, with no warning, I received my puzzles with a ransom demand (a very large one!) and the beautiful toy was in my grubby hands. There was no explanation about what had happened and surprisingly, no evidence they had attempted to open the package. I can only assume that they lost it in a warehouse for 2 months and then found it in a corner somewhere.

But Oh boy, it was worth the wait! This thing is absolutely gorgeous! Made with quartersawn Cherry cage, Purpleheart pieces, and I had chosen the Marblewood key. It is quite robust at 3.1" x 1.75" x 4.8". The full name of this puzzle is "Sher-lock - a notched trifecta" which is a bit of a mouthful but there is a reason for this name. The blurb says:
"The name alludes to the three different configurations of the key-shaped burr piece within the solved puzzle."

The puzzle was sent out in a configuration (key pointing up under the shackle) that requires 25 moves to remove the first piece but there are 2 further assemblies with the key in a conventional front facing position (either horizontal or vertical) having a level of 19 & 24 moves. I set to on this shortly after I had finished with the Pelikan puzzles and was delighted to see the usual Cubic precision and finish with a lovely exploration of the moves. There are no long blind alleys and the exploration is lovely and exciting. I obviously had purchased the puzzle too quickly to have read the full description on the site as I suddenly was faced with a shock!! It says:

"The design takes advantage of subdivided voxels and angled half-unit pieces"

It was rather a surprise to me to be faced with triangular pieces within the burr sticks and my immediate thought was OMG, how am I going to model that in Burrtools? It took me a couple of hours and a big smile to find the full path through the puzzle to get my pieces ready for a photo:

Beautiful woods and incredible precision.
An alarming number of angled pieces!
I had been very careful to make sure that I used my usual to and fro approach so that I created some muscle memory to ensure that reassembly would be possible. I quickly attempted reassembly and realised I had a piece the wrong way around but this was quickly remedied and I was able to assemble it. Phew! Now I was confident enough to take it apart and examine the pieces more and think about the alternative assemblies - I don't think I will stand a chance of that but I will give it a few tries before I resort to Burrtools. My big worry is that I genuinely don't think I have the skills to render a puzzle with such complex pieces in Burrtools. This one may only ever be seen in the original shape.

One most precious thing for me is this - I have my last ever Eric signature squiggle:

Eric Fuller - we all miss you!

Sunday 21 May 2023

Pelikan Produce Perfection...Again!

Upcoming wonders from Jakub, Jaroslav and team
I teased on my "new toys" page that I had received a bunch of wonderful new puzzles from the incredible Pelikan team and that I was working my way through them as fast as my little brain would cope. This was going to be a fun challenge for me whilst the present wife (she's doing ok for a first wife) was up in Edinburgh all week visiting the out-laws. Unfortunately I still had to work but part of it was at a virtual medical conference for a couple of days which did give me a few breaks to play in. I did try to play during the talks but I am not a woman and thus, cannot multitask. Yesterday, I managed to complete the final challenge (with a little cheating) and am ready to produce my reviews for you.

Ladybug by Pelikan - front and back views. It is adorable!
Pelikan have begun producing their own designs recently and are focussing on animals/insects. They are all absolutely gorgeous and have a real character to them. I classify them as "interlocking" puzzles but not burrs - I am not an expert, but I am sure that they count as Kumiki (maybe Frank will correct me if I'm wrong?) The Ladybug is a good bit larger than the previous releases - it stands out vibrantly in the living room (where my collection seems to be expanding much to the annoyance of Mrs S).  It is made from Wenge  and an incredibly red Padauk and is just plain cute. The last one, Snail, was slightly more complex than to dismantle than this one but it is still fun. To make it more of a challenge, I immediately scrambled the pieces and made a pile before trying to reassemble. It is still not very difficult but did take me a few minutes to work out the order and how to interlock them properly. This is a must have just for its' sheer beauty!

A pile o' pieces!

Dino by Christoph Lohe -Wenge and Acacia
Walnut and Wenge
There will be 2 versions of the Dino puzzle designed by Christoph Lohe. Chris is one of my favourite puzzle designers - he has a huge knack of creating puzzles that have a real quirky challenge to them. they are just the right difficulty level and are genuinely fun. This one is rather different to his usual - it is a fun cute shape and has less pieces than many of his other challenges. I think it is adorable.

The aim, obviously is to dismantle it and reassemble and this is definitely possible without using Burrtools. I had to feed back to Jakub that there was a rotational shortcut in the design that left the puzzle as a level 5 disassembly (Jakub hopes that you will not mind this). Personally I think it adds an extra dimension to the puzzle - first solve it with the rotation and then seek out the purely linear solution. The linear solution has a level and one of the moves took me a very long time to find. Reassembly is possible without Burrtools and for the truly gifted amongst you then I suggest that you disassemble with the shortcut and then make the linear reassembly the true challenge. I think that will keep most of you going for a while.

Dino dismembered!

Shutout by Osanori Yamamoto
This fabulous puzzle by Osanori Yamamoto has already been reviewed by me after I bought it direct from the master himself. In fact Allard has just reviewed it as well (summary - he loved it!) This fabulous challenge won a "Top 10 vote getter" prize in the 2022 IPP Design competition and I am so glad that it is being produced in greater numbers than Osanori-san can manage - everyone should get a chance to try this puzzle. It will be available in Wenge and Padauk as well as Wenge and Maple.

The aim is to assemble 6 identical tetrominoes inside the cubic box in such a way that all the gaps are filled. It has a nice "almost there" solution but the true solution requires several lovely Aha! moments. It is actually quite difficult - one of the great puzzlers out there, Naoaki Takashima, had shown it off as one of his puzzles of 2022 (alongside 3 other very serious puzzlers). When Naoaki-san had showed it off he had announced that he had placed a few of the pieces inside and couldn't even work out how he had done it and couldn't remove them. If a puzzler as good as this struggled then it has to be a significant challenge. Even having solved the original version, I struggled to solve it again after a gap of a few months - I remembered the tricks but still couldn't put all of them together into one solution without a struggle. 

No! This picture is not helpful!
It is beautifully made as you would expect from Pelikan and wonderfully tactile. I have to say that this is one of those "essential purchases" from this Pelikan release.

Slider 2
Slider 2 by Osanori Yamamoto
Osanori-san has a second puzzle in this release and it is a significant challenge. I had bought and reviewed the Gem from his in April and absolutely adored the challenge (in fact Osanori and told me that Gem was one of his favourite puzzles). The Slider 2 is like the Gem but on steroids - it is a significantly difficult challenge and luckily has been sent out as a disassembly challenge rather than an assembly one. They share in common the fact that there are plate burrs which ned to be fitted into a cubic frame. Made more complex by the fact that the plates are not flat and protrude out into the z axis. Gem has 3 plates and Slider 2 ups the ante by having 4 plates. It has been beautifully made with Mahogany and Wenge and the finish ensures that everything slides smoothly. Some of the moves are very well hidden. and there are several blind ends and circular routes possible during the exploration. I got stuck for several days with the plates extended out of the frame quite a long way but just could not find a space where it would extend enough to release. After 4 days of trying, I found my missing move with a great shout and removed the first piece. After that it is easy to remove the rest. I then suggest that you leave the pieces for a while before trying to put it back together - it is VERY difficult if you have mixed the pieces up. I failed and had to create a Burrtools file which told me that the disassembly level was 

A fabulous challenge
This was a huge challenge for me due to getting stuck so close to the end. Reassembly required Burrtools but after that it was a fun one to memorise and assemble from memory.

Nebelung by Alfons Eyckmans 
Rear view
I have a bit of a weakness for caged burrs - there is something about how the addition of a cage around a (usually) 6 piece burr makes it so much more difficult (I wrote about one just a few weeks ago). Alfons is a master of puzzle design and he takes an idea and runs with it until he has created an ultimate version of the genre. I have bought many of the interlocking cubes from him as well as from Jakub over the years and they are just amazing. This time Alfons has taken the caged burr and made it more interesting and more difficult - he has taken a 9 piece burr and placed it in a rather complex cage and created a level puzzle which requires some proper exploring and clever moves to solve. Pelikan have made it using a lovely contrasting Wenge and vibrant Padauk (it really is as bright as the picture shows). 

Straight away there are some lovely moves to explore and not too many blind endings to get lost in. I made some fast progress initially before getting stuck for a day. The cage here seems to act to hold the pieces in place but still allows you to see inside and try and plan your moves. It took me some time to find a rather delicious move that I could not have found by accident - I needed to look and plan to get my special "squish" move. This then opened up more pathways and progress seemed to be being made before I was stuck again. I got stuck here for a few more days and, again, had to look and plan. Suddenly after another Aha! moment I had opened up a section which allowed pieces to be removed from the puzzle. It remained remarkably stable until I had removed almost all 9 burrsticks. I did have to resort to Burrtools for the early part of the reassembly but once I had the first 4 pieces inside the frame, I was able to reassemble it from scratch. This was a framed burr made beautifully at just the right difficulty level.

Just look at that wonderful craftsmanship!

Ode to the Bevel aka Fermat for Friends
Ode to the bevel by Dr Volker Latussek
Yes, we have another of Dr Latussek's clever packing puzzles! I was contacted by Volker when he heard that I had received my review copy. I was very surprised that he was almost apologetic about it! He said:
"I had planned to pack five identical triangles into my usual box. I had wished that the triangles were beveled, preferably the tips were trimmed. I made a virtue of this necessity and for the first time designed a puzzle whose solution is only possible with a bevel. Nevertheless, Pelikan had to keep the usual small tolerances. Many thanks for that. The puzzle is an ode to the bevel. I beg the indulgence of the experts among Pelikan's customers, ODE TO THE BEVEL is, like my CASINO, a puzzle for the coffee table."
Volker had designed something very clever but thought that the puzzle may not have the purity and difficulty of his previous puzzles that Jakub and Jaroslav's customers had come to expect. He wanted it to be a family puzzle that is suitable to display on a coffee table for all to play with rather than go in a collection. I have to say that he has NOTHING to apologise for! Yes, this puzzle is not as pure as some others and indeed, it is not quite as difficult as as the others but that does not detract from it at all. I think that this puzzle is FABULOUS! It has been beautifully made from Pink Oak and a vibrant yellow Garapa. 

There are a few interesting possibilities when assembling shapes outside the box. The pieces seem to fit into the box quite easily up to getting the fourth one in and then it gets pretty blocked up and even with my small fingers, I struggled to move them around inside as they blocked each other. This puzzle requires a bit of thought about how the shapes can interact with the box and a bit of planning before you get a lovely Aha! moment and suddenly the final piece sits inside. I won't show the solved puzzle here. As with all of Volker's puzzles, he has a very specific transport assembly which in itself is a bit fiddly to get done - I don't envy the Pelikan team putting them all together!

Tetra Flop
Tetra Flop by Dr Latussek
8 Tetrominoes to fit
Another masterpiece by Volker! This packing puzzle is gorgeous and chunky. The substantial box is Elm and the vibrant pieces are Bubinga. It consists of all eight possible Tetrominoes which need to be formed into a 4x4x2 cuboid but done through a 1½x4 voxel hole in the top. There is a small hole in the bottom which is not quite big enough to let you put fingers through to move the pieces around inside. It quickly becomes apparent that the size and position of this hole is perfect to allow rotations of the pieces in certain directions inside the box. This is obviously going to be a challenging puzzle.

Having removed the pieces for my photo, I wanted to put them back in the same way so that I could carry it in my work bag for a few days. Sigh! I couldn't even find the way to replace them in the transport position which had the 4x1x1 stick just lying on top. This might just prove impossible for me. Volker had also commented on this to me:
"sparked by a call from Oskar van Deventer to suggest new cages for the SOMA CUBE. Although I'd already worked on a similar idea a while ago, I gave it another go, and in fact this time turned out to be more productive than back then and I had a lot of fun playing with the new ideas and especially working with Oskar. (Thanks Oskar!)... 
While I can't definitively say that there isn't one, I have only managed to find one dirty design with an extra opening on the back, which might be a clue to the (unique) solution. For me, the solution contains such wonderful rotations that I decided I had to publish TETRA FLOP despite my reservations."
Yet again he seems to be apologising for a "less than pure" puzzle! The fact that the box needed a hole to facilitate some of the rotations to his mind makes the puzzle less worthy and again, I have to disagree. The purity of the puzzle does not in any way detract from the wonderful sequences of moves that are required to solve it! Again, this puzzle is a masterpiece and I just do not understand how his mind works to find these designs. I initially tried making the required shapes outside the box and then looking to see whether I could do so through the limited opening. Each shape I found has to be looked at in 8 different orientations. I am not very good at Soma type assemblies and having found 4 cuboids and 32 different failed attempts at inserting them into the box, I went to Burrtools to see how many possible assemblies there might be and was horrified to see that there are 695! Aargh!

At this point I had asked Jakub for some help and the solution file was sent to me. I was very careful to glance through squinted eyes and only saw the positions of 3 of the pieces and used this as my starting point. Another 3 days and I had found a few assemblies that might be promising but just could not get them in the box. Back to Burrtools - I constrained the solver to have those 3 pieces in the positions that I had seen and now I had only 60 possibilities and also did not need to bother with rotation of the assembled cuboid. The fourth of the assemblies that Burrtools had found did look promising and I set to. Oh boy! There are a LOT of rotations in this and they must be done in the right order and right position. Volker is absolutely right, this has some wonderful rotations in it which are a joy to explore.

This will not help you in any way!
This is a seriously difficult puzzle! It is not for the faint hearted and only the very best (or luckiest) of you will manage to solve this without help. If I had not been shown the position of 3 pieces then I think I would still be at it for weeks if not years. This is perfect for the puzzle geniuses or the suckers for punishment! Thank you Volker!

What do I advise you to definitely buy? Shutout is an essential for puzzlers - it won a prize for a very good reason. Ode to the Bevel is yet another fabulous Latussek puzzle - being slightly easier than its' predecessors does not detract from the joy I got in its' solution. Ladybug is gorgeous, fun and will look lovely on display. After that, it depends on whether burrs are your thing or incredibly difficult packing puzzles. Personally, I think you should buy them all!

Sunday 14 May 2023

A Burr With a Difference...

Or, Am I Screwed?

Screw Burr by Oskar van Deventer
Last week I showed off some wonderful new TICs designed by Laszlo Kmolnar which I had bought from Neal. He had given me a very reasonable price and seemed not to have made a profit from the sale. This shows how wonderful and helpful our fellow puzzlers can be. In fact, he added in to the parcel a couple of 3D printed puzzles that I think he printed himself but with the sheer volume of plastic involved would still have cost him a bit to make. I couldn't resist playing with this after I had finished with the TICs.

Screw burr is a "simple" 6 piece burr with the added challenge that the pieces cannot slide on each other - they have to be unscrewed from each other. It has been printed with very bright primary and secondary colours and, despite looking like a child's toy, is really quite attractive. I found the key piece (there sort of has to be one if rotation will be required) and undid it from the burr carefully because I was not certain whether it would fall to bits after the key was extracted. I was rather surprised and pleased to see that it maintained perfect stability with the first piece removed and after that, it required further screwing about. In fact, I ended up unscrewing 2 more pieces before stability was lost and it dissolved into a heap.

Fascinating to see the thread within the cutouts
I put the pieces down for a photo and effectively scrambled them. Having left it for a while, I attempted reassembly. Now, you might assume that I would find this easy considering that I have quite a LOT of 6 piece burrs as well as 6 burrsets but alas, I am truly awful at assembly puzzles (even if they are only 6 pieces). The additional challenge of having to organise the thread was confusing me and I really struggled.

It took me about 3 days to finally find the correct positioning and then assemble it. This was not helped by dexterity difficulty keeping the pieces in place whilst I screwed each subsequent one into position. Then I inadvertently managed to cross thread one critical piece. This did not prevent it from being inserted, it just subtly dislodged one of the others and prevented the insertion of the key piece. I could not work out what was happening until I looked at it from a particular angle and was able to redo it correctly.

All in all, a very nice gift from a friend, and a very fun variation on a simple puzzle. If only I could convince the "boss" to let me buy a printer. I know that quite a lot of puzzlers are having a wonderful time with them. But the threat of a Whack! Ouch! followed by a divorce prevents me.

Sunday 7 May 2023

A Coronation Needs Cake to Celebrate

The Dessert TICs or Cake TICs by Laszlo Kmolnar
I saw Neal show these off on a Mechanical Puzzle Facebook group a few weeks ago and I asked about them. The shapes are freely available to download and print but I have been told that the purchase of a 3D printer is grounds for divorce (which I cannot afford) and I really do prefer my puzzles in woof where possible. Luckily Neal was open to selling the set to me and for a very reasonable sum the whizzed across the Atlantic to chez Puzzlemad for me to marvel at. I have not had much contact with Laszlo for a while and had no idea that he had taken his unbelievable puzzle design skills into the TIC world - let me say that yet again, he has done something wonderful and designed some beautiful puzzles with just the right challenge level.

The beautiful wooden sticks were all made by Jeff Baz and he also assembled 4 of the puzzles. For a while Jeff was also selling stacks of wooden sticks for puzzlers to assemble into their own toys and Matt Hochberg made the other 2 puzzles for Neal. Jeff's usual items for sale are gorgeous wooden chopsticks and other wooden art and he seems to have stopped making puzzles for the moment and also is not making the sticks either but hopefully he will restart sometime in the future.

Neal very helpfully disassembled the 6 TICs for me prior to sending them and they were well packed with no glue calamities in transit. I had a bunch of challenges to play with. I have often in the past hesitated to do assembly puzzles because I am generally bad at them. But over the last year or so, I have gotten a little better due to the TICs I have attempted from various designers. I was very glad that these had been sent to me disassembled. They are all a very nice challenge level with only one of them being exceptionally difficult. Neal suggested that I start with Cookie, then Cake, then Scone and then Macaron. Off I went - I took them to work to play with in the odd moment of down time. Staring in the ascribed order.

CookieTIC was a beautiful way to start. These are all a pair of ring shaped larger pieces that have the interlocking then rotation to be done before sliding together into a 4x4x3 cuboid and then having the smaller pieces to filling the gaps. Sometimes the filling of these gaps requires a partial disarticulation and the sliding back together with the piece inside. The rotational aspects are very like a disentanglement puzzle in reverse with the possible movements highly constrained. This one took me just 15 minutes and left me with a smile. On to the next...

CakeTIC had a much bigger gap to slide the 2 ring pieces together but this did not make the assembly into place any easier due to the large paddle shapes at the end of the rings. This fun one took me a little while longer but had a fabulous Aha! moment when it did come together.

Scone proved troublesome! I attempted it and failed. I could not get the two ring pieces to interlock. I was always blocked in doing what I needed. Time to move on before frustration sets in and I push too hard and snap a joint...

MacaronTIC had some absolutely gorgeous dark woods and a very interesting initial assembly and then a little more of a challenge to place the 3 smaller pieces. There were a couple of possible assemblies but one was not actually possible.

BaklavaTIC was next and was not a disappointment (I cannot resist Baklava!). Another fun entanglement phase which was extremely blocked up by the very large face on the larger open ring and then more interesting insertions. This probably took me about 30 minutes to find the full solution and on to the last one...

MuffinTIC was oddly very easy for me and I managed it in just 10 minutes - it is beautiful and a satisfying solve. It was time to go back to the SconeTIC... as an Englishman, I should be very good at devouring scones as it is part of my cultural heritage but maybe the absence of clotted cream and jam was affecting my abilities? There was something about this one that was really preventing me from finding a solution. I had developed a small audience whilst I was working on the others and they were all beginning to think I was some kind of genius until SconeTIC. At this point they saws me struggle and get nowhere for quite a while and realised that I am really a bear of very small brain and after a little mocking had occurred they all lost interest.

I had to take it home again and analyse it properly. I finally realised what was causing me so much trouble. Looking at the two large interlocking pieces, I realised that there was at least 2 ways that these could be assembled into the base cuboid shape and clearly only one of them was going to be correct. Maybe I had spent all my time attempting the wrong one? I changed my orientation of the two pieces as they attach and tried again. Still no luck, maybe a different orientation. Aha! I managed to get them interacting nicely and after a very fancy move but definitely not using any force I made a cuboid and set to inserting the final pieces. BUT they wouldn't go. No matter what I tried, I could not get the U-shaped piece inside. Then after looking very carefully I realised that the gaps left in the assembled cuboid could not possibly fit the remaining shapes. The wonderful thing with this particular TIC was that not only were there two possible frame assemblies but they were both reachable. So how do I get to the other one? I then realised that there were four possible ways to introduce the two frame pieces to each other and I assume that one of them allows the incorrect assembly. Time to try the other 3. Even knowing this, it was a huge challenge to get the other assembly. I think it must have taken me over 2 hours over a couple of sessions and kept me partially occupied during yesterday's coronation. Finally I had it done and could take a group photo:

Scone finally solved!

Stunning as an assembled set
I have assembled and disassembled them all now a few times and they are wonderful. The sticks are beautifully made and finished and the woods are gorgeous. I think I will keep them in the assembled state for storage and display. It might be too easy to lose a piece if I don't (I do have a single tetromino in my living room and I have absolutely no idea which puzzle it came from - I guess that I will eventually find which one has a piece missing!

Time to get back to the SD puzzles that I have had no luck with!