Sunday 25 June 2023

Aaron Proves That Einsteinian Insanity Works For Me!

Spear & Shield
designed by DDK and hand made by Aaron Wang
For the last few years Aaron Wang has offered a whole bunch of wonderful new disentanglement puzzles for sale before the IPP begins. Every year I buy a big bunch of them and over a very long period of time solve a couple and completely fail to solve all of the rest. I always thought that I was quite good at disentanglement puzzles but since virtually meeting Aaron I realise that I’m actually rubbish at them.

He ranks the difficulty level on a scale of 1 to 10 and then 10+ beyond that and almost every single puzzle that he sells seems to be 10 or +. It may very well be that this is the reason that I can’t solve the bloody things! However, this may not be true - below is the Telescope puzzle which, allegedly, is a level 7 and I can’t for the life of me get anywhere near solving it:

Just level 7? Not for me, it’s not!
The Spear and shield looks fairly simple.
There are just 2 moderately complex pieces that are interlinked and a single obvious exit point. There is no string, no hinge, nothing that even gives a hint of why this is a level 10+ puzzle.

The complicating factor for the design here is that each of the pieces is formed by a double loop and the starting position has both double loops interlocked with each other. To me, it just looked like a matter of sort unwinding them and moving from two interlocking loops to one and then off and this is what I set out to do…way back in August 2022 when they arrived.
Let’s just say that I have attempted to solve this every few months ever since then and gotten absolutely nowhere!

The advantage of a puzzle involving string is that there are so many wonderfully inventive ways that you can make the string interact with the wire holding it in place. Also the disadvantage of a puzzle involving string is that there are so many wonderfully inventive ways that you can make the string interact with the wire holding it in place. If you don’t have a quick reset mechanism then it’s easy to end up with a knot that can leave you with a dead puzzle after a bit of play. So here we have no string which means that the disadvantage of having lots of ways to destroy your puzzle have been removed but also that advantage mentioned above isn’t there and you have very limited number of ways to make the parts interact. I quickly found a very nice way to make the M shaped area interact with the exit point and this led to a little unwinding of the double interlock. However, it always seemed to lead to having a single wire tangled in a double.

For quite a long time, this was all I had. Supposedly, the likelihood of achieving a position that you cannot get out of is lower for pure wire puzzles. Well, I must be very talented because I got to a single wire interlock and couldn’t get back to the beginning or advance in the solution. I kept trying a couple of very promising sequences only to always return to my incorrect position. I couldn’t advance and I couldn’t backtrack! Aaargh! This "dead puzzle" condition continued for a month or two and I did the same moves over and over again and then one time, despite doing the same thing as always, I was back at beginning. Amazing Einsteinian insanity in practice! I have no idea what happened.

This week, I have been up in Edinburgh for a little bit of holibobs (including a few visits to the outlaws) and I brought a few toys with me to play with. The advantage of disentanglement puzzles is that they take up very little space. The spear and shield came out quite early on and I began my insane sequence…yet again! I got to my odd intermediate position and somehow was able to move back and forth this time from here to the beginning. I could not progress, however.

Until suddenly, I could! I have absolutely no idea what I did differently, but I had moved one locked wire out of place. Yet again, doing the same thing over and over again had ended up with a different result this one time!
I think I have discovered a new puzzle genre - the Quantum Puzzle!

Having moved one locked area to somewhere else, despite not understanding how, it was immediately clear what was required next. It was a bit awkward to achieve it without force but a few minutes later, I had a new photo!

Spear and Shield (no idea which is which)
And no idea how to put it back together again!
I was all flushed with success, I had a new photo to be taken and a story for my website but my new quantum puzzle has a problem. I have to assume that there is a paired puzzle somewhere else in the universe that is now in the starting position and this one is entangled with it. I’ll never get this back together until someone else (an alien maybe) solves the other one wherever it may be. I have tried to return this back to the starting position for most of the week and simply cannot do it. I guess it will take me another year and doing the same move over and over again until one day something different happens.

Sunday 18 June 2023

The Radiation From Walter's Radio Fried My Brain

Walter with his rather large radio
Yes, Dee Dixon has done it again! He sold me a new toy and it took me a very VERY long time to solve it and, sob!, I needed a nudge.

This beautiful toy matches the lovely Canarywood Walter that I have in my collection. It is made from iroko and jatoba woods and  measures 4.5 x 6.5 x 1.75 inches. This is a perfect size for all the manipulations that were needed for the solve…several of them were a bit fiddly. There are an amazing 20 steps in the full solution to it.

When it arrived I noticed a wedge of wood freely able to rattle about behind the speaker grille and I had to contact Dee to ask whether the rather rough postal service (the box had a bit of a big dent in it) had dislodged something - he reassured me that it was supposed to be there.

There is a story to go with the puzzle:
"When a wave of Angry Walters waged war on the world, we fought back valiantly, seeking to remove the cold fusion generators that fueled his robotic rage. Some of us succeeded, disabling the power sources in support of the sapien resistance; others struggled to make sense of the robotic systems, their patchwork patterns too puzzling, too complex to understand. The robots exploited this gap, continuing to grow in numbers as we humans faltered in the face of their fury. But the Walters soon faced a new dilemma: as they grew, so too did the need for an infrastructure that could sustain the new robotic world order. As humanity sought refuge online, sharing stories of the underground at war with our new overlords, offering advice to those who could not overcome the Walters' power, as we banded together, the Walters' world frayed at the edges, humanity chipping away at the cracks within. The Walters scrambled to fill in these gaps, developing new communications technology that allowed for the instantaneous transfer of information between synthetic minds. Such profound development rested on the invention of the Dimensional Electronic Divergence Chip (DED chip), a small component that disseminated data through tiny wormholes connecting the radio devices.
Humanity's hope faded as the radios allowed the robots to respond quickly to each battle, each spark of resistance snuffed out as soon as it surfaced. Humanity learned that the removal of the DED chip could turn the tides of the robopocalypse, diminishing the Walters' ability to communicate. But they knew that any such success would come at a great cost, and so they ensured that the removal of these chips would not be such a simple task. After humans stole what copies they could, they discovered that the removal and manipulation of the DED chip allowed them to transmit their own data, indistinguishable from that sent by the Walters, creating the opportunity to subvert their communications to humanity's own ends.
Human fighters recently secured a shipment of radios that are being shared across the global resistance movement. We must find our way through the robotic defenses built into the devices to remove the DED chip and undermine the Walters' newest weapon in the war for our world's future. Go forth and answer Walter's Radio!"

Now, that must be the longest spiel I’ve ever seen come with a puzzle! It can be summed up as use tools to dismantle the radio and remove a special chip. So where to start? Looking at it there are plugged holes on each edge of the puzzle and a push button on the back. Pushing all of these did absolutely nothing apart from wiggle a millimetre. 

The next thing I noticed was that the speaker grille could rotate freely and didn’t seem to engage with anything and then I realised that the wedge of wood inside was able to drop into one of two gaps on opposite sites of the grille. It takes a bit of dexterity to manipulate the wedge to where I needed it. Interesting! I guessed that I needed to find some way to make that wedge interact beyond that circular area. This led to a bit of exploration and 4 areas that would block further movement as the wedge fell further through. I found some positions did nothing and others seemed to manipulate something inside. This was fun. Very quickly I found that one of those interactions did something that gave me a new tool or at least a piece of the puzzle and left a hole.

And then it was less fun for a very very long time. As usual, I got in touch with my insanity and did the same things over and over and over again hoping for something different one time. Mrs S was convinced I had actually gone nuts because she watched me do them multiple times but tried in every orientation o could think of. Of course, nothing changed! I was on the verge of trying to do it in a handstand position or even submerging it in gin. I had noticed a few things of interest but they didn’t help for this current position. I was stuck…yet again!

Then, at the last Midlands Puzzle Party, I happened to walk by as the puzzle solving machine that is Louis Coolen was playing with a copy. He had got to the same point as me and had tried something that I hadn’t managed in several weeks/months. It wasn’t helping him but I instantly realised that I had already found something that would help him. I suggested what to do and it worked - Louis had found another puzzle piece and I had a plan to take home with me. That very evening after I got home from the MPP, I gushed about what a great time I had had and immediately picked up the radio and managed the next step.

Of course, I got stuck again! Removing the two pieces that I had so far led to something very tempting and I pushed another piece that looked like it may have interacted with the previous two. It pushed a little way in but stopped sharply after a little way and nothing else happened. I then had a brainwave (or brain fart) and manipulated other things to give me some extra space and pushed even further. Needless to say, it didn’t do anything useful and got wedged in place quite hard. I had locked the puzzle up! Aaargh! The instructions say that no banging is allowed but there had to be banging to reverse my stupidity. It would probably be best if Mrs S bashed some sense I to me occasionally.

Yes, stuck again. I had 2 pieces, a few things I had already worked out I could manipulate and nothing helped. I stayed like this working my inner insanity again for the best part of 2 weeks. I even drew a diagram of what I had found and what I thought might be happening inside. At this point, I did one of my usual moves but was holding the puzzle differently and I saw what one of my moves was doing. Oddly, I have always held the puzzle in a certain way and had not been looking at the opposite side whilst doing my insanity thing. This time I was hoping it differently and noticed the effect of a manipulation. Little empty bwain creaked into activity and I thunk to myself - "what if I…?" 

The Ded chip
I had another tool! This tool was going to need a bit of dexterity to use but I figured that if I tried the move that had landed me I trouble earlier but using the new tool then I might get somewhere. It certainly did something but the move was visibly locked. This time I, and my diagram, had a solution to that locking mechanism. A bit of fiddling and another tool followed by another and another. Now I had quite a few pieces that were of interest to a cat and I had to put them in a plastic bag. The moves were flowing now and from here I managed to find the final moves and deactivate the evil radio. All this was done in a single evening with me getting more and more excited and Mrs S getting more and more fed up with my muttering and shouts!

This puzzle was an absolutely wonderful odyssey! I didn’t count the moves but the 20 that is in the description from Dee is just the right number. There are a couple of very hard to figure steps which may be my stupidity or may be because they are so well hidden. Once found, there is definitely progress before the next halt occurs and some real thought is required. In all, this probably took me 15 - 20 hours of intermittent fiddling (even if quite a lot of that was Einsteinian repetition). The final sequence was genius and beautifully setup. The craftsmanship here is astonishing. Every piece is perfectly made to lock and interact with others. This has put Dee's work on my "must have" list.

Walter's radio deactivated with the makers mark shown

Sunday 11 June 2023

A Gift That Was Fun and Gifts That Are Humbling

Boxed Six Board Burr by Frans de Vreugt
The Dutch tend to be pretty amazing puzzlers! I know several and work with quite a few to produce the CFF journal and they never cease to amaze me with their skill, knowledge and sheer bloody-minded persistence at solving things. I hope, one day, to be as good a puzzler as the Dutchmen (and woman) that I have met. I doubt very much that I will manage it but I'll keep on trying!

At the last MPP, Frank was thinning out some of his puzzle collection (only the ones that aren't part of his particular special interest, Kumike and Journet puzzles) and he handed me a couple of IPP exchange puzzles. Both of them had been given by Frans de Vreugt. The Boxed six board burr was one of Frans' own designs which had been made in association with Buttonius and given away in 2004 at the Tokyo IPP (24). I did not realise properly what it was because it had been packaged with 4 of the burr plates in the frame. After I took that assembly apart and realised that the pieces are really quite simple, I was very attracted to it. I am awful at assembly form scratch and board burrs are particularly difficult for me. I have had the RIPley board burr next to me on my desk for the last 3 years and have not even come close to assembling it!

RIPley by Andrew Crowell and made by Brian Menold
I just cannot solve it despite years of attempts!
So with some trepidation, I began fiddling with the boxed burr earlier this week - I figured that with such simple pieces, I might actually stand a chance. It is very portable being only 35mm across and easily pocketable for fiddling at work. Unfortunately, I seem to specialise in very  major surgery these days and I have to keep my concentration 100% on what is going on - I kept taking the puzzle out to play and quickly realised that I couldn't do it at work. In the evenings, I had better luck and managed to find a nice logical assembly of the board burr outside of the box and attempted to repeat the assembly with the box. Oh dear, the slots in the faces of the box are very restrictive and my "beautiful" assembly wouldn't work. At this point I seemed to have some blinkers on and I couldn't find an alternative assembly for a couple of hours over 3 evenings whilst watching TV with Mrs S. Eventually I found an assembly that looked like it might just work - after carefully arranging the pieces in the right order I set to work and assembled the puzzle:

Assembled - very simple and very clever
I kept it assembled for a few days until I had time to take my photo and then discovered that I couldn't take it apart. It's quite humid and hot in the UK at the moment and some puzzles are getting a little tight. This was a little tight but the internal edges were not bevelled and moves had to be perfectly aligned to get them to move. I had found one move but the second move would not happen. It took me a rather frantic hour to find that a different piece needed to move first and then it could be disassembled. Just a little gift from a friend - it was great fun and a lovely challenge.

Quantum Entanglement designed by Pit Khiam Goh
Another present from Frank at the MPP was the boxed 6 piece burr very reminiscent of the Internal combustion burr made from metal that I reviewed way back in 2011 except this has 6 sticks that lay across each other in 2 groups of three. When I took the photo, I thought that the aim was to find a way to insert the two loose burr sticks into the puzzle as it had been given out. I did have a quick fiddle and it looked to me like the pieces that were in the box were actually captive. Doh! I am not terribly bright, though. After my success with the boxed burr, I properly looked at this and realised that it would be impossible to insert the other two pieces in this configuration. I then spent 10 minutes and removed all the pieces (eejit that I am I forgot to take another pic!). I then looked into how these pieces could be positioned that might form an assembly. I did find a few and realised that I was in trouble. If I could easily find a few ways to orient the pieces that might work then there were probably going to be quite a lot and I would never be able to work out which was the right one let alone find a 48 move assembly.

I was not particularly upset by this as some puzzles just need Burrtools and I find that whole process really quite fun (I know that George Miller considers it perfectly acceptable to play with BT as a solution method). I programmed in the pieces and it spat out a solution in about 3 or 4 minutes. I had been correct to give in so fast - there are 964 assemblies and only one solution! I assembled the puzzle using BT and was amazed at the beautiful interplay of the pieces - the box literally is only there to keep them all in the correct planes. I have kept it assembled and will work on a disassembly at a later date but I fully expect this to be a rumblingly impossible experience for me!

The WDIGMI Xmas puzzle from Tanner Reyes (made by Tye Stahey)
I had admired the Xmas question mark puzzle on Facebook a while ago but had not bought a copy because I figured that it would be too difficult for me. Tanner saw my admiring comment and had a copy left over and he generously decided to send me a copy as a gift. 

Tanner burst onto the puzzling scene with his incredible YouTube channel "What Did I Get Myself Into". In it he shows off some of the most complex and beautiful puzzles that have ever been produced and does it with humility and humour showing off his huge enjoyment in this crazy pastime we have gotten trapped doing. His collection is pretty awe-inspiring and having started puzzle design and teamed up with Tye from Nothing yet designs. The puzzle had obviously been made for Tanner to give away as Christmas presents and mine arrived complete with a lovely wooden Christmas label. I put it down for the week whilst I played with the supposedly simpler puzzles above and have been working on it yesterday evening and today.

There are 7 pieces to fit inside the question mark and three holes in the top to place them through. Except the bottom hole is too small to insert any pieces through and must be there to allow manipulation and orientation as the pieces slide down. This puzzle is lovely to play with and very tactile. So far I have gone through the gamut of randomly inserting pieces and moving them into random positions, randomly inserting pieces and moving them into specific positions and finally trying to assemble a reasonable shape outside the puzzle frame in the hope that I will find at least something that might possibly fit. I doubt very much that I will mange this but it is gorgeous to look at and beautifully made. I do not know whether it can be solved using Burrtools - I suspect that the holes in the top mean that rotations will be needed but if I ignore those then I might at least find an assembly or two. First of all, I will need to work out how to use the non-rectilinear grid in BT. Again, humbled by the generosity and brains of my fellow puzzlers. I wish I was as good at solving these things as people think I am.

I was delighted to receive the Burrtools file for the Sher-lock - a notched Trifecta direct from Girish himself. I had tried to find an assembly for the puzzle with the key pointing frontward but despited finding several possibilities, there was no way that I would be able to put it together. My plan is to assemble it using BT by my side and then leave it for a while before attempting the disassembly myself without having any memory. As expected with all of Eric's creations it is gorgeous in this orientation:

Time to work on taking this apart.

Also - for those of you who have purchased the "Ode to the Bevel" puzzle by Dr Latussek from Pelikan, a correspondent of mine who is exceptionally talented has found a second solution to the puzzle. It is very clever even if not quite as elegant. If you have solved it one way then you should look for the other  solution. I love it when this happens as it gives you much more bang for your buck. I do hope that another run of these will be made - it is a terrific puzzle.

Sunday 4 June 2023

Tough For Me - A Real Strugg L

Strugg L by Junichi Yananose
This one was an interesting one for me and I have to say that I went through much the same experience as the extremely talented designer/craftsman/solver, Ken Irvine. This means that it is a GOOD puzzle and just the right difficulty level despite having a relatively high level.

Juno has watched the huge increase in complex packing puzzles with varying shaped pieces which have been made more interesting by the use of limited openings as well as a stipulation that the openings need to finish up being covered by the pieces (Alexander Magyarics and Osanori Yamamoto are masters of this sort of design and I have absolutely loved them. Juno always wants to add something new to a puzzle genre and has been doing that in the burr space with the amazing Grooved Board Burrs which have been released over the last few years. So, how could he change the design of packing puzzles? He didn't want to make standard blocks to fit into a box and didn't want to add yet another limited opening packing puzzle. Juno's fresh take on the subject is the use of grooves and pins in the pieces and the box sides. This has the added benefit of allowing the packed puzzle to be completely full. To make it interesting, he also created it using only L-shaped triominoes. This was quite a feat! It sold out in just 5 minutes after going on sale! Amazing for a packing puzzle.

Just 2 moves!
It is rather attractive made from Fijian Mahogany, American Rock Maple and Bamboo and is 88 x 88 x 58mm in size. I was expecting it to be sent out as pieces (I don't think that was ever stated but I suspect that I expected that to be the case because it was supposed to be a packing puzzle). After it arrived, I had a quick fiddle and realised that this was going to be fairly complex to disassemble. In a way I am rather pleased it was sent out assembled.

After my photos and my quick fiddle to see how it moved, I set to properly and really worked on a disassembly. There is only one real pathway through with only a few small blind endings. After about 15 moves there was a move sequence that surprised me a lot - it opened up a lot of other pieces and also seemed to render the puzzle unstable. But despite that key piece rotating all over the place it did not release anything early for me. The dexterity level went up a bit as I had to hold onto several pieces at once to keep them aligned. At that point I found myself going around and around in a loop and could not find the next moves to release the first piece. I inadvertently ended up back at the beginning. Aargh! I am not very good at these! Finally, after about an hour, I had a breakthrough and released the first piece. 

Even after the first piece had been taken out, the others could not just be easily removed. It required another decent sequence for the second and then even the third. This was using linear moves. It would have been possible to cheat with a rotation here but I was disciplined and stuck to the linear moves - those pins and grooves hold the pieces well until all of them have been removed.

6 L's - the holes in the bottom are purely for finger access
I was pleased to have disassembled it and was really not sure that I could put them back inside without Burrtools or my memory of the route but I decided to give it a go. I jumbled them up into a pile and left it for a day before trying to pack them all back in. I was very relieved to read that Ken had managed the assembly but he is a MUCH better solver than I am and that only meant that I had a chance but it was not certain.

After that day and the jumbling, I realised that I did remember the starting position of 2 of the pieces and what the first move was during the disassembly. Maybe if I had waited for a few weeks then it would have been more like starting from scratch but I had a blog post to write! Luckily those were the ONLY moves and positions that I remembered. Assembling the shape after this, outside the box was fun and actually not too difficult. Once I had my 4x4x2 cuboid assembled it was time to try and recreate the disassembly outside so that I could reverse it and put it back inside. I got stuck at this point for a few hours. 

In the end even the assembly was not too difficult. Had I received it in pieces, I suspect that it would have been beyond me but with just the couple of piece clue that I had, this was a very fun challenge. It has sold out now but I am sure that it will come up at auction before long. Well worth adding to your collection!

Keep an eye out very soon for Juno's latest Sequential Discovery Puzzle, the Dial Case

Do you love heavy metal or even some complex plastic? Yes me too. It is with great pleasure that I can let you know that Ali and Steve have just released some new toys on their Two Brass Monkeys store:

The Burrly Legal Cylindrical 18 piece burr

A stunning 18 piece burr which took years to develop

Ali's Bolt

The Rhombic Maze Burr

This is a MUST HAVE puzzle - designed by Derek Bosch, the Brass boys have added to the original with an extra maze plate a new design for the pins and a new booklet with 100 challenges to try your hand at. I had a play with this at the recent Midlands puzzle party and it is stunning. My original review of this puzzle was here