Sunday 16 June 2024

Pelikan Summer Bonanza Part 2

Upcoming release from Pelikan puzzles
Yes, it's time for my reviews of the remaining part of the upcoming Pelikan puzzle release. Having an extra week was just what I needed to solve 3 rather challenging puzzles. 

Lapsus 2

Lapsus 2 by Alfons Eyckmans
No release from Pelikan is really complete without an amazing design by Alfons. He is incredibly prolific and designs burrs with something special about them. Of course, he can (and does) design straightforward 18 piece (and other size) simple burrs but he also spends a lot of time working on designs with different shapes, numbers of pieces and even hidden pieces. Lapsus 2 is unusual in being a 12 piece burr with the burr sticks being formed as board allowing a very different conformation to the standard type of burr. 

Despite this, it functions as a typical burr but allows a wider range of moves to standard sticks. Pelikan have created this with beautifully contrasting woods (I think it is Mahogany and Maple) and arranged into a 3D checkerboard shape. It is a really very attractive puzzle.

Initial exploration revealed that there are several possible starting moves but only one really goes any further and once the second and third moves have been tried then there are suddenly a whole lot of possibilities. It requires a bit of concentration to keep track of what you have been trying, especially as I always try to keep going to and fro so as not to get lost and unable to return to the beginning. Some of the moves are quite large and give hope that the piece involved is very near to release but don't get your hopes up to quickly. This puzzle has a nice level of 37 ( and it requires a fair bit of back and forth with the moving pieces to find the critical position that will allow the removal of the first piece. Having got the first piece out, I actually couldn't immediately work out how to remove the next. I thought that it would be a simple progression of the position I was in but in reality it took me a few hours of think©ing and looking to find the next piece to come out. Having taken the first two pieces out, the remainder is a nice logical sequence. It remains very stable right through to the end which is very impressive for a burr of the type.

Looks like simple burr sticks but they are not.
Putting this back together will require me to use Burrtools but I dare say that a few of you geniuses out there will be able to do this from scratch or memory. This is a lovely burr with an unusual conformation and moves which has just the right difficulty level for most puzzlers.

Petit Sucrier

Petit Sucrier by Dr Volker Latussek
The far end of the box has a full height hole
This is an absolutely cracking design from the twisted mind of Volker Latussek! I just don't know how he consistently comes up with such incredible puzzles. It has been beautifully made by Pelikan from Wenge and Beech. As with all of Volker's puzzles it is shipped in a specific conformation to both hide the intended solution and to give an idea from the beginning that the puzzler is in for a rather huge challenge.

The first thing I noticed here is that one of the holes was in an odd position - it was not in line with the 3x3x2 grid that the puzzle pieces would be aligned in. Usually sometime before a release Volker emails me with a little explanation of his rationale which I invariably pass on to you. This time the explanation was quite enlightening:
"A great challenge for any puzzle designer is to investigate the originality of his own ideas. It hurts when that research shows significant similarities to an existing puzzle. In my research, I have often stumbled across the name Frederic Boucher. I have also stumbled because I found I had to discard some ideas from the outset. When I discovered his perforated boxes, I was initially disappointed because I thought that whenever Frederic needed an opening in his packaging puzzles, he simply allowed it. But the euphoric reviews of these puzzles made me curious and I treated myself to his BONBON from Eric Fuller's workshop. This is very unusual for me because I very rarely play with others' designs. While playing with BONBON, I understood the enthusiasm for this type of packaging puzzle and set out to try and imitate Frederic myself. 
I had two ideas: I wanted to develop KAMELLE, a packing puzzle that would play with the BONBON box and the same pieces and, at first glance, look like another edition of this very educational puzzle, this time from Pelikan's art workshop. I asked Frederic to select the types of wood. 
A second idea PETIT SUCRIER follows my work on FRITZ-FLOP. A completely filled 3x3x2 box should have as many openings as possible in the style of BONBON.
The result is a somewhat dubious KAMELLE, but PETIT SUCRIER has become an inconspicuous little puzzle that fascinates me very much. I have solved it many times and have always been pleased that Frederic has given me this puzzle. Thank you very much for that!"

This explains the similar look to the boxes in the next two puzzles and also explains why they are simply joyous puzzles to play with and solve with absolutely delightful Aha! moments. I have a bunch of Frederic's puzzles and there is just something special about the designs - he certainly never just produces shapes from Burrtools (just like Volker) and they require a good amount of thinking both inside and outside of the box(es).

My first hint that that this was going to be fun came when I tried to remove the pieces from the transport positions first. A 3 of the pieces come out after a little manipulation to create space in the right positions. I then had two pieces left inside in portions that required rotations to get them out and I realised quite quickly that I had a bit of a wooden disentanglement puzzle on my hands! It took me over an hour to work out how to rotate the pieces into an appropriate position. OMG! If this is what it took to remove the pieces, I have no idea how hard it will be to pack them all inside! Having taken my photo, I tried to put them back into the box to carry them to work with me. I quickly realised that was not going to happen! I had no recollection of the start position and also couldn't repeat those rotations.

As with a lot of this type of puzzle, the critical thing is to start outside the box and work out possible assemblies that will allow free placement of the last 1 or 2 pieces inside with only minimal linear movement. There are 9 possible assemblies of these pieces into a 3x3x2 grid and only one of these will be possible. I found quite a few quite quickly and was able to dismiss almost all because there was no way to get any of them out of a box with the openings provided. After about a day I found one that looked quite promising as it allowed easy removal of 2 pieces with simple linear moves and then a third could come out after a little sliding sequence. This left me to try and find a way to get those remaining 2 pieces inside and oriented properly. Oh boy! What a challenge. I was able to get one in and oriented but then the other would not go. Trying them in a different order taught me how critical the positioning of this holes were (including the one that was in the wrong place on the grid). At one point I had 2 pieces in the box in an odd conformation (not the right one) and couldn't remove either of them from the box! Aargh! slight panic ensues fro a while until I managed to take them out. I spent a god 3 or 4 hours trying to get them in the correct place and did finally manage it but then could not for the life of me insert the third piece. What was I doing wrong? The rotations that you can do inside the box require very perfect positioning and are all only possible in one direction - this is ingenious.

It took another hour before I realised that this could be solved with the layers in either order and I had spent the best part of two days focussing on the wrong one! Silly me - another example of being not terribly bright! Time to do it again - Aha!

OMG! That was difficult...but huge fun!
This puzzle is nothing short of brilliant - it's the work of a mastermind! Buy it!


Kamelle - also by Dr Latussek

You can see the similarity to the design from Frederic.

I have to sheepishly admit that BonBon remains on my pile of puzzles to be caught up with - this release from Pelikan will force me to go back and start to play with it again.

The Kamelle looks very similar to the Petit Sucrier but has only tetrominoes and with the box being 4x3x2 having 24 voxels of space, there will be empty spaces inside. Burrtools retrospectively has told me that there are 584 ways to place the pieces in a 4x3x2 space and no way to get them in the box linearly. This was also going to take a good bit of think©ing! My head was hurting from the previous puzzle - I was going to struggle.

As before there is a 1x2 hole in the box which can be the only entry for all but one of the pieces. I initially tried randomly trying assemblies and quickly realised that its possible to get 3 in easily and a 4th with a bit of fiddling but the 5th was proving impossible. There are quite a few rotations possible early on with just one or two pieces in there but none of them seemed to require that oddly placed hole in the box top. Rather than waste my time on my random assemblies, I moved to looking at what the fancy hole allowed me to do that was special. For a while I couldn't seem to find anything until my "what if I try this?" moment and suddenly I had a rather a big grin on my face and was muttering about him being rather evil!

Having found a very special possible move it was time to work out how it could be used. I found a few assemblies that required the piece to be in the orientation that was now possible and worked on linear moves after that. Almost but not quite. Another couple of days of work and my Aha! moment was complete:

Upside down so as not to give anything away.
This is another absolutely amazing puzzle! I suspect that my solving it was partly luck but nevertheless, the special move is incredible and unique. Again, if you like packing puzzles then this is something really special! 

What should you buy from this summer release? Probably all of them! There are some very different puzzles to usual in this batch. All are challenging and fun. My favourites have to be Petit Sucrier (essential!!!), Kamelle and Commotion.

I am told that the release from Pelikan will be set to go live on Thursday 20th June at 14:00 CET (Central European Time). I am sure that they will go quite quickly.

Sunday 9 June 2024

Pelikan Summer Bonanza Part 1

Upcoming release from Pelikan puzzles
Thank heavens for Jakub and Jaroslav and team! I have received quite a few fabulous puzzles over the last few weeks and thought that I had lost my mojo (yet again!). I had not managed to solve very much at all and for some of the recent arrivals, I had not even managed to find the first move! I must be really dim! Then along comes Jakub with a beautiful package of 6 lovely puzzles giving me at least a hope of solving a few of them. I cannot do it all in a week and so have split the reviews over this week and next.

In the picture above starting at back left:
Lapsus 2 by Alfons Eyckmans
Kamelle by Volker Latussek
Petit Sucrier by Volker Latussek
3 Candles by Osanori Yamamoto
Commotion by Tyler Hudson
Brick Wall by Lucie Pauwels

Jakub has been slightly worried about the fact that some of the creations are not selling as well as he would hope and wondered why. Whilst I adore burrs, I am aware that many puzzlers don't love them and prefer a different challenge. The puzzles in this release are a bit different from the usual and hopefully will be of interest to all you addicts out there. There is one burr but even this is different to the usual.


Commotion by Tyler Hudson
Tyler has been quietly working in the background designing very interesting puzzles. They have tended to be various burrs or maze type interlocking puzzles and all have been really good. Certainly they have been good enough for the guys at Pelikan to mass produce and they have always sold out. This one is something totally new and an absolute delight. When it arrived, I took all 5 pieces out of the tray and wondered what I was supposed to do with it. I had to ask Jakub for instructions and Tyler also chipped in to tell me. My initial photo had been with the pieces removed and I had no idea how they had been arranged. 

I was instructed to reassemble it in the above conformation (Tray made from Garapa, 4 flower petals made from Wenge and leaves made from Padauk - it is really quite vibrant). There is a small gap in the tray at the top left and an obstruction to right. The aim is to slide the pieces around in the tray ending with the removal of the red leaves through that gap. 

I tend not to be a huge fan of the usual run-of-the-mill sliding piece puzzles because they end up being a huge amount of toil and trial and error. I usually solve them but in many times the number of moves that is the optimal. This creation by Tyler is totally different to these classic sliders. There is not a set move number to aim for - the challenge is being able to remove the piece at all! The movements can get really very restricted due to the size and shape of the pieces and some of the moves are coordinate motion (something I have not seen in one of these before) and a fair number of rotational moves involving one or more pieces simultaneously.

This was the first puzzle from the batch that I started with and really struggled for quite some time as it locked up again and again. Each time I backtracked and tried something different and found a new path opening up and sometimes being able to take it further. It took me 2 days of real concerted effort to find what I needed and removed the piece. This is an absolutely wonderful new take on a classic genre and is a significant challenge. Well worth buying when it goes on sale.

3 Candles

3 Candles by Osanori Yamamoto
Osanori-san features very heavily in this blog! He is an incredible designer - so much so that Pelikan use one of his creations in almost every single release. He specialises in packing puzzles with limited entry boxes but has designed in many other categories. This one is something rather special and fun. It is absolutely perfect for a puzzler of any level. I guess that I could now be considered an experienced puzzler (even if I am not very good at them) and this challenge really enticed me and I found it to be great fun.

Jakub and team have made the 6 pieces in this puzzle from a lovely rich and deeply grained Merbau with a single block of Maple. Initially, I thought this was a version of the Soma cube but the pieces are larger and there appear to be 28 voxels in total (one more than in the Soma cube's 3x3x3 requirement). I again, had to ask for instructions and was told that these pieces can be assembled into a cube with a single voxel protrusion and the aim was to do this with the protrusion being the white Maple cubie - the flame of the candle. There are 3 challenges for this puzzle: that flame can be in one of three different positions - centre, edge, corner.

I am not particularly good at assembling shapes from polyominoes - the Soma cube still is difficult for me despite having many solutions and I have so far completely failed to solve the Sisu puzzle from the last release (it is still in stock if you want a challenge). This challenge really gripped me - the premise is so simple and there is a major clue to start off with knowing the position of the flame. It is still a fabulous challenge which took me several hours before I had found all 3 solutions.

3 possible solutions
This, again, was so different to Osanori-san's other challenges and so accessible that it is a no-brainer purchase. Perfect to challenge yourself as a puzzle addict or to challenge e the significant others in your life.

Brick Wall

Puzzle face
Storage tray face
I have been watching Lucie Pauwels' designs with great interest over the years. She seems to create them in her head using simple home-made blocks and always manages to produce puzzles that are very different to those of the other designers out there today. There does not seem to be a computer used in the design process and this means that the puzzles that she creates are human solvable and require proper thought and logic to do so.

The Brick wall is a chunky puzzle (20.5x15x3cm) made from a gorgeous vibrant Bubinga and Maple. The reverse side of the puzzle is a tray which holds the pieces (Maple) which are to be the grout in the tiled wall. There are 11 differently shaped pieces of grout which need to be assembled inside the wall. The premise is very simple but the actual solution is not. I started as I always do with a random insertion of pieces in positions that looked good. With Lucie's puzzles, this approach really doesn't tend to work well and it ended for me several times with an almost, but not good enough assembly:

Well that didn't work
After a whole 2 days of failure, I decide that it was time to think© and use some logic. The pieces are shaped in such a way that there can be only one solution and the best way to go about it is to restrict the positioning of a certain few pieces from the very beginning. Once that has been done, the sequence for insertion is really pretty logical - there is a little trial and error where a piece has a little vertical symmetry but it only requires a quick test to see which way around it goes to allow other pieces in.

Despite the fact that this looks like an impossible trial and error challenge, believe me, it is not. Like most of Lucie's puzzles, this is a test of logic which you will really enjoy once you have decided to go that path. It will also look absolutely gorgeous on display.

That is it for this week - hopefully I can solve the other 3 for next weekend. There is a very challenging puzzle from Alfons Eyckmans and also something ferociously tough from Dr Volker Latussek. I know they are tough because it took me ½ an hour just to remove the pieces from the delivery configuration in the boxes! 
The upcoming puzzles will probably go on sale after 16th June.

Sunday 2 June 2024

Chasing the Serpent's Tail - Uroborus

Uroborus by Girish Sharma made by Brian Menold
Another week goes by and I make absolutely no headway solving either the Box of Celts or Vertigo puzzles. Yep! Not even the first step of each! I am truly not terribly bright - but, I will keep at it. Perseverance is definitely my thing. In desperation, I turned to yet another of Brian Menold's gorgeous creations, the Uroborus designed by the incredibly talented Girish Sharma (he seems to be catching up with the master of the TIC, Andrew Crowell). It was Girish' second entry into the IPP design competition in 2022.

This puzzle is a more suitable size to be putting in my work bag for intermittent play when I get a quiet moment. It saw the light of day on several occasions and completely bamboozled me for quite a long time. There are "only" three pieces to be interlocked so should really not be hugely difficult. Despite this "should not be difficult", I really struggle to find an assembly for the 3 pieces even without actually trying to navigate the rotations. I was able to work out how to interlock any 2 of them in a few different ways but each time there did not appear to be any way that the third piece could fit into the 3D structure. This impasse went on for several days until I finally found a possible assembly. Time to navigate the rotations...

This is where it all got a bit frustrating. I am sure that you can all hear Girish laughing at me from wherever you are in the world. All three pieces end with a corner to corner gap and thus appear to be very restricted in how they can be introduced to each other. I figured to myself that I should start with the two larger ones and after a bit of dizziness inducing rotation I managed to get them interlocked in the correct position (yay!). Now it was time to introduce the third one and here lay a big problem. I tried for hours and hours and could not do it. Maybe I should start with a large one and the small one? AT this point, I had a horrible realisation that I had been wasting hours on an impossible assembly! 😱

Had I started with those two pieces from the beginning I would have very quickly realised that I had decided upon and attempted something impossible! This situation is quite unusual for these puzzles. I have previously found that the first difficult stage of finding the possible assemblies usually ends with just one possibility leading to a prolonged attempt at actually getting it together. Here, however, there are obviously (in retrospect) more than one assembly. Aargh! Time to find another one.

Finding the first assembly had taken several days and I was rather anxious that it might take weeks to find the other one (not helped by the fact that I am terrible at remembering what I have tried before). Getting increasingly desperate, I finally found another assembly and set to putting it together. This time I tried to make sure that the small piece could physically be placed (it is very limited in the rotations it can do due to the small hole in the middle). This proved easily possible and gave me the confidence to try assembling the larger pieces. Oh boy! Brian wasn't wrong when he said that the rotations were dizziness inspiring. There were quite a lot of turns involved and a few required very precise placement of the pieces before a particular move was possible. After about an hour, I had what I needed and then got the third piece attached as well - Yeehaw! Solved it!

Uroborus solved!
Dismantling the bloody thing was also a fun challenge. Needless to say, I had completely lost track of all the various rotations required and even had forgotten the direction to move in. I was stuck for quite a while this morning trying to take it apart again. 

This puzzle may look relatively easy but it really wasn't. It took the best part of a week of swearing before I found the solution. It definitely has two phases with almost equal difficulty. Finding the correct assembly was horrendously tough for me and then the assembly almost as hard. I created a BT file to establish how many possible assemblies there are and was horrified to see that there are 5 and presumably only 1 is actually achievable. Girish, you are a genius!

Sunday 26 May 2024

Cast Planet

Hanayama Cast Planet
Today, is another quick puzzle review. I had actually failed to solve anything all week. I should have managed it with ease because Mrs S was oop North again for a week and I was home alone with a cat who seems to be steadily improving on his Prozac (even if the cutting of the white powder with a razor blade is giving me headaches). Not only was I far away from the demands of "She who must be flinched from", but I also spent 3 days sitting on my arse attending an on-line conference from 9-5 (note to the Americans - it's an arse not an ass because an ass is a donkey and there's no room in the house for one of those). You might have thought that I could have used my conference time to play with one of my toys but, alas, I am definitely a uni-tasker. If I play with a puzzle, then I seem to have no recollection of what has gone on in the conference...believe me, I tried. It may have been that I attempted the wrong puzzles? I have begun playing with the Box of Celts and so far failed to find even the first step. Plus my copy of Dee Dixon's gorgeous Vertigo puzzle arrived and I similarly failed to find any moves on that as well.

Box of Celts by Numbskull puzzles
Vertigo by Dedwood crafts
It may well be that these are just too complex to be done in a week...especially by a man of very little brains like me. However, it would have been nice to at least find the first move on just one of them before being forced to look for something simpler to solve!

Towards the end of the week I thought I had better do at least a couple of the chores that had been set as a target for me by "She who frightens the sun into setting every night". Part of those chores involved housework and forced me to look in my office. I have been avoiding that room for a while due to the unholy mess. Glancing at the desk revealed a couple of other unsolved but simpler puzzles that had just slipped my attention and rather than tidy said office, I went through the "catastrophe" to pick something for today... hence the Cast Planet as the subject of my blog.

OMG! Luckily, "She who is responsible for thunder" never looks in here
Amongst the unsolved and forgotten puzzles to solve was the Hanayama Cast Planet which I have to say looks lovely but probably remained on the desk because it also looked like it was going to be solved by random movements.

Hanayama rated it as 4 out of 6 and PuzzleMaster as 8 (Demanding) on their scale of 5 - 10. Personally, I would rate it as 3 (or 7) myself. As you would expect from the name and the look of it it consists of a rather rocky looking planet made from silver chromed metal inside a sort of Saturn's ring of gold coloured metal. I wonder whether it should have been called the Cast Virus or Cast Corona but maybe that wouldn't help it sell? It was designed by a new designer to me, Masui Ohno and is effectively a maze puzzle with all parts and paths visible.

The starting point is marked by grooves on the North and South poles of the planet which line up with marks on the ring. Obviously, the planet needs to be manipulated within the ring until the odd cutouts in the ring line up with the correctly shaped "mountains" on the planet to allow them to be slid apart.

I started looking at what kind of movements are possible and realised that the movement of the planet is quite constrained along the orientation of the ring and only at set positions was it possible to rotate the planet out of that axis to open up another sequence of moves in the plane of the ring again. Initially I was very cautious for fear of being unable to return to the beginning and hence, adopted my usual too and fro approach. Unfortunately, after about 5 minutes of puzzling I found myself unable to return to the start. Damn! OK, onward only. 

For the first 15 minutes, it seemed that I was going around in circles with no real plan for how to go about it. I felt that I was just making random moves and either I was going to continue forever making these random moves or it was going to solve itself by pure chance without me being the reason for the solve. At that point, I noticed a shape on the planet and had one of my very are thoughts. I had found a shape that looked like it might be useful and I had a "what if I aim for this?" thoughts. As you all know, thought is a rare thing for me so when it happens, I have to assume that it originated elsewhere and should probably be acted on. From this point, after another 2 or 3 minutes of systematically manoeuvring the planet into successively better positions, it fell apart into my hands and left me with a triumphant grin. Mrs S looked at me with disbelief - she rarely sees me solve anything and thinks that I either cheat or break them apart!

That's actually quite clever!
Having left it for a while, returning it to the strut position was just as tough as solving it. This is partly because it's quite hard to work out where the start position is and there are less clues for which way to move things when going in that direction.

Despite fairly low expectations for this puzzle (I am not really a fan of mazes anymore), this puzzle was actually quite enjoyable and a nice small challenge to be done in about 20-30 minutes. I looks good on display and is perfect for children and newbies as well as dedicated puzzle fans. Buy it from PuzzleMaster if you are in the Americas or from Sloyd or Hendrik if you are in Europe. For only €12-15 or $18CAD then you cannot really go wrong.

Sunday 19 May 2024

So “Easy” That It Took Me a Week

The Persistence of Memory
Just look at the beautiful grain in that!
Having splurged a little while ago and had a delivery of beauties from Brian's wonderful Wood Wonders store. There have been so many fabulous designs produced recently that I had to be pretty choosy in which ones I ordered. Mrs S is already unhappy with the state of my desk and study and I daren't upset her too much more. Of course, no puzzle purchase is complete without something from my friend Alexander Magyarics - he has a warped incredible mind! I particularly adore his cube packing puzzles with a restricted entry and the Persistence of Memory looked fun and not too difficult. Hahaha! Silly me!

It was sold in 2 versions and I am addicted to beautiful wood. Hence the puzzle that arrived was simply stunning - the Box made from Kosso and the pieces made from Boire. Brian stated that this one is similar in design to Collator and, of course, I checked my database of puzzles to see that I definitely had a copy of that one, had solved it and even written about it here. I can see the similarity in design and, as usual, I have absolutely no recollection of solving this one and certainly no memory of how it is solved. Don't tell Mrs S, but I probably only need about 15 puzzles and can rotate through them repeatedly without remembering any solutions - luckily she is very very keen not to read my blog! I guess that I should probably seek out this one again and have a play. 

I have been really really busy with work recently and had little time at home to play. I therefore packed this one into my work bag to show off and hopefully solve during a quiet moment (if I ever get one). The beautiful wood and exceptional finish on this beauty was much admired at work and I even got to play with it a few times. Just like Collator, it has a restricted entry box and 3 pieces of a shape that significantly restricts how they can be inserted inside. Unlike Collator, there are quite a few ways to make a 3x3x3 cube but the entry restrictions are very important. The most complex piece can only be inserted in 3 possible orientations and the next in also just 3. This should cut down all the shapes to attempt and also make the puzzle easier. That may be true for some people but I was seriously flummoxed by the restrictions. After a couple of days of attempts, I managed to pack all 3 pieces inside but the entry holes were not filled - this made me feel ever so slightly less stupid but was not the solution. Perseverance is not only the name of the puzzle but also the name of the game for me! I had to keep at it. Finally, this morning after a whole week of work, I had a wonderful Aha! moment. 

My goodness! That was difficult!
Whilst the assembly of the 3x3x3 cube is simple, the insertion into the box is a significant challenge. It requires 17 moves to assemble it (BT gives the disassembly a level 11.3.3)

I left it assembled for a little while for the photos and to try and forget the moves and found that just disassembling the puzzle is a challenge. It is difficult to see inside the box and work out what is happening. 

This is a really good puzzle - it's probably too difficult to be a casual puzzle to hand to people at work or visitors at home - whilst I am not terribly bright and it took me a week, most casual puzzlers would not be able to solve this in a reasonable period of time. If you get the chance to play with it or find a copy up for sale (along with Collator) then don't hesitate - it is fabulous!
Thank you Brian and Alexander

Sunday 12 May 2024

Locked Three Times Over!

The Vertigo Puzzlebox from Quizbrix
First up, I should let you know that this was sent to me for free for review.

In December 2022 I reviewed the aMAZEing Puzzlebox (also available from PuzzleMaster) and absolutely loved it. A few months later they released a follow up challenge called the Vertigo Puzzlebox and I had intended to buy one this time. Time went by and I got sidetracked by life, work and many many many other puzzles and it sort of fell by the wayside. The new one was reviewed by Steve (Boxes and Booze) reminding me that this was a great designer. Then, out of the blue, I was contacted again by Peleg to ask if I would be happy to review it. I cannot say no to a good designer and it duly arrived from Israel last weekend.

As with the previous puzzle, the challenge is to find and release the gold bar hidden inside the box, using only what is provided as you work through the sequence. The top of the box appears to have the letters QB on it superimposed on each other (I confess that I had to squint at it for a while to see it and thought it might be a D&G logo). The puzzle is made almost entirely using the ⅓ height lego bricks in various sizes and there are a number of voids visible and outlines of larger constructions that look like they should move as a single piece. In one place there is a clear brick and the ability to see right through.

Time to start - the only option available is to push and prod at various bits of the puzzle until you find something that moves and then you are off to the races. The first 4 moves are a nice unlocking sequence which leaves you with the lid removed and a tantalising view of the gold brick inside:

No spoilers here! I cannot reach that gold brick
Having seen the target, it is time to try and work out how to remove it. This is easier said than done. A single tool is found on the way and there appears to be a number of places that it can be used but none of those places seem to actually do anything. There are 8 possible places to use that tool and it requires careful attention to realise when one of them actually does something. after this there are more opportunities to use the tool in other places.

There is slow progress of finding things that move inside but it is not apparent what those movements actually achieve. It is an odd sensation of making progress without truly understanding that you are and only realising it when something else suddenly is possible. after the first few moves inside I hit a brick wall. I could see my target, I could move all sorts of things inside and tantalisingly the brick got closer but then it stopped. I was stuck at this point for several days. I was determined not to use the solution video they link to on their site and kept trying for the best part of a week.

After days of doing the same thing over and over again and then back tracking, I had one of my rare thoughts. What if I...Aha! I had moved a new part of the interior which I had not done before. Did this help? Well sort of except the brick still wasn't reachable. Having got to a new position, I was able to redo some of my previous steps and, of a sudden, I had my gold bar:

That was a real odyssey!
I had a sort of muscle memory of what I thought that I had done to release the gold and attempted to reset the puzzle. Everything went back inside and it looked perfect... or so I thought!

Of course, I usually do these puzzles several times before writing about them and on my second time through, I underwent the initial unlock process and then the second step using the tool. After this the gold bar was removable - something was not right! I looked inside the box and realised that the critical move that had taken me so long to find had not been undone when resetting. I duly went through that move a second time and it still saved too easily. What was I missing?

Continuing to stare deeply into the box, I noticed that the critical move that I had found wasn't a locking or unlocking move. In fact, I could not understand what it did. That is odd because I definitely remembered being absolutely held up before I found that move. I needed to understand what that move had enabled - time to look at one of the removed pieces from the puzzle.


Oooh! That is very clever! After an extra day of fiddling with the puzzle in pieces I realised that this puzzlebox has at least 3 locking mechanisms (it might even have 4!). It is possible to open it without fully realising the extent of these mechanisms but only when working out the full reset do you realise just how much has been put into it. This is a tremendous puzzle made better by working to open and then reset without resorting to the solution videos. Take the time to explore and think© and you will be left with a huge grin on your face.

I might even go as far as to say that the vertigo puzzle is cleverer and more enjoyable than the original aMAZEing puzzlebox. You should definitely check it out. Those are the only puzzles on their site just now but I really hope that they continue to produce more - they both are absolutely fabulous.

Sunday 5 May 2024

A Puzzling Tribute to Christoph Lohe

Very sad news
After my last post (about Christoph Lohe's marvellous design, Neighburr) I received an email from both Laszlo Molnar and Goetz Schwandtner with the very sad news that Christoph had sadly passed away at the end of January this year. It would appear that his family had not had contact with him for a  few days and contacted the police and he was found in his flat. It has been judged to be natural causes. As many of us puzzlers are getting older this sort of thing should not come as a shock but he was only 65 years old. I guess that with what I do for a living, I should not be that surprised.

He was a significant scientist having  received a MSc in Experimental Physics from the Technology University Aachen in 1989 and a PhD in 1993. He worked as a Product manager Ferrofluidics, Nuertingen, Germany, 1996-2000. Project manager Aixtron AG, Aachen, since 2001. As a scientist of note he had been listed as a noteworthy physicist by Marquis Who's Who.

I considered Christoph a friend. We had never met and I was not constantly in touch with him but we exchanged emails every few months to discuss puzzles and his wonderful designs. You can still buy some of them from PuzzleMaster here or print them yourself from Thingiverse here.

His amazing skill as a designer is shown by the fact that I have reviewed 20 of his wonderful designs here on my little section of t'internet. I thought that it would be a nice think to look back at a few of my absolute favourite of his designs. 

Collaboration with the TICMaster, Andrew Crowell
Cyburr and Chamburr from Pelikan
Climburr from Matt Nedeljko               
When the first 2 came out from Pelikan, I wondered whether these two masters of puzzle design had created a completely new type of puzzle and raved about them. They made my top 10(ish) in 2021. The Climburr was felt to be too difficult to produce in wood by Jakub and it was only when Matt Nedeljkogot the courage to attempt them did we get to attempt the final one in the series. Spoiler alert - it was fabulous and made the top ten in the next year.

Locks, Locks, Locks!
Burrlock E
Key Trap
Christoph had a bit of a thing about locks and keys but not in the classical sense. He designed burrs in that shape. The fun thing is that rather than make simple 6 piece burrs where the pieces interact in the 3 axes, Christoph made the burrs with a frame to restrict movement and a key and shackle (and pieces) to lock up in at least 2 of the axes. The one amazing thing about all of Christoph's designs is that they are not terribly high level but are always challenging and fun without being too arduous. I absolutely adored these. The fact that even the late Eric Fuller thought well enough of these to make one of them, does show how good they were.

Framed Burrs
I adore a burr that has just the standard 6 pieces but is constrained in its movement and interaction by the presence of a frame. It makes them so much more interesting.

Neighburr by Brian Menold
Again, we have puzzles that are so good that both Jakub and Brian Menold decided they were worth putting the effort into manufacturing in reasonable numbers. They all had something special and were all great fun without being too difficult.

Unconventional packing puzzles
Whenever I think of this particular type of challenge the names that always spring to mind are the incredible Alexander Magyarics and Osanori Yamamoto. But they were not alone, Christoph also had a fascination with these and designed some amazing puzzles:

Box with 2 balls
Kamelle Box
This is only a few of his great contributions to the puzzling world as well as to my collection but they include my favourites.

Do you have any favourites that you think should be given special mention? If so then please leave a comment below.

Rest in peace Christoph - I was proud to call you a friend.

Sunday 28 April 2024

Always Take Your Photos First!

Neighburr designed by Christophe Lohe made by Brian Menold
Sigh! I have to say it yet again...I'm an eejit! I caused myself a flurry of work at the last moment for this post because I wasn't paying attention. I blame it on the fact that Mrs S is back "ooop North" again and I am home alone with a disturbed cat and a workload that is just too high including having to work the weekend yet again! The disturbed cat is gradually being made better by Prozac - yes, he's on the happy pills and making me look like a coke addict. Every couple of days I can be seen cutting a white powder on a glass coaster with a razor blade! The capsules are 20mg and I need to give him 2.5mg, hence I open capsules, pour out white powder and use a double edged razor to portion it into eighths and into little spoons for each day. The image is perfect, all I need is a rolled up £50 note and I am ready to be arrested! 😱😱😱

Having given my excuses, here is todays puzzle and what I did:

I had a little splurge with Brian Menold's Woodwonders store (I cannot resist the gorgeous woods and his fabulous choices in puzzles) and one of the delights was a caged 6 piece burr designed by Christophe Lohe - the Neighburr. I love burrs in general but I am hopelessly addicted to caged burrs - especially if they are caged 6 piece burrs because the addition of the cage can turn a relatively straight-forward exploration of simple moves into a wonderful interlocking nightmare. It is also made much more fun when the basic grid for the pieces strays away from the standard 2x2xn grid. The Neighburr has burr sticks based on a 2x3x6 grid and ads in the feature that one end is 2x3 and the other 2x2. This allows for much more interesting shapes and interaction. My copy has a wonderfully white Holly frame and the pieces are beautifully coloured Koto (white), Kirandy (yellow) and Redheart. This puzzle is very reminiscent of the Bouquet that I bought and wrote about a few years ago. That one was a fantastic challenge with a level of and this one was described as an even harder level - who could resist? Chris has a special skill with his designs - he always manages to find interesting shapes, interesting moves and just the right difficulty level.

Having received a bunch of puzzles from Brian, I put a few of them in my work bag and started playing whenever I had a brief moment at work. The disturbed cat was interfering with my ability to concentrate at home! There are quite a few moves open to you initially and all but one fails to lead very far which is also part of Chris' special skill. As you work your way in the puzzle does become a little rickety and require a little bit of control of the pieces to allow subsequent moves to happen but no rotations seem to be possible to inadvertently knock you off progress. On several occasions I got lost and couldn't seem to progress or find my way back but always after a little panic found my way to the start. In my usual to and fro process, I managed to gradually work my way in. This puzzle has a wonderful unlocking sequence with a lock mechanism being used, moving a piece before re-locking and then carrying on with another piece. The sequence of Aha! moments is wonderful.

I got to a point where there were a good few pieces sticking right out but not actually free. Everything could be seen inside but I just couldn't find the next move. At this point it was time to extubate a patient and I put it down for a couple of hours. The break did me good, on picking it back up, I could see the next moves straight away and I removed my first piece. Time to back-track. Except...I tilted the puzzle to align the removed piece and a precariously hanging second piece fell out on to my anaesthetic machine. Aargh! I bent down to pick it up hoping that I remembered the correct orientation and tilted it again whereupon 2 more pieces fell out - Double aargh! At this point with my surgeon laughing at me, there was no hope that I would be able to assemble it again without Burrtools. To be honest, I don't really mind that because making the BT file is all part of the fun.

Interesting pieces
I took my photo this morning of the pieces and looked through my photo database and to my horror realised that I had dismantled this one without taking my initial photo. I needed to make my BT file and reassemble it before I could blog about it. As I said above - I'm an eejit! When I went to BT to enter the pieces I suddenly found that this was not an easy one to enter the starting shape without having an assembled puzzle, or at least a photo to use as a reference. Luckily Brian has photos in his archive gallery but even then, this one is a bit awkward to enter into BT without having a puzzle to rotate around and look at from all angles. My initial attempts produced a puzzle with no solutions but after a bit of fiddling with my pieces and pushing them into the frame and rotating it around, I managed it and reassembled the puzzle.

This is absolutely terrific as I have come to expect from Chris. It even has some repeatability due to the lovely locking mechanism. 

Now, it's time to clean the litter tray (yuk!) and spend some time with the disturbed cat whilst playing with some of the others I received from Brian:

Uroborus by Girish Sharma
Persistence of memory by Alexander Magyarics

Yep! A series of wonderful Ribs designed by Andrew Crowell. These are 6 piece board burrs that need to be assembled with rotations. I hope that I have more luck with these than with the RIPley board burr which I haven't managed to assemble after quite a few years!