Sunday 18 February 2024

Truly Something to Behold

Soon to be released by Pelikan
At  the beginning of the week before last I took delivery of a VERY large box from Jakub and Jaroslav containing 7 puzzles and a request to have reviews as quickly as possible. I am just human and with my simple brain cannot possibly solve all of these in that short time (especially when you realise that there are hundreds of challenges here and some are really very difficult indeed.

Here we have:
Back row:
    Matchbox Playground - an extension of Oskar's original design by Péter Gál
Middle row:
    Filling V by Dr Volker Latussek
    Flummox by Benjamin Heidt
    Appletree by Benjamin Heidt
Front Row:
    Parallel Burr Cube #2 by Osanori Yamamoto
    Rattle Twist Duo by Osanori Yamamoto
    MRI by Benjamin Heidt

My picture does not do justice to the beauty and quality of them all (for that, you should wait for the official photos from Ivan Danik which appear on the Pelikan site.

Pelikan 2024 Feb

Stunning series this time with what looks like one of the most gorgeous puzzle sets I’ve ever seen.

Filling V 

Fillin V by Volker Latussek
Sent with just the triomino left out

Dr Latussek returns to challenge us with another of his wonderful packing puzzles that look much easier than they actually are. This one made of ????? comprises 6 L tetrominoes plus an L Triomino giving us the required 27 voxels to make up a solid cube. I could instantly see that there were several ways to make the cube and each of these could be attempted in several orientations with respect to the box. This box has a nice large slotted entry hole which looks like it shouldn’t be much of a hindrance to inserting the pieces. Dr Latussek said this:

"While working on the FLOP series, I had some fun working with completely filled boxes. I ‘d already done some preliminary work using L-shaped tetracubes, so it made sense to me to work on Lazlo Molnar and Alexander Magyarics’ six Ls puzzles and to combine them with the V-shaped tricube to make one of the 65 possible cubes and then put them in a box with only one opening. Of course, I started with my usual CASINO box, only to learn that this recipe doesn’t produce a sufficiently challenging puzzle, and neither does a FLOP box. Actually, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised. Given the filling of a cube-shaped box, the actual design task was to find the correct, single, continuous opening.

Despite the numerous specifications, FILLING V is a challenging puzzle whose solution still surprises me. But there will never be a FILLING I."

Having found several possible cubes, I quickly noticed that many could be discarded because of the requirement to place an L shape (or even more than one) in at the end as a last piece. This cut down the options considerably and then left me with the need to place 5 pieces in the box. Here lies the challenge for this puzzle. There seems to be plenty of space to place 5 pieces but with lots of wiggle room and all you can do is wiggle and I needed quite a bit more space than that. At this point it’s a request to think© and notice what the box does allow you to do. There is a really lovely Aha! moment here and suddenly the wiggle room becomes room to really do something. Burrtools told me that there are 65 possible ways to assemble the pieces into a 3x3x3 cube but I found something pleasing quite early on.

I placed my last piece in the box with a huge grin on my face! This is, on the face of it, a much simpler puzzle than the Flop series but I think is better for it. The best description is “elegant” - it’s almost as elegant as the classic Casino which won so many accolades.

It’s an essential purchase!

Flummox

Flummox by Benjamin Heidt
This beautiful and rather diminutive creation was designed by a new name on the scene, Benjamin Heidt. If this is a typical example of puzzles from him then I hope that Jakub and Jaroslav make more. It is a fabulous variant on the classic 6 piece burr with length of 6 voxels (pieces made from a vibrant Purpleheart). The addition of little additional pieces (made from Maple) added onto the sides of the burr sticks which interfere with the the usual movement of the pieces and make the solution much more interesting.

The solution level is: 13.4.2.3 which is just right for all but the most masochistic of burr solvers and is delightful to explore. From the start position there are 4 or 5 possible moves and then further exploration after some of them. This took me about an hour to solve using my usual to and fro method which also meant that I could reassemble it from memory. The really good solvers will disassemble it relatively quickly and then have a really nice challenge assembling from scratch.

Beautifully made pieces

Appletree

Appletree by Benjamin Heidt
Here we have another very interesting design by Benjamin Heidt. It is a beautifully burr made in the shape of an Apple tree complete with apples amongst the foliage. It has been stunningly created using American Walnut, Acacia with Padauk apples.

This takes a bit of fiddling and exploration in every direction to find the first piece to move and after this, if you’re anything like me, it’s followed by an “Oh my God!!!” moment as all of a sudden a whole LOT of pieces move in various directions. Slight panic ensued and I quickly decided to return to the beginning and discovered that it wouldn’t go - aaargh! It took a frantic few minutes to sort of scrunch it back together and breathe a sigh of relief. I had to gird myself before trying again. This is fun! For me it’s a puzzle version of a rollercoaster.

Having done that several times and worked out how it locked and unlocked, I proceeded to explore and quickly found that several pieces were removable. I kept them in a place where I could tell the position and orientation. After removing 4 or 5 the trunk fell off and it sort of scrunched up again. I was lost! Despite this, the puzzle remained pretty stable even if everything was jiggly. I actually struggled to remove the remaining pieces, they did not just fall apart. Over the next 20 minutes I gradually disassembled it piece by piece and, oh boy, there are a lot of pieces.

Appletree pieces
After all of that, I had not even done the main challenge! This is not a stunningly designed sequential disassembly puzzle as I alluded to above…it is actually an assembly puzzle - the tree, as received, is in a "transport configuration" - the actual aim of the puzzle is to assemble the tree again but with 4 red apples on each side of the tree. There is no way that I was going to reassemble the transport solution without assistance let alone the main challenge and so I am off to Burrtools for a happy time sketching pieces out. Great fun!

Rattle Twist Duo

Rattle Twist Duo by Osanori Yamamoto
My friend's version
This beautiful interlocking puzzle designed by Osanori Yamamoto is made from Maple (pieces) with 2 different frames: one Jatoba and the other Zebrano. This one was so good that it was made for me by my greatly missed friend and mentor Tsy Hung Chein (aka Felix). Felix had one of the best eyes for a fabulous puzzle and if he took the time to make a copy and send it to me then you can be assured that there is something special about it. I had absolutely adored the copy sent to me - and I am delighted that many others will now get to experience a puzzle that looks simple but has significant challenge to it. 

Osanori-san’s documentation that he sent to Jakub said that the 2 interlocking pieces should be sent out locked on one frame with the aim being to remove them and place them on the other and then return it to the start position. Like many of his creations, rotations are both possible and required. For a puzzle with only 2 pieces to be fitted on a relatively simple frame, this should not be so difficult. Despite having done it before, it took me a good hour to disassemble one and assemble the other. 

Then going back the other way after a delay to allow forgetting was just as much of a challenge.

Parallel Burr Cube #2 

Parallel Burr Cube #2 by Osanori Yamamoto
Another challenge by Osanori-san, this consists of a Frame made from Bubinga and a set of 6 board burr pieces made from Limba. It is strikingly beautiful. Initially I thought that this was just a framed 6 board burr but it’s not quite this. The boards are held apart from each other by the frame making sure they interact loosely with each other being trapped by just the end-plates of each board. At the beginning there are several possible moves but the paths are mostly dead-ended after just 1 or 2 moves. This means no huge long fruitless pathways to explore. It requires a search for something that goes somewhere and for me, took quite a while to find the required move that opened up the puzzle for further exploration. The first piece can be removed quite quickly after just 6 moves which then allows you to peek inside and gain some more understanding of the interaction of the pieces. Having removed the first piece, it does not seem to get any simpler and the puzzle transforms into almost a disentanglement puzzle - it is like unravelling a knot inside a box whilst you can only see a small section of the knot at a time. It is at times frustrating, sometimes fiddly as the boards can catch on the edges as there is a little wiggle room, but is always an enjoyable exploration. The move count is not particularly high but it is still fun to explore and work out at each stage how to make room for the next piece to slide.

You can see how the pieces are locked in place
Having dismantled the puzzle over about an hour or more, I had kept the pieces in order of their removal and remembered which position they had come from. All with the aim of facilitating reassembly without resorting to Burrtools. I was feeling quite proud of myself as I inserted the first three and then for some reason the fourth one just couldn’t be inserted. What was I doing wrong? A careful look at the shapes of the pieces revealed that the second piece had been inserted upside down followed by the third correctly and this couldn’t leave room to insert the next. OK, having realised this, take it apart again…except I couldn’t dismantle it! Aargh! Minor panic ensues and I have to work out all over again how to undo the interior disentanglement puzzle I had created for myself. After a frantic 10 minutes, I had all the pieces and admonished myself for being an eeejit and not keeping track of piece orientation as well as order. After this it went back together nice and smoothly. This puzzle is wonderful - it looks great, is sort of a burr and disentanglement puzzle at the same time and, if you are good enough, it can be a really tough assembly puzzle as well.

MRI

MRI by Benjamin Heidt
This new rather quirky and very attractive puzzle design by Benjamin Heidt is a new type of puzzle for Pelikan and I am not certain how to categorise it. Apparently Benjamin is a technician who works on MRI machines in hospitals. He must be very used to working with magnets and there are several of them inside this puzzle. It looks just like an MRI scanner complete with a patient (he has hair and a nose!) on the scanning platform inside the magnet. The aim is to remove the patient from the scanner by unlocking the hidden interior mechanism. One thing Benjamin should know is that you must NEVER bring another ferrous metal object inside the Faraday cage walls of an MRI room because it will turn into a missile if released in the room (believe me, I have seen it with an old Molybdenum steel oxygen cylinder - it moves very fast and does a LOT of damage!) but here he has disobeyed all the rules. The puzzle has a magnetic ball bearing on the floor held by a magnet embedded inside it and obviously this magnetic bearing is used to somehow unlock the patient from the scanner and remove him. 

I do not know how many steps is required because I have so far not managed to do much more than make interesting clicking noises as I move the bearing over the surface. I am making things happen inside but so far I have made no progress with the release - my patient may well starve to death in the MRI! I may be reduced to having to take it to work and asking a kind radiographer to take an Xray of it for me.

This is certainly something interesting which we have never seen before from the Pelikan workshop. Well worth adding to your collection for the quirkiness and the considerable puzzling challenge.

Matchbox Playground

Matchbox Playground - an extension of Oskar's idea by Péter Gál
This rather large puzzle set must be one of the most beautiful puzzle sets that I have ever seen! It is simply stunning and an amazing scope of work by the designer and by the craftsmen. It is the result of an epic amount of work by the incredible puzzle designer, Péter Gál.

The box opens like a matchbox
There are puzzle sheets and an explainer inside
Cubic dissection version
I have quite a few burr sets and this one ranks up there alongside the very best of them and will take pride of place in my collection. It is not a burr set but a set of increasingly difficult assembly puzzles based on the wonderful and clever Oskar’s Matchboxes puzzle that has been produced by several craftsmen over the years as well as 3D printed. Oskar's original puzzle had 5 pieces and I found that one pretty challenging. Later the idea was extended by Alexander Kapkan with 6 pieces and again by Onno Hein with 6 pieces in a different configuration. Over more than a year Péter had performed an exhaustive computational analysis. A smaller version of this had been released in the IPP design competition in 2016. Péter's analysis was restricted to a 3x2x1 matchbox with the matches attached at the gridlines giving 14 possible match/matchbox pairs. This puzzle set is contained in a gorgeous box shaped and sliding open like a matchbox itself to reveal the full set of 14 possible pieces and an envelope with an explanation and puzzle challenges ranging from using just 4 pieces up to the maximum of 13. 

Just look at the presentation here - it is amazing!
There are effectively hundreds of challenges here as each one has multiple solutions to find. The individual boxes are stunningly made out of Maple, Wenge and Jatoba and the case made from Maple, Wenge and Oak.

This picture will be essential if I am going to put them back!
When I took a few out to admire them, I realised straight away that I would need a photo of how they were arranged in the box! If you do just tip them out then an additional challenge for you will be to pack them back in again - I was not brave enough to do that! The challenges are really fun to do and require considerable thought. The cards show just the required pieces and not the eventual shape that you need to use. This means that simple entry into Burrtools is not possible. I have managed the first couple of challenges and really look forward to spending real time with this set. This is absolutely fabulous! I have put 3 of my solutions to the first challenge behind a spoiler button - if you plan to buy the set then don't look at it:


Should you buy this set? Hell yes! It's stunningly gorgeous, a whole lot of puzzling challenges. I absolutely love puzzles that come with a booklet of challenges e.g. the Peanut puzzle, the cubic Mazeburr, Rhombic Mazeburr and Split Mazeburr and this new one from Pelikan is just amazing!



Sunday 11 February 2024

It Eclipsed My Abilities for a Long Time

Total Eclipse from PuzzleMaster

I have had the Total Eclipse puzzle sitting on my desk next to me in my, ahem, "backlog of puzzles to solve" for an embarrassingly long period of time. It has been there for over a year! First it was unsolved because I was too busy, then it remained unsolved because I couldn't work it out, then it got, BLUSH, buried in other puzzles to be solved and finally unsolved because I kept going round and round in circles. Yes, I am not very bright and I often use the Einstein's madness approach of doing the same thing over and over again until something changes.

I had bought it because it was an Oskar van Deventer design (pretty much anything he designs is incredible - I really need to get hold of a couple of copies of the Zigguflat puzzle that has been enjoyed by so many brilliant puzzlers and combine into one large fabulous N-ary puzzle. I also have been quite intrigued by the amazing series of PuzzleMaster's own metal creations. The Honeycomb puzzle recently created as a KickStarter is now available direct from them.

The Toal Eclipse consists of 2 interlocking rings (one chrome and one brass) inside a black metal cage. It is about 6.5cm in diameter and difficulty score of 9 on their odd 5 - 10 scale. I think the level is about right. The inner rings can rotate around inside the cage freely - it is very similar in idea to the Hanayama Cast Equa (also by Oskar) which I reviewed after a huge struggle many years ago. It also share a small similarity with the Hanayama Cast Duet (yes, another Oskar design) reviewed here. Obviously there needs to be a spot on the cage where the rings can be released. I found that straight away. The two rings each have a gap in them which allows them to interlock and presumably is where they disassemble from the cage. The reason they don't just come apart is because the gap has a polarity and straight away it is obvious that the polarity is reversed at the beginning the process:

The grooves in the cage are on the opposite side to the ring.
The ring obviously needs to be reversed to come off.
It is obvious that the aim is to move the pieces around so that the grooves in the cage line up with the ring. How do you do that? There are single grooves on the cage (different orientation to the release grooves) and the rings can be slid from segment to segment through a maze until the ring has the correct orientation.

In my multiple previous attempts to solve this puzzle I had found a shortcut - my copy has a slight flaw where the ring can be passed over the groove in the cage with the orientation the wrong way around. I realised early on that this was not right and did my best to avoid it. This turned the puzzle into a nightmare for me! There are multiple ways to work your way around the cage and tantalisingly there are a few places where the grooves occur on both sides allowing either orientation to pass. I found this no help whatsoever! I went round and round in circles in multiple directions and always ended up back at the beginning with the ring unable to slide off. OMG! I began to question my sanity which I have to say Mrs S has done many times. I kept having to put it down.

Finally lined up!
After the recent tidy up of my hellscape of desk, I suddenly found the Total Eclipse under a rather large pile and decided at the end of last week to try again and be finally able to put it away. I took it to work with me, I played in the evenings and everywhere for a bit. After annoying everyone for a week with my jingling. I had an Aha! moment and the brass ring came off. Yessss! The chrome ring was obviously the same and would need the same path - except I had no recollection of how the first one had come off. I went round and round in circles again. Each time I was back at the beginning there was a great offing and blinding. This was a very difficult puzzle! One more try and I suddenly noticed something about the possible positions and found a sort of figure of eight sequence that was able to reverse the polarity of the ring and then I had to make it back to the double groove position. This was easier said than done but I got there and could breathe a sigh of relief.

At last!
Having done this, it was time to return to the start position. This should just be a matter of reversing what I had done but of course, I couldn't remember what I had done! At least this time I had a vague idea of what was required and it only took me a whole day to do it. 

For just $25CAD this puzzle is a really good buy! It is quite attractive, very tactile as a fiddling object and most importantly, offers a LOT of puzzling without getting hopelessly lost (you always get back to the beginning even when you don't want to). At over a year to solve it, I have definitely got my money's worth.

Watch out next week for the first release of 2024 by Pelikan...


Sunday 4 February 2024

Mike Makes Me Feel Foolish and Happy!

The 234 Puzzle Cube in its' presentation box with sealed certificate
I actually solved something this week! Hallelujah! Back in November last year, I received an email from a lovely friend who offered me the opportunity of being able to try out one of his new designs as a Christmas present. That wonderful friend is also one of the best puzzle craftsmen in the world. Yes it is the Greek wonder, Mike Toulouzas. I have been lusting after quite a few of his puzzles for many years (I do own a few from him but not enough). I am still hoping that he will make some more of his Illusion puzzle which I reserved from him way back in 2014 and he has still not managed to make any! This fabulous offer was sent to a handful of his puzzle friends and I am so grateful that I am considered significant enough to be included in that very select group.


Mike gave no details away apart from a promise that a puzzle was coming and when it arrived in January, I was blown away by the sheer beauty of it. If you look at his website, you will quickly realise that he never does anything quickly or without precision. Everything is gorgeous and perfect. The box contained a lovely display box and an envelope with a puzzle maker's stamp on it.

Inside the envelope was a certificate with a wax seal. The attention to detail is amazing - the certificate is good heavy card and the edges have been cut with pinking scissors. I almost didn't want to break the seal but had to see what was inside:


All puzzles should have one of these!
It states the woods and I think that this is the first puzzle I own that has Lemon tree wood in it. The box is gorgeous and noteworthy because even the hinge is made of wood with a polished brass dowel. Opening the box lid requires a little pull and because of the design of the legs interacting with the lid, it opens (and closes) with a satisfying click. Inside, the box is packed with beautifully chamfered puzzle pieces:

Just look at that!
The instructions are to make a cube with the pieces and looking inside I did a quick count/calculation. 2x2x7 is 28 which is 1 cubie too many. I tipped them out and saw why. The pieces are stunning and more complex than expected. Mike has signed one of them:

Just 6 pieces - how hard can it be?
Before it arrived, Mike emailed to ask that all the recipients:
  1. Time your self when you decide to play. 
  2. Record three times the time (cause might be false conclusion from the first ones.
  3. Send me the results....and a few words as a feedback would be appreciated.
Having taken my photos and marvelled at Mike's skills, I set to. I should have been doing chores but Mrs S realised that I had something special and I reassured her that at only 6 pieces and "only" having to make a simple cube, it wouldn't take me that long - probably just 2 or 3 minutes.

WRONG!

I set a timer on my phone and off I went. There are 2 fairly large and complex pieces and this seemed an obvious place to start. I tried to be logical and systematic which is a bit of a stretch for my very simple brain. I have very few neurons and most of them have been thoroughly gassed at work! Everything I tried was not working - this was very odd. In the end I solved it with the following times:
1st attempt was 7min 57sec.
2nd attempt was 1min 15sec. (maybe because I had remembered the first?)
3rd attempt was 5min 59sec.

For something so apparently simple, there was definitely something startlingly difficult. Mike has designed this deliberately to lead the puzzler astray. Your first thoughts about how to solve this are very much led in the wrong direction. The third time, I knew that the conventional approach was wrong but I just couldn't seem to work out the correct one until I had exhausted several obvious failures. When I pointed this out to Mike, he agreed that this was a deliberate feature and almost everyone has the same problem. He had noticed it with "normal" people (adults and kids) and wanted to see whether us "abnormal" people do the same thing.

I am sort of delighted to know that I am at least slightly normal but judging from comments received from work colleagues, they do not think of me as very normal at all. 😱😳🤣
 
AT the moment, Mike is not planning on making these for sale but may do in the future. If you do see an opportunity to buy any Puzzlevision creations then you should jump at the chance.Thank you Mike for such a wonderful opportunity and a fabulous puzzle for display!

Previous Toulouzas creations (either alone or in collaboration with another creator):

Trigo
Trinity
Puzzle splines
Doors and Drawers

Sunday 28 January 2024

An Original Pelikan

Shows where Jakub and Jaroslav Got Their Skills

Four Corners by Stewart Coffin
I have had a rather hard week at work this week and have been working on some tough new puzzles. This has meant that I have solved nothing! Yes, Nothing! I am rubbish at puzzles - you heard it first here. I wish I was a genius like Steve and Derek or a puzzle solving machine like Louis but unfortunately I seem to be much better at accumulating puzzles than solving them.

BM6



The Brass monkey number 6 arrived nearly 2 weeks ago and I have singularly failed to find even the first move. Remember that if you want one then it goes on sale NEXT Sunday. I am sure that you will have a lot of fun with it and solve it in a reasonable amount of time whilst I spend months and months trying to find the first move.



Oleg's Wardrobe


I also received the Oleg's Wardrobe from Dedwood Crafts. It is absolutely stunning and rather huge. It is NOT a box! Even if it has a cavity in it - Dee has said that it is a wardrobe and there's nothing that says I can't have wardrobes in my collection! Mrs S is muttering about storage again but has admitted that it is very very beautiful. Again, I have played for a bit and followed the easy first steps which lead you nowhere and then stopped dead. Yet again, I have accumulated something and haven't managed to solve it. Aargh! I am trying not to cry thinking about the previous 3 from Dee which also remain stubbornly closed.

Erm! I seem to have failed at these as well - I really need to find my Mojo.

Orbit
Uplift
Burner
All three by Dee Dixon remain unsolved - only one has revealed any steps at all to me!

Al Bus by Jordi Gallen         

Then after that, Having seen the Al Bus (designed and created by Jordi Gallen) raved about by several people at Peter Hajek's EPP and also enthused about by Derek, I decided that I should try and get a copy. It is available to purchase now from PuzzleMaster but when I looked at it and made my decision, a copy was put up for auction to go to charity commemorating the late Eric Fuller. I bid and I won and several rather gorgeous pieces of plastic arrived. I haven't had time to do much more than fiddle so far. It is rather lovely!

Having gotten nowhere with several rather complex puzzles all I can do is show off a rather lovely Stewart Coffin puzzle that I managed to acquire from Bernhard. This copy of the Four Corners (STC#6) was made by Josef Pelikan using 3 woods and is a lovely variant of the diagonal star puzzle. It slides apart beautifully to show 6 identically shaped pieces with the classic base and slightly altered ends:

Instantly recognisable piece types
At this point I noticed that there are 4 different woods appearing at the ends of the pieces (3 Padauk, 3 Wenge 3 Mahogany and then 3 Oak. When the puzzle had arrived, as you can see at the top of the post, all the colours at the ends were mismatched. I hadn't read anything about the puzzle and wondered to myself whether the aim is to reassemble ensuring that each of the 4 poles is the same colour/wood. I also wondered whether there were any alternative assemblies. I quickly discovered that despite the simplicity of the pieces, there seems to be no other way to assemble the puzzle. If you try to put it together with pieces the wrong way then it is blocked.

Sliding together blocked
After fiddling for a little while, I discovered that this one is a little awkward to assemble the halves. I found it quite confusing - I could assemble the top half with the single pole but struggled to manage the differently shaped bottom half. I got there in the end and now have the puzzle arranged with a different wood at each pole:

Much better!
Looking at the online version of "The Puzzling World of Polyhedral Dissections" kindly hosted by John Rausch, there are other challenges involving different arrangements of the colours and symmetry. The four different ways in which the Four Corners Puzzle can be assembled in color symmetry are represented in in black and white below. The one on the left, in which each "corner" is a solid color, is the easiest and most obvious and is how the puzzle got its name. Each has a pair of solutions.

fig104

Finally, to extract one more bit of recreation from this puzzle, discover the 24 ways of assembling it such that the patterns of all four colors are identical but not symmetrical. You may skip the 3,808 ways that do not have either property. Hint: in general, these color symmetry problems are not the type that one solves by trial and error. One must try to discover the principles involved and the simple rules that transform one solution into another. You may not even need the physical pieces.

I have managed a couple of these and then got side-tracked by other toys! Now it's time to get back to these blasted sequential discovery puzzles and hopefully solve something for next week - wish me luck!


Sunday 21 January 2024

Trays and Trays of Thought

A Plethora of torture from Alexander
I will say it up front - Alexander Magyarics is one of the best puzzle designers out there. I don't say it because I consider him a friend, I say it because he has proven it time and time again! You all know it from the rather large number of his designs that have been created by Jakub and Jaroslav's Pelikan puzzles team that have made it into all of our collections. Quite a few of his puzzles have made it into my top ten puzzles of the year and they include 3D packing puzzles with incredible shapes (sometimes requiring rotations and sometimes just rectilinear moves), there are now even a few burrs under his belt which are not just a creation made using the Burrtoools software aimed at getting the highest level possible - the important thing about Alex's creations are that they are interesting and require the dreaded thought© to be solved. This requires something very special or very warped in the head - I leave it up to you to decide.

For the last couple of Xmases Alex has made me a lovely and not so little care package of puzzles he has both designed and 3D printed himself (Sigh! I wish I was allowed a 3D printer but if I wish to keep all parts of my anatomy attached then that is not going to happen). I received 14 of them this time and Mrs S was less than impressed (one thing about 3D printed puzzles is that they do look like child's toys and are not attractive i.e. no "wife appeal"). I reassured "she who frightens police officers to death" that they would be kept out of sight and not left on display anywhere and put them in my study in yet another box of puzzles to be solved - my goodness, I have a huge backlog just now!

This last 10 days "she who makes the sun hide in fear" was up in Sconny Botland visiting the outlaws and I was free to leave stuff lying around and play with them at my leisure. I actually did not have much time to myself due to work but the advantage of tray puzzles is that they take up very little space and can be carried around easily. I had some other toys in transit from various parts of the world and until they arrived had nothing that "had" to be solved fast. Time to play with the packing puzzles.

Rhinnocent
Alex had suggested that I start with this one (I had asked in desperation at preserving my ego for the easier ones). Place 5 of them in the smaller tray and then all 7 in the larger one. Usually I am truly awful at this type of thing and find that all I do is trial and error over and over again because after a while I cannot remember what I have tried before. I started in exactly the same way but within a minute or so, I was able to see some vague logic to them and was able to direct my approach. Wow! I had the small tray done in about 5 minutes and then the larger one in a further 15 or so. Amazing - a feeling of achievement and think©ing had occurred!

1 Billion
This was the second one he told me to do and I really wasn't sure about it. It is very attractive and quite clearly had been designed using Burrtools - how else could he know that there was ONLY one solution? I found initially that I began to place pieces randomly and quickly found myself blocked but there must have been a reason for suggesting this as an early challenge. Alex had asked me why I thought it was called 1 Billion? I suspected because that might be how many years it might take me and hopefully asked whether it was because there was actually 1 billion ways to solve it. I still don't know why the name! Having failed a couple of times, I realised that there are some very complex shapes for some of the pieces and they are very limited in where they can go. Why not start with them? Then move to progressively less complex shapes. After a couple of blind ends in the solve, I had it. Yet again, a tray packing puzzle that required thought© and very little random placement. This is sheer genius design!

Pieces of my Heart
I couldn't resist this one as my next challenge - it looked relatively straightforward - the aim being to create a full heart with it placed in the top left corner. This is Alex's first sliding tile puzzle. I usually find these unrewarding due to the large number of random moves to try and an enormous decision tree that eventually gets created. This apparently can be solved with 45 moves (I did not manage to do it that quickly). Having had such a great time with the previous puzzles I felt that there must be something special about this one too and I was not wrong. Unusually for one of these, the first bunch of moves are very constrained and there is only one path for quite a while. After that, I reached a decision point and took the wrong turn (as usual) but was not led up a huge long dead end with lots of other paths to rule out on the way. The blind ends are relatively short and sweet, requiring a backtrack and searching elsewhere. My memory is awful and this puzzle never required me to commit huge long sequences to memory. I found hot quite rewarding to finally reach the end point - I suspect that about 150-200 moves was used in the end after false paths and backtracking. I may even try it again to see if I can do it in a shorter sequence. Don't look if you don't want to see the end positions.



Finally, I couldn't resist one of Alex's multiple challenge puzzles. The fun thing about a huge number of his packing puzzles from last year as well as this year (and even some of the Pelikan puzzles like Sliders) have multiple challenges to them. I decided to strat with the rather beautiful ICEbreaker:


The pieces look simple (3 copies of the word ICE) and the first challenge had 256 solutions. Now, that is my type of puzzle - even I can solve it (hopefully). Again, this has been created with the aim to make you think© and it worked! My first trial and error attempts failed and I had to look at how the letters interacted with each other. This made it much easier and I quickly found one of those 256. I have not searched for lots more as I won't be able to remember what I have done before. The next challenge with the constraint of having alike letters touching was much more difficult but still a pleasurable experience. Challenge 3 nearly had me giving up - fill the tray leaving gaps in two diagonally opposite corners. I tried to be clever and look at the best way to pack tightly and leave a voxel free in those corners. Well, me being clever usually ends in disaster and I was not disappointed. I spent a good 45 minutes trying the same thing over and over again and it would not work. I then tried something else that was much less clever and this ended in the solved puzzle. I retrospectively entered the pieces into Burrtools to look at the solution set for this challenge and was interested to see that the tightest interaction that could leave a corner empty is not one of the solutions - have I said that this man is a genius? He perfectly led me astray and made me waste my time on something impossible! Challenge 4 was going to be impossible for me and I decided to try for the anti slide challenge. Take 2 sets of ICE and put them in the tray in such a way that none of the pieces can slide.

I have only played with a few anti slide puzzles before and have found that I just do not have the skill set to solve them. Many people at IPPs have loved them and a few have been entered into the design competition. I have played and failed before. But Alex has challenged me and I had to at least try. The problem here is that the pieces are all quite open and the tray quite big when you are only using 2 sets of pieces. I was very surprised at how much fun this was. I initially had pieces freely sliding in an ocean of space and then worked to get them tangled. Progress is very much stepwise as I found that changing positions of some pieces sort of locked bits up but not enough to prevent them all from sliding. I gradually worked my way through moving more and more pieces until there was a big Aha! moment. I had solved my first anti slide puzzle and it was good! I doubt that this will become a favourite genre but it's definitely worth a try and a big bonus as an additional challenge in a tray packing puzzle.

I still have a whole bunch of these to try and a few will always be in my work bag to be taken out during a quiet time. Thank you Alex for a wonderful gift and restoring my faith in my abilities!



Brass Monkey Sixential Discovery Puzzle (BM6)
Yes, it has arrived and the preorders close today. If you want the chance of a slightly early arrival and free shipping then get to the Two Brass Monkey site quickly and place your order. Allard loved his experience of solving the prototype. I have spent a several hours on mine and have not even found the first step (sigh, I am not very bright!) There is a lot of interesting stuff to be seen and it is going to be a huge challenge.

If you wait then it goes on sale formally on February 4th.