Sunday 25 February 2024

An Icosahedral Puzzle for You Because I’m an Eejit!

Icosaminx with my own colour scheme
Don't they look great?
This is a fabulous puzzle - both in looks and in solving but I am writing about it with a heavy heart...I had not actually intended to write about it this weekend. I have to admit (yet again) that I'm not terribly bright! I have spent weeks on my solving odyssey of the Brass Monkey Sixential Discovery puzzle and really thought that I had it beaten (it took me 3 weeks to find the first step!) and whilst uploading my photos and looking at what I had done and the pieces I had found (OMG there are so many pieces!), I had this sneaky suspicion that I was missing something. I checked Allard's review and realised that I am truly a rubbish puzzler - not only had I taken an obscenely long time to get to where I was but I also had convinced myself that I had reached the end when I really had not and in retrospect it was obvious! Aargh!

As a result of this, I am having to discuss the Icosaminx which looks fearsome but is a minor challenge compared with the recently purchased sequential discovery puzzles that I am failing at. 

Most puzzlers seem to be geometry freaks (another reason that we are "not normal") and with a large number of tetrahedral, triangular prism, cubic, cuboidal, pentagonal prism, hexagonal and dodecahedral puzzles there is always room for something with another wonderful shape and yet more sides/vertices. Enter the Icosaminx...who can resist a 20-sided puzzle? Not me! I had to buy it as soon as I saw it on sale. 

As you can see, it's a corner turning puzzle which means that it is EASY to solve despite it's looks:

Corner turning makes for an easy puzzle
The effect of being corner turning means that the only parts that scramble are the face centers and the edges in triads. My usual approach to any twisty puzzle is to explore simple move sequences first and undo them and look at the effects to see how they can be used. Often I scramble by accident but within 5 minutes of performing an up, up, down, down I could see that those triads were being moved around like any edge piece series would. This is useful as the edges would be easy to place but what about the centres? Remembering the easy approach to commutators that I have learned many times I could see that with so many vertices, it would be easy to turn one and move a single center out of the triad and undo the up, up, down down which would make for a nice easy 3-cycle of the centres. 

Even this can be built partially by intuition

Hooray! within just 5 minutes of playing with the puzzle I had a beautiful solution approach. I would orient the corners, build up most of the bottom half of the puzzle by intuition and block building (this is easy because there is so much space on a 20 faced puzzle - I even was able to do this on the incredible Eitan's Star from many years ago.

Once half of it is built by intuition, I can then 3 cycle to place the edges and finally use my 10 move commutator with a few easy setup moves to rotate all the centres into place. I figured that taking 5 minutes to work out how to solve a twisty puzzle was pretty brilliant of me and then I failed the Brass monkey 6! Sob!

Time for a scramble:

It looks great scrambled and much harder than it actually is
Having admired the apparent chaos of so many pieces, I set to and am gratified to tell you that it really was as easy as I have told you. It's a bit laborious with so many pieces to place but a remarkably satisfying puzzle to solve. It took about 15 minutes to complete and left me with a big grin. I have taken it to work to show off and yet further convince my colleagues that I am a genius. They look at the puzzle with horror and then amazement when it is solved so quickly. At least some people think I am a genius whereas the puzzling world, my poor readers, well know the truth of my meagre skills.

As a follow up to last week's blog post, I can tell you that the puzzles I reviewed from Pelikan went on sale and as expected the really fancy ones sold out very quickly. I have been told that Jakub and Jaroslav intend to make more copies of the MRI and Matchbox Playground (and maybe the Filling V) in the future. Keep an eye out for them.

I did manage to finally solve the MRI with a very big smile on my face. I had completely missed something in the week that I had it and when I found it laughed at the simplicity and beautiful implementation of the mechanism:

It took me over a week!

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 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: 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 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 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.


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):

Puzzle splines
Doors and Drawers