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.