Sunday 30 June 2024

It's Not What It Seems To Be...

But It's Still Really Good

Pocket Watch
Designed by Shaui Chi and made by Mr Gao
Having had a really good time with one of Aaron's gift puzzles whilst on my holibobs, but still hadn't managed to solve a puzzle, I was determined to do better with the new batch that arrived whilst I was away.

Telescope (level 7)
The Pocket watch puzzle is "only" a level 8 on Aaron's scale. I really don't know what to make of his scale because I have never seen anything less than a 7 on it and almost all of the puzzles he releases are 10 or 10+. The odd thing is that the single level 7 puzzle that I bought from him remains unsolved and I have not come even close to working it out.

I had high hopes for the Pocket watch puzzle because it immediately screams out to most experienced puzzlers as very similar to the classic Ball and ring puzzle described in van Delft & Botermans' Creative puzzles of the world and, from it,  a whole bunch of variants which add degrees of difficulty and which I have struggled with multiple times over the years. My late mentor Tsy Hung Chein (aka Felix) got me entangled in their delights and made me a large number of them. There have been reviews of them here, here and here.

Classic Ball and chain (Livewire version)
The Pocket watch looks so like a variant of the Ball and ring puzzles except...the ring is not on the string in this one. This should start the alarm bells ringing...why not? My initial thought was that I had to move the ring onto that string and then solve it the usual way. The only problem with that is that I could not find any way to achieve that aim. Luckily the puzzle comes with a nice lobster-claw release mechanism for if you have made a knot and I deliberately reorganised it to have the ring where I desired and started trying to do the classic move (you have to be careful with that classic move because if you get it even slightly misaligned then you end up with a loop around the wire and can then get it more and more looped as you try to backtrack. Being very careful (and practicing with one of my old standard versions) I attempted the solve in the "new" start position. Here again I should have listened to the alarm bells in my head (especially as my head is usually pretty empty most of the time). The classic challenge requires that the ring get passed around the circumference of the puzzle and this is completely impossible with the Pocket watch due to the invagination that is closed off by another ring the same size as the movable one. 

It would appear that my whole rationale for starting the new batch of Aaron's torture devices with this one was based on a false premise. This puzzle is NOT a Ball and Ring puzzle even if it looks like one. It was time to put it back to the start and look for the correct way to solve it. The odd thing is that the moves of the ring are so constrained that it is initially quite hard to get tangled up doing what you feel is the right thing. Now one bonus with these is that it is possible to dismantle it and start with a solved puzzle and work your way back i.e. an entanglement challenge. I took the ring off and started here and tried to get to the beginning with minimal success until I had a huge (yes, HUGE) realisation. The movement of the ring to solve this one is really REALLY easy.

I set the start position the way I wanted it and within a couple of seconds had the ring where it needed to be. My new target was to see how to arrange the string into that require position without using the lobster-claw. It took me a few fairly tangled knots which needed undoing before I had a truly delicious Aha! moment as I worked out a sequence to move my string back and forth from the puzzle start to the solvable position. Once this was easily possible, it is just a matter of repeating that simple 2 second move with the ring and the puzzle is solved.

Solved (without the quick release)
Yes, it is "just" a level 8 puzzle but don't let that put you off. It is absolutely terrific and has a couple of delightful Aha! moments in it.

Hopefully I will have similar success with the rest of the puzzles in the recent delivery. Some look very tough with enormous lengths of string in them!

Some great challenges here!

Sunday 23 June 2024

Beware of Aaron's Mystery Puzzles!

Sometimes Aaron gives away a little extra freebie
This will be a rather short blog - in fact the present wife (she's doing OK for a first wife but I might be open to better offers Whack! Ouch!) gave me the text, more or less, for this blog. She said:
Solved puzzle!
No idea how...
The end!
This blog post will, unfortunately for all of you, be a little longer than that but her words are a fabulous summary of my recent luck one of Aaron's simpler string puzzles. The problem for most of us mere mortals is that Aaron and his fellow Chinese designers (DDK, Shuai Chi, Heping Gao) are complete geniuses who can solve all of there incredible wire and string puzzles in their heads. Every year Aaron releases a bunch of puzzles for the world to order and every year a huge bunch of us order what we can afford and spend months and months attempting to solve them. Last year I managed to acquire all of these:

All string and at least 3 are N-ary
I have spent almost a whole year, on and off, working on these and, to my utter shame, have solved precisely none of them. 

Previous year - solved only 2!
They are beautifully made and very compelling to play with. Aaron is aware that string puzzles can go horribly wrong and end up in a tangled mess and so for most of the complex ones he includes a lobster claw release to allow easy reset when needed.

In amongst the 2023 arrivals there was a non-named mystery puzzle which looked relatively simple (by Aaron's standards) and consequently he did not include any quick reset mechanism. The loop of string is heat sealed with a ship-shaped bead on it which prevents the loop passing through certain parts of the puzzle. Having spent a while on the complex puzzles and gotten nowhere, I picked up the "easy" challenge and spent a few hours on it realising that it was NOT easy. I put it in my work bag to play with when I had time at work and spent a year failing at it. Either it is bloody difficult or, more likely, I am not terribly bright! It has been in my work bag for almost a whole year.

Just this week, I have been oop north on holiday and having a nice lazy time. I always take my work bag with me to keep iPad etc in and, of course, a few puzzles to solve (or try to). Having failed to solve the Free Me 9, in desperation I rummaged around the bottom of the bag and found Aaron's mystery which I had forgotten about. OK! Time to give it another good go.

Yes, after about an hour I had created a tangled loop and was stuck (again!) and had to put it down and pace around for a bit. I thought holidays were supposed to be relaxing and puzzles a fun form of recreation? It took another ½ hour to untangle the loop back to the beginning and in the process I made a discovery about something that I had not known was possible. Yes, it was an Aha! moment. I used it to advance a step and then got caught up with nowhere to go. I returned to the beginning and proceeded to do the same thing over and over again.

Another ½ hour of doing the same thing over and over again and suddenly it was different. How that hd happened, I had no idea! Interestingly, I was completely unable to backtrack to the beginning. I thought to myself: "self, time to go forward". After another brief tangle and some effing and blinding, I found myself in a different position and after a further few moves I was able to take a completely new photo:

Have I really solved it?
I looked up from the puzzle, showed it to Mrs S and explained that I had no idea how that had happened and she proffered her short blog post text for me to use. Not only am I ashamed that I have not solved any others from last year (or earlier years) but I am also ashamed that I haven't really solved this one. I have said before, more than once, that a dismantling a puzzle is not solving it. I said:
"A puzzle is only truly solved when you can open/disassemble it and then put it back together again… And then, you have to do it a second time quicker than the first! This proves to me that the puzzle hasn’t just been opened by blind luck - it has been understood and truly mastered!
After over an hour of attempts, I have proved my lack of solution because I have completely failed to reassemble it. The most odd thing is that I cannot even get it knotted up in a way that is difficult to take apart. There seems to be a difficult hurdle move that gets it to a position that can be knotted. Yet another of Aaron's puzzles that I have dismantled but not really solved - aargh!

If any of you know how to reassemble this little bugger then do drop me an email with some instructions or a clue.

This is just in time to unpack the 2024 delivery of Aaron's latest creations! At least this time there are a bunch of pure wire puzzles with no string to play with. Hopefully I will manage at least 2 of them!

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!