Sunday, 24 May 2020

Haym Designs a TIC-in-a-box

and I Wonder Whether Brian Had Made It Impossible!

Y Pack
This gorgeous puzzle is called Y Pack and it was made quite a while ago by my good friend Brian Menold and sent to me back in the BC era (that's "Before Coronavirus"). It has been sitting on my desk and my living room puzzling tray for a very long time taunting me. In fact it taunted me in 2 phases.

Designed by Haym Hirsh, whom I have only interacted with on Facebook, I have never actually tried one of his puzzles before and had been keen to remedy that situation. When Brian made such a gorgeous version, that sealed the fate of my bank balance yet again. My copy is stunningly made from a really deeply coloured and heavily grained Padauk with pieces made from Spalted Alder (this also adorns the corners of the box). It is a "simple" packing puzzle - place the 5 Y-shaped tetromino pieces inside the box. Only 5 identical pieces? How hard can it be? I expected to solve it in 15 minutes or so! Erm....WRONG!

Of course, I am generally rubbish at packing puzzles which won't have helped me but for some reason, this took me quite a lot of hours! I just couldn't seem to see the wood for the trees/puzzle pieces! Brian wrote this about it:
"While Haym Hirsh has become known to my customers as the designer of the inelegant series of puzzles, he has now busied himself coming up with a few different types of designs. This one, a rather difficult packing puzzle. I spent 3 weeks trying to solve this and finally had to give up in the interest of production time. Several rotations, (one which is particularly tricky) must be accomplished. But the restricted opening only allows pieces to go in one way! Hmmmmmm."
Having bought it and put it on my "to be solved" mountain (yes, there is quite a large backlog of puzzles I either haven't had time to work on yet or have been totally unable to solve - hence it's a mountain rather than a pile). I started work on it in February and conveniently forgot Brian's 3 weeks and giving up thing. I realised that this is actually only a four piece packing puzzle because the final piece just needs to be able to drop in place through the gap - the key is to make it so there is space left from that first four pieces of packing activity. Right! Easy! Arrange those 4 pieces with a nice Y-shaped gap at one corner.

Interestingly, there is loads and loads of room - the space to be filled is 27 voxels and the 4 tetrominoes will fill just 16 of them (adding the final piece still leaves 7 empty voxels). With so much space, there would be a lot of choices to place the pieces and I quickly got fed up with trying to find dozens and dozens of arrangements of 4 Y pieces that can fit in a 3x3x3 cube. Time to Think© again (sigh! Bloody Allard and his insistence on using my brain!) Having thunk outside of the box, I started thinking inside it and realised that the entry hole was very limiting. This would seriously cut down the ability to fit those 4 pieces inside and in fact it made me realise that rotations were involved. I know that you all were instantly aware of the need for rotations but I had forgotten the puzzle description and not reread it.

I adore all the TICs by Andrew Crowell and the other incredible designers so was sure that this "TIC-in-a-box" was going to be a fun challenge once I had realised what it was. There are considerably less possibilities than I had originally thought and I searched for what is possible in the constraints of the small box - in fact I eventually (I think I was 2 weeks into puzzling at that stage) worked out there was only one placement of the 4 pieces inside that would work. Thank heavens that Brian had cut small circular holes in 2 of the faces to assist with manipulation of the pieces inside. There are several rotations possible if you manipulate everything into just the right has to be millimeter perfect to get it to work.

Like Brian, I had a wonderful Aha! moment after about 3 weeks:

3 weeks this took me! OMG - I am exhausted!
I took some photos and put it down for a day. I have recently started storing many of my puzzles in the unsolved state so that I can have fun playing with them again in the future by reattempting them from the unassembled state. So I decided to take this one apart again for storage and also maybe to torture a few friends at work. The first piece gets tipped out quickly and then I "just" undo the rotational moves I had done on the way in. I had only done it the day before so shouldn't be a problem...WRONG! Again! I just never learn do I?

Brian had mentioned that there is a really tricky rotation and yep, he's absolutely correct. It is so tricky that I couldn't find it again. There are other rotations possible with relative ease which did confuse me a lot - it actually made me completely forget that it had been tricky to find in the forward direction. After 2 days, I had a bit of a panic - I was completely stuck! I could only get one piece out of the bloody box! Aaargh!

I was not going to be beaten easily...I was going to solve this thing! Sob! It took me another 3 weeks to dismantle it. There are indeed several rotations involved but one in particular is simply "perfect" - it is so well hidden in plain sight and needs to be manipulated with absolutely pinpoint accuracy for it to be possible. I very nearly tried force on several occasions but the thought of damaging one of Brian's incredible creations stopped me.

I think I may have to buy a few more of Haym's creations. I am aware that I have missed out on subsequent packing puzzles and I hope that Brian makes them again in the future. If you get the chance then don't hesitate - empty you wallet in Brian's direction - you cannot have too much good wood!

Thank you Brian and Haym for a wonderful frustrating 6 weeks! It did take my mind of the Coronavirus for a few hours at a time.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

A Puzzle Improved by Being Metal - Yavuz' Chiasma

Yet again, this blog post nearly didn't happen because of the flakiness of my old computer - but luckily I have worked out that the Dropbox app is the cause of most of my woes - it is such a memory hog that it reduces everything to like wading through treacle. Once I had quit the app, everything returned to its normal level of slowness which is just barely tolerable rather than the totally intolerable level I had before. Phew! If anyone has any idea how to use Dropbox without the horrifically slow Mac app then please get in touch.

Back to my puzzling...

Up until a few years ago, I would regularly buy puzzles from my friends Alan and Leon Stein at PuzzleMaster but more recently I have been sidetracked by much more expensive and, one could say, I have fed my wood fetish (although many of the Pelikan puzzles can still be bought from them). They contacted me recently to ask if I would like to review a few of their more recent productions that they have commissioned in-house. I hesitated for a small microsecond and as you can imagine, jumped at the chance of having more beautiful stuff to try. I don't have a huge number of metal puzzles and am always keen to see what they can add.

Beautiful in wood
Their most recent release has been reviewed by a couple of the YouTube puzzlers and also by my friend Gabriel (one of the longest-running puzzle bloggers of all). I had to jump on the band-wagon as well but especially because this puzzle did ring a particular bell in my very feeble brain...I remembered that I had bought a copy of this from Jakub quite a few years ago and had completely failed to solve it. This gorgeous puzzle is a complex design by Yavuz Demirhan (who has designed and produced quite a few of my favourite puzzles and has reached my top 10 a few times). I recall vividly receiving the Chiasma in beautiful Walnut and trying lots and lots of very interesting movements but never managed to solve it and never reviewed it on the site. Having received another copy from PuzzleMaster, I really had to make an effort to solve this and write about it.

Chiasma is a board burr which consists of 4 identical boards interlocked into a rather attractive X shape. PuzzleMaster have commissioned it to be manufactured for them in Canada out of Aluminium and anodised in various colours. unlike their previous anodised puzzles, this one has been finished with a powdered texture which gives it a matt finish and makes it very nice to handle and, whilst less shiny, it is rather attractive. My copy is black and silver but it is also available in Black and Brown, Brown and Gold, Silver and Gold or a combination of all 4 colours. Either version will be lovely but the colouring will not help you solve it. It is pretty chunky too - it is 7.5 x 7.5 x 4.7cm and feels solid in your hands. The best part of this puzzle is that the individual boards are 9.5mm across and have very minimal beveling on them. The end result of this is that it seems to remain quite stable for a while until the pieces are well separated from each other - it does prevent inadvertent locking up by misalignment. Chiasma is nearly $100CAD but the quality is very high indeed.

This week I have had a little annual leave to give me a bit of relief from the catastrophe that is the NHS (and all other health services) just now and apart from having some gardening and some exercising to do, I could concentrate on spending some time with the present wife and also maybe solve a puzzle or two. I set to on Chiasma. Initially there are very few possible moves but after the first couple it suddenly opens out and there are a huge number of possibilities. My initial attempts, like those I tried back in 2013, involved mostly trying to keep all the pieces in symmetrical patterns in the hope that this was the secret of unlocking it gracefully.

At one point during my several days of attempts, I did discover a rotational shortcut which would allow a more rapid disassembly - if you have managed the proper disassembly then try and find this one as an extra challenge.

There is a rotation possible which allows a quicker solution
Unfortunately, Yavuz wasn't going to be nice to us by giving a puzzle with a lovely symmetrical logical solution! after a day or so of risking my life (Mrs S hates metallic clinking noises and this is quite noisy), I realised that I was going to have to abandon that approach and actually hunt for a release method by watching how the pieces move and aiming deliberately to get a piece released. The key feature (apart from the fact that they are all identical) is that the pieces have a single gap to allow them to lock and unlock together. The secret is to manipulate them in such a way as to allow the gap to line up on 2 pieces simultaneously. Sounds easy? Not for me it wasn't! The open shape allows you to see everything that is going on and, theoretically, make deliberate move decisions to advance to your goal. The disassembly level is 16.4.6 but it took me an awful lot more moves than that to find the sequence. The metal version was much easier to hold and manipulate stably than the wooden one.

On day 3 I had a breakthrough and suddenly I could see the final steps to line up the pieces and my first piece came out - Yay! I had 4 identical shaped pieces:

It is stunning despite being metal!
There was no way that I was going to get that reassembled from memory and I spent a nice happy half hour making a Burrtools file for it and then used that to disassemble my wooden version (I hope that you are impressed that I can find a single puzzle from 7 years ago?)

I had to make a second solution within Burrtools because the pieces can be assembled into 2 mirror images of each other and the wooden one was the other way around.

4 identical wooden pieces
I couldn't resist taking this photo comparing the 2 versions
If you did not manage to get a copy of the Pelikan version all those years ago then this is well worth picking up a copy of. It is a seriously tough challenge - I have to agree with PuzzleMaster's level 10 (Mind Boggling). Not really ideal for beginners but good for anyone with a bit of burr experience.

Sunday, 10 May 2020

Rainer Nearly Breaks a Table!

The Popplock T12
This blog post very nearly didn't happen - I lost a lot of hair trying to get this post up and I don't have an awful lot left to lose! My poor 2006 iMac is sometimes takes a minute to type a single sentence. I am not sure what is happening but it seems to get sidetracked and goes off doing other things whilst I am trying to type a coherent sentence. This can mean that words and sometimes even letters get jumbled up during typing. Then the trials and tribulations of photo editing are particularly bad for my poor frazzled nerves! In the end, I managed to cobble something together and am going to need to think about alternative methods for the future. Now on to the topic today...

Still unsolved!
Late last year I got a heads up from Shane that there might be something coming up that I would definitely want to save up for. He is very good friends with Rainer Popp and seems to get advanced notice about upcoming releases in Rainer's Popplock range. Now, I have a few rules and firstly it says pay attention to Shane - he cultivates the appearance of being a poor puzzler and a "bear of very little brain" but I know him very well indeed now and there is very little that is mechanical or practical that he doesn't know or understand very quickly. As far as puzzles are concerned, if Shane says that it's good then I get my credit card out and ask questions later. My second rule is that I buy whatever Rainer produces - they are always amazingly well made and always a tremendous challenge. In fact the T10 remains on the shelf in front of me entirely unsolved! Shane said that the T12 would come out early this year and I put in a request with my usual puzzle purveyer/pusher and received assurance that one was mine if I wanted it.

It was duly released and then this bloody virus hit! I was due to pick mine up in person at the MPP in March and abruptly all travel and fun was cancelled. Thinking that it might not be long, we all waited and eventually we realised that the post was the only way. Luckily for me, the post was still working - I am aware that a few that were destined for the USA seem to have been trapped in limbo for quite a long time. I am sure that they will get there eventually but this is a VERY expensive puzzle to have apparently disappear.

When it arrived, Mrs S duly put it in quarantine in the porch with all the other post and I was forced to wait...impatiently! There is no arguing with a Scottish nurse...she has the genetics for violence and the training to make it really painful. I waited for 48 hours! My package eventually was opened and a rather heavy box was emptied in the kitchen. I put it down a little too hard on the kitchen granite and the bang nearly earned me a night sleeping in the garage! I quickly examined the work surface and breathed a sigh of relief - intact with no crack or dent! This lock is a rather solid lump of brass and steel - it's not quite as large and heavy as the T11 (2.5Kg) but not far off it - the T12 weighs in at a solid 2.05Kg (that's 4.52lb for you Yanks) and is really dense with dimensions of 80x45x99mm (3.15x1.77x3.9in). Whatever you do don't drop this - it will hurt either you, your table or your floor...badly!

Back view with Rainer's logo
Things were getting rather busy at work with many extra hours trying to buy ventilators and also write up new rotas as people were shunted off to work in ICU. I finally got some time to play in the evenings and first read the rules provided with the lock:
"No hitting, shaking, force or gravity needed 
Do not use the key until you have found the key hole 
No random movements like turning the key indefinitely or rattling 
Do not use the key to push buttons - you scratch the lock! If your fingers are too think then you may use a match or similar as an aid"
As you can see from the photos, there is no obvious keyhole (a hint of where one should be) and a number of potential buttons - not all of them are actual buttons! Where to start? Push, pull or twist everything you can get your fingers on! Nope, no use! Go fetch a wooden chopstick for the buttons smaller than my help! Bugger!

I spent several evenings annoying Mrs S whilst swearing under my breath about Rainer's and Shane's parenthood. After nearly a week, something occurred to me and Aha! I found something very useful - only 4-5 hours of trying on the first step. Remember that I am not very good at locks and really not terribly bright. Having found the first step, there was a whole lot more investigation to be done and I quickly got lucky. The second step lead to a third and a fourth step...I was on a roll!

No I wasn't! Having done my 2nd third and fourth steps, the whole thing stopped moving. I could backtrack but not advance any further. Looking at the design of the lock, I really thought that I had been making progress - I had sort of worked out how the shackle would open but the steps I had taken were not enough. True to my idiot self, I continued to do the same few steps over and over and over again for quite a few days! I knew that my friend Nigel and solved his copy (he was one of the first to receive one) in just 5 hours of work - I was already much more than double that and was completely trapped in a vicious circle. Time to Think©...again.

I thought back through some of the earlier Popplocks and something occurred to me that I might have been missing. I tried a few ways to achieve something new and failed again and again. Another thought occurred to me and that didn't work either. Maybe my copy was broken? It seemed unlikely that such a sturdy object would break in the post. As is my wont, I went back to doing the same thing many many times and suddenly something new happened! How the hell? Looking at what was in front of me, I realised that whilst I had been doing the same thing multiple times, the lock itself had changed configuration by accident and suddenly the correct configuration had been achieved to allow "new stuff". Literally and figuratively there are multiple layers to this puzzle! Now I could achieve my first few steps but also a few more. Progress at last - it is almost logical if you are a warped mad tricklock designer.

After 2 weeks I had reached a point where my initial surface look at the puzzle seemed to have led me. BUT still not there. The final steps were pretty obvious but didn't work for me until I found the correct directions for 4 movements. It took me 3 weeks of work and many more hours than Nigel but my Aha moment led to an open lock. The photo below has a very very minor spoiler so don't look if you want no help at all.

The high cost was well worth it - Rainer has made something challenging again, beautiful again and fun again! I am already looking forward to the T13 - will it be unlucky for me?

Now I need to find a way blog more efficiently on a bloody old computer - sigh!

Keep safe everyone - if where you live, the lockdowns are being gently loosened then please be careful! Don't go crazy out there, don't go mixing with lots of other people. Keep protecting yourself and your family. This is a very nasty and unpredictable virus - just because you are young and healthy does not mean that you won't be hit badly - I have seen quite a few unpredictable deaths.

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Logical Progression My A£$€!

Oh! Now Look At That.......Hmmm!

Errrm! I might have been a little stupid last week!
X-ray cube properly solved!
On Facebook, it had been asked by someone what our approach to solving puzzles was. There were several fantastic answers by puzzlers who are far better than me at actually solving these blasted toys and I had to admit that my approach was a little scatter-brained:

I think this is a good approach!
Before I start on today's puzzle review let me have a small catharsis and expose the poor state of my brain to you all! In my recent review of all the upcoming Pelikan puzzles, I had given the impression that I had solved and enjoyed Volker Latussek's X-ray cube - Enjoyed? Yes, solved? Blush...nope! Unfortunately, I have to own up to being really not terribly bright!! I had slid open the lid, poured out the contents without paying attention to the arrangement and then assumed that the challenge was to put all the odd shapes back inside and close the lid again. I thought that the name of the puzzle came from the X shape that was visible through the hole in the top and bottom of the box. Doh! Now, whilst I had found doing that a significant challenge (and it is certainly one that you all should try), this was definitely NOT the main aim of the puzzle. Both Volker and Jakub contacted me to inform me that I was not terribly bright! (my words, not theirs).

I have spent another hour or so performing my usual (as shown above) approach to solving puzzles spread over the last couple of days, I was entirely unsuccessful (as usual) and had to try Allard's silly "Thinking©" thing! I was about to admit defeat when a thought did actually spring to mind (obviously it was not one of my own thoughts and I would really like to know who put that thought in my head because it was a good one) - I tried a few new things and it seemed right. I tried a few more and, suddenly, I had solved it correctly - the reason for the name, X-ray cube (as you can see at the top of the post) is that when the puzzle is solved properly, you can see straight through it! Yay! Now I have to work out how to put it back to the unsolved position....again! This is really quite a fun challenge which is proper tough if you just try random moves and a lovely mental exercise if you want to use Allard's silly approach.

Now on to my regular reviewing! Which unfortunately reveals yet again that Allard's fascination with using the brain might actually be right! Damn! I hate saying that!

Logical Progression
Logical progression is a design by Rick Eason and was made by Eric Fuller. You may not know it but Rick is responsible for the design of two of the best disentanglement puzzles I've ever worked on - Tricky dick (aka Day Trip) - available here in Australia and here in Europe) and it's tough brother Return of Tricky Dick (aka City Trip) - also available from Tomas Linden here (at the moment they are not available from PuzzleMaster for those of you in the Americas). It had taken me a very long time to solve those two brilliant puzzles and, true to form, it required thought rather than random movements to solve them.

Initially, the Logical Progression was not particularly interesting for me because it wasn't as beautiful as most of Eric's usual creations and I didn't realise who the designer was when I first looked on the store. I thus missed out on the first batch after they sold out pretty quickly. Only later, enticed by the designer's name, did I spend some time reading the blurb on the product page. I had been much too dismissive on looks alone. I realised that this would almost certainly be a really fun challenge! Lesson no. 1 - always read the description as well as drool over the pretty pictures. Eric's description said this:
"Logical Progression is a very unique cube. With only one solution which must be accomplished with serial assembly, it seems at first look that this puzzle will be a trial and error nightmare. However, the puzzle is designed such that scrutiny of the pieces will reveal their positional constraints; therefore the puzzle can be solved by analysis rather than guesswork."
Having finally gotten around to reading this, I decided that I should get a copy and contacted Eric, I was pleased to hear that another batch was due to be released - phew! When it was released, I missed out on the fancy exotic wood but still managed to get a copy in Maple and Oak. When it arrived it was a rather odd-looking and very rickety 3-inch cube. It definitely is not one of my most beautiful acquisitions! I really hoped that it would be as good a challenge as claimed.

Having taken the photo above, I pulled at it a bit and a cluster of pieces slid off and then another few. After removal, some of them swivelled around on the dowels and lost their orientation. Boom! There was no way for me to recall how the bloody thing came apart. I lay out all the pieces for my customary photo:

Oh dear! This looks rather more complex than I had initially thought!
Then I bunched all the pieces together so I could sit down and try to remake my cube. At this point I was beginning to regret my purchase!

OMG! I might be in trouble!
I received this puzzle in September 2019 and have carried a bag of bits around with me ever since then and have attempted to assemble the cube many many times. Bearing in mind my usual random movements approach, there was absolutely no doubt that I was doomed to failure! I idly tried a little thinking© and apart from gaining a mighty headache, I failed yet again. I probably spent 10 hours or so on it before getting fed up with having a rather unwieldy and painfully spiky lump in my bag. I read up the instructions again and headed to Rick's site for some encouragement and maybe even a hint or two. Rick claims that this is the very best of his puzzle designs and remembering those disentanglement puzzles, I was all the more determined to solve it myself. He does have a step by step assembly on his site as well as a text file going over the logical steps. I downloaded the text file and stored it without looking (honest guv!). I HAD to find the logical progression that Rick wrote about.

Having finally abandoned my usual random movement approach, I had to look at the puzzle and think about possible arrangements of the pieces. It consists of 16 different L shaped tetrominoes, each with holes in 3 of the voxels and a 4 voxel length dowel fixed inside one cube and which will run through  holes in other adjacent pieces. With only one 4 unit long dowel per tetromino and 16 in total, it is important to establish possible orientations for the entire puzzle. This was my first Aha! moment! It is definitely NOT as random as I thought. In fact, not only can you work out possible patterns for the rods, you can then narrow it down layer by layer.

Then I had to look at all the pieces and sort them into subtypes and decide on potential rows/columns - it began to look rather confusing on paper but many little Aha! moments were happening:

It looks much worse than it is.
As Rick is a Logical Progression
The paper section was pretty much done with and it was time to play with my wood. Having established that certain rows had to have the dowels in certain directions, I worked on some random assembling of more limited pieces. This is much better than picking from all of them and just trying to lump them together! In fact, it became very obvious that 3 pieces needed to be placed first and there was only 2 possible arrangements for them. This could very rapidly be reduced to just one possible arrangement. Wow!!! I was using logic! Once I got started on the assembly by thought©, things progressed fairly quickly until I reached 2 completed layers and a few parts of a 3rd one placed.

Now what? Again, I only needed to look at the shapes that I had and think© about possibilities to very rapidly reduce the possibilities to just 2 for the next few pieces. More logic gave me the placements for the top 2 layers and then it was a fairly simple matter of disassembling a section just enough to allow various new pieces into place. After about 3-4 hours of logic, my cube was fully assembled again.

OMG!!! That was an absolutely incredible puzzle! It goes to show that beauty alone is not all that one should judge them on. The more puzzling I do over so many years now, the more I appreciate when a puzzle designer makes something that is pure cerebral solving for a mechanical puzzle. Thank you, Eric and Rick, for making me Think©! Bloody Allard and his fancy approach! Rassafrassarickarackets!!!

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Lockdown with Pelikan

Released from quarantine!
This week I had some annual leave. Of course, I had nowhere to go and I offered to cancel it if the hospital needed me and I continued my admin tasks whilst at home but told that I should take my booked leave because when all this virus stuff is finished with, we are going to have an enormous backlog of work to do to catch up and they don't want a huge amount of leave owing. I, therefore, had a week at home with a plan to move from kitchen to living room and then to explore the conservatory and then even attempt some DIY! Wow! What an exciting life I can lead whilst at home! Exercise was also a major pull - as my earlier workload and the closure of the gym had curtailed my fitness regime. Walking the streets of Sheffield was to be the most adventurous thing I did!

At the weekend a nice box had arrived from Jakub and Jaroslav - yes, Pelikan puzzles are about to release some more wonderful toys to keep us occupied whilst locked up at home. I was told in no uncertain terms by "she who is more frightening than a deadly virus and more painful than full PPE" that the box had to stay in the porch for a full 24hrs before I would be allowed to open it. I protested that I was certain that Jakub was a very clean boy but she was not so sure about the postal workers! For fear of my life, I waited until she gave the word, then I tore open the package to be confronted by 2 new puzzles by the amazing Osanori Yamamoto, 2 by the brilliant Volker Latussek and one by the very prolific Lucie Pauwels. Which to try first? Jakub was particularly keen for me to work on and write something about the Osanori puzzles and I cannot resist them - I started straight away on Pumpkin 1:

Pumpkin 1

Pumpkin 1
Pumpkin 1 consists of 3 pieces to be fitted inside a box - I guess that you have gotten the hang of these puzzles over the last few months/year. They look so simple and yet are such a great challenge. A lot of the earlier puzzles by Osanori and Pelikan have consisted of a smaller cavity to be filled but more recently they have been made more complex by the need to fill a 3x3x3 cavity and have the opening completely filled (any holes in the shape must be hidden out of sight inside). Initially, I did not expect that this would be too much trouble - the pieces are fairly complex and I was sure that forming a cube shape would be fairly restricted. Oh boy, I was very wrong! Much to the annoyance of Mrs S, I spent almost a whole day of my leave playing with this and swearing under my breath. There are actually quite a few ways that the shape can be formed and the presence of the single diagonal edge to the hole made life harder. It limited the entry of the pieces (most would consider this a helpful thing) but it also completely hid a voxel and opened up a huge number of possible assemblies.

At the end of day one, I had tried dozens of assemblies and orientations and was obviously missing something - I was certain I had been systematic but the solution eluded me. The first thing the following morning, I was able to bound out of bed and try again - YAY! I had nothing else to do! Whack! Ouch! Actually, I do but I chose to carry on playing with the toys! I had to help Jakub! Somehow, I found an alternative assembly of the cubes that I had not tried before. I am not sure how my systematic approach yesterday had missed it but this was definitely new. With each assembly that I had found, I had had to try 3 different orientations of insertion (rotating around the protruding corner). This new assembly had the pieces in a way that would allow insertion of them all with no restrictions - I was on to something.

Phew! It took me 2 days - a great way to while away the lockdown
Finally, after a total of about 5 hours of play over the 2 days, the final piece slid into place - the final assembly sequence is a beautiful dance with the pieces moving around each other. Wow! That was a huge struggle!

I created a Burrtools file to investigate and discovered that there are 54 possible assemblies that will create the final cube shape with one 2x2x2 corner intact but only one insertable through the restricted opening - amazing!  with a disassembly level of 9.2.2 which is pretty impressive for such simple pieces. That is a very tough puzzle!

Triangle Cube 3

Triangle cube 3
Triangle Cube 3 looked to be a bit easier (silly boy!) the pieces were generally smaller and there were 2 triangular openings on either side of the box. Again, a 3x3x3 cube shape is required but this time only a small triangular face needs to be filled diagonally opposite each other. Whilst I had Burrtools open I quickly checked on the potential number of assemblies and rocked back in my seat to see a horrific number of 275! OMG! That was going to be a very long challenge! Of course, I did not try and use BT to find the solution - I was just trying to get an idea of how much pain Mrs S was going to inflict on me for a very long duration solve.

My initial plan of systematically finding possible assemblies before failing to insert them in the box quickly proved to be ridiculous. There had to be a better approach - one of the reasons that I am not a huge fan of many packing puzzles is that there is often too much random trial and error. I should have realised straight away that this is not a feature of Osanori's puzzles - he always ensures that they are solved mostly by thought. A proper look at all the pieces shows that there is a huge restriction on how they could possibly be assembled (Think© about it) and once I had realised this I set to some more careful "out of the box" assemblies. It was still pretty tough but all of a sudden there was a wonderful Aha! moment. Yes! Again, with a wonderful sequence (level I had my puzzle solved - at least it would be theoretically possible except for one problem...a quick email to Jakub and I was informed that a rotational move was definitely needed. That is VERY clever - the last part of the assembly can be done just by rotating the puzzle and allowing gravity to move the pieces. I love it - one of the best and most logical puzzles I have solved in a while.

Take my word for it - the other side is filled too
Euklid for Kids

After my success with Triangle cube 3, it was with some trepidation that I moved on to Volker Latussek's Euklid for kids:

Euklid for Kids - just 3 blocks to fit in a box!      Child's play? Hell no!

This beautiful puzzle is made from a  lovely combination of woods and looks easy. Just put 3 blocks inside the box so that nothing is protruding through the opening! After my experience with the original Euklid, I was rather afraid of this one! nothing that Dr Latussek creates is easy! Mrs S was not terribly pleased with me whilst I played with this - it transpired that it is quite a noisy puzzle to play with which interferes with her concentration. Yet another Whack! Ouch! was going to happen soon.

One interesting feature with this is that one of the pieces cannot fit through the opening without being rotated through. This was going to make insertion of the remaining pieces even more of a struggle. The pieces all share a common dimension which lulls you into a false sense of security. Let me warn you that knowing this really does not help you at all! A full 3 evenings of play was required before I had my breakthrough with this puzzle - the Aha! moment is fabulous. It is nowhere near as difficult as the original Euklid puzzle and to my mind, the puzzle is all the better for it. This particular version is still a great challenge but is also worth giving to non-puzzlers to play with. They probably won't solve it but at least stand some chance. The easier premise will keep them trying.

Rota #

Rota # by Lucie Pauwels
Lucie Pauwels is a very very prolific puzzle designer - she shows a huge number of designs off on her FB page (her blog has not been updated for quite a while, unfortunately). Everything she designs has something interesting about it and I could not resist the Rota # puzzle when Jakub showed it off. Why the odd name? That will become clear when you solve it and I am not going to spoil that for you. It is not particularly difficult but the way that Jakub and Jaroslav have made it is just gorgeous - Wenge and Maple fit together with absolutely perfect precision to make something stunning:

This explains part of the name
Once assembled there are no gaps at all - on display it is wonderful!

X-Ray Cube

A beautifully constructed box
It might have been a mistake to just pour the contents out!
X-ray cube is another challenge from Dr Latussek - the box has been beautifully made from Cherry and the pieces inside are Dark oak. I think it's named this way because the holes in the top and bottom of the box allow you to see inside. I was feeling cocky after solving the previous puzzles and so I just slid off the lid and upended the box to provide me with the challenge - no, I was brave/stupid and did not look at the assembly (I am told by Jakub that this will be sent out in an alternative assembly so that none of you gets the chance to peek at the solution before working on it.

Brian's Blockhead from 2012
X-ray cube pieces
Once the pieces had been revealed I was slightly horrified - they were all odd block shapes with all sorts of funny angles. It actually reminded me of one of the earliest puzzles that I bought from my friend Brian Menold - Blockhead designed by Bill Cutler. In that amazing puzzle, there were just 4 odd-shaped pieces to be inserted into a tray and despite such a simple premise, it was bloody tough for me as a new puzzler back in 2012. The X-ray cube was going to have a whole lot more pieces and probably a whole lot more challenge.

I settled down with these in our rather sunny south facing conservatory (I could get used to this lockdown thing - it's actually quite pleasant here) and started to play. There is a fundamental difference from Blockhead - the sides of the box are all vertical. This is really helpful for finding the assembly. It took me about 45 minutes to realise that something wasn't right - I could not find a piece to fit the bottom right corner of the box! What was going on? Looking at the picture above now - I should have realised - I had only 7 of the 8 blocks! What had I done with the other one?  One thing about a sunny conservatory in the spring is that it produces perfect cat conditions - they spread out everywhere! It took me another minute or so to find a rather well-camouflaged puzzle piece and complete the challenge:

Can you spot the missing piece?
This puzzle is another perfect difficulty level for beginners and advanced puzzlers alike. It is a nice little challenge to while away half an hour and looks lovely when assembled in place inside the box.

These beauties will be being released on the Pelikan Puzzles site quite soon. I am certain that they will also be available from PuzzleMaster as well if you live in North America.

This lockdown has really not been that bad! I have managed to solve a few great puzzles. Unfortunately, it is back to work for me tomorrow - I have quite enjoyed my time off and am going straight back to having to anaesthetise a friend and colleague for a VERY big operation tomorrow! I suspect my puzzle-solving ability tonight may be a little impaired!

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Hip Flask

Hip-Flask by Felix Ure. Dice not included.
Dear puzzle maniacs,

Here I am still in lock-down! Except that I am one of the few that are allowed out. Actually, I am forced out and I have to admit that working in a hospital is not much fun anymore. Everything we do has to be done with so much attention to detail that the stuff we took for granted now requires proper concentration and it does become rather hard work. We are doing a lot of good but very very slowly. The good news is that we are finding that a lower number of patients than expected are requiring intubation and ventilation because using CPAP or BIPAP seems to be working better. The bad news is that this still requires a massive amount of manpower to facilitate and procedures like this are counted very high for the risk of aerosol generation which means that a lot of time has to be spent wearing PPE and uncomfortable as a result. The time spent at the hospital means that I seem to have less time for puzzling just now and whilst at work have no access to my toys to solve something to review.

I am so grateful to my good friend Mike Desilets (the official PuzzleMad foreign correspondent) who has stepped into the breach to bring you something this weekend - he always is there just when I need him with something absolutely fascinating for you. Over to you Mike...

Aloha Kākou Puzzlers,

Strange days indeed. Who would have expected the present situation a mere few months back when we were glibly reading Kevin’s annual Top Ten? At times like these, a certain degree of escapism is in order. In the interest of that, and of giving Kevin a much-deserved break (you know where he works right?), I give you something to fill a small portion of your otherwise nondescript Sunday afternoon. You can take your mask off for this (Ed - yay!)

The PuzzleMad Foreign Office, Hawaii Branch, has been on a run of older puzzles recently. To remind everyone of how achingly current and hip the remote branch office really is, let’s look at a VERY new puzzle. This is Hip-Flask, the latest puzzle by up-and-coming designer Felix Ure. In fact, with this new puzzle, I think Felix has arrived. I just received my copy last week, hot off the CNC machine, which was a tremendous surprise given recent events.

As you know, some puzzles come in the door and march dutifully to the back of the queue; others jump to the front and demand your attention. Hip-Flask was the latter for me, and that’s lucky for you. If not, you would have had to endure my dissertation on a little-known peg sequencing puzzle from the Eisenhower era (it’s coming, and you’re gonna love it! Ed - I can't wait).

Hip-Flask and accoutrements.
My first impressions of Hip-Flask: this is a very high-quality puzzle; this is a very beautiful puzzle; this is a very heavy puzzle. Those are all good qualities. They describe some of the best puzzles in my modest collection. Hip-Flask is nearly 100% brass, with only one very small internal piece excepted. It is, needless to say, fashioned in the shape of a hip flask, minus curvature. This shape was not necessary and I’m sure it could have gone other ways, but I think it was an inspired choice. Proportionality is optimum and finish is beautiful, although I suppose technically it is “unfinished.” The exterior consists of the raw surface produced by the milling process. I have always considered this to be the best finish, mitigating factors aside. If you love precision machine work, you will probably also enjoy seeing evidence of it. I have a heavy Arts and Crafts bias and raw milling patterns really scratch that itch. Needless to say, it was a very successful unboxing (Ed - you mean it successfully came out of the box?). Hip-Flask is a beautiful object, no doubt about it. I also appreciate the high-quality packaging and the nice velvet bag with brass-capped drawstrings. Very classy Felix!

I am going to remain characteristically cryptic in this post because I don’t want to spoil anyone’s experience. It’s also a PuzzleMad policy (Ed - sort of!). In fact, it’s pretty much our only policy. But that makes this a tough one to review and means that our description will be restricted to the exterior. Any description I can think of regarding internals would definitely tell you something about the mechanism, so we just won’t go there. The externals are quite fascinating though. The two principal parts of the puzzle are the flask body and the “cap”. The objective of the puzzle is to completely remove the cap from the flask body. 

The rules. Not too fussy.
You immediately find that the cap spins freely, and has latitude to rise slightly from the body, at which point the spinning becomes more restricted. Something is holding this cap in place, but what? Immediately on either side of the cap are two brass rods which slide freely within precisely drilled holes. These rods feel like they should come out, but are blocked by the cap, which cannot rise high enough for them to escape. Clearly, they need to come out at some point. Turning to the base, we find a hole with a diameter matching that of the rods. Something to keep an eye on, no spoiler. Finally, there is another hole in one of the sides, but this one is occupied with a hex-head screw. This may be the designer’s entry point for inserting mechanism components, or it could be part of the discovery sequence. Or maybe both. I’m not at liberty to say (Ed - me neither seeing as I don't own a copy of this puzzle). It is, however, a very important feature if you are going to approach this puzzle deductively, which you very much should do.

That’s all you learn from inspecting the puzzle. Its massive heft (750g) suggests that there is no large internal space. This flask will not hold much alcohol, at least not the quantities that Kevin and I require (Ed - at this current time, I am getting through the pandemic with gin!).

Cap and rods rise tantalizingly.
Beyond this, you will have to work.
Usually, at this point in a post, I attempt to regale the readership with information picked up from a hurried Wikipedia search. I was sure there would be abundant cool and interesting historical factoids about hip flasks, of all things. Negatory my friends. They are exactly what you think they are, clear in purpose and intent, consistently since the medieval dawn of the very flask itself. I did come across what I think is the best and funniest explanation for the existence of hip-flasks: they facilitate drinking in inappropriate places. That sums it up nicely! 

Titan - they say it's tough
Since I cannot tell you any more about the physical properties of the puzzle, nor entertain you with historical trivia, let’s shift to intangibles. First off, full disclosure, I do not own Felix’s previous puzzle, Titan (by the time you read this I may; Ed - I don't own it either!). While I was definitely intrigued, my impression was that there might be too much randomness for my taste. I didn’t hear many people talking online about the actual solving processes; it was mostly about the raw, often substantial, solve time. There were indications that it might be a hindsight puzzle—the intellectual enjoyment coming after the “solve” when you get to find out what exactly you did and how the mechanism works. To this day I do not know if that is a fair assessment, and perhaps it isn’t, but first impressions count for a lot once you pass the $100 mark. So I gave Titan a soft pass. When Hip-Flask came along, it was billed as “a multi-stage sequential discovery” puzzle. Between that and the solid brass construction, Felix finally had my complete and undivided attention. Hip-Flask leap-frogs (say that ten times fast) Titan in price, but that is hardly worth a mention for this class of puzzle. These are the puzzles you set aside for throughout the year. 

Your next question, Kevin, will be: does it meet expectations? (Ed - it certainly is!) One can easily slap a “sequential discovery” label on a puzzle, but that does not necessarily make it so. It could very well be that Hip-Flask is sequential, but with little discovery. The process of getting from sequence to sequence could come down to random trial and error stuff. That was my post-PayPal fear.

I am here to tell you that Hip-Flask does NOT disappoint as a sequential discovery puzzle. And more importantly, it is definitely susceptible to deductive reasoning and thus “solvable” in the strictest PuzzleMad sense. There is some fiddling required to make it reveal its first secret, but that is a straight-up exploration and standard procedure for the beginning of any sequential discovery puzzle. These types of puzzles, whether locks, boxes, or flasks, generally need to hold themselves together and present an implacable front initially. The first discovery is most often stumbled upon. Thereafter, a “good” puzzle can be attacked with creative THINKing©. This is the experience I had with Hip-Flask. I admit to a certain consternation at the beginning and I struggled to understand exactly what was happening. Thoughts of gravity pins and little ball bearings were running around my head. Felix said no “significant force” in the instructions, so perhaps there is some subtle, tasteful, magnetism involved?  I didn't quite know what I was dealing with.

Hip-flask remains dignified, even when exposed.
Finally, something released or aligned, and the cap rose significantly. It was a thrilling moment, even though mostly a chance occurrence. Of course, the cap immediately went back in and locked. I then spent a good amount of time figuring out how to release it consistently. Getting that accomplished was a big moment and gave me needed momentum. I didn’t fear inadvertent flask closure anymore. This is the first phase. I recommend mastering it before you move on. Mastering this phase also sets one up for the next, harder phase (Ed - harder? OMG - I think it is beyond me already). You should be starting to understand the puzzle mechanics by this point. Also, you will have joyfully released one of the rods as well. It’s a nice little reward and a good design choice. It shows that the designer was thinking experientially, not just mechanically. 

The second phase is the heart of the puzzle, and it is where most people will have a devil of a time.
I realized at some point that I should start using my brain more (Ed - that's always a problem for me!), and thank goodness because there is virtually no other way to solve Hip-Flask. I can safely say that random action is very ineffectual on this puzzle. Shaking it or spinning the cap around aimlessly is not going to help you, and for the love of Mrs S, please don’t bang it or hit it (Ed - or she will hit you - or worse, me)! All the information you need is provided if you are open to it.

I eventually was able to deduce the exact nature of the mechanism and the exactly required movements. I used a piece of tape to keep track of my cap movements, an old and very widely accepted aid. A piece of tape is not an external tool (Kevin, please double-check the PuzzleMad policy paper we wrote on this - Ed - tape is fine because it is just a means of record-keeping). When you solve the second phase, you are very close to home. It allows you to extract the second rod and the cap is now WAY up, although still locked somehow. The two rods are obviously tools and you will need to use them somehow to solve the third phase: full release. It’s very clever how this works. Simple but perfectly effective. I believe it is a Ure original. 

Alternative reassembly via hex screw.
Reassembling Hip-Flask by reversing the solve is allegedly not difficult, but I did have trouble with it. Felix assures me it is possible and is actually how you are supposed to do it. I believe him. However, you can also reassemble by removing the hex screw on the side and gaining access that way. This works fine, you just need a 3mm Allen wrench and normal care. So no, despite my coyness previously, you will not sequentially discover a hex key. I plan to go on-line and find a nice small 3mm brass wrench to keep permanently with the puzzle (Ed - that's a nice idea).

I would be remiss if I did not mention that for a certain highly dedicated and specialized sub-segment of the community, this mechanism may seem derivative. If you think that may apply to you, contact Kevin for a hint before you purchase (Ed - I will be totally unable to help as I don't own the puzzle!). On the other hand, folks in that sub-segment may uniquely NEED to get this puzzle, though they will likely make short work of it (compared to their usual solve times at least). For everyone else in the world, this will be a challenging puzzle and a thrilling solve.

We always try to give you something a little extra at PuzzleMad, which is why you put up with our high fees, after all (Ed - fees? Are you charging behind my back? Can I have a share of them? Pretty please?). This week Kevin and I are thrilled to present you with another PuzzleMad Q&A Session: Ure-Edition! Felix was kind enough to sit down with me (electronically) and answer my trademark stream-of-consciousness questions. It’s truly very special to get a glimpse into the mind of a current designer. Thanks for giving us a piece of your mind Felix!    

Here we go...

MD:  Ok, let’s get the formalities out of the way Felix. In any PuzzleMad interview, I am contractually required to ask: What are some of your personal favourite puzzles? And is there a puzzle you love that others might find unexpected? 

FU:  I don’t think I have a favourite puzzle. I’m a massive manufacturing and engineering nerd, so if anything has been made nicely in a way that I find elegant or unusual, that does it for me. The Popplock T8 is a perfect example (not that I can afford one – I just saw a video) – it’s a very simple mechanism, but when turned into a puzzle it’s genius. I like most Hanayamas, the Cast Nut-case would have been my favourite if it was made more accurately and didn’t get stuck all the time. Basically, if I can fiddle with it and it’s heavy, I love it. I’m really not a fan of disentanglement puzzles and burr puzzles though – my mind just doesn’t work that way. That being said, I got into puzzles 2 years ago so I’m sure there’s plenty of great ones I’ve never tried.

MD:  What are the major influences (spiritual/intellectual/mechanical) on your design work and your basic conceptualization of a potential puzzle?

FU:  It’s really just anything that moves – a ratchet, an engine, a corkscrew. I’m obsessed with knowing how something is made, so by being able to completely visualize the mechanism of something, I have the perfect building blocks for a puzzle. It’s then usually in the hour or so I’m in bed before going to sleep that they somehow work themselves into something useful.

MD:  I know some designers studiously avoid tracking what other designers do, I think in an effort to maintain creative independence. Do you follow this practice, or do you take the other approach and study the work of other designers as a source of inspiration? Or something else entirely?

Hip-flask with some scale.
Good lord is that how my hand looks!
FU:  Not at all, I religiously follow everything that I can that’s out there, in the hope that I might come across a design principal or clever mechanism that I’ve not seen before. This isn’t in an attempt to get ideas for puzzles, but purely for my own curiosity and to build up my knowledge of how things move and interact. It might then help me with a design further down the line, but by then it’s far enough removed from where I saw it that I don’t think it detracts from any sort of creative independence.

MD:  Some puzzle people are heavily into solving, others mostly collect and display, another group delves into historical aspects, yet others are taken with geometrical/mathematical beauty, and some even focus on designing to the exclusion of everything else. Philosophically speaking, where does Felix Ure stand? What is it about mechanical puzzles that drives your interest, and has it changed over time?

FU:  I really only got into puzzles a couple of years ago, and while the history of them is undoubtedly fascinating, for me it’s entirely about having a nice ‘thing’. For example, on my desk, I have a brass sterling engine (which can spin from the heat of my hand), and 50mm ball of pure tungsten. Both absolutely pointless things, but both uniquely awesome. This is what I want from a puzzle – a beautiful object that you’re not sure why you want it, but you want it. 

MD:  I love that answer, and I can definitely relate (Ed - that applies to me too!). Now let’s get to an actual puzzle. Hip-Flask is your newest release, but it follows Titan, another beautifully produced brass puzzle. I’m guessing there was a lot learned in the process of designing and producing the first puzzle. What did you take away from the Titan experience and apply to Hip-Flask? 

FU:  I learnt some usual lessons about supply chain management, i.e. honesty is more important than price etc. But the main thing I learnt from a design perspective is that it’s impossible to make something that appeals to everyone. I’ve produced two puzzles which are very different; some people like one, some like the other, some hate both and some love both. And for future puzzles I think as long as the design is as elegant and well-engineered as it can be, that’s a success in my eyes, as I know at least some people will like it.

MD:  As you know, I really enjoyed Hip-Flask as a puzzle. But I think it is an aesthetic triumph as well. The flask shape suits this puzzle very well. Removing the “cap” makes perfect sense as an objective and, more broadly, the puzzle seems to strike a perfect balance between the abstract and the familiar. But given the mechanism, you could have gone any number of different ways with the overall form, even maintaining the sphere from Titan. What inspired you to use the flask shape? Where did that come from and when did you know it was “right” for the puzzle?

FU:  I’m glad you liked it, Mike! I fully realized the mechanism before figuring out what shape it should fit into. Then when working on the shape, I approached it from a machining and value perspective i.e. what is the minimum amount of material I can machine off of a stock-sized brass bar to achieve an enclosure which will contain this particular mechanism. The hip-flask shape came almost by definition as a result of the shape of the mechanism. It could have been a perfume bottle, a hand-grenade, or just an abstract form, but I liked the simplicity and, like you say, the familiarity of the hip-flask shape.

MD:  As a follow-up, what beverage would you put in your Hip-flask?

FU:  I’m usually a beer guy, but as it’s not really a hip-flask drink I’d probably go for a nice Gin (Ed - mmmmmmm gin!).

MD:  You just made Kevin very happy. Hip-Flask has three main stages, by my count. Was this arrangement the original intent, or did the multi-phase design evolve over time? Did you consider adding more complexity, or reducing it, at any point?

FU:  The original intent was to make a puzzle with a sequential element, and the idea of the mechanism getting to a certain point to release a tool was always intended to be part of it. The concept of the sequence being split into two sections really came about slightly by accident – I drew out an idea that had a ‘stop’ point partway through, and I realized that gave me the chance to release two tools, which worked out quite nicely I think. Regarding adding more complexity - it’s always hard to stop designing a puzzle; I thought about using the removed lid as a tool to unlock a further section, but then the costs start to spiral out of control, and the elegance and appearance of the puzzle is compromised to some extent. I’m happy with the difficulty level and complexity that it ended up at.

The camera loves Hip-flask.
MD:  Among high-end metal puzzles, brass, stainless, and aluminium are the holy triumvirate. I think I understand why you chose brass (cost, workability, beauty), but did you flirt with stainless or any other alloy? 

FU:  I love using brass because it machines beautifully. Aluminium (or aluminum! Ed - nooooooo!) is usually marginally cheaper but its density is nearly a third of that of brass or steel, and I love a dense puzzle. I’ve got nothing against stainless steel, but as it’s quite a bit harder than brass, the machining costs are a lot more, and I don’t think people would pay maybe twice the price for what’s basically a different colour. The amount of material machined away really defines what materials it’s cost-effective to make something from.

MD:  Follow-up, can PuzzleMad members special order Hip-Flask in tungsten?

FU:  I could look into it if a few people were interested! Ed - I might be interested!

MD:  For the technical folks, is Hip-Flask C36000 brass? Because I am always close to saltwater, I must also ask, did you consider naval brass as an option?

FU:  It’s CZ121, which is the British standard free-machining brass, I think it’s pretty much the same as C36000, which I believe is the North American equivalent. I’ve never tried naval brass as I’m not sure how it machines, so just make sure not to leave your Hip-Flask outside for long periods of time, unless you want it to go green!

MD:  I’m glad you left the puzzle “unfinished” straight from the mill. I love the patterns and texture and I suspect that it will form a very nice patina. It was probably as much an economical decision as anything, but still, what was your thinking on finish? 

FU:  I want the puzzles I make to last for decades; and from experience, if I polished them to a mirror shine they would have gone brown again within a couple of years on a shelf, or within a few days of handling. I thought it better to supply them all in the machined finish, and in a few years, they’ll all look the same anyway. Also, like you, I love the machined finish, and I think it’s a testament to the quality of the machining and the puzzle itself that I don’t need to polish out any imperfections.

MD:  I’m very intrigued by the final release mechanism. I’ve never seen it done that way before and, simple as it is, would never have occurred to me. How did you come up with that? Was it a late addition to the design, or was it always in the plan?

FU:  It was always an idea I had floating around – I can’t really remember where it came from, but it was fairly early on in the design process that I realized it would be a good, simple way to achieve what was needed, and it worked well I think.

MD:  Final Question! Now that Hip-Flask is out in the wild, will you take a breather and collect yourself, or just push on to your next project? Can you give any hints on what direction you will take next? 

FU:  Oh definitely not, I’ve got another 7 puzzles which I’m working on. Most of them are waiting for a final stroke of inspiration (some have been waiting for a year, so don’t hold your breath!) I hope to get another one finished and released this year though. I’m also working on a couple of non-puzzle things – a brass spinning top, and a high-quality ballpoint pen, but time will tell whether these amount to anything.

Thanks so much for doing this Felix. These behind-the-scenes interviews add immeasurably to my enjoyment of the hobby, and I know I am not alone. I will definitely begin stashing funds for your next release. One final word: Tungsten!  (Ed - droooool!)

That wraps up this edition. Go get yourself a hip-flask for a little drink, and then go buy Felix’s puzzle, Hip-Flask. Available at all the usual places. It’s great and I think you will enjoy it. Alright Kevin, please drag yourself away from the Benny Hill reruns for just a single moment and give us our epilogue.

Hip-flask bids you a good day.

Benny Hill reruns? Where? They are great stuff if you can find them anywhere! Totally non-PC but hysterical. Remember that they came from the 70s - a simpler time when we only had 3 TV channels in the UK.

Thank you so much, Mike and Felix! Once my finances have settled a bit and I have hopefully survived the pandemic, then I hope to get a copy of Hip-Flask myself...especially if it is available in Tungsten!

I have a week off from tomorrow - this was planned last year and I now have nowhere to go apart from to move between kitchen and conservatory and then on to the living room! Maybe I will even make it into the garden? Mrs S has decided that I need to risk my life even more, continuing with DIY and she wants me to do some exercise to prevent me from getting fat. It was "for better or worse" not "fatter or thinner" when we uttered those fateful vows! Who knows, maybe she will even let me do some puzzling?

Stay safe everyone and stay at home if you don't have to go out!


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