Sunday, 28 February 2021

Alfons Proves I'm Improving...

Very Slowly!!!

6T Burr
Over the last year, I watched as Alfons Eyckmans published photos of quite a few more of his "cubes" on his Facebook page. He has branched out into 3D printing recently and seems to be having amazing success with that but I am particularly impressed by his interlocking cubes and even have a few named after 3 of my cats. I have been saying to him that I will buy some of his more recent designs for ages and just never gotten around to it. But...New year, new leaf and all that crap. Mrs S isn't paying much attention to all the deliveries so I'll just slip an extra one in.

I went back through the last year of photos and picked a few (that would be 5) that I particularly like the look of and asked if he either had them in stock or could make them for me and in his usual manner he said he would need some time. I do have a bit of a backlog and of course waiting would not be a problem. I expected to wait a couple of months and was very surprised that a month later I was shown some photos and requested for some PayPal. Belgian post was very fast and I was soon found admiring my new toys and muttering about "my preciousssss cubes". As usual Mrs S just rolled her eyes at me and continued looking at shoes and handbags to buy.

More cubes - Yay!
Even though I had received a few new toys the previous week from a new source of Haym Hirsch puzzles as well as a bunch of puzzles from Mine, I could not stop myself and had to start on one of these. I picked the 6T burr because it was slightly less intimidating than the others (solution level is 22.2.1.1.2.1.1.1.2). I think it is made from Oak, Mahogany and Zebrano and is stunning. It has been made in Europe and so is perfectly appropriate that it has been made to Metric dimensions (6 x 6 x 14cm) making it a very nice size to work through the solution.

The humidity has been really quite high here and I have found that a few of the pieces are a little tight but not so tight as to prevent me finding my path. On Thursday afternoon, I had no work to do and Mrs S allowed me time to play. There are several options during the solution and a few blind ends to travel down but never too far and never too many choices to be made. To be honest, I know this makes me a lightweight, but I find that puzzles with too wide a decision tree are just too difficult and not much fun to solve with the risk of me being left with an unsolvable mess. Over a couple of hours I worked my way through and removed the first piece:

22 moves completed
As with all his puzzles Alfons has signed it and with his more recent productions, he has laser etched the year and number produced on it. As I always do I backtracked to the beginning and went back and forth several times to try and imprint a path on my limited consciousness. Time to put it down and talk to the first wife and make some dinner.

I next got to play yesterday and was gratified that I still remembered the path to that first piece removal (I hate to think what other crucial piece of knowledge has been dislodged by learning the solution to this puzzle). I proceeded with the removal of the other 3 long burr sticks and then the 6 T-shaped pieces that give the puzzle its name and am careful to keep them arranged and oriented properly in the hope that I can reassemble without having to make a Burrtools file. At this point one of my pussy boys gets very interested in what I am up to and runs across the table. Aaaargh nooooo! Pieces are scattered everywhere and I have no idea what goes where - oh well, photo time:

What goes where?
There are only 10 pieces and a frame...can I possibly manage to work out the assembly with just that and my memory of the movements? I figure it's worth a try because creating a BT file will take me quite a while.

Mrs S watches me shaking her head as I mutter vague imprecations about murdering pussies and try desperately to find the correct positions for all the pieces before putting them in the frame. I got stuck for about an hour and could not make progress but I thunk© it through and worked out my error. After another few hours I had a huge Aha! moment. I had actually managed to assemble a relatively complex burr from scratch. I MUST be improving. In retrospect, I have been puzzling for about a decade now and I should bloody hope I have improved just a little bit in that time - Allard has shown himself to be absolutely terrific over 10 years so maybe I should too!

Thank you Alfons - you have made me yet more gorgeous puzzles for my collection and also proved beyond doubt that I am ever so slightly better a puzzler than I was all those years ago. Not much better...just a little bit. Who knows, maybe I will even be able to assemble the latest brass stunners from the Two Brass Monkeys? The Kong puzzle nearly broke me. Mrs S has told me I must wait a while before I buy any more toys (there has been a bit of a spurge recently) and so they will have to wait for a month or so before I buy. The reports on FB have been very good though.


Take care out there guys! The numbers really are improving (in Europe and the UK at least) but this is not the time to drop your guard. If we abandon the rules now then another wave will ensue and hospitals will be in trouble again. We are just about to start increasing our elective surgery to start to catch up with the gigantic backlog and we don't want to scupper that. A lot of people out there are really suffering having to wait for all sorts of elective surgery which our over-stretched hospitals have been unable to safely perform for the last 6 months.


Sunday, 21 February 2021

Pillar - Just Perfect...

By Alexander Is The Great!
Brian is pretty incredible too...

Pillar by Alexander Magyarics
Whilst my experience cannot be compared to what has been going on in Texas recently, I am now on day 8 or 9 of no working boiler - I have had 3 engineer visits and still not fixed. Mrs S is going to murder someone if this isn't fixed soon and my worry is that it will be me! It had been suggested by a rather mean Facebook friend that I could burn some wooden puzzles for heat whilst my boiler is not working - I am seriously considering unfriending that person and certainly not showing that post to Mrs S!

I reviewed Ennui last week from Brian Menold's Wood Wonders recent releases and you know that I could not possibly resist and just buy one (or two)...I bought a bunch of them - my addiction to glorious wood is being fed by Brian and Eric and Brian and Alfons and...

Houston, if you weren't covered in snow with a power outage then you'd see I have a problem!
I bought the Pillar puzzle for two reasons:
  1. I saw Brian show it off on Facebook and was stunned by the glorious grain
  2. It was designed by my friend and "master puzzle designer", Alexander Magyarics
  3. It's a combination of interlocking and packing puzzle which I absolutely adore
This beautiful puzzle has been fabulously crafted from Pistachio wood making the walls of the box, topped and bottomed with a wonderful creamy Holly. The remarkably simple pieces are stunning in very deep red Pau Rosa. I love beautiful wood grain and this Pistachio (a wood that I have never seen before) is a wonderful example. Even Mrs S admired the beauty of the box. Of course, she did not admire it enough to want to play with the puzzle much to my relief as it would be quite humiliating to have her solve it in just a few minutes and be much faster than me!

The aim (as with many of Alexander's creations) is to pack the 4 easy pieces into the box through the rather limited opening and also have the opening completely filled with no gap. I picked this one up immediately after my success with Ennui and was sure that I would solve this fairly quickly and rack up a puzzle to write about on the next blog. So I thought that this would be quick? I never seem to learn do I? This puzzle should not be that difficult but it took me 4 evenings of toil and swearing at myself to solve it. Initially I couldn't even find a 3x3 shape that would fill the holes and then none of them had piece orientations that could fit through the holes. Yes, the genius of this is that 2 of the pieces have a very limited number of ways they can fit in through the top and then, due to the 3 unit length of all of the pieces, it is really tough to find a way to get them to move around each other.

On day 2, I found a very nice 3x3 assembly which met the requirements and focussed on that. How could I get those pieces in place. I couldn't do it! I must have become fixated on that assembly because every time I abandoned it because I couldn't move the pieces around each other or get one of them into the box then I would try to find an alternative arrangement and still come back to my original. I am sure that Alexander must have known this would happen. I spent 2 days muttering Alexander's name under my breath along with some other choice expletives and got nowhere. 

On Friday evening watching some TV I had a marvellous Aha! epiphany. There is an alternative assembly and maybe that would go...yes it does - everything is arranged so it fits inside. I managed to get 3 of the pieces in the box and was left with the L shaped piece outside and wondered how to get that in with it blocked so much. There was an L shaped gap left for it to go into but I couldn't see how to move it in. Time to Think© outside the box. I often find that this is what is required with these puzzles - make the assembly and see whether I can work out how they come out and then try and remember what I did and do it in reverse inside the box. I am not very bright and reversing a series of steps gets me terribly confused. Just in time for a blog post, I had it solved - Phew!

Beautiful whilst packed
The disassembly of the puzzle requires a sequence of 20 moves (10.4.3.3) and takes advantage of the unique shape of the pieces and the box. It is very clever. I really don't know how Alexander keeps finding such simple yet such challenging designs. They are stunning - I think he needs to be given a title as I have at the top of the blog... henceforth he shall be "Alexander the Great" (hopefully this won't go to his head and make him attempt to take over most of the civilised world). 

I am greatly looking forward to more puzzles from this amazing duo - Brian and Alexander work together so well.

Keep safe everyone. The new infection numbers are going down in most places around the world but this requires constant vigilance and attention to social distancing/mask wearing. The vaccines will start to have an effect (at least on hospitalisation rates) soon as well.



Sunday, 14 February 2021

Man! That was Fast! Man! That was Good!

Man! I was Fast and Man! I was Good! 🤣

Ennui
Just a quickie again this week - I had to work yesterday yet again (unfortunately I missed another Zoom MPP) and when I got home we had a boiler catastrophe and no heating in the house (not going to be fixed until at least Thursday 😱😱😱) and this required multiple attempts to reset the boiler (failed) and then a mad scramble to source some electric heaters. Mrs S is grumpy/angry at me at the best of times - if she gets cold then I am in serious trouble! My only hope is that she freezes to an icicle quickly before she has time to murder me! Some one suggested on Facebook that I cuddle Mrs S to keep warm on Valentine's day - OMG - that is a dangerous thing to attempt!

At the top of the post is a statement you don't read on this blog very often! I pretty much never claim to be good at puzzling. At best I think I am sub par and at worst bloody awful at puzzling. I do wonder why I keep torturing myself with these things? It may be something to do with the eternal love of wood (a boy can NOT have too much wood) or maybe the fabulous community of puzzling folk who provide support (although mostly to me they just take the piss).  There definitely is something that keeps me buying these wonderful, ever more expensive toys.

So why those extravagant claims? Well, Brian Menold put some wonderful new toys up for sale on his site 2 weeks ago and I was mesmerised - they are just so beautiful and I might just have spent rather more than I should have. I couldn't resist it and in my defence, these were just the second puzzles I had bought this year after Aleksandr's wonderful Ternary pin burr I reviewed last week. Considering that it is the middle of February, I am telling Mrs S that I have been very controlled - she doesn't need to know about the other purchases that are on their way, does she?

Amongst the puzzles released by Brian is a Turning Interlocking Cube (TIC). I adore these puzzles and will pretty much buy any of them when they come up for sale but with Ennui, we have added attraction...this was designed by Laszlo Kmolnar. Laszlo is one of my favourite designers. He is delightful to chat to and his puzzles are always fabulous - well thought out with some stunning logic or a wonderful Aha! moment. I had never seen a TIC design from him and knew straight away that it would be fabulous. On top of that, the TIC-Meister himself, Bernhard Schweitzer, had been extremely complementary about it:

"It has a very very unusual move for solving, a combination of 'unnormal' turns coordinated by 2 pieces together, I don't have any similar solution moves in all of my 240 different TICs (Turning Interlocking Cubes), it is a must for a serious TIC collector"

WOW - what an accolade! Click, it was in my cart. Then, I am delighted to say, Brian was absolutely on fire! He used DHL for the postage which was a little more expensive but unbelievably quick - it took less than a week to arrive and was not held up by customs (I assume that I will be billed soon for the VAT that I will owe). After a short quarantine in the porch by Mrs S, she heeded my plea and unpacked them (yes, I bought more than one puzzle) for me on Thursday evening for me to play with on Friday.

I set to on Friday evening whilst watching a bit of TV and, as is usual, tried to find the position of all the pieces. This allowed me plenty of time to admire the gorgeous wood choices - Brian has used Movingui, Bocote, Peroba Rosa and Maple for this one with some lovely contrasting dowels to strengthen the joints - the pieces are gorgeous and beautifully finished as always. I seemed to be on fire...I found the placements of the pieces in ust a single evening! Unheard of for me and I hoped this boded well for the assembly - but...Brian had said this about it:

"This puzzle has a very difficult to find maneuver. You may be tempted to force the pieces together but you should not do it. You will be able to make the move you must just be patient (or lucky) and keep searching. It requires precision. I have put each of these puzzles together several times and finding the move never got any easier and often took several tries."

As always with these puzzles, it is one thing entirely to find the final positions of the pieces and another, much harder challenge to get them into said positions. I started that straight away and noticed a very interesting move for one piece and then tried to insert the second. No way was that going in - completely blocked. Maybe change the order of insertion? Piece 2 inserted first yep! Oh dear the second (first) piece also blocked. No matter what, these two had to go into these positions and even if they were 3rd/4th the same problem would occur. This was the main challenge of the puzzle. 

I discovered some interesting possible moves of one piece but was still stuck and couldn't get them into the correct positions when the other piece was in place. Time for bed and back to work again on Saturday. This was going to cut things really fine for a blog post this week! After my boiler shenanigans yesterday evening, I was a little frazzled and sitting in a room just about heating up with a fan heater listening to Mrs S rant about the failure of British Gas to offer an appointment any sooner than Thursday (we have a service contract) and I focussed on Ennui to try and decrease my feelings of "weariness and dissatisfaction" (the definition of Ennui). Eventually I narrowed it down to only one potential move for those pieces and remembering what Brian had written, I fiddled very carefully.

AHA! That was Good!

Actually, it was better than good. It was amazing - I have done quite a lot of TICs over the years and I cannot recall a move sequence like that. The precision required is amazing - everything needs to be placed absolutely perfectly to the fraction of a millimeter. The rest of the pieces were inserted over the next few minutes to give me my assembled cube:

Man! That was good!
As Brian stated, undoing the assembly is fairly straightforward but putting it back together never seems to get any easier - it must be just perfect or it won't go - brilliant design by Laszlo.

In the end I managed it in 2-3 hours over 2 evenings - that's pretty quick for me to solve a puzzle - I was Fast and I was Good......for once.

I might have a few more puzzles to play with and hopefully something to write about next weekend. Wish me luck!

Take care out there guys - the numbers in Europe and the UK are heading in the right direction and even in the craziness that is the USA, the infection rates are decreasing. But this is not the time to let down your guards - stay at home as much as possible and wear your masks when out and about. 



Sunday, 7 February 2021

Aleksandr Terned My Head...Again!

Ternary Pin Burr
My Russian friend Aleksandr Leontev is another king of the N-ary puzzle (alongside Namick Salakhov) and when he emails offering toys my brain just starts to dribble and I immediately hand over cash. You see, I just love N-ary puzzles - some might say that they aren't really puzzles but I argue that if you need to explore a sequence to discover a logical sequence of moves then that is the very definition of a puzzle. Plus if one of the best puzzlers in the world, Goetz Schwandtner, collects them, solves them, writes about them and catalogues them, then they are certainly going to be good enough for me.

Ternary burrs
Initially I had just been wanting to add to my collection of Ternary burrs - above is Eric Fuller's reproduction of the Ternary burr (designed by Goh Pit Khiam and originally made by Brian Young) and alongside it is the wonderful extension to it "designed" and made by my genius friend Derek Bosch. Whilst I always prefer wood, there is definitely something special about the plastic ones too. This little collection got me thinking about other puzzles I had that may belong with them - how many Ternary puzzles in my collection? I found quite a few with the help of Goetz' site and even managed to find a good few of them (there are a few missing in action because I have them stuffed into chests of drawers and not on display).

As many Ternary puzzles as I could find
After placing my order with Aleksandr, it only took a week for it to arrive and then it sat around whilst Mrs S quarantined it in the porch and then I needed to find time to play. Yesterday I was forced to write our on call rotas a week early because I'm an eejit and put myself down to work next weekend when I would normally have written it. Luckily catching everyone by surprise with an early rota meant I had less requests to contend with and it took quite a lot less time than usual. I was therefore able to play afterwards and only fell asleep once during my playtime.

Grooves give a hint
First few moves
According to Puzzlewillbeplayed, the N-ary sequence for the Ternary pin burr is 162 moves long which, by the standards of Aleksandr's previous puzzles, really quite short and very pleasant. In just a few minutes I had the sequence worked out and completed with a piece falling onto a cat's head (he barely noticed - another advantage of plastic puzzles):

161 moves done
N-ary pieces removed
At this point I had a little blow to the head! It occured to me rather stupidly to try and look inside. This didn't end well as the pieces move against each other very smoothly and easily under gravity alone. I turned it out of the horizontal orientation and peered inside just in time to watch several pieces drop out onto the cat (who began to pay attention). I desperately tried to prevent them from falling out and dislodged several more and it became very unstable and collapsed in a heap on the cat who ran off my lap with rather sharp claws - OUCH (but no Whack!) scattering pieces everywhere. Oh boy! Now I had a REAL puzzle on my hands:

What was I thinking?

Ternary burr pieces
With the previous Ternary burrs I was able to dismantle them slowly and organise the pieces and learn the (dis)assembly method but here I just had a whole bunch of bits and only the vaguest idea of what goes where. First of all I had to separate them into types and take a photo - then it was going to be time to Think© which may hurt quite a lot! 

Mrs S told me I had to stop last night and then it was time for bed and then it was time for breakfast and blog post writing - this puzzle currently sits on the Kitchen granite nicely ordered and taunting me - can I put it back together? I am sure I can do it if I enter all the pieces into Burrtools but am not so sure if I try and use my very small tired brain! I'll give it a go and report back next week:

It may stay like this for a while...unless the cats get to it first...
It may end up partially under the fridge!
This was my first puzzle acquisition of 2021 - if this continues then I'm hoping for a VERY good year!

I have finally received my second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and am hopeful that this will allow me to be a bit safer and certainly prevent me from reinfecting Mrs S as I did in June. She was not impressed with the size of my viral load!

Stay safe guys - it's improving out there but nowhere near what we need to allow us to relax our vigilance.


Sunday, 31 January 2021

This is Supposed to be Relaxing? AKA I'm an Eejit!

Euklid for Nick - I just cannot solve it!
I'm sorry guys, today I have nothing solved to write about and no new arrivals to show off. I got into this hobby as a result of something horrific which occurred at work with the aim of taking my mind of things and helping me relax. I even started a website about it to encourage others in their puzzling pathway. I have maintained at least a weekly post for almost 10 years with something new for you...until today I'm afraid! In fact the last couple of days have been incredibly stressful as I desperately try to solve something so that I can blog about it. I have had to admit defeat (actually Mrs S has got fed up with my groaning and swearing as I tried and failed) - a relaxing hobby? Nope, actually it's now quite stressful!

This last year has been horrific for all of humanity and especially for those in the "caring" professions. Work has become all encompassing and leaves very little time or energy to play with my lovely toys. I was lucky to have a whole weekend off work this weekend for the first time in ages and was hopeful that I might be able to solve something in that short time to show off to you (as well as to boost my confidence). My friend and fellow CFF editor, Theo Geerinck recently showed off that he had made a copy of Euklid for Nick for himself and had even managed to solve it without much difficulty. A quick discussion on Facebook had him advising me to Think© outside the box which I have tried to do for nearly 2 days now and have singularly failed! I'm an eejit = I'm an idiot (at least when it comes to packing puzzles). If you wish to torture yourselves then it is sold out at the Pelikan website but still available from PuzzleMaster.

At one point during this I made a lovely sliding and rotational movement which I thought was so perfect that it had to be correct but it still left me unable to insert one last block and then to my horror I couldn't reverse the beautiful move to take the pieces out. I spent a horrible ½ hour puffing, panting and swearing at myself thinking I had permanently locked up my toy. This really pissed off Mrs S and she forced me to stop torturing myself with the question, "I thought that this was supposed to be fun and relaxing for you?" She's not wrong, I gave up trying to solve it for the time being and here we are with nothing solved and only a tale of woe for you. Allard loved it and solved it but he's a much better puzzler than me. Can you do it?

I did also try to solve the Legal Packing puzzle which others have raved about

Legal packing
Nope! I couldn't solve this one either! I have lost my Mojo.

I hope that my solving powers will return soon or this is going to become a very boring blog for you all to read! Unfortunately I have to work the next two weekends in a row and won't have much time to figure something out - the pressure is on! Sigh!

Keep safe everyone! The vaccinations are underway but it will be a very long time before the world is safe.





Sunday, 24 January 2021

She Told Me I Should Stop Slabbing About

Six Slabs
Way back in October (seems like a lifetime ago with the way I am living just now) I saw Eric offer the Six Slabs puzzle for sale and I was lucky enough to grab a copy before they all sold out a few minutes later (it does seem very hard to buy these days!). I couldn't resist the beauty of the Curly Maple box with corner detailing and blocks made from Wenge. 

Hexahedroom
Apart from the look I was enticed by the text in the description that said it was reminiscent of the Hexahedroom puzzle from years before. I had never managed to get old of an Artisan copy of that puzzle but a very very good friend of mine had been kind enough to make me a copy so that I could experience it. I had absolutely adored that puzzle and the mere mention of a similarity to this was enough to send me running to my trackpad to click on the buy button.

Having said they were similar, I have to admit that the similarity is purely in shape and intent...they do not even remotely share the same solving method. The aim of Six slabs (designed by Brendan Perez) is to insert all "six slabs" into the box such that they all fit properly inside with nothing protruding out into the window left for the purpose. Unlike Hexahedroom, the pieces are all the same shape, cuboids (NOT cubes) and the holes for insertion have a specific orientation. 

Inside the box at diagonally opposite corners there are 2 cubes glued in place which significantly hinders you. In fact, it is these blocks that turn the assembly into a puzzle:

Diagonally opposite fixed cubes causing an obstruction
The effect of these cubes is that the slabs have to be oriented the correct way so as not to be protruding out the hole and they hinder the movement inside. When this arrived back in November, I was a bit busy with work and had had my butt kicked by Volker Latussek's Euklid for Nick. This made me rather fearful of all packing puzzles and I put it aside on my puzzles to be played tray in the living room. The cats were particularly fascinated by the ties of the bright orange bag that Eric had put the 6th block into and that alone kept me amused for a little while.

Finally, Mrs S was starting to agitate about the ever increasing number of puzzles on my pile and she told me in no uncertain terms that I should either solve them or file them in one of my cupboards and stop slobbing about! This forced me to pick it up when I finally had a couple of days over Xmas and New Year and have a little play.

I have recently been reminded by a superb Dutch puzzler that the secret to these packing puzzles is to think© outside the box (Theo was discussing the Euklid for Nick puzzle which I WILL be going back to soon). So for the Six slabs after a very quick play which failed I decided to do as Theo told me (as well as Mrs S). A little experimentation with individual slabs inside revealed the constraints that were required on the possible orientation at the end and I was "just" left with the task of finding a way to end up in that orientation. I had not paid any attention to the solution level quoted on Cubicdissection and imagined that with the 3 holes to be filled, I would have to insert the last 3 pieces at the very end of the sequence. This had me fooled for a while and after an hour of play I realised that there was more to it. The number of moves (for disassembly) are 1.1.9.3.2.3 indicating that there is quite a lot of moving pieces around inside before the final insertion is possible.

Finally I have solved something!
This is a lovely little puzzle which took me a couple of hours of off and on fiddling to work out the correct sequence. It is really quite satisfying when the last piece slides into place. I will need to store it in the unsolved state and bring it to work to challenge my colleagues at work when we get back to working normally. Maybe it is time to return to my nemesis from Volker? Maybe Theo has pushed me the correct way and I will finally manage it?

If anyone has an artisan copy of the Hexahedroom puzzle they are willing to let me buy then please contact me and I will be very grateful.

 
Stay safe out there guys! The new Covid variants are running amok amongst the UK, European and American populations and there is some evidence that not only are they much more easily transmissible but they are also more deadly. We are now frequently seeing people in their 20s and 30s needing ventilation and even dying. Once you are on a ventilator you will be on it for at least a month and then need a very prolonged period of rehabilitation after that and who knows whether you will ever return to completely normal! My own health has not completely returned to normal yet and I am 7 months after my bout with the virus. If you can keep away from others at all then make sure you do so and if not take precautions - masks are cheap and easy to wear - they DO help. 



Sunday, 17 January 2021

My Intellect Is Not Big Enough For...

 This Most KongTastic of Puzzles

The Kong Puzzle
This post is going to be a cathartic admission of guilt/failure and I apologise to those of you who expect more of me. Way back in August I participated in the TwoBrassMonkeys' Kickstarter campaign for a chunk of extremely heavy metal. It arrived in October, beautifully presented in a small aluminium briefcase and recalling my abject failure playing with the prototype at the MPP in February I was determined that this would not beat me. They called this the Kong Puzzle and the last few are still available direct from them here.

I took my photos of the pieces and Mrs S hovered around with threatening comments about what painful or even fatal violence she would perform upon my person if I was to drop any piece of this and damage any of 1) the granite work surface, b) a kitchen tile or iii) the glass kitchen table we eat at and which I occasionally puzzle at if there are two many pieces to play with on an armchair. She did say that it was perfectly acceptable for me to drop things on my toes and break them! She is so considerate.

It is even more gorgeous outside the case
I did wonder for a while whether having a violent Scottish woman muttering dark imprecations at me was going to put me off in my puzzling prowess and I am tempted to blame everything on her. But let's face it...you all know that I am a bear of very little brain and am generally quite rubbish at puzzling. Especially assembly puzzling (and packing puzzling and sequential movement puzzling and coordinate movement puzzling and...)

Meanwhile, my difficulty in solving this was rapidly made into a humiliation when quite a lot of my puzzle friends on Facebook quite promptly showed off their completed assemblies leaving me feeling ever more inadequate. I had my photo of the final shape and was all set to work it out. I counted notches and whilst this did sort of assist me a little in my understanding of piece placement (only a little bit), it did not really help me find moves to use. There is no key piece which means that the final move will need to be an insertion of a multi-piece assembly (?2 ??3 pieces or even more).

After Shane showed off that he had assembled it I redoubled my efforts! Shane is well known as a lock genius and a great woodworker but he is not well known for having a long attention span. To me this meant that Shane must have solved this in under an hour! Ok we are talking Shane here...probably under 30 minutes 15 minutes! There must be a system to it! I tried and tried to find a method nad persistently came up blank. Mrs S was very relieved to be proved correct in that I am completely blank. Another couple of weeks of play whenever I had some time was not helpful and I resorted to Burrtools only to realise that I couldn't work out how to program the cylindrical rods into it. I'd better put it away for a while to preserve the tattered remnants of my sanity.

More recently, whilst perusing Big Steve and Ali's website, I came across a page which I had not seen before - hints and solutions. I had a look and was gratified to see that they had typed up some hints without completely giving it away. I printed the hints off and when I went to look at them properly had a frustrating time reading text typed backwards complete with a reverse font (that really forces you to concentrate). I went through the clues one at a time in order not to give myself too much away at once. Erm, I needn't have worried about that - the first few clues can barely even be called clues and after that they don't really add an awful lot more. Still stumped!

Their final clue was a photo showing which are the 3 horizontal long sticks and their orientation. I was more than a little peeved to realise that all my earlier trials had not used any of those sticks in any of those positions. Sigh - I am so bad at assembly puzzles. I picked out the correct 3 and then tried to rearrange the others into place. I'd like to say that I managed to work the positions out but none of you would believe me and I don't blame you. I made lots of shapes that looked promising but certainly were rather difficult to hold in position whilst I added new pieces and always at the end had 2 or 3 sticks impossible to place. Several more hours of attempts and a rather hair raising near miss at breaking a tile and I was no closer.

I simply have no idea how to go about this sort of assembly puzzle! I can make a little progress by thinking about numbers of notches but then I am left with a huge amount of trial and error which I cannot keep track of. The pieces all are extremely similar and after 5 or 6 assemblies I lose track of what I have tried in which orientation. Yesterday evening I was reaching the end of my tether and finding the whole process no longer enjoyable - I was also running out of time to solve something for the blog today (I am sure that you understand that puzzling is something I struggle to find much time for at the moment). 

To my eternal shame, I had to click on their final link with step by step instructions of how to assemble the Kong. Even following said instructions proved rather tough in my weakened, frazzled state but finally after several months I had something to put away on display! Mrs S watched agitatedly as I moved it to the granite to take a photo:

Eternal proof of my shame!
It does look gorgeous on display which is just as well because the chances of me ever dismantling it are very low.

If any of you can tell me what I can do to find ways to assemble this sort of thing then I would be very grateful. I just don't even know how to go about it! I can assemble many 6 piece burrs but seriously struggle with them when they get to slightly higher assembly levels (in fact I have so far completely failed to assemble Brian Young's Mega Six burr - the hardest 6 piece burr ever designed)

Well! I can't do this one either!

I look forward to hearing from you all with your tales of success to make me feel even more useless and also expect lots of information on how to go about solving these sorts of puzzle with simple step by step techniques.

Stay safe out there everyone! It is really quite bad in most Western nations just now - infection rates are incredibly high with hospitals approaching breaking point (mine included) - now is not a good time to get seriously ill.



Sunday, 10 January 2021

Having Hex helped Me With My Plexus!

It appears that the only way that I can have Hex and keep it up is to use rubber bands. Allard had to remind me how to have Hex by myself as it had not occurred to me that I could support my rod(s) without female assistance and when Mrs S refused to help me have Hex and I read about Allard's fancy threesome with Gil and Derek as well as a rubber (band) I had a hunt around my house for rubber bands of my own. We don't have rubber bands in the house because the cats absolutely love them and as soon as your back is turned they chew through them and then swallow them whole. Whilst this sounds very funny, it really gets unpleasant when they reach the opposite end of said cat and they then get the zoomies with elasticated poops hanging out! It's especially bad if they romp across my pillow whilst I am asleep and something rather yucky bonks me on the head! Hence, after just one morning of zoomies, there are no rubber bands around!

When doing my annual rummage through my excessively heavy work bag to try and lighten my load, I find a very heavy set of metal chunks from the TwoBrassMonkeys! It was the Nova Plexus puzzles in Brass and Steel that I have singularly failed to solve so far. I had bought these way back in September 2019 and after a couple of months of concerted effort to assemble these beauties, I had totally failed and had given up. They had accompanied me to work for a year without managing to be assembled.

I had bought mine directly from Big Steve and Ali but they are also available from PuzzleMaster if you live in the Americas. They arrived very nicely packaged in a box with a useful (and highly inappropriate bag for a senior doctor to carry around in a hospital):

Nicely boxed complete with carrying bags
It was this very monkey pouch that had been with me for over a year. The extra item that had been supplied but not pictured was a couple of large zip bags filled with Loom bands. Whilst I had never joined the craze to create pretty things from Loom bags as I am a 50something year old bloke and not a 10 year old girl, I had tried all sorts of techniques to use these Loom bands to hold the pieces of the Nova plexus in place whilst I had attempted what I figured was a correct assembly. I even tried multiple bands per rod intersection but no, it still kept falling to bits as I attempted to insert extra pieces.

The Loom bands were my salvation when it came to assembling the coordinate motion Hex puzzle, Bish, Bash, Bosch. Mrs S was not going to have Hex with me and going solo was going to need assistance. Apart from getting stuck inside the intersections/notches and preventing the final part of the coordinate assembly, they proved very helpful and I finally had my trio of Hex assemblies for my Best of 2020 post:

Thank you for the Loom bands Steve!
Whilst my little pile of bands were being eyed by one of my pussy boys and I had a couple of days off over Xmas, I realised that maybe I should make one last ditch attempt at putting these bloody things together. Boxing day turned out to be rather full of swear words but I made some progress. I was almost there when someone made a bid to eat a pile of the bands and it all fell in a heap in my lap. Sooo close!

After pushing the hungry cat away, I tried again and finally after 15 months I had it...the brass version was assembled and stable (even without the Loom bands) - Yay! Flushed with success I fetched the stainless steel version. I had thought I would put that one together in the mirror image of the first but just couldn't seem to manage it! In the end, after another couple of hours of swearing and repeatedly having to fend off a cat with a rubber fetish, I went back to trying the same way around. 

There was something different about the Steel version - it was MUCH tougher than the brass one despite being identical. I would always get to the very last step of trying to get it clicked together and stable when it would always crash into a heap. Had I gotten a faulty set? Knowing Steve and Ali's stringent standards, there was no way that would be the case - it must be me being crap!

Finally after 15 months!
I really need to make them a mirror pair
I kept at it for another 2 days and at last have my pair of Nova plexii assembled together. There is definitely something about the Steel one that makes it particularly tough. Maybe it is that it is that bit less flexible than the brass version? I have no intention of taking them apart again although before I put them away on display, I do have a hankering to disassemble one to make it a mirror version. Gulp! Maybe not!

Next I need to spend a few more hours with the Kong puzzle - so far I have singularly failed to find an assembly for that as well. The mini briefcase is taking up a lot of space on my desk and needs to be cleared away. There is no way that I am going to carry that around at work! It weighs 4Lbs and might permanently damage my shoulder! Here goes!



Stay safe out there guys! Things are now absolutely horrendous in the UK NHS just now with huge numbers of Covid cases being admitted to hospital and requiring either CPAP or ventilation just now. For the first time we are being forced to cancel urgent cancer surgery in many hospitals because the critical care beds are not available post op to look after people who have had major major surgery. I cannot remember in my 30 years as a doctor it ever having been this bad. It is much much worse than any winter Flu surge and we are seeing people in their 20s and 30s with no pre-existing conditions requiring ventilatory support (once you are on a vent then that will be you for at least a month). If you possibly can - stay at home! You don't want to catch this and you don't want to give it to your parents or grandparents! Hopefully in the USA, now that the Orange prick is going to be ousted, the American public will have a decent set of policies and approach to mitigating the dreadful problems they have had there with this virus.


Sunday, 3 January 2021

Happy New Year - My Top Ten(ish) of 2020

Dear Lord! What am I going to do with this?
Happy New Year to you all! 2021 already! Doesn't time fly when you are having fun? Oops, sorry...doesn't time fly when you are (pick whichever combination applies):

a) working your arse off
b) scared shitless
c) sick as a dog
d) trapped at home
e) all of the above

Yes, it has been a bloody awful year for us all! My thoughts go out to those who have been (or continue to be) very sick and those who have lost friends and loved ones to this cursed virus. I really do hope that 2021 is a better one for you all (in fact for all of humanity). This last year has taught us all the value of life, the need to prepare for the worst as well as how to keep each other sane or stably insane (yes, I am aware that I am at the wrong end of that spectrum). the puzzling community has carried on as if nothing was happening, buying puzzles and tantalising each other with the new toys that we bought. Many things had to move online but still were fun for everyone who managed to attend. I never made it to any of the online meetings due to my stupid work schedule but hopefully, before long, face to face meetings will be reinstated. My second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is was booked for 6th January (our idiot government has abandoned the science and cancelled it for 3 months). I hope that you all get vaccinated soon and can get out and about again without fear of infection or passing it on to your nearest and dearest.

Enough melancholy - you're not here for that! How was my puzzling year? According to Mrs S, it was much better than I deserved and indeed, I did acquire quite a large number of new toys and even solved a few despite not actually having a lot of time to myself. Every year Peter Hajek asks a bunch of influential puzzlers for their top 3 "acquisitions" of the year for the booklet to go with his End of year Puzzle Party (EPP) and this always triggers me to think about what I have to be grateful for in the preceding 12 months. As is my routine (it must be a routine as this is my 8th year of this), I am going to show off my top ten(ish) puzzles of the year but they are different to Peter's request as mine are not necessarily acquired this year...they are puzzles that I solved this year. I add a little commentary and display my inability to make any real decision - hence top ten(ish).

As a new feature which I am kinda hoping becomes a yearly regular event, the PuzzleMad saviour/foreign correspondent has sent me his top puzzle of the year - over to you Mike...

Foreign Office - Vintage Puzzle of the (yester) Year

THINK dissected cube, produced by Chadwick-Miller, made in Japan, ©1968
I call this THINK because it is in capital letters on the side and there is nothing else that looks like a name on the box or instructions. This is one of my favorite finds this year. It’s a very interesting dissection which explodes (gently) into 10 individual pieces (9 shown in picture, 1 remaining internal). 

That looks absolutely fabulous
It comes with a handy little push-pull tool which is pretty much required. This is a very delicate puzzle made from a light, dry, and brittle wood. Definitely don’t pass this one to non-puzzle friends. It’s a reasonable challenge, confusing at first, but quite logical once you get into it. Part of the fun is trying to figure out the cut sequence to make such a thing. This would be a great candidate for reproduction in hardwood or precision metal. (Ed - I absolutely love it! Another one to add to my eBay search list


And finally we are there - it's been a long year!
Here are my own fudged sort of top 10 puzzles of the year:

Almost there...

Pentaring
Triangle cube 3
Triangle ring 3
I am terrible at packing puzzles but when Osanori Yamamoto does a packing puzzle then it is so much more than just stuffing a huge number of similar pieces into a box. He has simple small boxes with specially shaped pieces to fit through constrained but simple entrance holes. This turns them from a "stuffing" 'em in puzzle to almost a zen-like interlocking burr sequence. When you combine Osanori-san with Jakub and Jaroslav's incredible craftsmanship, then you have a truly winning combination. The fact that these have been pipped at the post for the top 10 shows how damned good the others must have been. These are still available from PuzzleMaster (Pentaring, Triangle cube 3 and Triangle ring 3 (or direct from Pelikan)
Yin yang
Yin yang pieces
Santa
I couldn't leave out Dr Volker Latussek's contributions to my year! His packing puzzles are on the other end of the packing spectrum to Osanori-san but they are also NOT stuffing 'em in puzzles. They also have something special about them. My favourite of the year was the Yin yang (closely followed by Santa all produced by Pelikan puzzles. These are still in stock at PuzzleMaster - Yin yang & Santa.

On to the top ten (sort of):  


11) Ansel from Puzzled Wolf

Ansel
11? Yes, I know! Top ten my ass/arse! But how could I possibly cut this one out? Ansel is a wonderful debut to the puzzling world by Brandon Wolf (aka Puzzled Wolf). It is a fabulous themed sequential discovery puzzle made from laser cut wood with some extra pieces inside. It took me quite a while to work out and required me to map what I thought was inside the interior before I could fully understand what was going on. Simply genius and hopefully just the beginning of a brilliant future puzzle designing career.

10) Lock puzzles from 2 new designers

I couldn't take either of these out of my top ten(ish)/eleven so I decided to put them both in. It's my website so I will do whatever I want with it!

Lock Out

Lock Out by Andrew Coles was first seen at an MPP and I didn't get a chance to play there. When it was released commercially I jumped at the chance to buy and was delighted at the quality of the puzzle even if I couldn't solve it. It took me nearly 2 months of play to finally open it and the Aha! moment was terrific. I cannot wait to see what Andrew produces in the future.

Titan's Treasure Lock
This fabulous sequential discovery puzzle lock had me stumped for quite a while (I had to ask my puzzling guru, Shane for help with it) and absolutely adored the final sequence. Sashko sells this puzzle on his Etsy store and it is well worth your hard earned cash. In most years this would be much higher in my list giving an indication of how good a year we had for puzzles at least.

9) Packing puzzles by Alexander Magyarics

Super Magnetic
Collator
Hydrant
Pincers
Alexander teamed up with both Brian Menold and Pelikan to release a few absolutely amazing packing puzzles. Just like with the Osanori Yamamoto puzzles, they are based on a very simple premise...a simple box with a small number of relatively simple but not uniform shaped pieces to fit inside. The difference is that the entry holes into the puzzle are really very restricted adding a huge extra dimension to the solving process. They are amazingly compulsive to solve and just beautifully brought to life by these two amazing craftsmen. I cannot choose one favourite so will show off 4 that I particularly loved.
These are still available from PuzzleMaster - Super Magnetic, Hydrant and Pincers.

8) Popplock T12

Popplock T12

Every single time Rainer Popp produces a puzzle lock, I buy it without hesitation despite the cost and absolutely adore finding the puzzling sequence to open these masterpieces in brass and steel. I wondered whether he could possibly match the T11 for complexity and fun. It's not quite as epically amazing as the T11 but is actually more approachable for the solver - it is still an incredible puzzle and one that I actually managed to solve without assistance. If you drop any of these it will break your foot or your floor but don't let that deter you from trying to get hold of a copy. 

7) Alligator by Stephan Baumegger and Pelikan

Alligator
Look at the cross-section

Designed by Stephan Baumegger and beautifully made by my friends Jakub and Jaroslav at Pelikan puzzles, Alligator is one of my favourite types of burr...it has a hidden piece inside (you really cannot help but giggle at the lovely alligator figure) and is a 6 piece burr based on a 3x3 grid in the y-z plane. This is the 5th of these I own and I adore the fun maze like properties of the solve. Still in stock at PuzzleMaster.

6) Ring Case by Juno

Ring Case
A year never goes by without Juno making it into my top  puzzles of the year.

Yes, I am not into boxes in general even if I do enjoy playing with them and I have to sheepishly admit that this will be the second (or third...or even fourth) box in my top ten(ish) for 2020. Really though, the common denominator is not the box it is the other part of the description - sequential discovery and even more important the designer and craftsman...Junichi Yananose. I adored this for its simplicity of design and yet also has an incredible fun sequence of moves including a very nice unexpected final stage. Just lovely. Plus, who can resist any box when it has bread inside?

5) Lock Box by Eric Fuller

Lock Box - how on earth can this be down at number 5?
OMG! Another box! This one doesn't look much like a box. It is beautifully made by eric Fuller and is yet again, actually - a sequential discovery puzzle. This will have been many people's puzzle of the year - you cannot beat craftsmanship by Eric and the puzzling process here is absolutely amazing but, unbelievably, there are even better puzzles for me this year. This was pretty tough and I did need a little nudge from Derek to reach the end but this did not detract at all from my experience. It is so gorgeous that it has stayed on display in my living room and Mrs S has not complained.

4) Caged Cube and other rotational challenges

Caged Cube 1 & 2
When Andrew Crowell designs something new, a whole lot of us sit up and pay attention. He is the master of the Turning Interlocking Cube (TIC) but has also branched out into Rotational Interlocking Plate (RIP) puzzles. My favourite of the year stands head and shoulders above the rest for the sheer fun of the challenge as well as the stunning beauty of the end result produced by Brian Menold. Caged Cubes 1&2 are TICs with the added fun of needing to be assembled inside a wooden frame. Number 1 took me ages, is currently assembled on display and I cannot for the life of me take it apart again. I keep going back to it and getting nowhere! One day I will need to ask for a solution!

PedanTIC
BioTIC
Whilst I am discussing these I should also mention PedanTIC (also made by Brian) which took me weeks to assemble and BioTIC made by Eric which was a hellishly tough challenge and most enjoyable. I am very poor at assembly puzzles but these seem to be just a perfect challenge for me and my very small brain. I seem to be struggling with the RIPs - the freedom of movement possible in all of them is just making it impossible for me to find the assemblies. I will keep trying and who knows, maybe in a year or so I will be writing about one here?

3) Burrlephant by Jerry McFarland

Burrlephant
I cannot resist anything produced by Jerry and when he created something stunningly beautiful in the shape of an elephant which reminded me of my late mother, I was overwhelmed. It is also a terrific fun puzzle. It has multiple locking mechanisms and is a lovely fun little challenge. It isn't the toughest of the puzzles from Jerry and doesn't have any automatically solving sections like the Burrnova 2D and 3D but it is immediately obvious as a McFarland puzzle and is gorgeous.

No spoiler here - even in pieces it is stunning!
It looks so good that Mrs S has actually put it on display on our mantlepiece!


2) The Joy of Hex Set by Ali and Steve

The Joy of Hex - how much innuendo can a puzzle have?
I had been urging Steve to create and sell a 3D printed hexagonal burr set complete with a list of puzzle challenges after showing off a big pile of plastic pieces at the one and only in person MPP of the year and he outdid my wildest expectations by joining forces with Ali to create a solid brass version complete with a wonderful book full of innuendo. Simply amazing hours and hours of fun. I have only had time to have old fashioned Missionary position Hex but it was very satisfying and quite a 'relief' when it all slipped in place smoothly. Mrs S even joined in with the spirit of things by laughing at all the SHex jokes doing the rounds (primarily by me). Like all of the TwoBrassMonkeys' work this has been beautifully made with even the display/storage boxes being perfect. I am eternally grateful for the friendship from the pair of them and also the sheer time and effort they put into making perfection (even if I cannot solve them all). I cannot wait to see what they produce next.


Aaargh! Do not have oral Hex with Big Steve!

I did wonder whether I might have to do some photoshop trickery to show you the next photo but last night I had a fun time with a bunch of Loom bands and a very shaky hand (I'd sobered up!) and managed to get the incredibly tough Bish, Bash, Bosch coordinate assembly puzzle assembled without any aid from Mrs S.

Yessss! That was a whole lotta fun - just another 27 designs to try.
I also have to mention that burr sets are one of my favourite things in the puzzling world - I did manage to add another two of these wondrous beauties to my collection and have some fun with them last year as well:

Phoenix burr set by Jack Krijnen
DDD burr set by Eric, Daryl and Bryan

1) SDBB Master by Juno

SDBB Master from Junichi Yananose
This masterpiece is the culmination of Juno's sequence of Sequential Discovery Burred Boxes and I was lucky enough to get hold of a copy. It was about time that Juno won the top slot with one of these - the original reached the number two slot in the top 10ish of 2018 and the follow up board burr version was also number two last year. A combination of 6-piece burr with tools to find and cavities to open made it a brilliant challenge and I have seen from the draft EPP booklet that it is number one for many other puzzlers. The release of this one nearly killed Juno's website and I suspect the experience may prevent him producing any more. 

I am so pleased that I now have the complete set.
Congratulations Juno (and Yukari - he could not possibly do all he does without her support), you totally deserve this grand prize this year. I cannot wait to see what you produce in 2021 (I seem to have missed out on your latest batch of puzzles already).


Do you agree with my top 10? If you have any different thoughts then please comment below or even use my Contact page to tell me how wrong I am. I look forward to your thoughts.


Usually, I try and show off some photos of the "State of the Union/Collection" but at this moment in time (as you can see from the photo at the very top of the post), my study has relapsed into being a huge shithole again with puzzles, books and papers everywhere. I will, no doubt, be forced to tidy up again before long and then I will endeavour to update my collection photos.

Take care everyone, stay safe and here's hoping 2021 is a fabulous year for us all.



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