Sunday, 17 November 2019


The Architest Puzzle.
Despite having been off work this week, almost no puzzling has been achieved! Sob! She keeps making me do DIY! This time it was the main bathroom - aka "hers". It needed de-grouting, re-grouting and then silicone sealing plus other numerous household things that never get done except when I am off work! Hours of puzzling...NONE! The PuzzleMad foreign correspondent didn't know how much I would need him yet as always he came to my rescue at the end of last week with yet another wonderful guest post. He always seems to pick puzzles that I wouldn't choose for myself or have not managed to solve and produces something wonderful to keep you entertained for yet another week. I am most grateful to Mike Desilets for yet another fascinating post...

Aloha Kākou Puzzlers,

As you may have noticed, my recent series of guest posts have leaned rather heavily on Hanayama releases. Although this is great for driving up the page hits, its probably time we returned to the lesser-known, out-of-production puzzles that I also love. If your sources of puzzle information are restricted to the major blogs and YouTube, then you may be under the mistaken impression that all cool, creative, and desirable puzzles have been made by high-end craftspersons in the last few decades. That just isn't so. There is a much bigger puzzle world out there to be explored. I can’t remotely do it justice, but some of my past posts should at least give a hint at what is available.  (Ed - and I am extremely grateful to you for broadening my horizons!)

We won’t actually be going very far back in time today, as it happens. Sorry if I got you all worked up. Today we will look at a puzzle from the late 1980s - Architest, The Spiral Stair Puzzle.

The cover.
And contents.
Architest is the invention of architect Tim Leefeldt who registered a trademark for the name in 1987.  It appears the trademark has since expired. If you Google “Architest”, the vast majority of your hits will be for a modern edition of the classic six nail stacking puzzle, currently sold under that name.

The new Architest puzzle - not reviewed here.
Judging from the packaging language, Mr Leefeldt intended Architest to be a series of architectural puzzles, of which The Spiral Stair Puzzle was the first. I’ve looked around quite a bit and unfortunately can find no other Architest puzzles from Leefeldt. Rob Stegman’s compendious site contains only the Spiral Stair Puzzle, which is a strong indicator that there are no other Architests.

The objective of The Spiral Stair Puzzle is stated succinctly on the box: “Construct a spiral stair of radial blocks around the post.” Very straightforward (Ed - I'm not so convinced!). The completed helical stairway will have 14 courses, each of which is comprised of three quarter-circle blocks. The challenge is to overcome the sagging and deflection that will occur if the blocks are improperly placed. The miniature edifice is meant to be a running series of cantilevers. and it is thus critical to form tight, properly supported running bonds. In order to build the stairway, it is (ostensibly) necessary to utilize a “key block” which fits into a slot about midway up the centre post, better known to architects as a newel post. Utilizing the key block properly is the crux of the puzzle - that and choosing a proper cantilever between the courses. 

It is not especially difficult to get the stacking correct. The average puzzler will need no more than about three tries. It is a very pleasant experience though. This is one of those puzzles where the difficulty is not the main point. Rather, it is to learn (by doing) about form, force, and structure. The puzzle aspect comes into play because, like all puzzles, there are a limited number of ways to achieve the solved state and a much larger number of ways that will result only in catastrophic failure. 

The spiral stair built;
Architest passed.
Architest is a fairly unique puzzle and I have not come across anything quite like it in my puzzle journey (Ed - me neither). As the name suggests, it is an “architectural” puzzle, which might put it in the stacking/balancing category. Master puzzle collector and compiler Rob Stegman slots it into the dexterity category, but even he would probably admit that this is a bit of a kludge.

Dexterity is not essential for solving the puzzle, its mostly just basic physical manipulation (stacking). I think it could just as easily be called a “put-together” puzzle, with gravity telling you when you have not done that properly. But I am not huge on classification (Ed - I am absolutely fascinated by it and visit Rob's site frequently). I probably would be more so if I had to keep track of thousands of puzzles like a real collector (Ed - Don't say that! Whack! Ouch! Too late!). But that’s not a problem for me presently (YET.....).
The cantilevered side really seems to levitate.
Close-up. It needs a lego person for scale.
Once you have built your beautiful spiral, there remain other interesting challenges. These puzzling opportunities, not included in the instructions, greatly enhance the value of this puzzle. The first and most obvious question is, can the stair be built without the newel post? This means the loss of the critical mid-post support wedge, incidentally. Since I made up this challenge, and since 99% of you will not ever have a copy of The Spiral Stair Puzzle, I feel at liberty to dispense spoilers. If you intend to hunt down a copy, then perhaps reconsider continuing with this post.

(Ed - I have inserted a few lines of a gap here - don't scroll down if you don't want any spoilers)

My first attempt at a three-block, self-supporting spiral came apart at the seam
Excessive deflection due to weak running bond. This stairway is a deathtrap.

It can be done—the free-standing spiral stair with 14 courses.
Dexterity comes into play for this challenge, a steady hand at the very least.
The answer is yes, it can be done, but definitely not with the same cantilever used in the main solution. The steps must be quite a bit narrower so as to increase the vertical downforce and prevent lateral sagging. This, however, means that you have increasingly weaker bonds since there is less overlap between courses. So it is a tricky trade-off, but one that can work for the 14 courses available. It is extremely unstable at the last course and I think 14 may be the limit. Other Architests can be conducted, such as trying to build the tallest possible single and double block spirals. The following images show how far I was able to get: 8 courses for single and 12 for double. Decreasing the step length might allow one to squeeze on another course. At this point, however, although it would be a spiral, it would not make a reasonable stairway.

Single block spiral. Watch your step.
Two block spiral. Significantly higher, but still perilous.
The Architest Spiral Stair Puzzle is a very enjoyable diversion. If you are lucky enough to come across a copy, I recommend snapping it up. It will give you an hour or two of stimulating play and may just expand your architectural horizons. As a bonus, you will probably end up spending hours looking at images of spiral staircases online. Many are so strikingly beautiful they will bring a tear to your eye (even your jaded sleepless eye, boss) SOB! I won’t bog down this article with examples, but I do think this endless stairway, designed as outdoor sculpture by artist Olafur Eliasson, is worth including. I don’t know if you can build this with blocks, but maybe there is a way. It would be a true architest.

Double helix staircase sculpture “Umschreibung” by Olafur Eliasson. It's at the KPMG building in Munich.
If you are like me - don’t worry, only my editor is like me (Ed - hahaha! It's true!) - this puzzle may also inspire you to research the spiral form more generally. That was a big part of the inventor’s intention with this puzzle. There is a virtually inexhaustible literature on all aspects of spirals ranging from the mathematical to the artistic. We here at the Puzzlemad Hawaii Branch Office (Ed - one day I'd love to visit that branch) are committed to providing a full-service blog, so I’m including a PDF copy of one of my favourite works on the topic here. This is a 1903 book entitled Spirals in Nature and Art. It was authored by Kevin’s fellow countryman Sir Theodore Andrea Cook, a gentleman and a scholar in the truest sense. It is a great read and I highly recommend you take the time. The book is no less than: “A study of spiral formations based on the manuscripts of Leonardo Da Vinci, with special reference to the architecture of the open staircase at Blois, in Touraine...“. Even that much-abbreviated abstract should be highly motivating for the genuine puzzler.

Other-than-spiral uses for Architest blocks; pillbox-style apertures supported by strong running bonds.
Other spiral construction puzzles have been released in recent times including the Quadstair by Oskar:
Oskar’s Quadstair, a tight quadruple-helix stairway.

Ed - I have a gorgeous hex version of this made by my good friend Neil.

In conclusion, I have little else to say. It is my deepest regret that Mr Leefeldt was (apparently) not able to continue adding puzzles to the Architest line. Certainly, there is tremendous potential in the concept and my guess is that arches, vaults, and flying buttresses would have been the subject of later issues. As with real architecture, the initial challenge for these puzzles would be understanding the balance of forces, and the second figuring out how to construct an object which is only stable once complete. There is no reason some puzzle-loving architect or architecture-loving puzzler cannot take up Mr Leefeldt’s torch and run with it. The puzzle pieces are just little wooden blocks, after all. We certainly have no shortage of craftsmen in the community who are very very good at fashioning little wooden blocks. With that, I return you to Kevin for the weekly farewell address...

Thank you so much, my friend! As always, you have come to my rescue at the perfect time with something absolutely fascinating on a subject I would never have learned about had it not been for you. I always look forward to your posts for the added value that you bring to my otherwise boring old blog - you keep it fresh and interesting and I am sure that a lot of puzzlers visit more for your knowledge sharing than my old drivel.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

If It's Spherical Then There Must be a Little Trick to It

Maybe I Need To Give it a Little Hug?

Spheres from Stephan Baumegger
A month or so ago I stopped dead in my tracks/iPad whilst on Facebook when I saw an update from Stephan Baumegger. He had produced a new batch of his entry into this year's IPP Design Competition, Spheres. At this, he had won a Top ten vote award from the puzzlers who played with it. Interestingly, when I had initially perused the puzzle list, it had not been a puzzle that had sung out to me at first and I could not even tell by looking at it who was the designer and craftsman. The beautiful inlay, the carving/routing work on the lid and the stone balls did not scream out Stephan to me. When the results came out with a notification that it was my friend who won, I took more notice and decided I would wait for him to announce availability and then pounce on it. Then in October, he announced that a batch was made and I immediately asked for a copy.

Now in early October and September, I might just have had a "few" new arrivals (who can blame me for a post-IPP splurge? I hadn't been to Japan and felt I had to do something to maintain my puzzler status. Mrs S had got just a "little" fed up answering the door to the various delivery men and had little words in my ear about behaving myself and not spending so much. There may or may not have been a laser-burning stare involved and she may also have inflicted a Whack! Ouch! upon my person. I decided that I could not risk the wrath of a "woman of a certain age". The age adds a whole new level of extra "psycho" to boost the extra copies of the violence gene provided by her Scottish ancestry on top of the 2 copies of the X chromosome where said gene resides! Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear! As a result of her admonition ringing in my ears, I asked Stephan to wait until the end of October before sending it. He ended up sending it just before the alleged Brexit date was due to occur in order to avoid any new customs fees.

I took my customary photos and marvelled at the incredible craftsmanship - he had sourced a beautiful inlay made in a similar way to the Japanese techniques and created his usual sticks from lovely woods:

It is just stunning!
Mrs S seemed to have been mollified by the small gap in additions to my collection and I escaped serious physical harm this time. I set to playing with it that very evening and the cats were particularly fascinated by the 3 stone marbles inside. I did struggle on a few occasions to prevent them from zooming off with a beautiful ball. It might have made the solution easier but having played with it for quite a while, I am not entirely sure that it would!

There are 3 copies of each of two sticks which are mirror images of each other, two large balls and one small one. Trying to pack them into the box proved pretty tough from the beginning as I always seemed to need 4 of one particular shape to make a nice packing. Of course, I only had 3. To my chagrin, I then discovered that I could not even get the pieces back into the box in the state that it had been delivered (picture at the top). I had to store it between attempts in a much more precarious way and hope that it didn't tip over and lose any pieces. Stephan suggested that I should "Count the Voxels" which I did with enthusiasm and without any idea how it might help me...It didn't help me!

After almost a couple of weeks without progress, I took it to the MPP and after my shock at having all the pieces of my (un)happiness cubes liberally spread amongst Rich's boxes of disassembled puzzles, I displayed my new toys and let people play. I was rather shocked when Oli said it had only taken him 10 minutes to work it out! OMG! How awful am I at packing puzzles? He gave me a helpful nudge:
Pack the pieces outside the box and ignore the balls.
Ignore my balls??? What kind of a man did he think I was? Mrs S is the keeper of the balls! I get to look at them wistfully every year or so when she lets me! Despite this odd idea, I decided to have a try using his idea the following evening with the aid of 2 boys, I had my wonderful Aha! moment. I could not have done it without Oli's idea and the cats help:

I could not have done it without help.
Masked to hide the solution!
The lid fits on with all inside!
Take my word for it!!!!
If you get a chance to buy this puzzle then BUY IT! It is beautiful. It is the perfect level of difficulty and you need to think without your balls! I adore it and will be challenging some colleagues with ut at work.

Next up we have another couple of beauties about to be released by the wonderful New Pelikan Workshop - Little Trick and Little Hug both by the amazing Klaas Jan Damstra.

Little Trick
Little Hug
These two lovely puzzles will be available soon along with the Osanori packing puzzles that I reviewed last week. These have taken Jakub and Jaroslav a little longer to produce and hence I received them a bit later than the others. They have been stunningly made as you would expect from Pelikan and are rather fun to explore and play with.

Little Trick, is 48x48x60mm made from Ovangkol and Maple and consists of three oddly shaped pieces inside a frame. The movement is silky smooth to explore. The disassembly is not terribly tough at level 10.4.1 and only a couple of short blind ends. It is a very nice challenge if you scramble the pieces and leave them for a while and try the reassembly after you have forgotten how they go together. I often am too frightened to do this but I dropped a couple of the pieces on the floor and could not disturb the sleeping cat on my lap to pick them up and hence forgot how it had come apart. I could have asked Mrs S to pick it up for me but she was already pissed at me for another delivery so soon and I didn't dare risk it. The reassembly probably took me another 20 minutes to work out when I finally got around to it. Not too tough but definitely beautiful and fun.

Little Trick pieces - you could use Burrtools but it should not be necessary.
Little Hug is tiny but gorgeous - it is 40mm cubed and stunningly made from Wenge and Ovangkol with absolutely wonderful grain in it. This puzzle hides the pieces very well and only after a little fingertip poking can you find where one piece stops and another starts. After the first move has been found then all sorts of sliding is possible and then it would appear that rotations are possible. Ignore the rotational sliding and carry on exploring the moves from in 2 dimensions to 3 and then there is a rather clever little move available if you spot it. Suddenly you have separated it into 2 pairs of similar pieces which had been held on a ring - the level was

Little Hug pieces - Burrtools could help you but don't bother - work it out!
I had been planning on keeping the orientations in place on my lap after I disassembled it to make reassembly easier. For some reason that never works out for me...a cat knocked them all down the side of my seat cushion and by the time I had fished them out, I had no idea which was which! The reassembly is a really fun challenge - I sort of had an idea roughly what was required but it took me a good hour of effing and blinding at the cat before I had worked out how to place the pieces without blocking the required moves. If I can assemble a puzzle from scratch then it is definitely possible for all you decent puzzlers out there. It is a brilliant but tiny challenge and looks gorgeous!

These puzzles should be available soon from Jakub and Jaroslav's site. Also well worth buying at the same time as the Osanori packing puzzles!

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Taking Osanori to the Next Level

Belt Cube 3
I am extremely fortunate that Jakub (joint head honcho of the wonderful Pelikan puzzles) asks me to write reviews for him and thus gives me the opportunity to buy most of his creations a week or so early. About 10 days ago he offered me the chance to buy another bunch of puzzles by the incredible Osanori Yamamoto. As well as a review he wanted to know whether these would be best sent out as assembled (for dismantling) or disassembled puzzles (for assembly) and so you can blame me for the extra special challenge you will be receiving because I most definitely think these are a MUCH better challenge as put-together puzzles - and that is coming from a rather dense man who is rubbish at assembling things (I might have a problem with the new arrivals from Brian just posted on my Newstuff page.

This time, thanks to Jakub avoiding standard post and using UPS instead my delivery arrived in just 2 days! I immediately set to so as to try and avoid any delays in the release of the new toys to the puzzling community. These are a seriously challenging set of puzzles!!! It has taken me a while to solve them and get the review to you (and Jakub).

I began with Belt Cube 3 (my copy came with a gorgeous Purpleheart box and Wenge pieces but it will also be available with the reverse colouring). This takes the usual packing puzzle which we love so much to a whole new level of frustration and cleverness. With a box/frame and holes in it and a few simple pieces to be placed inside which completely fill the aforementioned holes leaving no gaps visible, we usually have to create a 3x3x2 shape inside which, despite such simple shapes, is quite a tremendous challenge. This time we have a 3x3x3 cube to be constructed and two HUGE diagonally opposite windows to put pieces in and then fill. There is so much space to use that I expected this not to be much of a challenge...Oh, how wrong I was!

I began playing with the pieces inside the box and got frustrated that they kept falling out of the enormous holes so moved on to assembling my cube outside it. Your usual play outside of the box reveals several simple shapes that can be used to fill the visible 2x2 cubes on opposite sides. Getting these 2 cubes opposite each other proved quite a challenge. I found a few possibilities quite quickly and began to try assembling them in the box. Oh boy! That doesn't work quite so easily! I spent a couple of days playing with this with my Bash Street Kids, Plug face on and amusing Mrs S before I had a very unexpected Aha! moment. What I realised was really very clever and just perfect Osanori - he has made a bigger better version of all the puzzles we have tried before. You really don't want to miss this one - the fact that it is beautiful also helps - it will look fabulous on display in one of my 2 (yes TWO) puzzle caves (Whack! Ouch!)

No clues here!
How gorgeous is that???
Not content with giving us one 3x3x3 cube in a box puzzle, Osanori and Pelikan have released another, even more difficult version, rather descriptively named W-Windows. My copy is made from Oak and Wenge:

This one will also be made available in Apple and Ovangkol. The name clearly comes from the fact that it has a nice cubic box with 2 windows in it (not the usual diagonally opposite holes) and two of the pieces have a definite W shape to them. For transport, I made an interesting storage arrangement which Jakub may adopt for sending these puzzles out. At least with this puzzle, the pieces don't keep falling out when you play with them because you WILL be playing with this one for a VERY long time! To my eternal shame, it took me a whole week! There are lots of interesting ways to fill the windows but filling two of them simultaneously is really really tough. Then when you have found all the simple ways of filling those windows, it becomes quickly apparent that you cannot get them inside the damned box. You can get one (occasionally 2) but definitely not all 3 pieces inside. Mrs S suggested after a particularly furious episode of swearing my head off that maybe I should rest for a while.

The W-Windows is a huge challenge (at least for a dimwit like me) and you will love it. Don't be tempted to use Burrtools to CAN solve it eventually but you really need to think outside the box before the solution will come to you.

2 filled windows
The Aha! moment is phenomenal when it arrives and then later when you try to disassemble it, there is an extra challenge...sometimes a piece rotates inside when manipulating the pieces which effectively makes it unsolvable until you realise this and rotate it back to the correct orientation. It is a fun additional dexterity challenge to disassemble the puzzle.

The final Osanori puzzle being released soon is a beautiful thing, Rattle Twist V which will be available made from Mahogany and Maple:

Sent out like this - pull the middle 2 pieces out
to get this
The Rattle Twist V is very reminiscent of the Wing Hanger and the King Box also by Osanori and produced by Pelikan and Tom Lensch respectively - I reviewed them both here. Like the other puzzles reviewed, it takes the older puzzles to a whole new level of difficulty and fun. The premise here is a frame with holes in it and a couple of complex burr sticks which need to be slid into position inside the frame but with an impediment to the sliding process making for a more complex dance of the pieces before assembly is complete. I would usually have preferred these puzzles as disassembly puzzles but at the Paris IPP, I was convinced by John Rausch that the best part of these puzzles is the assembly from scratch - as usual, he is right!

This puzzle is unlikely to be solved by simple trial and error, it requires first looking at the pieces and the frame and making a plan for how to go about it. A few false starts will teach you where the pieces can and cannot go and thus the dance begins. The level is only 8.2 (for disassembly) and thus is not impossible - I managed it in a single evening and ended with a huge grin on my face - the end result is lovely:

Solved it! Phew!
Osanori has taken the basic premise of his older designs to a whole new level and made them even more fun than before. These puzzles are not just more challenging, they are also full of Aha! moments and are definitely solvable as assembly puzzles - if I can do them then so can you! They will be available from Jakub and Jaroslav's wonderful site very soon.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend guys.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Hours and Hours of Hourglass

Jin Hoo Ahn’s Hourglass aka The Transformer. A true test of skill and determination.
I have had a week of annual leave and you would expect that I might have spent this time, solving puzzles and getting a backlog of stuff to write about. You might have thought that, and I might have hoped that but "she who cannot stand a man to seem to be idle" had other ideas! Sob! There was DIY to be done...lots of it. She allowed me a little time 3 or 4 days of the week to go to the gym so as not to commit the cardinal sin of getting fat (If I get fat then I'm out - it was "for better or worse" NOT fatter or thinner! Gulp! Luckily for me, in my week of need, my good friend Mike fulfilled his duties as PuzzleMad foreign correspondent and produced a wonderful article for us. He actually solved a puzzle that I have been working on for months and months without success and maybe this will motivate me to try again.

I'll hand you over to Mike...

Aloha Kakou Puzzlers,

I’m not sure if I have enough for a full post today (Ed - it's all they're going to get!), but I wanted to at least say a few words about Hanayama’s Cast Hourglass while the triumph is fresh in my mind. Yes, that’s correct, I finally managed to solve it. And a proper solve to boot. I can now deconstruct and reconstruct hourglass consistently, but this little puzzle was very far from easy. In fact, I believe only a small fraction of the Hourglasses that fly off the shelf will ever be solved (Ed - I know! SOB!). In this post, I want to relate my experience and thoughts in the hopes that it will help some poor soul out there to stick with it to the joyful end.

A note for purist solvers: This post contains images of Hourglass in various transformed states. Personally, I don’t think this will help you much at all. If, however, you want the joy of pure discovery, then perhaps come back after you’ve achieved greater intimacy with your puzzle. 

I received Cast Hourglass as a birthday gift from my lovely daughter back in late January (Ed - if she buys you puzzles then no reason to sell her into slavery or sacrifice her and sell her organs!), and it took me until late September to solve it—about an eight-month effort. There were very long gaps with no work done, but I like to count it as an eight-month solve nonetheless. Those long gaps were necessary to regroup and gather strength. The solving process wore me down that much, and I think the puzzle should get credit for that. As you might have gathered from my concluding note the last time we were together, I enjoyed hourglass despite the struggle and intense frustration.

It folds up nice and snug...
even after many hours of hard use.
Although I relish critiquing Hanayama’s puzzle ratings (a guilty pleasure), I think they definitely got it right with the hourglass. It is a solid level 6, and then some. It ranks up there with the toughest of that level such as Quartet and Enigma (Ed - for some reason I didn't find that one very tough but I DID really struggle with the Vortex). It's hard to say, but it could very well take top honours. I believe Quartet held this dubious honour previously (according to my informal survey). Has it been superseded?

Hourglass’ high difficulty is due in part to the numerous major transformations that are required. There are at least three I think, depending on how you count them, which is actually quite high considering that the puzzle transforms to a completely different state each time. You need to learn a whole new set of dynamics at each change. As usual, there are false assemblies and pathways within and between these states. It is really easy to get off-track at first and there are many points at which you will not know whether you are going forward or backwards. As my intrepid editor has discovered, some false paths (combined with, let's be honest, overly aggressive action) can lead to complete lock-up. Puzzle lock-up is, bar none, the single most mortifying and demoralizing outcome that a puzzler can achieve (SOB again!). Especially so for those of us who should know better. For the uninitiated, it is completely normal to fantasize about buying a new copy and starting over. In all honesty, I don’t think this would be a high puzzle crime. The PuzzleMad code of ethics is silent on the matter (Ed - I have no intrinsic aversion to this approach apart from I am too mean to buy two copies for fear of having TWO locked up puzzles!). I confess that starting over with a pristine Vortex crosses my mind almost daily. But I would encourage you to work with your original. Locked puzzles can always be unlocked. The problem is mental more than anything. We are just not at our level-headed best after we jam a puzzle. Putting it down for a while and coming back fresh is the best idea (Ed - I have...repeatedly). 

This puzzle is far too jangly for Mrs S; be careful boss! (Whack! Ouch!)
Aside from complete lock-up, Hourglass is also susceptible to false constructions that are very hard to reverse. There were multiple occasions during my solve where it took me well over an hour just to reverse back to a previous state. Maddening to say the least (Ed - That's where I am now). This is why I think Hourglass will remain unsolved for most casual puzzlers. An hour of intensive work to actually solve a puzzle is frankly too much for most of the population. An hour of intensive work (during which time you are mostly making no observable progress) simply to backtrack, repeated multiple times, is just beyond the pale. This is, incidentally, why sensible people avoid string entanglements like the plague (Ed - I never claimed on this blog to be sensible!). So here I will give you a hint, which I don’t think can be at all interpreted as a spoiler. Its a common piece of advice, but I want to assure you that it applies to this puzzle. If you are trying things that seem like they are leading in any way to lock-up or even subtle use of force, you are off-track. Go no further. Hourglass is a very smooth puzzle (generally). Everything works smoothly (generally). If you feel that you might be trying too hard on a pathway, you very likely are! Personally, I think it takes a few hours with hourglass just to get the feel of the movements. It took me at least that long before I felt comfortable and could move around at will between a few of the states. Cast Trinity was like that too, but Hourglass is on another level entirely. You’ll know when it starts to get comfortable, and by that point, you should have made at least a couple important discoveries. Hardcore puzzlers will probably be hooked by that point. 

It does this.
The complexity in getting Hourglass disassembled means that you are very likely to get it apart without knowing exactly how you did it. The way the pieces unlink is brilliant and I don’t think one could reasonably deduce it simply by studying the pieces, I sure couldn't. The initial unlink, and thus also the final relink during reassembly, is quite tricky and has a fine tolerance. It's pretty damn frustrating actually. Especially because you will probably have to go through it numerous times before getting your piece configuration correct. This linkage is the reason for the “generally” qualification above. This is the one spot where being on the right track will take you frighteningly close to lock-up territory.

Reassembly is a real challenge, in case you haven't gathered. I studied the pieces before taking them all apart, but I underestimated the number of ways the pieces could be reassembled. There are actually some interesting ways you can link the pieces other than the correct process. I thought perhaps these might provide a shortcut. A costly error, as it turned out.

And it does this. Close to the end, but not as close as you think.
So reassembly is a whole new challenge. In my eight-month journey, fully two-thirds of the time was spent on reassembly. A significant chunk in the middle involved, embarrassingly, trying to achieve the wrong end-state. For some reason, I was convinced that all the smooth sides were pointing outwards in the final construction. This is not possible! I think I assumed the Hanayama and hourglass stamps would naturally be on the exterior and charged ahead on that basis. So much time had passed from when I had seen it assembled that I couldn't even remember the original state. I eventually looked at the picture on the box and changed my approach. 

At the end of my long journey, I have come to really love the Cast Hourglass. As with so many great Hanayama designs, I cannot fathom how someone can come up with a puzzle like this. My highest compliments and thanks to designer Jin Hoo Ahn for this puzzle. Crafting a very difficult, yet still compelling and enjoyable, puzzle is a rare accomplishment. A very difficult puzzle needs to occasionally remind the solver that it is indeed solvable and to provide some sense of progress, however small, through little triumphs along the way. I think Hourglass hits the mark. That said, this puzzle is obviously not for everyone. If you have something better to do with eight months of your life, that is probably a good thing. (Ed - hahaha! I have done very little else for the last 9 years!)

Two sets of two pieces.
Jin Hoo Ahn has proven himself yet again to be an outstandingly talented designer. His Hanayama-produced efforts such as G&G and Padlock (Cassette) are highly regarded (G&G reviewed here and Padlock here). Padlock, interestingly, has some meta-level similarity with Hourglass in the way it moves through distinct states, each with their own dynamics, ending in a tricky final release. You definitely get your money’s worth with this type of puzzle. The experience is similar to sequential discovery but without the tools.

Final Analysis: If you don’t have Hourglass yet, go get it. It's a great and required puzzle. There is nothing else quite like it. But take your time and maintain a Zen composure throughout if at all possible. This is a marathon of a solve and you need to treat it as such. Stretch, hydrate, and for God’s sake don’t ever look at the clock. 

Ok Kevin, did I do it? Is this a full post? Either way, time to return this ship to its Captain...

Thank you so much, Mike! You have proven yourself to be a supreme puzzler! Not only have you solved some of the most difficult puzzles out there but you have shown yourself to be truly tenacious - I thought I was the only one who continues for months or even years on a single puzzle! I look forward to more fascinating insights from you when you are ready to write for me again.

Now I need to solve a few puzzles myself - I am back to work on Monday and I think it will be a nice rest compared to all the chores and DIY that I was forced to do!

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Let's Focus on the Doctor

Even if he Does Seem to Have a Thing For Imprisonment and Murder!

Guillotine aka Harun
A name which keeps coming up associated with some absolutely cracking puzzles over the last few years is that of the good Dr Volker Latussek. He was the man behind my favourite puzzle of 2018, the Casino packing puzzle which was so beautifully produced by both Jakub's Pelikan Workshop and Eric's Cubic Dissection (indeed, Eric's gorgeous version is still available here). If you don't have a copy yet then stop whatever you are doing right now and go buy it......Yes, right NOW! If you cannot afford Eric's beautiful version then a cheaper one is available from the Rombol range (for those in North America, PuzzleMaster has it here and In Europe, Rombol has it here). I have not managed to unearth any details about Dr Latussek but he seems to have a knack for designing puzzles with a very simple idea and a rather difficult challenging Aha! moment which is universally enjoyed. Another of his amazing puzzles that I have discussed recently was the Dunant also made by Pelikan which I also stopped you all in the process of whatever you were doing to go and buy immediately.

Now when I receive notice of another puzzle designed by Volker, I sit up and pay attention - it is pretty much guaranteed to be good. I was delighted to receive a copy of the Guillotine puzzle from Allard at the MPP after he returned from the Japan IPP (actually he had not brought enough and posted it to me a couple of days later). The premise is to pack all the pieces into the box so that the lid can slide freely to the far edge. It arrives improperly packed with the "head" sticking out. Now, you all know that I am totally rubbish at this sort of puzzle and so it was with some trepidation that I tipped the pieces out (I was worried that I wouldn't even be able to get them back into a storage position). I was rather surprised to see 2 types of very simple shape - how hard could it be?

6 U shapes and 6 bars - easy peasy! $%£k no!
This particular version that Allard had exchanged was made by Rombol in special contrasting woods. It has also been made available by Eric (for some reason it was called Harun) and again by Pelikan where it is still available now in gorgeous Cherry and Bubinga. If you want to buy a slightly cheaper version then, again, in the US get it from PuzzleMaster here or in Europe from Rombol here.

12 pieces are quite a lot for me to solve with a packing puzzle - but they are only 2 simple shapes and I figured that it would not take me too long. There is supposed to be one easy solution and then another harder solution - hopefully I will be able to get at least the easy one. Each evening whilst watching TV with Mrs S I would begin to make some shapes and hopefully some progress. After the first evening, I began to feel the "laser-burning stare" as I began to mutter increasingly loudly under my breath as failure after failure occurred. I always started promisingly but any victory was snatched from me at the last moment. There is actually plenty of room in the box for the pieces with at least a few gaps to spare but I always ended up with the gaps clumped together and a piece sticking out. I know that I am not very bright but this should not have been that much of a challenge!

After 4 days I was starting to tear out the remnants of my last remaining hair and I muttered in disgust to Derek, yes the genius! He left me feeling ridiculously inadequate by telling me that it had only taken him 10 minutes to find the easy solution and another 15 to find the tough one. OMG! What was I doing wrong? I asked for a small text clue and he typed out on FB messenger the following spoiler - don't look if you've not solved it:

Yesssss! I went straight at it and...failed dismally! For another couple of days! Sob! Getting angry at my stupidity, I decided to do what Allard always tells me...THINK© and for once it actually worked! I found something rather interesting. I definitely do not think that it is quite as easy as Derek suggested but certainly much easier than I made it look. I finally had a puzzle fully inside the box:

At last!
Next, it was time for the harder solution - I had a second spoiler for it from Derek which at least stopped me from heading completely in the wrong direction. No peaking unless you really really need it:

It stopped me heading the wrong direction but still was a significant challenge for me - I spent the whole of the remainder of the evening working on it before finally getting there. Wow! That one was even more challenging.

I have put major picture hints behind the next spoiler buttons - don't go there unless you have given up or have no intention of trying the puzzle.

If you really have to now then look here for a spoiler for the hard solution - don't do it as you really shouldn't need it:

I hope that you didn't peek! 😉😉

Bastille is another puzzle from the Good Dr Latussek that I played with in the design competition room in the Paris IPP and failed to work it out over the half-hour I spent on it there. I decided that I should buy a copy and managed to get one a few months later. It is a nicely made cubic frame containing 7 "prisoners" (rather appropriate for the Paris IPP) which were quarter segments of a cylinder. They had been p[acked into the cell and the aim was to break them all out of imprisonment. There is initially only a very small amount of movement possible which certainly doesn't seem to get you anywhere near the solution but with a little more play a discovery is made and it leads to one of those pesky thoughts. This particular pesky thought leads to another and after that, it should lead to a release of the prisoners. It is not hugely difficult but very enjoyable. Repacking is a fun little exercise in dexterity as nothing wants to sit where you need it. Greatly enjoyed and available from either Rombol direct here or PuzzleMaster here.

Tower of London
Image taken from the Rombol site
At the last Midlands Puzzle Party, I was chatting with Clive who is a genius at puzzle boxes but surprisingly even worse at packing puzzles than me. He either owned or had picked up a copy of the Tower of London puzzle by Dr Latussek and had been unable to unpack the 6 balls that were held tantalisingly loosely within the box. I had just shown off how to solve the Bastille puzzle and he challenged me to solve this one. It is not in my possession and I had never seen it before so set to with unease. There are 6 balls packed in such a way that it is easy to slightly move one at a time but not easily manipulate any towards the nice large holes in all 6 faces of the cube. It is fabulously tactile and infuriatingly awkward to manipulate but after just a few minutes of play, it was clear what I needed to do. Actually achieving this was another thing entirely and another 5 or 10 minutes ensued before a ball dropped out and then so did all of the rest leaving me to chase them around the floor. That cats would absolutely love this one! Clive was suitably impressed and then I was unsuitably horrified to realise that I couldn't put them all back!

Should be easy!
Image from Rombol
I got 5 balls back inside but couldn't for the life of me put the 6th back! Stupid boy! After a minute's thought, I had a little brainwave and carefully put the puzzle down hoping that it would stay assembled. That was quite fun and definitely an added pressure solving it in front of an audience.

Yep! Another great packing puzzle by the Master (he's as good as my friend, Laszlo Kmolnar)! This is also available from Rombol here or PuzzleMaster here. If you are making a purchase of the others then you might as well add it to the basket whilst you are there.

I hope that gives you some ideas for a puzzling future purchase or 3?


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