Sunday, 18 March 2018

Thank Goodness for a Puzzle that Broke on me!

Wormhole II Cube
OMG! What have I done?
I have a twisty problem
I've not forgotten about my Popplock T11 - I'm just stuck.....still!
Sorry to all you non-twisty puzzlers but I had to follow last week’s post with another one about a rather fabulous twisty puzzle. At the same time as Martin and Paul forced me to buy the 4x4x3 Mixup plus cube, they also bullied me into buying a couple of the Wormhole cubes. I had shied away from these when they first came out because they had frightened me to death! The Mixup plus puzzles with their 45° turns were already too much of a challenge for me at that stage of my twisty career and the thought of adding a puzzle inside of one of those monsters was just too horrific for my teeny tiny brain to cope with. Moving on 6 years, I’d reached an advanced enough stage of dementia to not remember how bad I am and to not remember that I’d deliberately stayed away. I ended up agreeing with their suggestion nearly a year ago and when the Mixup plus cuboid arrived, it was accompanied by the Wormhole II (PuzzleMaster link)and Wormhole III cubes. Having quickly looked at the Mixup plus cuboid and the 2 Wormholes when they arrived, I immediately shied away and put them somewhere “safe” in the twisty puzzle cupboard.

Why did I shy away? Because just turning a single face makes odd things happen inside and on top of that it has Mixup moves too!

Odd things happen inside
This is after JUST 3 TURNS!!!
It took me nearly a year to get up the courage to try any of them and I enjoyed the cuboid so much I felt a little ashamed! Yes, it was time to “screw my courage to the sticking place” and play with the others. It was time to get out the Wormhole II and investigate. Straight away I could see that it looked and worked very similarly to the standard 3x3 Mixup cube (see left) which had been a fantastic and enjoyable challenge but this time there was something extra happening. First of all, the 45° turns were only possible in the 4 equatorial edge regions and in other 8 edge pieces, there were little windows. Through those windows there appeared to be another puzzle… colours were showing through and confusingly the internal colours sometimes moved with the external face and sometimes didn’t! I began to investigate carefully and within a few minutes of exceedingly careful movements I had to call Houston…I had a problem! Yep! I’d scrambled it beyond my ability to get it back to the beginning. Damn! Ok in for a penny, in for a pound… I did the whole thing!

Now what? To be perfectly honest, I had no idea! My first thought was to just solve the outer Mixup cube and hopefully, the inner puzzle would just miraculously solve itself! Yes, sometimes it’s good to be optimistic/hopeful. I had forgotten mostly how to solve the Mixup plus cube so it took me a while. I did sort of realise that the inner cube was not behaving how I’d hoped but maybe it would wait until the very end? After about an hour I was sort of on my way to the outer solve and not really understanding when BAM! Catastrophe! A good few pieces flew out:

The edges separate and ping out en masse
It gives a good view but not helpful
OMG! I did not think I should just stuff them back in because quite a few pieces had shot out and I did not think that I could put them back the way that they came and I might end up with an impossible to solve puzzle. So, I had no option but to remove the rest of the pieces and solve the inner portion and then reassemble the outer cube later. It was time to just go ahead and solve the inner 3x3.

How hard could it be? It's just a 3x3 with big corners....or is it? GULP!
Except, blush, I couldn’t understand it! Things weren’t working right! It took me a half day of playing with my mostly disassembled puzzle before I understood what was happening and why I’d really struggled before it flew apart. It would seem that the sudden suicidal destruction of this puzzle had been a real blessing. Without being able to see inside, there was no way that I would have been able to understand what was happening in this puzzle. I made a video below to show you how it works.

I apologise that I seem to have played with it off to the right side of the video - I'm a rank amateur!

Halfminx - similar idea
It would appear that the internal puzzle is effectively a corner block puzzle or functionally equivalent to the Halfminx puzzle with only 3 usable sides. This means that the interior (and later the exterior) has to be solved without moving the 3 sides containing the green/white/orange corner piece. It sounds horrifying (and it was an awful thought to me when I realised what was going on inside) but in my efforts to solve just the inner puzzle with outer corners in place, I realised that I knew a possible method and it was VERY basic…it involved nothing more than the use of a 4 move sequence - the edge piece series (yes, you read that correctly, just 4 moves!) I can hear you all shouting out in disbelief (I really should restart my meds to prevent those voices) and I reiterate that the vast majority of this puzzle is solved using nothing more than a 4 move algorithm! It’s “easy”!! Having used my edge piece series (EPS) to solve the inner puzzle and then reassembled the external puzzle around it, I quickly rescrambled it and played again.

Having finally understood the puzzle, I set to work on the solution. First of all get it back to cube shape. This is only a little tougher than the Mixup plus cube (due to the fact that only 4 of the edge pieces will split up) and once done the equatorial edges need to be combined with the corresponding colour inner edges. Now we have a recognisable cube! I discovered that solving the external puzzle does not miraculously solve the internal one (DUH!) and it was obvious that the internal edges must be combined with the corresponding external ones (including the ones that have no window). This phase proved a bit tough and I found the parity:

The inner puzzle is solved but a single matching exterior edge is flipped

This is all part of the fun and is very enjoyable - "Just" flip that edge.....except the windowed edges cannot be flipped. Oh dear! A little thought© and I had flipped something and undone everything else! Laboriously matching up and solving the puzzle again showed me that breaking the puzzle the first time had been a very good thing to do - it was solved.

Wormhole III - appears to be a 3x3x4 Mixup plus WITH inner cube! NICE!
I've done it several times now and have to say that yet again, Martin and Paul were absolutely correct! This is a fabulous challenge that involves understanding and then planning an attack with some very serious constraints. I have still got the Wormhole III left to solve and will definitely get to that soon - it appears to be a 3x3x4 Mixup plus cube (which I don't own) with an interior cube visible through the 8 windowed pieces. I might also have ordered a couple more goodies from Martin's store too which should arrive pretty soon. Don't tell Mrs S - Whack! Ouch! Too late!

At some point, I will make a post with videos to show all you non-twisty puzzlers how to solve a cube using nothing more than the 4 move edge piece series. This means there is nothing to memorise and just some understanding and thought to be used. Leave a comment below if you would be interested to see this.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Friends Can be Helpful (or not)

A 4x4 Turning interlocking cube.
I didn't know what it was at first!
I’m still beavering away on my Popplock T11 and can definitely say that it is the best and most complex one so far. I would not have gotten very far if it was not for my good friend and lock expert Shane. Not only has he helped me replace all my door locks with ultra-secure ones but he has also given me subtle and not so subtle hints to allow me to progress in my T11 odyssey. I’m not finished yet but I have made considerable progress. The final steps seem to be still eluding me.

At the last MPP, I received a copy of a 4x4 Turning Interlocking Cube (TIC) from Jamie (another friend who’s leading me astray into the fascinating world of lock picking). I don’t actually know what the cube is because the label on the box is definitely incorrect (and definitely not helpful) as it tells me this is the 2 Temps 3 Movements by Gregory Benedetti. I’ve been carrying it with me for a few weeks because I’ve been unable to completely dismantle it despite trying most evenings when I get stuck with the T11. Every now and then when I get a moment at work I take it out of my unfeasibly heavy bag and try to remove the 3rd and 4th pieces - I’ve managed the first 2 which need linear moves but the rotational moves have eluded me.

A few days ago whilst waiting in the coffee room I showed off my current challenges to the assembled boys and girls including my ODP (anaesthetic assistant), David. They looked at the twisty with horror and, as usual, thought that I was a crazy person for even attempting such a thing. David asked to play with the TIC. In a surprisingly short period time, he managed to remove those first 2 pieces and I told him that was as far as I had managed to get. Unconvinced of the extreme difficulty of the challenge he continued to play whilst I resumed work on another challenge that has kept me stumped for nearly a year, the 4x4x3 mixup plus cuboid. This was bought at the suggestion of 2 (almost) helpful friends, Martin and Paul who insisted that it was a fabulous fun challenge. Having bought it nearly a year ago I was still unable to solve it but had thought I might have worked out a method in bed at night last week.

4x4x3 Mixup plus as it has been for nearly a year!
Just as I finished showing everyone how horrific the twisty puzzle is (they think I might have a small degree of Asperger’s syndrome!!!) I saw out of the corner of my eye that David was removing the 3rd piece from the puzzle and then the last one. My jaw dropped and I blurted out that I hoped he’d been paying attention to how he did it. At this point, his jaw dropped and he said he was unsure if he remembered. OMG!! I nervously laughed and challenged him to put it back together! Quickly before he completely forgot!

By close to the end of the day David had still not managed to put it back together and I began to worry. Whilst I continued with my twisty I began to encourage him more and more earnestly that he really had to manage at least the rotational moves! After encouragement and threats to his physical well-being, he still failed.

Beautiful pieces - no idea what of or how they went together!
I put the twisty down and, between the two of us, we resorted to taking several of the last pieces and seeing how they could fit together, at least theoretically. This proved to be a bit of a problem. Why? Firstly because we(I) were not terribly bright (as usual) and secondly because it had failed to imprint on my consciousness that the assembled cube had a 1x1x2 section missing from an edge. We had found an assembly of the last 3 pieces several times that had an isolated space and discounted it each time because we assumed that having this gap would leave an impossible space.

Partial assembly discounted
Bloody fool had forgotten this!
Finally, it was time for David to head home and another of the ODPs (Gary) decided to take over the challenge. Together we worked on it for another 20 minutes or so before realising the error of our ways and had our fabulous Aha! moment.

It’s good to have clever friends!
In general, I am extremely poor at puzzle assembly and usually resort to Burrtools, but with the TICs, this is not helpful. It’s important to either be good at assembly or attentive to the disassembly method with these puzzles. Having a “friend” take something apart and fail to put it back together was a huge problem which really challenged my rather feeble brain. Thank heavens for Gary this time. I may have to swap my Wednesday ODP for a more able version!

I must also say Thank Heavens for the Internet archive - the ability to go back in time has allowed me to identify the puzzle as Ka'apuni designed by Jos Bergmans (level and made by Brian Menold in November last year. It turned out to be an absolutely fabulous challenge that kept me and several friends going for quite a while. I even learned how to go about assembling from scratch!

4x4x3 Mixup plus - looks innocuous like this
Just a few turns - centres and edges can be swapped
Now back to the mixup cuboid…..having solved the wonderful 3x3 Mixup Ultimate cube (Puzzlemaster link), (PuzzlestoreUK link) last year and even made a solution video of it on my YouTube channel, I had been discussing this sort of puzzle with Martin and Paul and they had both recommended the Mixup plus cuboids as well as the Wormhole puzzles. I placed a nice order with Martin and when they arrived I shied away from the Wormhole puzzles in abject terror! They are twisty puzzles inside of twisty puzzles and I had absolutely no idea how to go about them. Looking at the Mixup plus and thinking back to my simple algorithm for the Ultimate, I decided to have a play with that one. After a quick fiddle to look at possible algorithms, I discovered that I had accidentally scrambled it (whoops) and from then on had no option other than to complete the scramble. Of course, I had not managed to find any suitable useful algorithms but I was hopeful that I might manage it anyway.

For the next two months, I said "whoops" several more times (or words with a slightly stronger meaning). This puzzle was proving a huge challenge and seemed to be beyond me. I was able to use basic techniques from previous puzzles like the edge piece series to make a little headway and, with some intuition, I thought I might get somewhere….

  • White and yellow centres? Check! 
  • Other centres? Check! 
  • Centres in the centre? Check! 
  • Recreate large edge pieces? Erm….sort of! With some sticky out bits...Oh alright! Nope!
  • Recreate little edge pieces? Hell no!
No way on earth was I going to manage that! Too many pieces sticking out at funny angles! Time to think©….nope! not happening! I was at it for months with no progress and eventually put it down. Beaten!     Again!!

Recently, I had been playing with my 4x4 and 6x6 standard cubes as well as the Moyu Wheel of Time cubes and noticed that the technique used for 3cycling the centre pieces could also be used on edge pieces too. This is effectively a corner piece series (a very basic algorithm). I went to bed thinking about this last week and woke up one morning with a real Aha! moment and stuffed the long-abandoned mixup puzzle in my bag. It took me a couple of days and evenings to manoeuvre the cube into a suitable configuration to test my theorem and I realised that most of the first half of the puzzle is solved by intuition and then I was able to prove my dream was correct….almost! My technique (very similar to the Mixup ultimate) worked beautifully for the small edge pieces but the 4 larger ones wouldn’t work. More thought© required. I knew that the CPS was the way to go but I was missing something. Much to the amusement of surgeons and nurses at work, I kept effing and blinding in the coffee room as I continuously broke and remade my previous progress. It took me a couple of days of experiments before I found it.

The Aha! moment was exquisite! So much pain and anguish had gone into it!

Single flipped edge standard 4x4 parity
2 opposite swapped edges - another one
During the final throes of the solution process I did find that the usual 4x4 parities were possible (single flipped edge and/or a pair of swapped edges) but with the shape of the puzzle, it was easy to repair that with standard 4x4 methods. I do wonder whether the 4x3x3 version has these parities and whether other techniques are required? I guess I will need to buy one to find out.

My 2 puzzle friends were, in the end, quite right and helpful - the 4x4x3 Mixup plus cube was a fabulous challenge and I suspect it may well be in my top 10 of the year! Maybe I should go back to the Wormholes and try them? Shudder!

All in all, it is really good to have puzzle friends even if they are not very helpful.

Now I had better get back to the T11, and those Chinese rings from Aaron, and the burrs from Alfons, and.....OMG!

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Not Getting Very Far - Some "Rest" Puzzles

Cross in cross
Over the last few weeks I have been struggling with the Popplock T11 - it is one huge heavy honking lump of brass and steel and looks wonderful but it's also one incredibly complex feat of engineering. I have been spending almost every evening playing with it and testing Einstein's Parable of Insanity (which incidentally, may not have come from the great man himself). There is an awful lot to the puzzle and after managing the first step in a very long sequence, I had gotten no further! In the end, I have had to resort to asking my own tamed (but still ferocious) lock expert, Shane Hales for little hints to help me on my way. Despite the depth of my own madness, even I cannot continue doing the same thing more than 2 or 3 hundred times and every now and then I have had to put the bloody thing down (gently because it could take out a floorboard) and play with something else.

Recently Brian Menold released a few new toys and I romped through his site and picked a few that really appealed to me. One of the first that jumped into my shopping cart of its own volition was the Cross in Cross burr designed by the amazing Yavuz Demirrhan (this does remind me that I still have a couple more that I bought from Yavuz to play with). I love Brian's board burrs as I mentioned in a recent post and the one by Yavuz looked fun - Brian said this about it.
"I always try to have a board burr in my updates. While this is not just a board burr, it is a three piece burr within a four piece board burr. I found the assembly of these to be way beyond my ability to memorize the steps."
With that endorsement, how could I resist? It also has the advantage of being simply stunning being made out of Box Elder (burr sticks) and Tigerwood (boards). So in the end, each time I have been forced to put down the Popplock to try and save the last vestiges of my sanity, I have picked up this. The solution is level so not trivial but I would hope that it would not prove too much of a challenge.

The biggest challenge with burrs is not so much finding the path, I find that I get lost in false pathways and it takes me a long time to figure out that I have taken a wrong direction. The Cross in cross starts with only a single move possible but after that, it is easy to head in the wrong direction - the incorrect route is also the easiest path to take and, to my shame, I got fixated on this pathway for 2 nights. The path is only 4 or 5 moves long but it just feels so right! Finally, after that, I gave up on it and found the correct direction and was rewarded with quite a few more steps. The whole thing expands quite a lot and thoughts of lifting the whole central 3 piece burr out appear in my fevered brain but despite looking possible it just never quite happens. Several moves are quite well hidden and need a little thought to find the pathway. Suddenly it clicks and the first 3 pieces come out.

The 3 burr sticks come out first (not as a whole burr)
The board burr remains in a near fully assembled state after the burr sticks are removed. It was a bit of a surprise to me that separating these pieces was another considerable challenge. The boards are a little unstable and can rotate but it is quite easy to hold them in place and investigate further. After another 15 minutes I was rather surprised to see that the boards were all identical - now that is a real touch of design genius!

3 sticks plus 4 identical boards
After separating them all, I expected that I would have to resort to Burrtools for the reassembly. Despite that, I always have a try at doing it by myself and I figured that at the very least I could reassemble the board burr hashtag shape. How hard can it be with 4 identical pieces? Erm!!! It proved quite tough for a poor dim doctor like me! It took me a whole evening in front of the TV with Mrs S and a pair of very sleepy cats before I realised that the beautiful regular pattern that I was trying to make was not possible - one of the identical pieces needed to be inverted and that was the only way they could all be intertwined. Phew! Maybe my dim(mer) switch had been turned up a notch? Having created the board shape, I then surprised myself by easily reassembling the 3 piece burr inside and collapsing it all back to the beginning. This is a TERRIFIC design and beautifully made by Brian. It is great to have in my collection and will look fabulous on display!

Another fabulous puzzle which diverted me from the Popplock was another of the Chinese 99-ring series by the incredible Aaron Wang:

Disordered Chinese Rings
Something looks "not quite right" here
In early February I showed off the fact that I had solved a couple of variants in this series. The Second-order and Third-order Chinese rings were a fun challenge which was related to the standard Chinese rings puzzle but made different and more challenging by the fact that each ring held captive not just the next along rod but the next two (or even three) rods. This meant that a whole lot of thought and planning was required to complete the sequence. The disordered Chinese rings mixed the whole thing up. Looking at the diagram (starting on the left) you can clearly see that the first ring covers one adjacent rod, the next ring covers 2 and the 3rd one covers 3. Seems like a pattern? It would seem so but that's as far as it goes. The fourth one reverts to 1 jump and this does not reach as far along the puzzle as the preceding ring. Let's just say this lack of a sequence, plus the fact that early rings travel further than later ones and also the fact that some rings end together makes this puzzle a huge challenge. It does require planning but there is a whole heap of understanding that goes with it too as it is easy to get to a position where a chunk of the puzzle is released from the shuttle and then no further moves are possible at all except to go back to the beginning.

I think it took me a week to solve this one - I kept channelling my inner Einstein and getting nowhere before the solution hit me like a lightning bolt whilst at work one day. After a night on call, whilst working on emails in my office (I was not fit to be let loose on patients!), I had a sudden epiphany and the whole solution came to me! Luckily I always carry puzzles to work for me and colleagues to play with during a few free moments. 15 minutes later I had this:

This one was great fun
The disorder is really obvious when you try to spread the completed puzzle out. The reassembly is just as much fun. I have done this a few times since to prove to myself that it is not a fluke and I love it. The 3 puzzles as a group are a brilliant set - Thank you very much, Aaron. I will have to get to work on a few more in the 99-ring series soon. These are horrifically complex and even my friend Goetz (who is one of the best at this sort of puzzle in the world) has struggled to do more than a few of them. Periodically, I search his amazing compendium of N-ary type puzzles to see whether he has solved any extra ones in the sequence and to gain some insight into the types of sequences involved (small hint - I never understand his descriptions!!!)

Right! Now I had better get back to the Popplock. I really don't want it unsolved after a year like my T10! Shane! Are you near your email???

Sunday, 25 February 2018

The McGenniss Transpose Puzzle

Garage-crafted version of David McGenniss’ 1899 transpose puzzle (U.S. Patent No. 639,602).
Just when I seem to be struggling to find something to write about, the Puzzlemad foreign correspondent (North America) steps in and takes the pressure off! I have been working on both the Popplock T11 and Hanayama Cast Trinity, and failing badly! This means that I have very little to write about myself just now. There might well have been a few new puzzles arrive as well as a bit more lock-picking paraphernalia arrive recently but very little solving has gone on. Have a quick look at the New additions page to keep up with my recent arrivals. In the meantime let me hand you over to Mike Desilets for a fascinating expose of a puzzle travesty! After reading, if any of you mathematicians out there can formally prove or disprove the travesty then please get in touch.

Aloha Kākou puzzlers,

If you are reading this, it means another of my dubious posts had passed the stringent Puzzlemad quality assurance process. Barely, I’m sure. (Ed - it is the QA which is dubious; the posts are fabulous). Fortunately for me, Kevin is required to complete a number of burdensome domestic chores each weekend (dispensed with a firm but fair hand by the lovely Mrs S, current) (Ed - she's all yours! Whack! Ouch!). This frees up space for my ramblings, for which I am very grateful. In this episode, we are going further into uncharted territory. How can that be, you ask? Has Puzzlemad not already covered every nook and cranny of the puzzle world? Sadly no, not yet. But this entry will get us one step closer. (Ed - remember I don't collect boxes)

Like you, I enjoy reading about, seeing, and playing with the latest and greatest puzzles. But I also have a soft spot for all things old-timey. You may have picked that up from the vintage puzzle articles. In this post, however, we are going beyond vintage to the antique. By my unscientific reckoning, that means stuff from before the twentieth century. (Ed - I think some auction houses define antique as being more than 100 years old)

Today’s offering is an early transposition puzzle invented by David McGenniss at the close of the nineteenth century. We’ll call it the McGenniss Transpose. A copy of the full patent specification is here. As you will read, the patent was applied for in April of 1899 and awarded in December of the same year. That’s an eight-month turn-around. Very fast! It was a simpler time in many ways. Today you can expect no less than a two-year wait, more likely three. In 2014 the average pendency period (before the US Patent Office would even glance at the application) was just over 18 months.

I came across this interesting puzzle while doing some other unrelated research and the design really struck me—nice symmetry and well proportioned. I’ll admit, I also figured it was well within my skill level to solve. It looked to be a straightforward transposition exercise. I filed the patent pdf for later study. Then, during the recent holidays, I returned to the McGenniss Transpose and tried to track down a physical copy of the puzzle, or at least something closely based on it. No success. Many puzzles from the Victorian period ring through history, either as reproductions made when patents expire or by spawning families of related puzzles. I had expected this to be the case for such an attractive and simple design, but it apparently wasn’t.

The McGenniss Transpose in isometric projection.
I thereupon retired to the Puzzlemad workshop (Ed - I have a workshop??? Why did no-one tell me?) and set about crafting (loosely defined) a copy for myself. Although no measurements are given in the patent, the specifications are very clear on how the puzzle is to operate and the proper spacing between elements. One trip to the hardware store for wood scraps and another to the craft shop for little wooden discs and I was all set. After nearly a full day of fiddling, I managed to kludge together something half respectable and wholly functional. (Ed - I have to say it looks pretty good)

Now things get interesting. It was time to sit down and play with the McGenniss Transpose. I began by shifting pieces around semi-systematically, as one tends to do with this type of puzzle, exploring the movement and especially the bypass routes. After a little while, I got serious and figured I’d have a go at a proper solve. I worked and worked, but could not seem to get the entire field transposed. Most of the pieces switched very easily using the offset containers, but there was always a specific piece that seemed impossible to move. Now, as a seasoned puzzler, I know that the seemingly impossible is just what good puzzles are about. So I kept at it, trying to find the secret manoeuvre. No luck. I reread the specifications, checked the patent drawing, checked my copy. Everything seemed in order.  After some more study, I began to think there was a design flaw. 

Sticky wicket?
Examine the image above and you will see the offending piece in purple. That particularly piece seemingly cannot escape its slot if there are only four ‘spaces’ (each the size of one disc) with which to manoeuvre. I couldn’t find any logical way to circumvent the basic geometry of the puzzle. The next step in such situations is to get a second opinion. I promptly took the McGenniss Transpose to my office and foisted it upon Amanda and the rest of my co-workers. Was I missing something obvious? It wouldn’t be the first time. Thankfully for my ego, everyone else had the same experience. The final piece, four deep in its slot, would not budge.

So as of this post, I am declaring the McGenniss Transpose puzzle unsolvable. If anyone can present a solution, I will immediately retract that statement and humbly lick my wounds. You will also become my personal hero (Ed - mine too). Just be sure to study the specs carefully and note the spacing of all elements. Use the patent drawing for reference, not my very low-tolerance reproduction. Mine gives the appearance of more space than should actually be present.

The purple disc is four-deep in the hole. How can it escape? An n+1 situation, if you catch my meaning.
Insolvability is a very interesting development, assuming you accept my conclusion. It begs the question, why in the world would someone go through all the trouble and expense of applying for a patent on an unsolvable puzzle? The first possibility is that it was a complete mistake. David McGenniss thought he had invented a great puzzle but had not actually played with it or solved it himself, and therefore did not realize it was unsolvable. This seems unlikely, on the face of it. Would McGenniss, and also his co-patentee Oren Burt, really not know how their own invention functioned?

The second possibility is that there was an error in the specification and drawing. Perhaps some miscommunication between the inventor and the lawyer who drafted up the documents. If the offset box on the offending side were shifted down one position in the direction of the entrapped disc, for example, then the puzzle is solvable. Perhaps this is the answer. But then again, an inventor would probably know at a glance if the drawing were not correct. It’s hard to believe he didn’t check it before it went out the door. What kind of a man are we dealing with here anyway?

Let’s take a step back for a moment and look a little closer at our protagonists. What, did you think you were going to get away without a history lesson? Feel free to skip ahead if it’s not your thing. For me, puzzle people are as interesting as puzzles themselves. Even more so when they lived over 120 years ago. 

Like many of today’s puzzle designers, our heroes McGenniss and Burt had full-time day jobs. They were in the textile business. To be specific, they worked in undergarments - as does my editor (Ed - have you been looking through my computer webcam? I'd better get dressed!). Knit ribbed underwear, to be unnecessarily specific.

McGenniss worked for the Ionic Knitting Company in Easthampton Massachusetts, alongside his erstwhile companion Oren Burt. Burt was the manager of the company, McGenniss was superintendent. Reading between the lines of the source material, I take that to indicate that Burt took care of the boring but vital paperwork and McGenniss was the hands-on guy making sure the machines worked and things got done. Fiber and Fabric (1894, Vol. 20) reports that McGenniss was “setting up the machines.” Have you ever seen a textile machine? He was basically a mechanical engineer and an inventor as well. Prior to the Transpose puzzle patent, McGenniss had acquired three patents for improvements to textile manufacture machinery. One of these was filed prior to incorporation of the Ionic Knitting Company and it is likely that McGenniss and Burt started the company specifically to implement their patent ideas.

Early textile machines, mechanical puzzles of frightening complexity.

The Ionic Knitting Company started operations in 1894, an ambitious undertaking given the stiff regional competition and the still-fresh financial panic of 1893. Somehow they were able to secure credit and launch the business. Soon after starting, they went into production day and night, doubling the workforce in their first year of business. Within five years, however, they experienced serious financial difficulty and by 1899 the bank had seized the company’s assets. $15,000 was owed. Given that the operation was originally capitalized at $20,000, it seems that not a lot of progress had been made, profit-wise, in the intervening years. Now, don’t you wish you’d skipped ahead? (Ed - no! It's fascinating)

Admittedly, this isn’t a nineteenth-century textile industry blog, but it is important to get into the heads of our designers. At the very time that McGenniss and Burt applied for their transposition puzzle patent, they were in serious financial trouble with their company about to go belly up. I couldn’t find any clear end date for the Ionic Knitting Company, but I don’t think it survived beyond 1899. Certainly, a strange time to be investing time and effort in a puzzle patent, of all things. But then again, McGenniss and Burt had grown up during puzzling’s Golden Age. They had witnessed the 15 Puzzle craze, the Sam Loyd phenomenon, and all the other puzzle happenings of the late Victorian period. They knew that puzzles could be converted into money, and they were nothing if not entrepreneurs. So perhaps the McGenniss Transpose was a final gambit to become financially solvent. Or, more generously, perhaps McGenniss and Burt were just really into puzzles, and this was a way to keep their minds off a crumbling business and nasty bank letters. We won’t ever really know. 

That concludes the history portion of the post. Now back to the present. Having found the puzzle to be unsolvable, and knowing the historical context of the designer, let us revisit the initial question of whether or not the McGenniss Transpose had ever been produced. In fact, the question seems more urgent than ever. I made some inquiries with certain large puzzle collections and collectors to see if examples could be found. First stop was the Hordern-Dalgety Collection. Mr Dalgety was kind enough to weigh in on the topic. Although he understandably did not have time to conduct an intensive search of the collection, he was not aware of anything matching the description of the McGenniss Transpose. James noted a certain similarity with the Perplexity Puzzle, which came out a little later. Allard and Jerry both have reviews of the Perplexity puzzle which you should check out. It does make for an interesting comparison. Given the strictly two-dimensional nature of the McGenniss Transpose, however, a puzzler cannot take advantage of the tricky mechanics used in Perplexity. James also noted that the French use undersized discs, which apparently allows for otherwise impossible bypassing. This is clearly not the case with the McGenniss Transpose.

The Perplexity Puzzle. A real classic from the early twentieth century.
Patented in 1900 and produced in a variety of forms over the following two decades.
Next stop was the Slocum Collection, housed at the University of Indiana’s Lilly Library. Andrew Rhoda, Curator of Puzzles, was kind enough to conduct a thorough search of the puzzle database and could find no published version of the McGenniss Transpose. Andrew also searched the Slocum papers and found no evidence there either. He noted some other transposition/sequential movement puzzles of interest - the French Les Roues Du Char- 8 Discs, for example:

The Les Roues Du Char- 8 Discs, a nice-looking puzzle in the transpose family.
(Photo courtesy of The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.)
Based on these results, I conclude that it is unlikely that the McGenniss Transpose was ever produced commercially. This is not particularly unusual for patents, even puzzle patents. The fact that the puzzle is unsolvable was also likely a factor. This would certainly have become apparent to the designer at some point and would mean either producing a modified version not covered by a patent, or, humiliatingly, redesigning and submitting another patent application. With all the other things McGenniss and Burt had on their minds at this time, namely paying creditors and finding new employment, both options were probably equally unattractive.

Thus ends the story of the McGenniss Transpose, a puzzle that was not to be. Yet another odd footnote in puzzle history. I’m pretty sure I have the only copy in existence. I briefly considered modifying my reproduction to make it solvable, but I think I will leave it alone. It will be a good test for unsuspecting victims and gives me an excuse to launch into impromptu lectures about New England textile entrepreneurialism (Ed - that sounds riveting!).
“What, you can’t solve it? Well . . . funny story. How much time do to you have?” 
Ok, folks, that’s it for today. I know this brand of puzzle post isn’t for everyone, but I hope it is for someone. Regardless, if the Puzzlemad editorial board continues to let this stuff slip through, I will continue to produce it. Back over to you Kevin...

Thank you so much, Mike! I have to say that I was enthralled - even with the knitting machine history. You seem to have a real fascination with what I call sequential movement puzzles as well as the history. I am really awful at that type and only manage to solve them by random trial and error - I just don't have the ability to conduct a proper analysis of this sort of puzzle.

I am always open to something new as long as it is puzzle related and interesting to proper puzzlers. If you feel the urge to get your literary creativity out then feel free to contact me to discuss it.

[1] Clothiers' and Haberdashers' Weekly. Volume 14, No. 1. June 16, 1899.
[2] Fibre & Fabric: A Record of American Textile Industries in the Cotton and Woolen Trade. Volume 28, December 31, 1897 and Volume 28, December 31, 1894.
[3] The Annual Statistics of Manufactures. 1894. Public Document No. 36. Ninth Report. Published 1895, Wright& Potter Printing Co., State Printers: Boston. 

Finally, before you all go off and do the important things that you should have been doing before you got side-tracked by my blog and Mike's wonderful article, can I ask a question on behalf of a friend? He has been trying to complete his collection of Wil Strijbos puzzles and is desperate to obtain a copy of the Butterfly Lock box/Pleasure and Pain puzzle that I reviewed here. If you are willing to sell your copy then please contact me and I will put you in touch with him to negotiate a price. He has already managed to buy the Angel box and Washer cylinder recently and the transactions have gone through without hitch. I am sure he will be very grateful.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

A Small Tribute to Brian (and Denise)

Bent Board Burr #4 Too
This is a short blog post because I have just not had enough time this week to solve anything new. My attempt at solving the Popplock T11 has ended up with me just finding what I think might be the first step and nothing further as yet. This leaves me deeply ashamed when Ali has managed to solve his copy in just a week with no clues and no peeking at the solution. He is a MUCH better solver than me and obviously must have more hands than me to have managed it (or maybe more brain)!!!

My dear friend Brian Menold has continued to toil in his workshop over many years despite having to support his wife who has become progressively sicker over the last few months and years. Denise has been battling against one of the most dreadful conditions to affect women I have ever seen. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and despite such a shock they both supported each other through thick and thin and continued to maintain a good family life (Brian's daughter had died of breast cancer quite a few years ago and a proportion of the proceeds from his sales was sent to a breast cancer charity after that). I had seen some lovely photos on Facebook of Brian and his family which brought a tear to my eyes. Surviving 12 years with ovarian cancer is a tremendous feat but after such a heroic struggle she passed away on January 16th! I wrote in reply to his announcement:
My deepest condolences Brian. I have watched her (and your) fight against this terrible disease with utter awe. The resilience and strength that she showed over so many years has been truly amazing. You are both fabulous examples of how a family can support each other and an example to us all.
All Brian did, despite such a terrible event, was to apologise for the late update on his site! I know that I would have been a wreck and out of action for quite a long time. He even had a new release of puzzles for his voracious customers on St Valentine's day less than a month later. True to form, he was contributing even more of the proceeds to charities close to his heart. With that in mind, I was lucky enough to be in time to order a few new toys for my collection. The puzzles I am showing today are from my last purchase back in November 2017.

I adore board burrs (as long as they are not too horrifically complex) and was particularly impressed when Brian produced the Bent Board Burr #4 designed by Frans de Vreugt. The original (which is still available here) is level and looked fun but I particularly liked the look of a redesign by another puzzler which ups the ante to level 11.15.2 which is a much better challenge and also has a secondary assembly with an easier level of It also was made with special woods (Purpleheart and Yellowheart) with a beautiful detailing on the burr ends. The modified version was named Bent Board Burr #4 Too as a homage to the original.

This burr has quite a lot of possible moves from the beginning but despite a number of dead ends it is not too tough to find a rather interesting path. With caps on the ends of the boards, it is possible for some to apparently be released from the central 'knot' and yet still be held captive in the puzzle. This is one reason for such a high level for just 6 boards. The first piece was removed in a very unexpected way. I continued to explore and had to backtrack almost back to the beginning with the first piece missing before continuing down a new path (which had been a dead end at first) - the structure remained stable right to the end.

Gorgeous pieces and detailing
This one kept me busy for a few hours and despite my recently found skill at assembling puzzles, I have been completely unable to find the easier assembly myself. Obviously, my skillz are still very meagre!

Another puzzle I bought in that batch (because it would be criminal to buy just a single puzzle at a time from Brian) is the Liliput designed by the very talented Christophe Lohe (who has thought up some of my most prized puzzles). This version is beautifully made from Lacewood with Redheart pieces and consist of just 2 pieces to be removed from a simple frame. Despite only 2 relatively simple pieces to be removed it achieves a high level of 21.3.

It is a pretty diminutive puzzle at 6.4 x 5.1 x 5.1cm but is a perfect size to play with. Christophe has a knack for this sort of design and they can be incredibly challenging. He also designed the Trenta puzzle (pictured right) is similar, with 2 pieces captive in the frame and 1 requiring insertion. He periodically emails to check/tease me about my (lack of) progress with it. Another good friend of mine has actually managed to find a rotational method to remove the two captive pieces and I should probably try that again too. I'm supposed to be better at disassembly!

This puzzle also is a real delight - there are few (if any) blind ends and a very nice path through to the disassembly with some moves which are nicely hidden. It is truly amazing that so many moves are required to separate such a small number of pieces.

More complex than expected
As is usual with this type of puzzle, I scrambled the pieces before attempting reassembly and was astounded, and pleased, that I did actually manage to put it back together again. There are a couple of pitfalls to overcome where you start with the first piece the wrong way around but a little logic can help resolve that. This one became a very pleasant worry bead for me after I had solved it. It is sitting on my desk next to me begging for me to play again. But I really should get back to Trenta, and the Popplock, and the Cast Trinity, and the Chinese 99-ring puzzles, and the burrs from Alfons, and...... Help!!!

There are still quite a few puzzles left for sale on Woodwonders - feel free to peruse and purchase. You won't be disappointed. Brian always makes great choices in puzzle challenge as well as wood and it is good to know that part of the proceeds goes to a worthy charity. In particular look at Castle and the Colonel's Bouquet - I was generously given a copy of this challenge by my friend Nigel at the Paris IPP. I have not completely solved all the challenges yet but it is a VERY nice idea. My copy was made by Brian Young but Brian M's version is just as beautiful.

The Colonel's Bouquet - 4 simple pieces with several challenges
I appear to have 2 copies - only managed 2 challenges so far!

Thank you, Brian, for these wonderful puzzles - I am looking forward to the new ones which look like they are about to leave US soil. I wish you and your family all the best for 2018 and beyond.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

More Blame is Cast

Arne's Cube
Anke's Cube
Yesterday was a fantastic Midlands Puzzle Party (MPP) in Birmingham at which more fun was had at my expense (as usual) and today I am on call again. I will, therefore, need to keep this short and sweet to ensure that I actually get it finished before being asked to go into the hospital again. I thought I would continue to divert the blame away from me and lay the responsibility at others' feet.

First of all, I have to blame Ali! Yes again! He is one of the founder members of the MPP and is responsible for much of my downfall. He is an astounding puzzler and a tremendous collector. His interests very much overlap with mine in that they include metal, and gorgeous wood - in particular, he enjoys complex interlocking puzzles - burrs, cubes and puzzles with rotations. Every few days on Facebook I see when the master designer and craftsman, Alfons Eyckmans, posts his new creations and fairly frequently Ali chimes in with a request to add a new puzzle to his shopping basket. A few months ago Alfons showed off a couple of gorgeous looking cubes and of course, Ali bought them. I expressed my admiration and sort of forgot about them (after adding them to my list of puzzles to buy on my phone). At the end of last year, Ali's batch arrived and he showed them off - he expressed the view to me that these were ESSENTIAL purchases. A bit later on, my friend Michel (who incidentally managed to raise €600 for charity with his puzzle auction) also showed off the latest additions to his collection and reinforced the view.

I was helpless to resist! On New Years Day I emailed Alfons and placed an order - I did not dare tell "she who freezes the air around her" how much they cost! It took Alfons a few weeks to make them all and my lovely 'little' package arrived:

How gorgeous is that?
The cubes were the ones I was particularly enamoured with. After taking some photos I started work on the first of the designs (that with the lowest, and hence easiest, level). I have no idea as yet where the names come from but they are particularly beautiful. Arne's cube is made from Pine, Afzelia, Ipe (aka Brazilian Walnut), Zebrano, Ash, and Maple. I am sure you will all agree that it is stunning. The solution is a pleasant

I absolutely adore this sort of puzzle - it is just the right level of challenge and with only a few blind ends, it is a fun puzzle to play with and explore without ending up feeling like a chore to solve. The first piece fell out in my lap (it is so perfectly made with expert tightness) after about an hour of fiddling and I quickly reinserted it before making my way back to the beginning. I then spent another hour trying to find the path to the second piece removal. I expected more burr type movements. At this point, I realised why everyone had been so impressed with this series - the next piece to come out was part of the frame and it really caught me by surprise and delight. After that, there was an easy sequence of piece removal and I had a nice array of pieces laid out over my lap and sleeping cat. I got to the last 10 or so and again got a bit stuck - this thing remains stable for ages and actually requires ongoing sequences to remove later pieces. It was a wonderful experience!

Lots of lovely pieces!
I actually finished the disassembly whilst at work (I had 10 minutes in a coffee room) - A bunch of colleagues watched with amazement as it all came apart and then laughed at me when the final few pieces were separated and I immediately couldn't put it back together again! That will teach me not to chat to a friend whilst finishing a puzzle! I had been having an animated discussion about retirement plans and had stopped paying attention to the orientation of the last 6 pieces. I was lost and unfortunately had to go back to the operating theatre fairly soon. My only option was, unfortunately, to bundle all the pieces into a bag and take them home for Burrtools to assist me with the reassembly! Even a second and third attempt has proven to be fantastic fun - Ali, you were completely correct!

I then had a short dalliance with this:

Yin Yang Master Puzzlebox
More on that another time - I know I do not collect boxes but when the Master, Robert Yarger, offers, the answer is always yes! This is a box originally designed and made by the late Randall Gatewood and Rob finished off the series after he passed away.

I then moved on to the Anke's cube which is identical in size but slightly tougher with a solution level of It is made from Padauk, Oak, Zebrano, Teak, and Afzelia (plus 'Adobe' which I cannot find in the Wood database). Externally, apart from the colours, the two cubes look identical. However, internally, they are very different and an entirely new sequence has to be found to dismantle it. I actually found this one even more enjoyable than the first one. There are a few blind ends and some surprising moves to remove various pieces. The other very enjoyable feature is that there are very few sequences that require simultaneous moves of multiple pieces. Fantastic!

Very similar pieces to Arne's cube but very different solution
Yet again, I was unable to reassemble the damned thing! I have no excuse really... it was all laid out in order and orientation but I was watching Silent Witness on TV at the same time and the thrilling conclusion of that program just as I took it apart proved to me that I really cannot multitask like a woman! I multitask like a bloke.......BADLY! Back to Burrtools again!

Ali and Michel, you are forgiven for leading me further into my madness. There are 2 more cubes in the series and Alfons knows they are in my next order from him!

Following on from the blame that I laid on Goetz and Aaron last week, I could not resist playing with another few of the wonderful series that I showed off last week. A quick look at the second and third order Chinese rings made me think that they might be fun to solve and very logical too. The naming of these comes from the count of the overlap of the top rings. In a traditional Chinese rings puzzle - the ring on one rod is held on the shuttle and beneath that it covers straddles the next rod in front. In the second order puzzle, it straddles two and in the third, three. This considerably adds to the initial confusion.

Beginning with the Second order puzzle I quickly realised that there are 3 possible start sequences and had to work out which one to take. After that, I discovered that there is a delicious logic to the path taken. It is actually possible to solve these ones by pure thought and planning without having to recognise a long sequence and repeating it multiple times (of course, you could do that if you wished) and despite there being a fearsome number of rods and rings (especially on the third order puzzle), this pair of puzzles is nowhere near as arduous as the reverse Chinese rings that I reviewed last time. In the end, I solved both of them sequentially and kept them in the solved position until I had a chance to take my photos.

You can really see the overlap here
Essentially the same idea
The reassembly was just as much as much fun as the disassembly - I did not memorise anything - I just worked out each sequence as I moved through.

These two were taken to the MPP yesterday where big Steve seemed completely fascinated (I suspect that Aaron will be receiving another order) but despite that, he proceeded to get at least one of them into a fairly awful position before abandoning it with a wicked grin! I may have to scramble a few of his twisty puzzles for him next time to get my revenge! Allard seemed to think that shaking it vigorously might solve them and seemed disappointed when it didn't! If only more of these could be solved that way.

Finally, I have to blame Jamie! He has been posting lots of pictures of padlocks and picks and stuff with information how he has progressed in his lockpicking skills (or is it 'skillz'?) I have been aware that several other puzzlers have been into lockpicking as a sport/hobby and never really thought about it much. Jamie left a bunch of links on FB with some initial advice and I could not help surfing about. Damn him! I was hooked on the idea and have made a few purchases - picks etc. I don't really understand how locks work (I'm sorry Shane! I am trying to change that!) but my interest has been piqued and I couldn't resist. As well as some picks I have also bought a selection of acrylic locks to help me understand what is inside:

This should help
What it will not help me with is understanding how the Popplock T11 works - this gigantic puzzle (weighing in at 2.5Kg/5.51Lb) is almost certainly the most complex puzzle lock ever designed. It was not cheap but the price was very reasonable for the time and effort that went into the design and manufacture.

If Mrs S hits me with this then I'm a goner!
None of this is my fault - Rainer showed this off at the IPP and most of us were hopelessly lost in puzzle lust afterwards!

It would appear that my "short and sweet" blog post has ended up anything but! I do feel much better for having gotten the blame off my chest. I am sure that you all agree that none of this is my fault! Please let Mrs S know that I am entirely blameless.


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