Sunday, 12 July 2020

Alexander Wants Everything Sequenced Properly...Collator

It’s my 26th wedding anniversary today, so most of this was prepared in advance - only a few edits whilst "she who must be flinched from" is on the phone with the mother out-law. I wouldn’t want to risk a Whack! Ouch! On this special day! Champagne coming soon!

Alexander Magyarics designed and named the puzzle above, Collator, presumably because everything needed to be taken in the right order and placed properly using the correct sequence of moves! It took Brian Menold to take the Burrtools design and to turn it into a reality which had been sitting on my puzzle chair for over a month!

Brian made it into a very chunky 3inch cube with my copy constructed from a beautiful Angelim Pedra (box) with Movingui pieces. When I bought my last batch of beauties from Brian, I couldn't resist it. Just like the Magyarics puzzles I reviewed last week from Pelikan (and like all of Alexander's designs) it is MUCH more of a challenge that it first appears. It bears repeating what I said last week about Alexander:
"a relative newcomer to the world of puzzle design but he has crashed into it and rapidly made a huge name for himself as someone with a huge talent! He doesn't seem to just be a manipulator of Burrtools to make things that interlock, he has a unique knack of finding shapes and challenges that are not only just the right level of difficulty but are also great fun - they require exploration and thought and a lot of movement!"
The Collator is a very special example of this incredible talent. The aim is to fill the 3x3x3 cavity leaving 7 internal gaps such that the rather complex entry slot in the box will be filled completely. Brian seemed to love it - he wrote this in his puzzle description:
"Just three piece to fit into the box through a fairly large opening. This one gave me a workout for a while! I also like the fact that there are 3 solutions in total. But the desired solution gives the nicest finished look with all the openings in the box filled with the inserted pieces. The other two solutions are rather easy and should provide a nice warm up"
Hmmm! If it gave Brian a workout then I was going to be in trouble! At least I was hopeful I might find the 2 solutions that leave gaps visible. Over a 3 week period, I looked to find cubic assemblies outside of the box - one particular shape (the big piece) is a particularly awkward bugger to align with the other 2. I found several possible assemblies and obviously each of those cubes could be oriented in any of 6 directions. BUT, quite a lot of the orientations were such that one or more pieces could not be physically inserted through the slot opening. I kept at it - it's difficult with my Bluebottle memory to remember but I think I must have found 5 or 6 different cubes but couldn't get any of them inside the box.

So Brian thought the two minor solutions were easy? Not for me they weren't! I can't even blame Covid-19 as a lot of my work on this puzzle was before I got sick! After 2 weeks, I found one of the easy solutions. I let out a yell and annoyed Mrs S! She was disappointed in my poor solution - even she could tell that the visible gaps were obviously a sign of a substandard brain. Time to Think©...again. I never did manage to find the second easy solution but I focused on the main challenge. Someone showed off their solved puzzle on Facebook and I inadvertently got a major hint because the positioning of some of the internal voids was visible. Did it help? Nope - not one little bit! I just trudged on. I tried to solve this blasted puzzle every single day for over a month and never seemed to be making any progress at all. In fact, I had reached a point where I could not tell in any way what I had tried before.

Just like with Diamond Hole from Pelikan puzzles last week, I found an assembly that just seemed right. However, it wouldn't assemble in the box no matter what I tried. I kept doing the same thing over and over again until I changed one point of view. After over a month of trying, I rotated the box through 90° (I have no idea what made me do this, it may have been that balancing it on a sleeping cat led to it rolling down his flank into that position) and I carried on trying. Within about 10 minutes in this orientation, I had a magnificent Aha! moment and 2 pieces were inside in a promising position that I certainly had never seen before. Continuing like this I tried to manoeuvre the third piece into position and saw that there was a very fun little dance of the pieces before my moment of ecstasy:

Solved it at last! No real hints here.
What an incredible challenge! It is just 3 pieces but, despite this, is so so difficult. It is only level 10.4.2 for disassembly but it took me over a month to solve it and required a lucky roll of the puzzle to get there. This was unexpectedly difficult but huge fun. Alexander designed this one to be this sort of challenge and he did it very well. I cannot wait to see what he and Brian come up with next - it is certain to be amazing! Thank you to the pair of you for such a wonderful and beautiful challenge!

Last week a good friend of mine (Jim Kerley) quoted one of the greatest puzzlers in the world and what he said is entirely appropriate for this puzzle (as well as a good few of the puzzles from Jakub that I wrote about last week)
"It's easy to make things hard but hard to make things easy". In a conversation with Jerry Slocum 20 years ago I remember him saying about designing puzzles " It is easy to make a difficult puzzle but not so easy to make an easy difficult puzzle". In his explanation he said the best puzzles are those which look easy but prove to be moderately difficult. A child or adult knows instinctively what needs to be done and feel they must pick it up and solve it.
I found this puzzle very hard indeed but it does look very easy and the compulsive "pick me up" nature kept me trying for weeks! Do you agree with Jim? What puzzles do you think meet this criterion for being a superb puzzle?

Lock Out by Andrew Coles
This week I took some more of Allard's advice and set to work on the Lock Out by Andrew Coles. It is a magnificently well made puzzle - very weighty and solid. I had to try both of the keys because...just because! You all know that it has to be done. Allard tried it and that's good enough for me to attempt that futile manoeuvre too. He did say that it wasn't very useful but I did it anyway! He also told us that we should try a stick of celery. Now I hate celery and consider that sticking it into the keyway of a lock is a better use for it than eating it. Unfortunately Mrs S loves celery and won't let me use it for puzzling. This is probably just as well as I doubt whether Allard was serious with that advice (although with any of the MPP crowd it is very tough to be absolutely sure if they are kidding) and I don't want my puzzle to stink of rotten veg later. I will need to keep trying - I might be some time.......

Keep safe guys! It’s still out there and you really don’t want it. Just as importantly, you seriously don’t want to pass it on to your elderly relatives who may not survive as a result of your carelessness. The mortality in the 70-79 age group is 8% and in the 80+ group is as high as 14.8%! Not worth an avoidable risk to grandma (source).

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Pelikan Packs Them In!

Coming soon to a webstore near everyone!
New toys from the New Pelikan Workshop
Yes,  I am back and raring to go! I'm still pretty knackered and at the start of my first day back at work I thought I would check my O2 sats. I was pleased to say that they were a good 97% but a bit shocked that walking 400m along a corridor had left me with a heart rate of 130! I need to get my fitness back soon. People did comment that I looked rather thin (I'm down to 57Kg) but I'm eating normally again and the weight should come back up fairly quickly. Of course, the idiot who writes the on call rotas had put me down for the Trauma service yesterday (Saturday) and that took it out of me - luckily, all I do on a Sunday is sit and write a blog post! I'm thinking that I will have to shoot the rota service organiser soon - Oh wait....that would be me. Doh! One thing I did see yesterday reminds me that the wonderful wood craftsmen we take for granted risk life and fingers every day - one poor chap decided that he'd put his hand through a table saw. Ouch!!  I suspect he will only be able to count to 8½ from now on and maybe even less! Be careful out there, Eric, Brian, Jakub, Terry, Yavuz et al.

These puzzles are due to be released by the New Pelikan Workshop very soon and I suspect that they will also come up for sale (probably a few weeks later) from PuzzleMaster in Canada or JPGames in the UK. They are ALL worth your hard-earned cash and your choice depends on how tough you like your puzzling to be.

Whilst off sick with the dreaded virus, I was offered a bunch of new toys by Jakub and Jaroslav to review before they go on sale. I was feeling like hell and had not managed any puzzling for over a week but I had more or less decided that I was probably going to survive so the transaction was done and a large package winged across Europe at an unbelievable speed! I was delighted to receive copies of 2 new cube packing puzzles by the "Master of the disturbingly simple", Osanori Yamamoto (PuzzleMad links) as well as a 2 new incredibly gorgeous designs by Volker Latussek (PuzzleMad links) and a new multi-packing puzzle by Alexander Magyarics (PuzzleMad links). They all looked absolutely stunning which is exactly what we have come to expect from those Pelikan boys! The wood choices are great with fabulous grain and contrasting colours. So which ones should I start on? Unfortunately, my spirit was willing but the brain was definitely NOT functioning terribly well - I had a quick fiddle for a day or 2 after they arrived and I just couldn't do anything - in fact, I kept falling asleep! These puzzles are definitely NOT boring but they will need a very good attention span and a well functioning brain! I would need to wait until my brain fog had improved a bit more.

Later in the week, I started to feel a whole lot better and set to work  puzzles again.

Diamond Hole

Diamond Hole by Osanori Yamamoto
This one is made form Wenge and Maple and the name/designer has been etched onto the puzzle
Osanori-san keeps producing designs based on a small cube or cuboid cavity (literally just a 3x3x3 or 3x3x2) within a simple box which has one or more holes at some position and the aim is to insert a small number (usually just 3 or 4) of oddly shaped pieces into the cavity such that the hole(s) are completely obscured - this may completely fill the cavity but often does not. The premise of these puzzles is incredibly simple but the sheer challenge and enjoyment that is achieved with such a simple idea cannot be underestimated. Sometimes rotations are required but mostly it is just a dance of the pieces in a beautiful pattern that is required before they settle into place. Looking at the pieces, you can see that there is going to be a reasonable amount of space left inside the box but the complexity of the pieces coupled with the restriction to movement caused by the diagonal half filled voxels along the edges of the holes make for a really fun challenge.

My usual approach (I assume that everyone does the same) is to make the cubic shape outside the box. Then I find that none of the shapes I make will cover the holes properly and have to make the shapes several (even many) times before it seems to fit properly. My problem is having a memory of a bluebottle (apparently we have been doing a disservice to Goldfish) - I am fairly certain that several times I made the same cubic shape as I did earlier to check against the box but couldn't remember it. I tried at least 6 different cubes but Burrtools tells me there aren't 6 cubic assemblies. 

Having finally found a number of cubes that fill the holes, it was time to assemble it inside the box. Again, I assume most of you take your cubes and try to disassemble them constrained by the holes? For some reason, this was not happening for me! Some of my cubes could be rotated and tried in different orientations and hopefully......NOPE! Try again! I got fixated on one particularly nice cubic assembly and tried it for hours and hours. Sigh! Maybe my cube was wrong? Hell yes! I found another cubic assembly that didn't seem quite as nice but did fit the shape and after trying several different orientations, I thought I had something promising. Time to try getting it into the actual box. Even that is a huge challenge! Which piece to try in which order? I was fixated and kept trying the same idea over and over again and, of course, failing. Aaaargh! In my enfeebled state, I kept trying the same thing and for once, I have disproved the theory - something changed and I had the puzzle solved! Yessss - I loved it!

At last! It took me hours!
I immediately dismantled it and proved that I was a Bluebottle - I could not for the life of me put it back together again! Another hour and I had managed it! This puzzle is one of my favourites - it has just the right level of challenge and looks beautiful. If you have played with others by Oasnori-san then you owe it to yourself and your collection to get this one!


Neptune also by Osanori Yamamoto
Mahogany box and Wenge pieces
This puzzle really worried me when I took it out of the packaging! The box contains a 3x3x3 cavity but a very restrictive pair of slot entry/exit holes which looked like they would make it really tough to get the pieces oriented correctly and there were 6 pieces to be packed! I am RUBBISH at packing puzzles and as soon as there are more than 3 pieces then I struggle a lot. I even felt compelled to buy the One piece packing puzzle from Eric's latest releases! This puzzle is COMPLETELY different to the other puzzles from Osanori-san, the pieces are very simple (3 pentominos and 3 tetrominos) and the total voxel count is 27 - no gaps.

Back to the toil - make a cube outside the box. Easier said than done! My first several hours left me unable to even make a 3x3x3 cube from the 6 simple pieces. This worried me because I could tell that the solution would have to include at least one rotation (look at the shapes and the slots and it is pretty obvious). Eventually I found a cube assembly and then realised that I would have to try 6 different orientations before ruling it out as the correct assembly. OMG - this might take me months. My first assembly looked lovely but after rotating it 6 times, it very quickly became apparent that it was impossible to assemble it inside the box. There is one very important constraint that is immediately obvious as soon as you actually try an assembly. OK. Time to find another assembly - Burrtools and Puzzlewillbeplayed tells me that there are 8 possible ways to make a cube and each one needs to be looked at in 6 orientations - 48 possible combinations. I was betting that I would find the right one as number 48. I spent an evening in front of the TV with a still quite sick Mrs S talking to myself as I tried to find an alternate assembly. Luckily Mrs S was too ill to do any more than glower at me muttering the evil painful things she was going to do to me when she got better. I dont really blame her - I was swearing away while she was trying to watch TV and I had given her a life-threatening virus which made her feel bloody awful! At that time I would have murdered me painfully as well! Out of the blue, I found another assembly. I could actually tell that it was different because it met a particular constraint that I had set which should make entry through the slots possible.

Yesssss! This was a huge challenge for me!
Unlike Diamond hole, this does not take a lot of careful planning for the actual assembly as there is no real dance of the pieces around each other. There is a certain fairly obvious order and the rotation(s) are important but not difficult and then suddenly you have an assembled cube inside the box! The Aha! moment is delicious - it is a more "normal" packing puzzle than most of his designs but the restrictive entry and the rotations make it much more interesting than a standard packing puzzle. It also has a fair bit of repeatability - I have been unable to solve it a second time despite trying for a couple more hours. This is well worth adding to your collection but very different to what has gone before!


Hydrant by Alexander Magyarics
3 puzzle challenges in 1
Alexander Magyarics is a relative newcomer to the world of puzzle design but he has crashed into it and rapidly made a huge name for himself as someone with a huge talent! He doesn't seem to just be a manipulator of Burrtools to make things that interlock, he has a unique knack of finding shapes and challenges that are not only just the right level of difficulty but are also great fun - they require exploration and thought and a lot of movement! Every single one of his puzzles that I have tried has been a rapid favourite and Hydrant does not disappoint. Beautifully made by Jakub and Jaroslav from Padauk, Ash, Iroko and Wenge, this rather complex box comes with 6 equally complex  to be inserted inside. Not all at once, I hasten to add - there are 3 separate challenges requiring different combinations of the pieces:

Challenge 1
Challenge 2
Challenge 3
I would suggest that you actually start with challenge 2 and then move on to the other 2. The pieces leave gaps in the 3x3 cavity of the box and the aim is to insert them inside such that there are no holes visible in the H shaped entry slot at the top. These pieces are shaped in such a way that it is actually quite difficult to find a way to put them in the box. Once there are other pieces inside then things get very blocked very quickly and there needs to be a wonderful dance of pieces before they all settle into place. I expected this to be a mass difficult challenge but, as always seems to be the case with Alexander's puzzles, these are just superb! Just the right difficulty level to provide a decent challenge and lovely Aha! moment without leading to a balding puzzler tearing what little hair he has left out! This bloody iMac is causing me to lose most of it without help from puzzles! Small spoiler behind the button - only press if you are not distressed by getting hints:

The solutions took me a few hours to find - I heartily recommend this to anyone who likes interlocking puzzles - in particular, if you enjoy the simple packing puzzles designed by Osanori-san then these will be right up your street. Fabulous!

Yin Yang

Yin Yang presented protruding
6 simple pieces - fit them fully inside the box
My copy of Yin yang has been crafted from Cherry, Maple and Wenge - it is simply stunning. Dr Volker Latussek is responsible for some truly amazing packing puzzles! His mind seems to work very differently to many other designers and he is incredibly particular that his puzzles are beautifully presented in both the unsolved as well as the solved state. The Yin Yang puzzle looks just as its' name would suggest in both solved and unsolved states. There are 6 simple blocks of wood to be fitted through the Yin (or yang) with the aim being to completely fill the cavity of the box.which is a 4x4x3 cuboid. These shapes look pretty simple and there's a decent sized hole which places a small restriction on how pieces can be put inside. Yet again.....make a cuboid outside the box! How hard can it be with such simple pieces? OMG! I am really not very bright! I spent a good few hours over a couple of evenings just trying to make the assembly. It wouldn't fit together and I had begun to think that Jakub was trying to make me look foolish (something I frequently manage without any assistance!) but on the third day of searching, I had a wonderful Aha! moment - my cuboid was complete. Right then place it inside the box. Except it wasn't to be that easy. The shapes and orientation revealed certain requirements for movements which was a fun discovery.

I tried for an hour to get the shape I had made into the box and couldn't for the life of me do it. OMG! was there an alternate assembly that I hadn't found despite 3 days of trying? Time to Think©. So I thunk for an evening and it hit me right between the eyes! Not terribly bright and I hope that you don't have the same problem. I finally got it and was delighted - it looks stunning in the solved shape as well.

Solved at last!
This puzzle is absolutely fabulous - the premise is simple but the execution of it is a lovely challenge. I suspect that most of you hardcore puzzlers out there will find this a lot easier than I did because you are all much cleverer than me. It is well worth the effort being just the right difficulty level.


Dufour by Volker Latussek
Out of the box
This beautiful puzzle by Dr Latussek is a whole different level of challenge. One of the features that marks Volker's approach is that he always stipulates a way that the puzzle should be presented to be solved and that is usually just as gorgeous (and often as much of a challenge) as the actual puzzle solution. Dufour arrives in a box with a beautiful cross visible on top and the whole assembly slides out of the box to reveal a 2x2 square on the opposite face. Having admired the beautiful construction - this one made from Oak and Padauk, I carefully took it apart to find 8 pieces which need to be fitted back into the box and ending up with all the pieces flush with the surface. Looking at the shapes of the pieces, I knew that I was going to really struggle - have I told you that packing puzzles are really not my forté.

We have 8 hexominos to fit in a 4x4x3 box
There will be no gaps once packed
I have worked on this for over a week on and off and have so far not even come close to solving it. It may be that this is too difficult for me - maybe too many pieces or maybe the shapes are too complex? For anyone who loves very difficult packing puzzles, this will be a wonderful challenge. I am unable also to put it back to the starting shape either despite the "assistance" provided by the coloured pieces. Yet again, Dr Latussek shows that he is the master of this sort of puzzle!

So, which would I recommend? All of them, of course! It depends on your puzzle type preferences. Are you into difficult packing puzzles? Then you really want the Yin yang and Neptune puzzles and consider the Dufour if you are wanting a particularly tough challenge. Do you like interlocking packing puzzles that require sequences of moves to solve then Hydrant and Diamond hole are must buys! Luckily for me, I have bought them all! Maybe you should too!

Are you into puzzle locks? Of course you are - have a look at my New additions page for a new lock produced by a brilliant new craftsman, Andrew Coles. Allard also received and reviewed his first puzzle. So far I've been working too much to have more than a look and take some photos. First impressions are that this is top notch craftsmanship.

It's great to be healthy again - make sure that you stay safe out there! Social distancing is the main thing you can do and when that is not possible it is worthwhile wearing a mask - it won't protect you but it will protect others from you. If everyone does this then it will generally decrease transmission of this awful disease. Do NOT take any notice of the crazy idiots who claim that masks poison them or that they cause CO2 retention and headaches etc from that. I've worn a mask for over 25 years with no evidence of poisoning and anyone who knows about respiratory physiology and chemistry will tell you that CO2 is a tiny molecule that passes through membranes and materials very fast indeed. You cannot get CO2 retention from a mask!

Take care everyone - keep safe and as my friend Michel says, "keep puzzling".

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Where's My Hammer?

Where's My Hammer? by Dee Dixon
No! I have not taken leave of my senses and decided to use forbidden tools on a wooden puzzle! Today we have a surprise guest blog post from a new friend who I have met at a couple of the recent Midlands Puzzle Parties - Michael Quigley seems to have gotten sucked into the hobby hook, line and sinker and not only has he spent a fortune on lots of new and expensive toys, he's joined us at puzzle meetups, but he has also managed to get himself cajoled into writing something for my silly little piece of Internet! I am very grateful to him for writing up on a puzzle that I don't own and technically cannot justify buying because (horror) it's a box and we all know that I don't collect boxes!

My Covid-19 infection has begun to settle, thank goodness. Last Tuesday, I finally felt like this damn thing was not going to kill me! My progress is slow - mainly now my symptoms are just being very quickly fatigued and with minimal effort. I'm back to work tomorrow which is going to be rather interesting (especially as my first day is doing emergency surgery) - here's hoping that it's not as bad as I'm expecting. Thank you everyone for your support and thank you to Michael for helping me with a blog post. Over to you, mate...

Like Pavlovian dogs, there are certain trigger words that have many a puzzler salivating on command: puzzle box (Ed - nope, not my thing!), sequential discovery and exotic woods to name just a few (Ed - drooool!). So when Dee Dixon released Where’s My Hammer? – a sequential discovery puzzle box, handcrafted from exotic woods, the frothing mouths of the marauding metagrobologists caused a spike in humidity that was lucky not to ruin the very boxes they coveted.

Beautiful wood!
Professionally known as DedWoodCrafts, Dee Dixon has been producing decorative boxes and puzzle boxes for many years in his spare time.  Often tested on friends and family it was the production of a prototype box that led the tester, who was unable to open the box, to exclaim “where’s my hammer?” and the box’s name was born (Ed - was he an orthopaedic surgeon?).
Dee has started to mass-produce a few designs and selling via Cubic Dissection, Where’s My Hammer? was the first of these to be released on there.  The release didn’t last long however with all copies selling out rapidly and leading to Dee’s Blinded II box set for their Cubic Dissection release at the end of June. (Ed - after a little "mishap, this is due to go on sale on Monday 29th June).

The box itself is a hefty piece of wood, which has a weight and sturdiness to it that makes you feel like it is up for a fight. That is not to say it is an ugly box, far from it, it is a lovely crafted box adorned with a plethora of fancy wooden panels, many of which I can’t identify.  It is a tactile puzzle, which is lucky owing to the amount of time I had to handle it. On to the solving experience…

Now I don’t have lots of experience solving sequential discovery puzzle boxes but I thought long and hard and realised that there must be a thing or two to do before the lid comes off.  Instantly disregarding this I try and open the lid to feel that it has some give but nothing much else.  There are a few rattles from within and I start tilting the box from side-to-side trying to uncover its secrets.
At this point my other (much better I’m told) half looks at me.  Usually this means “your toy is making too much noise, go and play in the other room” but this time she asked if she could “have a go” (Ed - gasp! A wife that puzzles? Maybe some wife-swapping is in order? Whack! Ouch!). Here I was stuck in a conundrum, whilst I want to show willing and involve my NPSO (non-puzzling significant other) in my hobby I don’t think she really understands the unwritten rule (someone should really write a long list of rules down somewhere – say on a Facebook page) of the puzzling communities “no spoilers”.  Meaning that the second she found anything I was going to be told.  Luckily after 5 minutes of her playing she was no further along the solve process than when I had handed her the box. Relief!

Any tools here?
My first few minutes were a little more fruitful and without too much trouble I was able to gather together a collection of tools and pieces (at this point I wasn’t sure which was which) before grinding to a halt. A long halt. I tried everything I could think of using everything I had found. I even tried putting the box all back together and going through the solve process thus far in the hope that I would have enough momentum to propel me to the next stage of the solve… but to no avail.  I once read that thinking© helps, so put the box away for the night and tried this approach the following night and the night after that until finally I made my breakthrough.  At this point I should mention that one of the things I was trying was correct, I just wasn’t trying that thing correctly! The final steps came quickly to leave me joyful, relieved and amazed at this wonderful box. I’d say there was only one step towards the end that I wasn’t a great fan of but everything else about the solve was a joy.

In total, and depending on how you count these things, there are probably between 7 and 10 steps for the total solve. There is nothing hugely revolutionary in the construction of the puzzle or mechanics used but the build quality, design and aha moments of this puzzle mean it is a great one to try.  I’m certainly looking forward to sharing this box at the next puzzle party I go to and if my patience wears much thinner I’ll be sharing via the good old Royal Mail before then.  A super box from a new designer that is definitely worth getting hold of.

Thank you Dee for the production of this box.

Thank you Michael,  for sharing this with the "group" - I am very grateful for the effort you put in and a new voice on the blog! Hopefully we will hear from you again before long!

I am back to puzzling and have even managed to solve a few things whilst I have been off work - I am looking forward to regaling you all with tales of acquisition and utter stupidity over the next few weeks and maybe even a puzzle success or two!

Do take care of yourselves in these trying times! I have noticed that the virus has been very much on the upsurge again in parts of Europe and is close to being out of control in much of the USA - be careful, keep socially distant - there is absolutely no need to congregate just now. Masks (and other face coverings) may help protect others from you and certainly don't do you any harm. Your "freedom" should not be significantly impinged by wearing a face covering - think of others!

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Too Stupid For a Life Lesson

Rhombic Tuttminx from Leslie Le's VeryPuzzle
I do apologise for missing a week! I am incredibly proud of the fact that I have posted something here every week for many years with only my mother's death and now my own frailty preventing me keeping a perfect record! Let me explain a little...

There had been a rather large outbreak of Covid-19 on one of the wards in the hospital that I get to visit pretty frequently. Quite a lot of staff and patients who have visited that ward have unfortunately been struck down. I was unaware that they had a problem there and visited to assess patients for surgery as I always do. The aortic aneurysm repair went well and I had no inkling that there was a problem at all until 4 days after visiting the ward. Whilst working one Saturday doing an orthopaedic trauma list, I developed a headache (literally that was it - just a headache!) I didn't think much of it - I was not aware that I had been in contact with anyone infected and I had no fever, no cough, none of the "cardinal" symptoms! The headache got progressively worse and at the end of the day, I was glad to get out of the PPE (7 hours in an FFP3 mask is VERY unpleasant with a stonking headache!) On the Sunday the virus hit me...hard! I had a high fever, muscle aches, feeling very unwell and just a slight cough. Oh damn - here we go! I spent most of the day in bed and arranged for a Covid test the following day. The drive to the testing area at work was unpleasant with a high fever. I was absolutely not going to risk having a false negative test! The false negative rate is 40% partially due to the fact that taking the swabs properly needs a really good swipe and is very unpleasant (I suspect that most people who do that to themselves don't do it properly. Swabs taken, I had to wait 5 minutes before my eyes would stop watering enough to be able to drive away! At 7pm the virologist called to tell me the result - Mrs S was convinced already because, of course, I had managed to infect her already and she was feeling really rotten! She's too weak just now for a Whack! Ouch! but I am sure it won't be long! In my wake, over the next 24 hours, a whole bunch of people were sent home to self-isolate and I appeared to have become the Typhoid Mary of Sheffield - they're calling me "Covid-Kev"!!! In my defence, I had none of the suspicious symptoms until 2 days into the illness. As far as I know, no-one has caught it from me.

This virus is horrific! For many there are no symptoms but for others it kills and you do not know which way it will go until it reveals its' path to you. I had already been a little worried, due to pre-existing health issues, that I might fare badly and was really very worried that I might have killed Mrs S! For me, I have never been so ill in my life! The fever lasted another 2 days and the myalgia with it. Cough has been a relatively mild symptom but the fatigue has been appalling! Every small thing has required me to lie down afterwards. I spent 9 hours or so writing the on-call rotas on Thursday (if I was forced to be at home, I figured that I might as well do some office work) and the following day I felt like I had been run over by a truck. A colleague summed up my stupidity:
"Thanks for summoning the energy to do a rota whilst infected with a life-threatening viral illness"
That sort of puts my stupidity at the forefront! I should have realised how sick I was when I just left a fabulous package of new toys from Mine unopened in my porch! A puzzle parcel remaining unopened for 6 days is an indicator of just how severe this illness can be!

Please continue with the social distancing, wear a mask when you have to be close to people outside your immediate family bubble and, for goodness sake, stay away from Trump rallies!!! Nothing clever will be said there and you may well catch something lethal!

Now, before I got ill I had been playing with one of the wonderful spherical puzzles from Leslie Le's VeryPuzzle. I started with the Behemoth that is the Rhombic Tuttminx - I own an ordinary Tuttminx and have never had the courage to scramble it. Like the original, the Rhombic Tuttminx consists of pentagonal and hexagonal faces but they differ in that the hexagonal ones are not able to rotate through 60º angles, they are limited to 180º turns. I figured that this should make the puzzle a little simpler to solve.

It is an absolute beast at 14.5cm diameter (5.7in) and weighing in at 0.37Kg/082lb. I paid a few dollars for the stickering to be done for me and I have to admit that was worth every penny - it looks like an absolute nightmare to sticker. When I showed it off at work, it got plenty of admiration for being a very attractive puzzle.  Derek, told me that it wasn't that tough to solve but he's a genius and I was really not sure that I would be able to solve it. It finally took me about 2 weeks of carrying it around with me before I got the courage to scramble it:

Just as gorgeous scrambled
It took me about 2 hours to achieve an adequate scramble and move the pieces as far away from their origin as possible. Then where to start? On Facebook someone had suggested that a Megaminx (standard dodecahedron) approach would probably suffice and I tentatively agreed with them. Hence, I started with a pentagonal centre which would leave me as another pentagon as my final face to solve. The movement is stunningly smooth (considering there are 302 visible moving parts) and the initial solve process is nothing more than intuition. The texture on some of the stickers adds a little to the complexity but not too much and the recreation of the solved conformation progresses in a very pleasant and fun manner. I almost found it soothing!

Having reached the equator, I was a little worried that the level of difficulty would escalate but just carried on as a fully intuitive solve. I really enjoyed it despite the sheer size of the process. Finally, I was left with the last pentagon and surrounding hexagons. Far less movement was now possible and I realised that it was very similar to a Megaminx except for the 180º limitation. This actually made the puzzle rather similar to a 3x3x2 cuboid. Once I had realised this then solving the corners around the pentagonal centre proved to be remarkably straight-forward until I was left with this:

Just 2 pieces were interchanged! What on earth? I spent an unfruitful hour or so trying out various 3-cycles to unravel it before realising that this scenario is physically impossible! On a puzzle that is "odd order", a 2 piece swap or parity cannot occur without there being an error elsewhere or without someone having peeled stickers off.

I knew that no-one had spent enough time with it to peel any stickers off behind my back so I had to spend a frustrating time hunting for my mistake. Many of the colours are pretty similar and in the end I had to go out into the garden to get really good sunlight and discovered the error of my ways:

So similar - it took me 2 days to find it!
One face has lovely shiny sparkly stickers which unfortunately look almost indistinguishable from each other except in very bright light. Having discovered this, a bunch of set up moves and 3 cycles were quickly arranged and it was solved!

This puzzle is stunning! It is gorgeous to look at, beautifully made and a fun solve which is 95% intuition. If you have any kids who are just getting into twisty puzzles and they may want something that looks fearsome but still within their capability then this is just the ticket! This was the last puzzle I played with before I got sick and I am looking forward to playing with it again when my attention span improves. I also have a few new toys from Mine to play with as well.

Stay safe everyone - do not take any risks! It just isn't worth it! If you work in a hospital then you have no real choice but if you don't have to go and mingle with people then don't do it!

Sunday, 14 June 2020

Too Sick to Puzzle or Blog

Hi everyone,

I’m sorry to say that this will be the first Sunday in several years that I’ve missed. Unfortunately, I’ve either got a very bad summer cold or I’ve caught Covid-19 at work. Basically, I’m more or less bed bound and feeling like death warmed up. Will be tested tomorrow and hopefully negative but definitely not up to blogging today. I do apologise! Hopefully normal service will be resumed next weekend.

Sunday, 7 June 2020

A Puzzling Pot-pourri from Hawaii

A pot-poured of positively perfect puzzles
Yet again in my hour of need, I receive an email from the Mike Desilets, the official PuzzleMad foreign correspondent, offering help with a truly wonderful article. I have been working on a particularly fun and beautiful puzzle for a couple of weeks now but have gotten to a point where I’m rather stuck. I’m currently waiting for inspiration to strike me but with the dirty looks that Mrs S is giving me, it may be her who strikes me instead! I need to stop swearing at puzzles whilst she is watching TV. Without delay I’ll hand you over to Mike for a fascinating romp through a wide range of challenges.

Aloha Kākou Puzzlers,

Today’s Foreign Office installment will be a puzzle pot-pourri. I have a few tightly-focused articles in the works, but none of them seem anxious to finish themselves. Sometimes this stuff becomes actual work and motivation drops off a cliff accordingly (Ed - I know that feeling!). So, in the interest of procrastination, I decided to adopt a more classical blog approach and simply take pictures of stuff I have worked on recently and opine. Less depth, more variety.

We begin where we left off with Hip-flask. In the midst of writing the Hip-flask post, I ordered a copy of Felix’s Titan (in the UK get it here). It was bound to happen. The puzzle is just as advertised: two brass hemi-spheres, inexplicably joined. It is very beautiful, as only a metal sphere can be. This would be a worthwhile purchase even if it were not a puzzle. Having now seen the quality of the interior machining, I really wonder how this can be made so inexpensively, and in the UK no less.

Titan, by Felix Ure.
A nice even patina is developing; no polish necessary.
It didn’t take long to realize that my first impressions of the puzzle, based on various online sources, was correct. This puzzle falls squarely into the mystery-object category. There is an internal mechanism holding the pieces together and something is clearly rolling around inside. The hemispheres rotate past one another freely, until they do not. They also separate slightly, but nothing internal is visible. I tried the standard solutions, followed by non-standard guesses, followed ultimately and inevitably by random shaking, twisting, spinning, and pulling (Ed - now that is my kind of solution method!). After a solid week and a half of this, an hour or two each night in front of the television, I achieved separation. The early solvers were right, it’s a great feeling when it comes apart. By the time it happens, you have basically lost all hope. It’s really quite a pleasant shock. Of course, you shouldn’t pat yourself on the back too much. This is an exercise in patience, not cleverness. For myself personally, if not for the TV multi-tasking, I’m not sure I would have stuck it out. I’m not getting any younger, after all, and I can test my patience in other, more productive ways. That said, I am THRILLED to have opened Titan. The internals are the very definition of beauty. The mechanism is simple, principled, and obviously very effective.

Below is an image of the internals, if you are interested. It does not show everything, and certainly not the critical components. I doubt VERY much that this will help you solve Titan, but out of an exceedance of caution Kevin will put it behind a spoiler button:

B-Lock II - Brass body and steel shackle
Packaged in a beautiful embroidered bag
Nice touch Boaz!
Moving right along, I also had a chance to play with Boaz Feldman’s B-Lock II this week (Ed - I reviewed it in March). This had been on my shopping list for a while, but I always found some reason or other to push it aside in favor of other purchases. I enjoyed B-Lock I (Ed - reviewed here), but hadn’t heard or read much about the new release. Now that I have it, I regret putting it off, and you should not hesitate the way I did (Ed - both are often available direct from Boaz on his Etsy store). This is a really fun puzzle lock and I would even go so far as to say that it is underrated, or at any rate under-appreciated. With the likes of Rainier and Shane producing great stuff, and the legacy of Dan Feldman himself hanging over the sub-field, you can see why this might occur. But B-Lock II doesn’t have any pretensions at that level, and I think Boaz would be the first to admit that. What B-Lock II does have is a high-quality build and a very original and clever mechanism (to me at least, admittedly not a lock expert). I can tell you, without fear, that it has two components, and these must synchronize before the lock will open. One is a common lock ‘gimmick’ and the other is something new (to me).

B-Lock II is not particularly complex, just very crafty and efficient, especially given the limited material provided by an off-the-shelf padlock. After you initially open it, you will not know exactly why unless you study the internals. If you immediately close and reset, it could be a while before you get it open again. For me this puzzle provided a solid half hour of entertainment, which is precisely what I want from a lock in this range. In fact, I think we could do with more locks of this type: affordable, available, fun, and very well crafted. We often get the last two, but not always the first two. Overall, I think it’s a real winner from Boaz and I heartily recommend it. It is worth remembering that Danlock was not invented overnight (Ed - available here and here). With what we have seen from Boaz thus far, I can’t help but think that he is building toward something.

An unlocked lock.
Ok, enough of that. I can only take so much cutting-edge puzzlery (Ed - is that a word?). Time to retreat into the annals of history. Out of respect for my gentle editor, and in light of the possibility that he can write prescriptions (I can indeed!), and would do so for me if I please him sufficiently (not across the I won’t), the remainder of the post shall be not only historical, but also decidedly Anglo-centric.

Bike parts
So let’s look next at a fun little puzzle called “BILD-A-BIKE,” which I gather from the Slocum Collection website originated in the mid-1950s. I imagine it was produced right through the 1960s as well, but I really don’t know and there is not much information available online. BILD-A-BIKE was produced and sold by Chad Valley, a company Kevin is no doubt familiar with (Ed - never heard of it! Have you heard of every small company in the US?). Chad Valley were, at least in the previous mid-century period, a premier English toy company (Ed - I wasn’t born then!). They have a fascinating history which you can find at the Woolworths museum webpage here.

Chad Valley was a toy company, first and foremost, but most every toy company had mechanical puzzles in their product lines at that time. In addition to BILD-A-BIKE, Chad Valley also produced a couple of boxed sets of entanglements, all of the standard sort. They produced a broad range of jigsaw puzzles as well. Otherwise the line was 99% toys and games. Despite a long and honourable history, Chad Valley basically ceased to exist in any meaningful way following their 1978 purchase by Palitoy. The product line was chopped up and sold off and independent production ceased. Subsequent owner Woolworths attempted to revive and capitalise on the Chad Valley name in the late 1980s as part of its ill-fated modernisation programme. During this effort, Chad Valley was reoriented as the face of a line of toys directed to the very young. The brand remains that way today under new owner Argos, virtually unrecognisable from its historical roots.

True enough, although the playing will flake and chip with normal use, a stainless version is needed
For the mechanical puzzle aficionado, BILD-A-BIKE is probably the most interesting Chad Valley product. It is a put-together puzzle in which you quite literally build a bike (or perhaps I should say bild? Check this). The pieces are nickel-plated iron, or maybe steel, I’m not sure. The pieces are “rustless,” as the packaging proclaims, but only to the extent that the nickel plating remains intact. You will probably have to look hard to find a pristine set. If you do find one, and want to keep it that way, then do not BILD-YOUR-BIKE!

As for solving, it is not any great challenge. The wheel/handlebar and wheel/seat connections are a little tricky. It is definitely a challenge to keep the front part assembled as you work on the back, and vice-versa. Dexterity is definitely required. Light force is also required, since the assembled bike is largely held together by tension.

Although obviously targeted at a younger demographic, BILD-A-BIKE is an enjoyable little puzzle for all ages. There is no Ah-ha! element to speak of, but it is very satisfying when the pieces come together and take the shape of a bike. I recommend this puzzle as a cool-down after solving Titan. In the final analysis, BILD-A-BIKE is a charming footnote in English mechanical puzzle history. I humbly suggest that my editor and patron MUST purchase one and also that he MUST give it a prominent place on his shelves. I await photographic proof. (Ed - I’ll see if I can find one)

Ok, time for one more, staying on the English theme. How about a shunting puzzle? I did a post a while back on these. Kind of a rare class, but they always fascinate me. When I came across a copy of Chunnel Trouble? a while back, I snapped it up without a second thought. Chunnel Trouble? (that question mark is going to get tiresome) was made by distinguished, though tragically inactive, English puzzle producer and seller Pentangle. Chunnel Trouble? is a fantastic revival of a classic shunting problem, probably THE classic shunting problem. It also sports a contemporary and quite ingenious design, packaging, and marketing approach. It is, in effect, a nineteenth century puzzle in new clothing.

Chunnel Trouble? Not really. 
Although there is plenty of shunting (or switching) involved with actual Channel Tunnel operations, it likely bears little resemblance to the Chunnel Trouble? layout. Regardless, Chunnel Trouble? is a delightful design. According to the box, the trains can pass each other in 33 moves. The siding looks like it will hold only two cars, if that. This puzzle can alternatively be solved using slips of paper, or whatever objects you prefer (except marbles); you don’t necessarily need to own the actual puzzle. Most shunting puzzles are that way. The physical version looks very well made, possibly in maple, and most definitely in England.

Why do I seem a little cagey in my description? Well, that’s because I have not actually played with, or even touched, this puzzle. It’s a rare occurrence. I cannot play with this puzzle for the simple reason that it is in its original packaging, sealed, untouched, and unspoilt. The Channel Tunnel was constructed between 1988 and 1994. I don’t know the actual date for this puzzle, but it should fall within that range, or close to. Kevin or the MPP chaps will doubtless enlighten me. I do know that it is currently 2020. So given the time gap, whatever it may precisely be, I clearly can never break the seal on this puzzle. I could not bring myself to do it when I first bought it, and after anguished consideration, I’ve decided that I never will. Pristine examples are a sacred trust. Also, given the fact that the puzzle can be ‘played’ any number of other ways, there is really no call to grub it up like a complete barbarian. Instead, I’ll just squirrel this copy away until it is the only unopened Chunnel Trouble? left in the world, the fundamental conceit of the vintage collector.

Instructions to help get you out of Chunnel Trouble.
This English puzzle jig is fun, and I definitely want to leave my editor brimming with tears of nostalgia (Ed - that would only happen if I could remember any of these toys). Here then, is one more. It slots in somewhere between the last two on the temporal plane. It is called Perfect Circle, part of the Waddingtons House of Games Mindbender series from the very late 1960s and early 1970s. There are at least six other puzzles in the series. Perfect Circle was apparently developed by House of Games, a Canadian company, and then licensed and manufactured by storied English game developer and producer John Waddington LTD. “House of Games” was traditionally part of the Waddington moniker, and it seems to have come and gone periodically over the course of the previous century. How it ended up in Canada I’m not sure. In any case, after a long history of service to the game-playing English public, Waddingtons was sold to Hasbro in 1994. I assume it is now no more than a residual-value brand name like Chad Valley. Check out this fun article for a trip down memory lane. If you want to learn about Waddingtons contribution to the war effort, definitely check this out. That must have been quite an A-Ha! moment for the boys.

Perfect Circle.
A low cost, high value puzzle from Waddingtons. 
Back to the puzzle. Perfect Circle requires you to make a perfect circle (is there another kind?) out of 16 variously-cut pieces of colored cardboard. There are four shapes and three colors, as the instructions indicate. This is not the whole story though. There are actually eight distinct pieces, because two of each of the four shapes is a mirror reflection of the other two. They certainly look the same, but they are not interchangeable. This is tremendously important, and starkly apparent, once you try to comply with the matching rule on your as-yet imperfect circle. The rule that makes this puzzle more than a simple geometric assembly is that no two colors may touch side-on-side.

The rule of engagement.
Initially, upon dumping the pieces out, it seems like Perfect Circle might be a hair puller. Soon, though, you realise the importance of symmetry and things begin to accelerate. You will also quickly differentiate the outer pieces with curvature from the inner pieces without. It all starts to come together as you mix and match pieces.

Although finding the solution on first assembly is possible, know that at least two distinct circles can be formed which will never meet the matching rule. I had to work through both of these before I discovered the correct assembly, and actually began to think my puzzle was broken at one point. I had become obsessed with certain circle designs that seemed so beautiful they simply had to be correct. The puzzle fooled me, to its great credit. Yet again I had willfully disremembered the Tungsten Rule of solving: once you establish the theoretical impossibility of a given solution, you MUST move on (Ed - where did that come from?). Anyhow, it was a really fun solve and I highly recommend this modest little puzzle.

Is the circle perfectable?
Kevin, capstone of my arch (Ed - I don’t think I’ve ever been called that before!), I think you can find Perfect Circle for well under a tenner at any given boot fair (Ed - not in this age of social distancing it’s not!!!). Take poor Mrs S out of the house for once in your miserable life- make an afternoon of it. Your ulterior motive need never be known. It will be just between you, me, and 100,000 random blog readers. Whack! Ouch! Ed - Mrs S will not ever go to a boot fair!! She only shops in the finest of retail establishments! I’ll need to look on eBay. 

That’s all for today folks. Hopefully this post was a good change from the usual foreign office material. It was definitely refreshing for me. Ok boss, over to you for the wrap-up...

Wow! What an odyssey! I enjoyed that a lot, thank you, my friend, for a fantastic romp through puzzles old and new, cheap and rather expensive, but all looking quite fun! I am really so grateful to you for taking the time to write for me and the readers and for providing me with some entertainment.  I always look forward to what you produce - it’s always something I’d never have found myself and it makes me think.

Sunday, 31 May 2020

A Fun Three Piece Worry Bead

A short one today - I have been on-call this week and am working again on Sunday (whilst this post goes live) and have had to prepare something in advance without much time for puzzling. Today I am focussing on a pretty metal puzzle from PuzzleMaster. A version of this should be in every puzzler's collection.

I reviewed the latest bespoke metal puzzle, Chiasma, from Yavuz Demirhan and PuzzleMaster a couple of weeks ago and was delighted with the quality of the construction and how it really added to the solution of the puzzle. In the same package, I also received a few more from the PuzzleMaster metal series and have had a little time to play with two of those. The Slideways puzzle is a classic - it's a 3 piece burr-shape that's not actually a burr, it's a lovely coordinate motion puzzle. I have never played with this puzzle in this shape before despite it having been around for quite a while. My versions are rather lovely shape transformations from Pelikan, the Slideways cube and two variants of the Slideways ball:



Double Slideways Ball
I know that Eric Fuller made really nice versions of the Slideways burr some time ago but I did not pick up either copy then so I was delighted to try a metal version (I am not a complete wood snob!) This one comes rather beautifully packaged to show it off and hold it in position:


Beautifully held in place
As you can see, this is a nice cerise coloured anodised aluminium and is rated as a level 6 on PuzzleMaster's difficulty scale of 5 to 10 which I would agree with - it is pretty straightforward in terms of puzzling and mostly is an object of delight for fiddling with. The movement makes it a wonderful fidget toy.

It won't fall apart, the pieces need to be pulled just right and you quickly end up admiring 3 beautifully identical burr pieces:

3 identical sticks - notice the angled cuts

For the reassembly, it is a simple matter of working out the correct orientation of the 3 pieces with respect to each other and then holding them all just right to allow them to slide together in a really satisfying way. The positioning needs to be fairly accurate before they will slide but not requiring pinpoint accuracy. This does make this version quite a lot more forgiving than the various wooden versions which need very very fine positioning. I have been using this as a sort of worry bead/stress reliever at home for a week or so and so far have avoided a Whack! Ouch! from Mrs S for the clinking.

Is it worth buying? I definitely think so - it is a classic, a fun thing to play with and very nicely made. At $20CA, you cannot go wrong.


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