Sunday, 9 December 2018

Ixia Box - The Blind Leading the Stupid!

Ixia Box
At last! This fabulous beast has taken me months and months to solve! I can at least say that I am not alone in being befuddled by it - take note of this little clip from Allard's puzzling times:

The puzzle that I am reviewing today is called the Ixia box (named after the 2 flowers that adorn the top) and I saw it go up for sale on Juno and Yukari's Pluredro site (please note that it is now out of stock) and I duly ignored it because it's a box and I don't collect boxes. That's my story and I'm sticking to it! However, I saw it at the Midlands Puzzle Party in the spring and had a little play myself and did not get very far. What I did realise was that there are bits that come off and can be used as tools later on. In other words, it is partially a sequential discovery puzzle and I definitely DO collect those! Whatismore, out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of Mr Strijbos and Mr Coolen (the puzzle solving machine) working on it and getting quite excited at times. At the end of the MPP they had solved it and after a brief chat, they had me convinced that it would be a fabulous puzzle for me to own and solve. It duly arrived at the end of April this year and after catching up with one or two other puzzles, I set to.

It is quite lovely being made of Rosewood, Jarrah, Util, Bubinga (sapwood), Ebony and with metal parts inside too. The size is fairly reasonable at 144 x 94 x 84mm. There are obviously a number of parts that will slide and hopefully come off eventually but the shape doesn't give much away. The first thing one notices are the rather striking flowers on top:

Beautifully made flowers
The flowers can wiggle a little but not actually do much. All other items that look like doors or sliders have a teeny bit of play but nothing moves at all. Turning it over and giving it a shake reveals nothing so in desperation I grasp at straws...or flowers and they come off in my hand:

No wonder they would not rotate!
There are pins and magnets and the reason that the flowers don't turn becomes quickly obvious. Not being very good at boxes, I am at a bit of a loss for what to do next. Magnets!!! They must be there for a reason so I hover them over the rest of the box and get a sort of hint that there are other metal things inside but it's not terribly convincing...or terribly useful. Stuck already! Yep! I am stupid when it comes to boxes - Mrs S told me that I had my Plug face on. Attractive aren't I?
It took me another hour maybe to find the next move and suddenly I had a cavity. YES!!! I had solved a box. Or had I?

As cavities go it really doesn't look like much!
Finely cut grooves for a reason
Looking at it, I did realise pretty much straight away that this was only an interim stage and there was quite obviously more to go and presumably the main cavity still to be found. I spent another few hours getting not much further - inside the box there appear to be some CNC cut grooves towards the edges and they are obviously intended for some special use. Needless to say, I was only vaguely able to see these inside the cavity and committed the cardinal sin of cheating! I put my fingers inside and played with the grooves until something happened. Please don't be shocked - I am not a box person, I am not terribly bright and Allard had already done the same thing (go on - go back and read his review). Either way, what I had done did not feel very satisfactory so I put it all back and had a think©. Interestingly, this one time that thinking thing actually worked! I made some lovely discoveries and realised that opening the second door could be very elegant indeed. If you stuck your fingers in and pushed something then STOP THAT! Take them out and play nicely!

...And that's where I got stuck! For days, and weeks and months! Allard's review was published and I still had gotten nowhere! I wasn't handicapped by his so-called friends putting distracting things inside to make noises that were of no use whatsoever. I had a pristine puzzle and could find no way to open the final door to the main cavity. I worked on it off and on with no progress at all. I made some discoveries but could not formulate them into a solution and here we get to the title of the post.

A certain Ed has appeared at a few recent MPPs and has distinguished himself by singlemindedly sitting down and working his way through quite a lot of Karakuri puzzles and a huge number of puzzle boxes. He collects them himself and has developed quite a talent for solving them. This talent even included him solving the Ixia box without too much difficulty. Everyone at the MPP is very impressed by his HUGE........prowess! 

Why? Because he manages to solve a lot of very difficult puzzles despite being completely blind! Obviously, some of his other senses have improved as compensation and I reckon that he can actually smell a solution! I have been chatting to him on Facebook messenger on and off over the last month or so and we seem to share a very warped sense of humour and a love of Juno's toys. We also share the fact that his fiancé is a medic so he understands some of the stresses and maybe sympathizes with my puzzle addiction all the more. Ed gave me a very small clue at the beginning which, with me being very dense, did not help me at all. A few weeks later that was followed up with another, less subtle, clue. Hmmm! Nope!

Still not there so another whack on the head with a big clue just short of telling me the secret got me trying some new things which I was sure that I might have tried before but obviously not properly. Suddenly the cat shot off my lap as I shouted my success and Mrs S glowered at me for being noisy. I suddenly had a solved puzzle and a very big grin on my face:

Absolutely genius puzzle - only took me 8 months and a number of less than subtle clues to solve it!
Thanks so much, Ed! Great to have you as a puzzle friend!

Wow! This was an amazing odyssey. It took me nearly 8 months to complete this puzzle and my only excuse is that I am not very good at boxes, or sequential discovery puzzles, or other puzzles for that matter. But I do enjoy being puzzled and this one was a fabulous challenge. Unfortunately, it is not available any longer but if you get a chance to play with one at a puzzle party or see one up for sale at an auction then go buy it - you won't be disappointed. Juno's latest sequential discovery box/burr went on sale a few weeks ago and sold out completely in just a few days - my review will be coming soon.

It's a burr and a box and a sequential discovery puzzle
The "sequential discovery burred box"

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Pelikan Perfection

The current batch of puzzles released by Pelikan
I count myself as very VERY lucky! I am offered the chance by Jakub and Jaroslav of Pelikan Puzzles to buy (Yes, I pay for them!) the releases a week or so before they are released to the general puzzling public so that I can offer any last minute advice and so that I can write something for them (in my positively perfect English) for their website to help you decide what to buy. In the past, the release of the puzzles has been delayed because I have been a bit busy at work and unable to solve the puzzles and review them quickly enough. Luckily this time, Jakub caught me just as I had a week off work (primarily for the yearly maintenance stuff like Doctor, Dentist, Optician) and had some time to work on his wonderful beauties. This time they have released 6 new puzzles with a few in a number of colour variations to choose from (they also have a couple of beautiful copies of Stephan Baumegger's Excaliburr available as well.

So today's blog post is a quick romp through each of them to help you choose.

Tom Pouce

Tom Pouce
This rather simple design by Stéphane Chomine looks like a lovely little block of Purpleheart (in my copy) or Wenge which has been wrapped in a cross (mine is made of Ash). It is quite diminutive at 70 x 70 x 30mm. Initially, only one move seems to be possible and the next move is extremely well camouflaged - it took me another 15 minutes to find the second move. After that, there is a very nice logical sequence to separate the puzzle into 4 beautifully accurately made pieces. It's not hugely tough but is a very nice introduction to interlocking puzzles.

Incredibly accurately cut pieces!
The disassembly is a perfect puzzle for a beginner but an experienced puzzler will enjoy the slightly tougher challenge of reassembling it from scrambled pieces. This happened to me when one of the cats turned over in his sleep and knocked them over - it took me another 20 minutes to reassemble it. A lovely worry bead!


Triad is a clever idea from the very devious mind of Osanori Yamamoto (I now have a huge number of puzzles designed by him). It consists of 3 fairly simple pieces trapped in a cuboidal frame (it measures 60 x 60 x 48mm when assembled). Each of the pieces is a nicely contrasting wood - it is made of an American Walnut frame with Maple, Wenge and Merbau pieces. The interlocked pieces have an L shape appearing at one end and an I shape appearing at the other. With the frame being so open and there being so few pieces, absolutely everything is visible as you move the pieces about. Random moves won’t help you, this needs a plan to disentangle them and take them out.

3 fairly simple pieces - how hard can it be?
For those who like an extra challenge, the reassembly from scratch is definitely possible and a fun challenge. For me, putting it back together was the majority of the fun - make sure you leave it a decent amount of time so that you forget the sequence and it might take you an hour to get it back to the start!

Wing Hanger

Wing Hangar - you will not receive it like this though!
Wing Hangar is a clever idea by Osanori that Jakub and Jaroslav have created in either Purpleheart and Mahogany or Wenge and Mahogany combinations. They measure 72 x 72 x 48mm. There have been a number of designs like this recently and this one is a very nice addition to the family. I first saw a member of this family of puzzles at the Paris IPP when John Rausch was carrying it around with him and challenging anyone who would sit still next to him to assemble the 2 pieces into the cage - I tried it briefly and completely failed - I was determined to get hold of a copy when I could. I was lucky enough to buy a copy of King Box from Tom Lensch earlier this year:

King Box - made by Tom Lensch
My copy from Jakub arrived fully assembled and did not take long to disassemble having played with the others recently. I suggested to Jakub that these should be sent out in pieces with the challenge being to assemble them from scratch. The challenge of working out both orientation and also the nice dance of the pieces is a fun one which all puzzlers would enjoy.

Wing Hangar pieces - this is what you will receive.
The Wing Hangar is a different design to King Box but shares certain features, it is a fun thing for me to assemble both of the puzzles one after the other. You would definitely enjoy this one from Pelikan.

If you are interested here is what King Box looks like when assembled:

King Box finally together - it took me 2 hours!


This startlingly beautiful puzzle is quite small at 50mm along each edge and is available in Purpleheart and Apple or Merbau and Apple. I think it is one of the most gorgeous in the release this time.

It was designed by Klaas Jan Damstra who seems to specialise in producing puzzles with unusual shapes and very elegant solutions. Jakub and Jaroslav have outdone themselves with the construction of this puzzle - it is stunning! This one is the only one that I was not asked for a comment on - Klaas wrote this for them:
Addition is one of a series of designs with a mathematical theme. With three nearly identical pieces in a frame, 13 moves are needed to get the first piece out. As the solution level is 13.2.1 both disassembly and assembly should not be too difficult. Pelikan did a fantastic job on producing this design. Two beautiful versions are available; the first is made of purpleheart and apple tree, the second of merbau and apple tree. I hope you'll find this puzzle fun to play with.
It consists of a beautiful frame filled with what looks like + signs in each face. Opposite pluses are linked together across the centre of the frame. The shapes of the pieces are not quite as one expects and after a couple of moves, you have a pleasant surprise. The solution requires proper visualisation of the pieces and how they interact. Once the shapes are understood, then a very clever elegant wooden disentanglement using linear moves needs to be worked out.

Addition pieces
Having done it the "correct way", you should search for the bonus solution - I have found an elegant rotational solution as well which adds more to the puzzling value. At only €32 this is well worth an "addition" to your collection.


This oddly named puzzle is also designed by Osanori Yamamoto and has been stunningly realised by the guys at Pelikan. Available in 3 different wood combinations (Ovangkol and either Purpleheart, Wenge or Maple), it measures 60mm across each edge. It consists of 4 very similar pieces held in a rather unusually shaped frame. The quality of craftsmanship is so good that at the first viewing of it, I struggled to see where the dividing lines were between the pieces! Starting on the solving process there are quite a lot of different moves possible and finding the next key move proved a huge challenge to me. You cannot see much inside and I spent 2 evenings desperately hunting for this key move. Eventually, I found it and the rest of the disassembly was fun and logical.

YyYy pieces - very confusing if you lose track of orientation
Reassembly from scratch is a huge challenge if, like me, you inadvertently get sidetracked and forget how the pieces were oriented in the puzzle. A great challenge!


Teetotum, designed by the incredibly talented Alfons Eyckmans, is, in my opinion, the most difficult and also the most beautiful from this release by Pelikan. At the time of writing this blog post, the description on the product page is blank as I was not able to write a review as quickly as the others because solving it took me several days - it is a seriously difficult puzzle! This puzzle is made from Pink Oak, Wenge and Padauk and the use of slipfeathers is always going to make me drool. It measures 84mm along each axis.

Alfons' original
I already had a copy of this sitting in my pile next to my armchair in the living room - this had been a nice gift from Alfons himself several months ago and I had failed to solve it and put it down in my "to be worked on" pile. Getting a new copy from Jakub with a deadline to write a review forced me to work on it again.

A mixture of plates and sticks, this puzzle requires 27 moves for the first piece removal and there are plenty of blind ends to get you lost. At several points, the puzzle seems on the verge of releasing a piece but it just won't go. I needed to backtrack many many times with this puzzle. There is only one solution for the puzzle as it is sent out (although it can be reassembled in another 24 ways according to Burrtools which I needed for the reassembly).  I could find no rotational shortcuts for this puzzle at all. This puzzle is not for beginners but is certainly perfect for any burr aficionado or collector. It will look lovely in your collection.

This is a serious puzzle and not really for beginners to burrs - it took me 3 days of play to get it apart and I suspect a good bit of luck played a part. I think it is doable by anyone with some skill at burrs, however.

Teetotum pieces - putting it together will require Burrtools!

The latest batch of puzzles from the New Pelikan Workshop are stunning and will certainly keep you interested and having fun for a while. Only one of them should be rated for experts only (Teetotum) and the rest are very solvable by beginners too. They will all look great in your shelf and are very reasonably priced. Go buy whilst they last!

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Packing In Them Puzzles!

Pin Block Case
Just a short post today - I have had a calamity aka explosion with a twisty puzzle and have completely frazzled my nerves trying to reassemble the damn thing whilst a cat keeps jumping on my lap and playing with the pieces! After an hour of working on it, I am almost incoherent with exasperation.

Last year I missed out on the Pin Block Case which Eric had made in rather exotic woods but was very pleased to see that he was bringing it back as an Artisan puzzle and that it would be in stock for a long time now. The new version is made of less precious woods but is far from a mundane puzzle. It is made from Maple and Walnut and has all the hallmarks of Eric's wonderful workmanship. The joints are perfect and all the chamfering makes the box lovely to pick up and hold. I picked this up at the same time as a few other toys and had a little play straight away.

The quality is quickly revealed when you let 2 of the walnut pieces sink into the back of the case and it slowly glides into place as the air is displaced from behind them. There is something really quite magical about that aspect of these puzzles. I showed just that to a couple of orthopaedic colleagues and they really appreciated the precision. The initial exploration quickly reveals that 3 of the 4 identical pinned blocks can easily fit into the case and the 4th usually seems to end up unable to sink in place:

Not quite right!
This puzzle requires a bit of thought - there is no point in trying to pack the pieces inside as one would a conventional packing puzzle. This requires thought and planning. Even though I am not good at the t-word I did not really struggle too much. About 10 minutes was all that I required to produce a rather attractive photo:

Brilliantly clever and perfect for non-puzzlers
Poor David!
I love these packing type puzzles that don't have too many pieces - they are perfect for beginners/non-puzzlers and experts alike. Of course, I took this to work to torture a few people. David, a regular ODP (anaesthetic assistant) of mine, is a regular victim for me and I am starting to worry whether working with me is good for his health. He seems to start to tremble whenever he sees me! I gave him this whilst I was doing a short(ish) case and he took it away for over an hour and failed to solve it despite me taunting him every 15 minutes or so. At the end of the theatre list, I took it away with him muttering to himself and promising never to work with me again. Needless to say, he doesn't get much say in the matter and I tortured him again a week later and after failing that I did it yet again last Friday. This time after telling him not to try the same thing again and again, he suddenly came back to see me with a very smug look on his face. Yep! Perfect for non-puzzlers. A couple of the girls in the operating theatre wanted to play - they all failed over a 20 minute period but seemed to delight in it.

Don't dismiss the Artisan puzzles, they are made just as beautifully as the signature puzzles but just more pedestrian woods. Well worth adding to your collection.

Pack 3
Pack 3 is one that I couldn't resist from Eric's latest update - I am rubbish at packing puzzles but with just 3 pieces even I should be able to manage it! It is a design by Osanori Yamamoto and stunningly beautifully made by Eric in Walnut and Tamerand (I cannot find this wood anywhere in a wood database and suspect it is a typo - it looks like Spalted Maple. The diagonal cut roof piece on the box really adds to the difficulty.  Within a minute or two, I yelped with success and rocked pack thinking that it was far too easy:

Is that good?
I went back to the description and read the description:
"The trivial solution puts the pieces in the box, while the tricky and intended solution is to put the pieces in as an apparent 3x3x2 with no holes showing from the opening.
Ah! The big hole at the top was not allowed then. Try again, and again, and again! Nope! It was not happening. I took it to the MPP and plenty of other people played and struggled and as far as I remember no-one solved it there which made me feel much better. I worked on it on and off for a couple of weeks with ever-increasing frustration. I even remembered that Osanori is a master of puzzles that require rotations and attempted that in my process. Eric has made the tolerances far too perfect and there is no way for a rotation to occur - back to the drawing board!

Finally, after 3 weeks I had my breakthrough. There are quite a few steps to this and the Aha! moment is beautiful. Even doing it a second time for my photograph stumped me for a bit - the design is made to make you think the wrong way. Another stunning design by Yamamoto-san. The solved state is hidden behind the show/hide button.

They are sold out now but if you see one of these come up at an auction then go for it - it's a wonderful puzzle with just the right difficulty level.

I Even Had Time For A Twisty...or Two

Grigorusha Pentagon
All the faces turn 180º
I couldn't resist the Pentagon that I had received as a gift. It has been 3D printed at iMaterialise and is made from sintered nylon. The turning is fairly good for this type of puzzle although if it is not gripped correctly then the corner pieces can pop off. Luckily they are easy to put back. It only takes a few minutes to scramble and looks just as lovely like that:

It cannot be that hard!
The solve process is very straight-forward. There are no algorithms to learn and it just requires a bit of intuitive thought. 1 in 2 solves I seem to have a "parity" where there are 2 pieces that are 180º rotated and in the wrong place. Again, this is a straight-forward fix after just a bit of thought! These are available from Evgeniy's Etsy page if you want one.

Grigorusha Slim Pyraminx
One face turned plus a trivial tip turned
There is even less to this puzzle but it does have a nice challenge to it. I have solved it a few times and have to admit that I cannot quite fathom a foolproof method to the solution. I find that I get to what I think will be the end and there are 2 pieces reversed. This requires a fair bit of fiddling and Bam! it is solved.

Scrambled doesn't look that different to just turned a couple of times.
Don't be fooled! It is still tough.
This coming week, I have my last bit of annual leave for the year and might have to tell Mrs S that I am expecting a few more deliveries - Whack! Ouch! it would appear that she knows! It's coming up to the festive season so I will be needing more toys, won't I?

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Variants Revisited

I know many of you will recognise these pieces immediately - Hectix original
Mrs S has begun to mutter again about the number of puzzles lying around the house and seems to have developed a murderous look in her eye periodically. That terrible feeling of fear I get from her violent tendencies used to be limited to when she booted me in a kidney at night for snoring my head off. She always calmed my fears by asking whether I had to "breathe like that?" More recently, the feeling of incipient termination has worsened now that she has taken to booting me and asking me when I wake with a start, whether I "had to breathe?" After 28 years as a doctor, I am fairly certain that breathing is not optional and, despite her telling me I am just a vegetable, that I cannot photosynthesise.

Over the last week or so a number of additions to the collection have arrived and I have not had any time to put them into the crap heap which my study has become...again! Occasionally she hears me exclaim after my Aha! moments that one or other puzzle solves just like another. The murderous look reappears and she asks "why have you bought it then?" to which I have to reply that I could not tell until I solved it! She has also continued to ask me why I don't go back and solve my ever-increasing backlog of unsolved puzzles. I don't have a Louis like Allard has to solve all of his puzzles and so have to keep putting them down and returning later. The theme of today's article is on revisiting puzzles voluntarily or inadvertently:

Last week I was contacted by my friend Rob Stegman - he knew that I had been wanting a copy of the original Hectix or Hexsticks puzzle. A cheap Japanese copy had come up for sale on eBay and I jumped at the chance. I did not expect much for the price but was pleasantly surprised when it arrived quickly in a rather small box in the disassembled state and was much better quality than expected.

The 2 versions of the original 3M productions of the Hexsticks puzzle produced in 1970

I already had 2 copies of this puzzle in my collection given to me by a very very good friend and which I have not dared to disassemble partly for fear that over the last 48 years, the plastic might have become brittle and also because if I took them apart I suspected that reassembly might prove impossible - you all know that I am rubbish at assembly puzzles.

The Hectix/Hexsticks puzzle was discovered independently by both Stewart Coffin and Bill Cutler in around 1968 and Stewart patented it in 1973 (You can download the patent here). I have had these 2 plastic puzzles sitting within arms reach and never done more than admire them and be pleased that I had a nice piece of puzzling history.

When this arrived and I had reassured myself that Mrs S was not going to burn either it or me, I set to trying to put it together. As you can see it consists of 9 identical pieces and then 3 more with an additional notch. There was an obvious way to start and I got to the point of having 8 pieces in and 4 more to go. The next piece always proved impossible. Mrs S refused to lend me an extra hand and the cat didn't have the dexterity! Every time I attempted that final piece it would start to collapse and quickly became unsalvageable before dropping on the aforementioned cat who was less than impressed. This ridiculous state of affairs continued for several evenings and eventually the swearing got too much for Mrs S - she forced me to leave it alone for a while. Today it was photo taking time and I was determined to get it done for the blog. An hour of effing and blinding gave me a wonderful Aha! moment and I realised I had been going about it all wrong. Apparently, according to Jim Storer's site, there are 3 solutions - I will be going back to them to see why I had so much trouble.

Assembled - it only took me 5 days!
Now I am very happy to have 3 copies of this lovely puzzle. If you see either a plastic or a wooden one up for sale then don't hesitate, it is perfect for any puzzler.

I do have a copy of the Hectix revisited which I wrote about here and the Improved Hexsticks (from Bernhard Schweitzer) which I wrote about here. Maybe I should try them again?

and I am really not sure when I am ever going to dismantle this monster:

Hexagonal Porcupine

Another Unexpected Puzzle Revisit

At the last MPP, Louis had brought me a few puzzles from Wil's stock to go through and buy if I wanted. There were a couple of extra wire puzzles from Jan Sturm and I took all that I didn't already have. The Sailboat looks remarkably familiar but also has some changes. It looks very similar to the classic Ball and chain puzzle which catches me by surprise every time I attempt it. It requires a very particular sequence of moves and if they are not done right then the puzzle gets very very knotted. You can see the similarity but also the subtle changes. I took this to work to show off and my ODP/anaesthetic assistant grabbed it whilst I was busy checking on the blood cell salvage machine during a case. She managed to get it knotted within just 60 seconds and my heart leapt into my throat! Rule number one - DON'T give a string puzzle to a newbie! I was delighted that I had not lost my touch on this type of puzzle - after I had grabbed it back I managed to undo her knot and then solve it too - all in just 5 minutes! Phew!

It's a very nice version of the classic - worth adding to the collection

...And Another!

Snail-U-String - not the name from JCC. I don't know what it is supposed to be called.
A few months ago I received a batch of Jean-Claude Constantin's wire (and string) from Wil and had been failing dismally. Again after the MPP, I had gone back to a few for a fresh look. The addition of the U pieces to many of his latest puzzles really makes a huge difference to the complexity of the puzzle. It is almost like adding a Möbius strip to a puzzle. Eventually, after months of getting no-where, I had a little thought© which is a very alien phenomenon for me. There was a small hint of a similarity to the simply brilliant Russian Heart and Aaron's Möbius ring that I had reviewed here. Both of those puzzles have a common idea and as you can see they share a feature with the Snail-U-String above. The new features still make a difference but after another few nights of exploration my Aha! moment was complete and I had my 3 pieces:

I hope to God that I can get it back together!
It took me another evening to reassemble the damn thing but can definitely say that if you enjoyed the Russian Heart then get this one too. If you don't have either then go and get both I am sure that Tomas will be able to provide the Russian Heart for you.

I also received a few new ones as a gift from my friend Terry - I am most grateful and pleased that Mrs S didn't mind when I told her that I hadn't paid for them! They will be shown on my New Additions page soon. Don't tell Mrs S but there might be some more puzzles coming very soon! Whack! Ouch! too late!


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