Sunday, 22 May 2022

Cast Cyclone

Yes, it's another Hanayama review! I have felt a little guilty over the last year or so because I have focussed a lot of my attention on craftsman made puzzles and this might have excluded a number of puzzlers because this is a rather expensive hobby and not everyone has the ability to spend hundreds or even thousands of pounds/euros/dollars/AUD on toys. I am well aware that I am in a very privileged position and am trying to make up for it a little by reviewing at least a few more reasonably priced puzzles for you. The Hanayama cast puzzles are probably the greatest example of a quality item available for a small price. Over the last 11 years I have managed to buy almost all of them and do try to keep up with the recent releases - this is me catching up.

The Cast Cyclone is a level 5 on Hanayama's 6 point scale and I think they got it just right - this is a proper tough puzzle but definitely solvable if you fiddle, look and think©. Designed by Kyoo Wong, this looks gorgeous with 4 interlocking rings that have single gaps at one point on their circumference. One ring is a gold colour and the others are shiny chrome. All four interlock with each of the others. This, along with the sheer width of the ring means that movement of the individual pieces is really quite restricted. If you look carefully at them then you can spot some obvious differences between them (2 are labelled Cyclone and 2 have Hanayama engraved on them) - I would advise you to really look closely because the subtle differences will make all the difference between success and failure.

This is a disentanglement puzzle and will require planning to dismantle. Looking at the gaps in the rings, it is clear that these need to be aligned to allow individual rings to slide off each other but the bulks ends at the gaps prevent them from reaching the appropriate position easily. It also becomes quickly obvious that these may not align at 90ΒΊ to each other when they slide. I began playing with this one about 2 weeks ago and had to be careful because it is pretty jingly and might cause upset in the Sadler household. For 2 weeks I got absolutely nowhere. I knew roughly what I wanted to achieve as my first move but I could not work out which combination of pieces and orientations would actually achieve it. This impasse pretty much lasted the whole two weeks until suddenly I did something ever so slightly different and a sliding move started to occur. I had no idea what I had done differently so I backtracked and undid that critical move. Of course! I couldn't do it again! I spent another 3 days before that move worked again. At least, I did not waste any time trying it with the wrong pieces - that first move requires extremely precise positioning and having done it a second time, I was careful to watch it and still cannot manage to reproduce it regularly. That sort of exact placement is exactly why Hanayama make such perfect puzzles.

That initial slide move was very exciting for all of about 5 or 6mm! The pieces slid along each other and stopped dead - they would not separate due to being blocked by the rings of the other pieces. Now what? At this point there is an obvious feature that you are desperate to utilise and the obvious sequence is started and gets you... nowhere! I got stuck here for a while and eventually realised that the next move was being done correctly but needed a tiny tiny bit of force. This is the only negative feature of this puzzle - I personally think that you should never ever need to use any force as it leaves a puzzler questioning whether they have done it correctly and may prevent them ever finding the solution if they are not willing to use that force. This is not the first time that a Hanayama has needed force - the Cast Helix which I reviewed way back in 2013 here had a similar requirement and I was quite critical of that one for the same reason. For an experienced puzzler or a collector then the Helix and the Cyclone are good puzzles to continue challenging yourself but a novice stands a high chance of getting stuck.

Having realised what was required, I was well on my way and the remainder of the disentanglement continued with only a little interruption for thinking© and I quickly had my 4 pieces laid out for the photo.

That was quite fun and took me much longer than expected
At this point, my hands were a little sore so I left the puzzle for a few days which was probably rather foolish. I am well known for not being very bright and I have proved it here - I cannot reassemble the puzzle - I had not paid attention to the orientation of all the pieces as I separated them and now the reassembly seems to get stuck no matter what I do. It is not the force move - I get to a point where that looks like the next thing to do but there is no way that is happening - it would require a LOT of force which is not right.

This is definitely a nice puzzle for the experienced puzzler but probably not a good idea for kids or novices. I reckon all the readers of this blog (all 10 of you!) should be perfectly able to solve this one.

Next week, I will be back to craftsman puzzles! I have received the upcoming batch of Pelikan puzzles and am going to have to work on these as fast as I can for a week. wish me luck! See the New additions page for a quick preview photo.

Sunday, 15 May 2022

Cast Valve - I Think They Need to Speak To Derek

Cast valve - level 4/6
Cast valve - Damn, these things are hard to photograph!
Last week I started with my return to the Hanayama Cast puzzles/Huzzles with the pretty easy (level 3) Cast Dice. I have not had much time for puzzling this week apart from continuing with those nice pocketable puzzles and working my way up the difficulty levels. I unfortunately have to report that my Cast Snow remains in a locked up position with only a tiny amount of wiggling possible. 

The Cast Valve seems rather oddly named - I work with several different types of valves in ventilators and obviously have valves for my car tyres and none of them look like the shape of this puzzle but, to be honest, I cannot think of anything better to name this one. It was designed by Vesa Timonen who has been extremely prolific over the years and has had nine other Hanayama puzzles produced as well as several others over the years. His designs are always fun and usually just the right level of difficulty to challenge you without putting you off. Hanayama has rated it as level 4 out of 6 and PuzzleMaster as level 8 (in their silly 5 - 10 scale).

The puzzle here is a rather attractive hexagonal shape with a frame into which there are three further pieces inserted. It is 4.5 x 4.2 x 1.6cm in size and made from a yellow brass-like metal frame and matching colour centre piece and two shiny silver semicircular pieces that fit between them. The aim is to dismantle the puzzle and then put it back together by navigating the interior moving maze formed by the pieces. Now, the master of this sort of puzzle is the genius himself, Derek Bosch, the designer of the original (and many subsequent) helical burrs which I have gone completely bananas over on this blog. Having solved this puzzle by Vesa, it reminds me of the very first of Derek's designs, the Tubular burr which is effectively a stick burr in a frame but with circular pieces that can rotate around and through each other. The Cast Valve is just like this.

My early fiddling showed a fairly constrained bit of movement as the pieces lock and unlock each other. I realised early on that I would probably need to take notes to keep track of the moves that I try so that I don't go around in circles (literally as well as figuratively) - I sort of needed to make up my own notation for it. Within about 10 minutes, I had made great progress and the pieces were rotating and rising and falling within the frame nicely. Great I thunk, I'll have this done in no time and have one in the bag for the blog. Except, I felt I had made reasonable progress and could not advance any further. I must have missed an exit of the maze pathway somewhere so time to backtrack and trace it out with pressure on different bits to try and find the hidden path. It's a fiddly bugger when you try and do that - just a bit too small to allow you to do this with ease. After an evening of playing and swearing (I seem to do that a lot!) I realised what was going on - yes, it is just like any other burr in that it has blind pathways that lead you the wrong way. Yes, of course, my first exploration had taken me completely in the wrong direction.

Having realised my error I made pretty good progress again until I reached a point where I was almost able to remove a piece but not quite. Here again I got stuck for a while. The tolerances on these are very very tight. Things need to be lined up just right to let you progress at certain points. After a couple of days I had managed this:

Not a spoiler - you cannot possibly see enough to work it out.
I put the pieces aside for a few hours before attempting the reassembly. I have to say that this would be a huge struggle if I had not spent so much time going back and forth on the disassembly. I had enough muscle memory that I was able to reassemble it with only a short period of getting lost. The level of 4/6 is just about right in my opinion.

This is a nice little puzzle which I enjoyed a lot. What it did reinforce to me was that Derek's helical type burrs would be fabulous made as a cast puzzle (the original would be a perfect difficulty level) - I am sure that Steve and Ali have looked into making one out of brass but they would be hellishly tough to mill - it would be perfect to cast. Please Hanayama, have a little chat with our friendly genius!

Sunday, 8 May 2022

Cast Dice - A Fiddly Little Bugger

Cast Dice
It says level 3
Over the last year, I have watched on Facebook as various puzzlers show off the latest of the Hanayama cast puzzles/Huzzles. I watched with interest but never seemed to get around to buying them and by now I think 5 or 6 have been released and I am way behind. I can only blame the pandemic as I just never seemed to find the time. At the end of last week, I suddenly got the motivation to ask my usual Hanayama supplier (Nic Picot in the UK runs the Hanayama puzzles UK site and I usually buy from him due to the ease of having him in the same country as me. If you are in North America then I can recommend PuzzleMaster or if in Europe then either my friend Hendrik or Tomas and of course in Australasia then you cannot beat Brian and Sue Young. All are personal friends and are very trustworthy suppliers.

I asked Nic about the most recent ones and he had all apart from Cast Planet in stock and I placed an order for what he had - they arrived 3 days later much to the disgust of Mrs S who is thinking about where they are going to be stored and also about how jingly they will be whilst we watch TV. A couple of days later Nic told me that Cast Planet will be in stock shortly and it is currently in my porch waiting for me to open the post. Yay!

Part of my motivation for buying these is that they are almost invariably really fun challenging puzzles which are beautifully made and also because I need something lightweight to work on for a bit. My work life seems to be out of control and I struggle to find time for any serious puzzling - Mrs S has actually complained that I am hardly ever home which I am surprised about as I thought that would be a good thing for her. She only shouts at me for being in the way when I am at home! 😱

Of course, thinking that these may be a bit of puzzling light relief may be a bit silly - the Cast Hourglass  has been sitting on the desk next to me for 2 years in a position where I cannot seem to go forward or back! But at least I may have a little light relief with the easier ones here.

I started initially fiddling with the level 2 cast snow and after 2 evenings of exploration have to shamefacedly admit that after a little click occurred with a simple movement, it is completely locked up with only a little wiggling possible, I must have forced a move with minimal force and gotten it locked up. Hopefully, a pair of pliers will help me reverse my predicament.

Having failed so spectacularly on Cast Snow, I picked up the rather attractive Cast Dice puzzle. This 3cm cubed challenge was designed by Timothy Collins (a name I have never come across before) and has been beautifully made with a grey anodised holed cubic frame into which have been fitted 3 eccentric cotton reel like pieces. The three pieces all overlap inside the frame so they do not drop out. The aim is to remove them and then, of course, put them back. It has been rated as level 3 on the Hanayama scale of 1 to 6 and by PuzzleMaster as Level 7 (in their 5 to 10 scale). I really did not expect much of a challenge which would be a nice refreshing change (but then I did not expect the Snow to get into an uncorrectable position).

Yesterday morning after breakfast, I had a little time before chores would be expected of me and I picked it up and had a fiddle. It is pleasantly tactile but could do with being a little bit bigger to make it easier to control the pieces. All the offset cotton reels appear to be rotated to about 45ΒΊ and this made me think about possibilities. After a bit of fiddling and within about 5 minutes I had a plan in my empty head.  After some further fiddling, I was able to remove a piece without losing the position of the remaining ones. I put it back quickly and reset it to ensure that I knew the approach.

The second time I attempted that same move it would not work. Was I oriented wrong? I wasn't sure but carried on trying the same thing a few times and suddenly a pair of pieces fell out. Well, that was unexpected - there seem to be two possible dismantling methods. I took the obligatory photo for my album and the blog:

Clever idea - now to reassemble
The photo above is not a spoiler as it is on the packaging of the puzzle. Having taken my photos, it was time to put it back together and here is where the title of the post comes from. I could not remember either of the positions that I had when the puzzle came apart but figured that I could work it out fairly easily. But, when it actually came to doing it, I really struggled - I could get 2 of the 3 pieces in and interlocked but the third would not engage properly. This took me an extra 15 minutes of swearing (luckily not whilst watching TV with Mrs S) before it went back together. Phew!

Even now, a day later, I am sitting with the bloody thing half-assembled next to rebut not quite slipping into place. It might be a little bit easier if it was an extra cm inside across each access. This inability to put it back together definitely earns it the difficulty level 3 grading as the disassembly is pretty simple. I think it will take me several more attempts before I have it properly worked out.

Definitely worth adding to your collection.

Sunday, 1 May 2022

This Alien Caused Me Months of Anguish

Visitor Q+ from Frederic
ResQ by Eric
Many months ago I missed out on managing to buy the ResQ sequential discovery puzzle from Eric's Cubic Dissection and bemoaned the fact on line afterwards (the puzzle was sold out of my basket whilst I logged into PayPal. It had been a big hit amongst the puzzle community (reviewed by Ken and it's predecessor Visitor Q by Brent). I was flabbergasted shortly afterwards when a wonderful friend and all-round generous chap (thank you Andrew) offered me a copy of the ResQ on loan so that I would not miss out and so that I could write a review and then I was truly delighted when Frederic Boucher contacted me afterwards to offer me one last copy of the Visitor Q puzzle to make up for it and then telling me that he had added an extra step to my copy to make it special. 

I was staggered when a package arrived with a whole bunch of puzzles which I am still working my way through. I have said to Frederic that I do not understand how his mind works - he has designed things that I can barely understand let alone create myself. There is one particular packing puzzle that I am completely stumped on despite trying to solve since October. Both the ResQ and the Visitor Q+ has been sitting in my rather upsetting pile 'o puzzles to solve for a while being picked up every few days or weeks and not getting anywhere.

I literally was unable to do even the first move. I was aware from the instructions on Eric's site that there were tools to be found and used during the solution and I sort of understood that this would also be the case with Frederic's version. Frederic had said:

Unlock the Vortex? How? Eric also mentioned the Vortex being unlocked. But nothing moved! In the ResQ there was one obvious thing that could be done and I think I did that straight away - I had released the Alien from his "psychic prison" but this isn't really help and putting it back in place was a fiddly bugger when you have middle aged man eyes like me and a cat stretched out on your lap much of the puzzling time - in the end I stole a tupperware container from the kitchen and stored the tool in that whilst I thunk©. I assumed that I had a tool but didn't know how to use it/them. But I did not have a tool for Visitor Q+ - what was going on. Yes, it was time to think© and, as you know, I am rubbish at that. I tried it for months with no success. Eventually, I looked at the two puzzles side by side and wondered what I could do with what I had on each and how that would/could be similar.


I had a breakthrough late last week. Why had I not thought of that before? Well, I can answer that with the fact that I had completely ignored something with Visitor Q+ and had been frightened of scratching/damaging the ResQ wood. Stupid of me but finally I had found a way to make the first move and it had opened up a whole lot of puzzling for me. There was a whole lot of movement possible. I had to work quite hard to prevent rotations as they are specifically not allowed in the first part. The spaceship was found and it had to be manoeuvred through the vortex until it could  come out. This should have been the easiest part of the puzzle but I still struggled (I was happily doing both ResQ and Visitor Q+ simultaneously - yes, a very privileged position). For some reason, it took me a couple of days to release the spaceship (and with Visitor Q+ the Alien)
After this, I decided to concentrate on Visitor Q+ because there was less to do and I very much doubted my ability to simultaneously solve them now. I had to find a gift in the vortex - certainly nothing had been obvious during my early explorations. I guessed it must be something that would only be possible after the removal of the spaceship. It is quite interesting to see what is now possible with that rather significant cylindrical piece removed - there were a LOT of possible moves available to me and I had to be very careful not to get lost or force anything for fear of being unable to reset the puzzle. 

I found the gift quite by accident - actually my sleeping furry boy found it as it dropped on his head during my solving. It didn't wake him up and nearly gave me a heart attack as a small piece fell down the side of my armchair to be lost somewhere in the folds of fabric. Much swearing later and laughter from Mrs S and I retrieved my precious metal gift. My special copy of Visitor Q+ (the cause for the plus) had the extra step of finding the lost star inside the vortex. I spent another day moving all the parts of the vortex around (again being careful not to get lost) before noticing some "star-sign" and a few minutes later my puzzle was solved:

What a space odyssey!
Alien and spaceship freed from the vortex, a gold gift and the missing star.
This is simply wonderful - a brilliant gift from a brilliant friend - I cannot believe he created an extra step just for me - solving this has made my day/week/month/year and I am certain that this will end up in my top ten at the end of the year. Thank you so much Frederic, I will treasure it.

So, what about ResQ? Time to move on to solving that. There were going to be a good few more steps and they were going to be different. I realised that straight away because the move that had released the gift from Frederic's version did nothing for this one. Eric also had some different instructions:
1. Free the Visitor from his Psychic Prison
2. Unlock the vortex
3. Retrieve the Spaceship without using rotations (to avoid making the vortex even more unstable)
4. Navigate the vortex and retrieve the spaceship parts:
    -The thick and thin Antenna Assemblies
    -The silver Fuel Disk
    -The gold Reactor Orb
    -The six-orb Navigation AI Module
OK! Now what? I tried a lot of the movements that I had been using before and whilst it did not drop anything onto me or the cat, it did show me that there were going to be quite a lot of tools to find and use in various creative ways. This was fun, a LOT of fun but also very frustrating. The vortex was very unstable and pieces wanted to turn and move and drop into holes all the time making control quite awkward. Gradually, I found some pieces and then had to hunt for where to use them. At times these tools needed to be combined and this made for even more fun. I was on a roll!! Until I wasn't anymore.

I had found the Antenna assemblies, eventually found the silver fuel disk (that took me quite some time to realise what it was having seen it inside and not realised it was something I needed) and then the gold reactor orb. The navigation module was a problem. I could see where it was going to be, I had worked out how to combine my tools to get the compartment open and it wouldn't work! Bugger!!!!

Yes, my roll hit a brick wall. I knew I was on the right track but my combined tool could not reach to open the compartment. Now what? It was obvious...I had to move the compartment to where it would work. Yeah! Really obvious. But where? There were several possibilities and I spent several days trying to get things in place. No luck.

I should also mention that during all this manoeuvring I frequently got all my vortex pieces into positions where I could not back out - I wasn't taking notes, I was just moving pieces around (this included some fairly complex rotations) and I could not keep track of what I was doing. At several points there was a little chest pain and some swearing whilst I desperately tried to backtrack. In the end, I got really quite good at moving around the vortex into lots of different positions. I had noticed something in the puzzle which I was sure could not be a coincidence. Eric NEVER does anything without a good reason! I tried to use what I found but it was not helpful. After quite a few hours stuck at this position I asked for help. Allard was absolutely no help at all apart from telling me it was a bugger to reset (I think he had no recollection of the solution). I then asked Goetz for a hint and he reminded me of what I knew already but emphasised the feature I had found. Most importantly, he suggested that I get a light source to look inside at what I found.

%£$k!!! Eric is a sneaky bastard! I had been right all along but the positioning was off centre and I had not been doing it right for days! As soon as I had seen this, I was able to carry out the appropriate manoeuvre after a long sequence through the vortex first and I retrieved my AI module:

My goodness what an effort went into this!
Time for some photos. Time to reset both the puzzles and write my blog post! Yay!

Except...I cannot remember where all the parts of the ResQ actually belong! I am currently left with a couple of pieces left outside the puzzle and no idea where they belong! Aaaargh! I really hope that I can work it out as it would be really really embarrassing to return it to Andrew with a piece out of place!

So what do I think? These two puzzles are some of the very best I have ever played with! Visitor Q is a wonderful experience and I am delighted to have a personalised copy. Then Eric has taken the idea and run with it out into the galaxy. It is simply incredible! I am very unhappy that I did not manage to purchase a copy for myself but am so so grateful to Andrew for lending me his copy (thank you mate) - I will return it once I have put it back together. The two of these puzzles will be pretty high in my top ten this year. If you get a chance to buy the ResQ then jump at it - you will love it!

Sunday, 24 April 2022

The Burr Bot Took His Gold to the Burr Bank

Burr Bank by Andrew Crowell
I have been home alone for a week whilst "she who must be flinched from" has been oop north visiting the outlaws. You might think that this would be fabulous as I could slob about, eat crap, watch a lot of action movies on the TV and play with my toys! Unfortunately, I still had to work and I had been left a list of chores to do and had to look after a disturbed cat. I am far to frightened of her to leave the place in a filthy state for when she came home so the cleaning etc still had to be done. I did manage to find a little time for some action movies (Dune was a little slow) but I always appreciate a film with Milla Jovovich in it. The puzzling was really rather good as you will read below.

Two weeks ago I wrote about Andrew Crowell's Burr Bot and I absolutely loved it! Unfortunately it is not available any more as Andrew has shifted his attention to the next puzzle in the sequence, the Burr Bank. As far as I can tell, it is not yet available for general sale and my copy is an advance one prior to him making them more widely available. I do not know how many of them will be made because this is a tour de force - Many people seem to think that 3D printed puzzles are easy to make, you just set the machine to go and the puzzle comes out the other end. I know for certain that this is not the case - the design has to be perfected which may necessitate multiple reprinting, the machine settings need to be just right, the finish and infill need to be perfect and, in the case of these, lots of magnets need to be glued in place. The thought and work that has gone into this creation is staggering.

There are no real spoilers here but I have hidden several of the other photos behind spoiler buttons - don't click if you don't want to see.

Just like with Burr Bot, the aim is to open it up and find the hidden treasure inside - in this case it will be gold. Comparing it to the prior creation, this one is obviously significantly more complex. There is the usual four horizontal burr sticks (which I assumed were different form the predecessor) and also the vertical one that interacts with them. Except this time, the vertical one is trapped by a lid with a hole in it. Interesting to see but nothing moves apart from the horizontal sticks so off I go to see what is possible. Just like before, there are quite a few movement possibilities and I was worried that I would get lost (this is always my perpetual fear when playing with complex burr puzzles - I have one of Alfon's puzzles trapped in a halfway position which I cannot get out of).

I needn't have worried, the movements are not so many that I could not keep track. I made a particularly interesting discovery and was able to do it repeatedly and was happy to proceed with the next step. I was able to remove the top panel:

At this point I got a bit overconfident - remembering what had been done with Burr Bot, I attempted to do the same thing...again and again and again! 

Of course, I was too stupid to realise that Mr Crowell was not going to make it easy for me. I got stuck at this point for a couple of days - what I wanted to do just wasn't going to happen and I was too thick to stop and try something else. Eventually, I got fed up with failing and looked properly at what I had and what I could do. There was something obvious to try that I hadn't thought of (did I say already that I am not terribly bright?) and once I thunk it then I had something else to try as a result. 

This is fantastic! I really felt like I had achieved something and still had a long way to go. Looking at the lid and base was no help. There was obviously stuff to be done with them but I couldn't see how it was possible.

Maybe if I went back to what I had been trying and failing at before? Well that was clever - now my impossible aim seemed to be achievable.

Having done the puzzle multiple times now, I have come to realise that Andre has done something rather unexpected with the puzzle sequence. I can't tell you what it is but if you get a copy for yourself and play a few times then you will notice something special about the sequences that are needed. It is an added bonus that made me grin for quite some time.

Once I had feed a fair number of parts of the puzzle and looking at what I had, there seemed to be something obvious that I needed to do. I mean, really really obvious! So I did that obvious thing multiple times without anything happening. Yes, stuck again! At this point it was time for me to think© yet again. I am not good at think©ing and having to do it multiple times during one puzzle solve was pretty painful but quite enjoyable - everything that you need is there in front of you but despite being in plain sight, is not obvious. I noticed something special about one of the pieces and realised that was going to be useful. Also, at one point I did wonder to myself, why do I have two of those when previously I had achieved my procedure using just one of them? (No I can't show them to you) and then the reason hit me in the face. I had to use both of them (it was not because one was spare). 

I tried something doing something for a third time and this time it was useful:

That shark gets everywhere!
The rear of the coin - a ?
Having found the money, I was all flushed with success. Solved a puzzle in time for the blog post this week except...why was the a ? on the back of the money? I also had a nagging thought that maybe it was not the end result that was intended. The pieces that I had did look like there was another area to explore and the instructions (which I had not read since I took the photo a few weeks ago) were clear that the "cantankerous fellow" had hidden gold in the bank. The coin I had found was definitely not gold in colour. Time to think© yet again and maybe find some other tool and way to open the final compartment. It didn't take me much longer but the Aha! moment was wonderful - I had plundered the plastic gold:

What an incredible puzzle! There are multiple facets to it with tools to discover and work out how to use. Some parts have wonderful moments of realisation to them only after doing them a few times. Every single corner, plane, flange and magnet has been carefully designed into the puzzling process. Andrew has taken what he learned from Burr Bot and taken every aspect a step or two further. I adore my wooden puzzles but this is something I will treasure for a very long time - despite being plastic, it is still beautiful and is one of the best puzzles that I own. It will be a major contender for puzzle of the year 2022. Thank you, my friend!

Wil Tricks Me!

Aus dem Effeff
Recently I made a rather special purchase from Wil Strijbos and was delighted when there was a little extra gift in the very well taped box. The Aus den EffEff puzzle is a "simple" packing puzzle. A complex shaped hole in the frame in which there are a bunch of Eff's (10 of them). They are dual sided being white on one side and a really vibrant red (presumably Padauk) on the reverse. The instructions are total them out and place all the pieces in place red side up. As you all know, I am terrible at this sort of puzzle but there is something compulsive about it - the pieces fit together nicely and it is strangely therapeutic placing them in the frame so that they lock together. At least it is for the first week!!! 

I have spent quite a few hours idly trying to put this together and was beginning to wonder whether this was one of those impossible puzzles that I have been a victim of before. I always would get extremely close and yet there was always one voxel in the wrong place:

Almost there but almost is not good enough!
I've been having a little email conversation with the great Michel van Ipenburg recently and he asked how I was getting on. After admitting my total failure he offered a clue - literally an emphasis on a single word did it for me. The solution was obvious if I had tried to actually think© about it but that is not my strong point and it took a little nudge. The aha! moment is delicious and I finally managed to pack the puzzle properly. Wonderful challenge as well!

Sunday, 17 April 2022

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed...

And now I'm Blue!

My table of toys - some have been here months or even years!
Much to the chagrin of Mrs S, my puzzle arrivals keep on coming and I haven't had time to put any away in ages - they are EVERYWHERE! I have quite a lot that I haven't managed to solve or haven't managed to even play with yet. Some of my most longstanding puzzles that are suitable to be left somewhere warm and which are suitable to dip into periodically are left on a side table in our conservatory. I find that at weekends, after the obligatory exercise on the rower (if I get fat, she will chuck me out! 😱), I tend to sit on the sofa next to these puzzles and pick up something to idly fiddle with. Sometimes I don't get a chance to sit down because its not always my seat...

It's warm in here! Zzzzzz
Sometimes I wish I was a cat!
A correspondent of mine (that's you, Steve) also seems to have a penchant for Aaron Wang's disentanglement puzzles and recently asked me how I had gotten on with the Boxing Gloves puzzle and if I could provide a clue to help him. I shamefully had to admit that I had singularly failed to solve it in over 4 years - shame on me! That puzzle has been sitting on that glass table for longer than any other - I keep thinking that I should be able to solve it and keep failing at it. 

Boxing Gloves - looks familiar?
Does it look familiar? It should is "just" a Ball and Chain puzzle - I have written about them before in their various guises, from the original classic that I bought from the sadly missed Livewire puzzles to the fabulous complex versions from Aaron I bought in 2015 and again last year which I had so much fun with. The thing about ball and chain puzzles is that they have a base move that they all share but after (or even before) that they need careful setting up and obviously careful movements after that. The Boxing Gloves is doesn't even look that complicated unlike the Maze B&C that I failed at so spectacularly last July. One thing that frightens me about these puzzles is the tendency to get into a terrible knot. Recently, Aaron has been using wonderful quick release mechanisms so that it is easily possible to reset a tangled puzzle but this one has nothing to help you if you get into a mess - I was rather frightened of it but could not stop myself from trying it every few weeks or months.

After my recent correspondence, I had to try again. I sat down (having moved the cat) on Good Friday and started playing again. I kept getting into the usual trap and having to carefully backtrack to avoid the inevitable mess and ended up sitting staring at it thinking© to myself that it is just two interlocked Ball and chain puzzles! It should not need anything fancy to solve it. Why wasn't my standard B&C approach working? The second one always could not be set up properly. 

At that point the cat insisted on more food and I put it down to feed him. During that process my thoughts went along the lines of..."if the second one is always set up wrong then what if I don't have a second one?" That sounds fairly cryptic but if you are reading this, Steve, then you have a fairly big clue right there! I tried something that I had not thought of before in 4 years and it didn't work - something wasn't quite right. Looking at it, though, it was clear why and I needed a very specific setup move before trying the same thing again. It frightened me quite a bit because the whole thing seemed on the verge of a knot and it required every single bit of the length of that chain but suddenly...

Aha! At last!
I cannot believe it - I have finally solved an old puzzle after years of attempts. It is a fabulous idea and one I should have managed earlier but needed me to have a particular train of thought©! Returning it to the beginning requires the same setup move (which took me a little while to find again) and then the usual sequence for this style of puzzle. Thank you Aaron, it is wonderful!

Anti-Gravity Box+
Next I tried something new - I had received a few beauties from Eric recently including the Anti-gravity box+. The plus here is because Eric worked with Frederic Boucher to add an extra challenge to his original puzzle giving us 2 sets of 6 sticks to be inserted into the box, one has 2 solutions and the other solution. Eric has beautifully made this from Iroko and Paulownia with magnets glued in flush either on the side or end of the pieces. The two puzzle sets can be told from each other by the presence of a decorative dowel in the end of the set with the unique solution. 

The top of the box has a nicely fitted acrylic lid to allow the failed puzzler to quickly remove the pieces either to try the next puzzle or, more usually, to start again having failed miserably. My initial thought was to find a stacking method that would not allow the magnets to repel each other and then simply slide the pieces inside whilst using gravity and tilting to get the pieces to where I wanted them. Doh! I should have read the instructions properly - the box has to be placed on a work surface/table and cannot be manipulated after that. The challenge is to insert the pieces through the two windows and any manipulation of those pieces can ONLY be carried out using the sticks themselves - you are not even allowed to poke your fingers inside. Now that really ups the ante. Yesterday, having finally convinced myself that I had definitely understood the Boxing gloves, I decided to try this. Luckily this time the cat was on my lap and I could use him as a table. The snoring was a little off-putting though. The set with two solutions has an extra magnetic piece and this makes manipulation quite a bit simpler (although not easy by any stretch of the imagination). After about an hour of trying various ideas, I finally worked it out and had my box packed - the lazy boy had not even woken up to admire my efforts. The next challenge was a variant of the first needing quite a bit more thought© and planning. I had that challenge beaten in another half hour and was feeling quite chuffed. At last I can place my prowess on the same level as those of Brent (Five Sinatras) and Jerry Loo. Except...I have a nagging feeling when reading their reviews that I might have done something I was not allowed to do. I think I will have to ask Fred whether I have been silly or not. If you get a chance to buy this puzzle then I think it is a perfect challenge for an idle hour of puzzling which should leave you full of admiration for Fred's warped brain and Eric's craftsmanship.

Something borrowed??? Over 9 months ago, I was very kindly lent a copy of the ResQ puzzle (again designed by Frederic Boucher and made by Eric) and I have been playing with it off and on every few weeks when I get time. To my eternal shame, I have found only one move and discovered a tool. Having found my tool, I have no idea what to do with it - there seem to be absolutely no "tool-holes" for me to place it and all I can do is admire the wonderful workmanship. I am very grateful to Andrew for lending it to me and his enormous patience as I have kept it for so so long! This is how puzzle friends are - such a wonderful bunch!

This leaves me feeling a little blue - but not as much as a partial solve...

Sax 2

Another fabulous challenge that I had bought from Aaron was a set of pure wire puzzles designed by Shuai Chi and beautifully made by Heping Gao. I loved the look of these for the theming but also the fact that they are pure wire meaning no knots. It does not, however, mean that they are easy. Aaron has given them all a level of 10+ which means that he found them pretty hard to solve himself and that means that a simpleton like me will really struggle and, oh boy, did I struggle!

Over the last 6 months since they arrived I have played with all three of them and can vouch that they are very very tough. Whilst they look very similar, they are all distinctly different and moves that are possible on one are not possible on the others. Seeing as I was so flush with success from the Boxing gloves and then I chose to have yet another try at this set that had beaten me so far (it has been in my conservatory stash the whole time). I chose to try the Sax 2 puzzle because I thought that one less obstructing ball might make for an easier puzzle. To be honest, this probably isn't the case because the loop on the end of the shuttle effectively causes a major obstruction because it cannot pass through the lowest of the hoops on the main body. I wasn't to know that at the time. 

There are some very interesting movements possible in this puzzle and it blocks up quite easily but during all my experimentation had never gotten to a point where I got lost and couldn't backtrack to the beginning. I was on a bit of a roll - I made a discovery that wasn't going to work but looked like it should so it was time yet again to Think© (damn you, Allard and your thinking - it's not good for me). The discovery really looked like I was on track but the next step was blocked. This forced me to do something I had not done before - I tried to picture the moves in my head if the blockage wasn't there and this should definitely solve the puzzle. So how do I circumvent the blockage? Oooh! What if I? Yessss! I am not used to solving disentanglement puzzles like that - I was able to plan out the appropriate moves in my mind and before long I had this:

So why am I so blue? Having had something old, new and borrowed must be the reason. At this moment, I still have the puzzle in two pieces - I have spent a whole day trying to return it to the beginning and seem to be missing a trick. My head now hurts quite a lot and I think I might need to put it down for a while! Once I have it fully solved i.e. returned to the beginning and then moved both ways a second time then it will be time to try the others in the series - wish me luck!

Sunday, 10 April 2022

Can a Robot Choke? Burr Bot by Andrew Crowell

Burr Bot by Andrew Crowell
Before I start today, I have to inform you (if you hadn't noticed already) that the puzzles I reviewed last week have been released for sale on the Pelikan puzzles store. Almost all of them are still available as I type this.

I have known Andrew for a rather long time and have had a LOT of fun with his puzzles over the years. Originally he was known for his gorgeous wooden creations - mostly interlocking puzzles of his own design as well as remakes of a few of his favourite Stewart Coffin puzzles.
Diagonal cube
Locked cube III
I was amazed by the quality and finish from a relative newcomer to the puzzling world at the time. and then it went a little quiet before he burst back onto the world having taken the rarified arena of Turning Interlocking Cubes (TICs) so beloved by me and one of my mentors, Bernhard Schweitzer, totally by storm and designed some of the most amazing puzzles any of us had ever seen. Whilst he still produced a few of his own designs in wood he has moved into 3D printing in a big way and sells them via his store here or through Etsy

I am always looking for more beautiful wood but I still love the puzzling experience in plastic but tend not to put many of these on display. The advantage of the plastic is that I can box them up and store them in my garage and then play with them again at a later date without having to worry that they might degrade in storage. Today's puzzle will definitely not be going into storage now that I have solved it - it will go on display in one of my cabinets - it is a stunning puzzle in looks as well as play experience. The Burr Bot came to my attention when it appeared in the IPP design competition last year. Unfortunately due to this pesky virus thing, we couldn't all get together and play with them and the viewing and voting was done on-line. I was very intrigued - it was a sequential discovery puzzle as well as a burr. It also won a Jury Honourable mention prize. I was determined to get a copy. 

At this time work caught up with me - the virus was running riot through the UK and hospitals were chock-a-block. My workload went through the roof and I had very little time for puzzling, let alone purchasing. I completely forgot about it until my friend Steve reviewed it (along with a rather wonderful looking cocktail) on his blog. If Steve professes to loving a burr then there must be something very special and/or very clever about it...he will be the first to admit that burrs are not his thing. As you all know, they really are my thing. So I wrote an email to Andrew asking if one might still be available. To my shame, I wasn't paying proper attention to my email app and sent the email to Andrew Coles (owner of the puzzle lock company) who delightfully was obviously used to this mistake happening and forwarded it on to the correct Andrew. Phew!

Before you head off to ask Andrew for your own copy of Burr Bot, I have to sadly inform you that they have sold out and Andrew has moved on to the next in his puzzle series. I was just in time because he had a few parts still lying around and was happy to print the pieces that he needed to complete the remainder of the puzzle. Lucky me! In fact he also offered (whilst he was posting to the UK) to make and send me the puzzle he has switched his attention to - Burr Bank which is supposed to be more complex and the next step in the evolution of this puzzle sequence. Well it would be rude to turn him down so I risked the wrath of Mrs S and both puzzles were being made and arrived a couple of weeks ago.

That week was quite a busy week for Mrs S and the various postal services as I also received the latest delivery from Jakub with the Pelikan puzzles to review, a gorgeous pair of puzzles from Stephan Baumegger as well as a lovely heavy metal delivery from Mr Strijbos. I won't say what she said when my delivery from Mr Fuller arrived this week. Let's leave it at Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear. Let it be known that whilst I apologised for so many arrivals, I did NOT promise not to buy any more.

My work has become quite chaotic over the last few weeks and months. There is a lot of staff sickness in hospitals just now due to Covid and this is placing a lot of strain on services. I spend my time trying very hard to get the work done and help my colleagues clear the enormous backlog of cases that have built up and often finish work late. I also am the fool who volunteered to write the on-call rotas for our department and am having to scrabble around on a weekly (if not daily) basis to fill suddenly opened gaps caused by sickness. Al of this does not leave me much time for puzzling and when I do have time, leaves me with a brain that doesn't seem work right. It was with considerable trepidation that I picked up Burr Bot and read the instructions. 

The cute cubic bot had swallowed something and it was definitely audible when gently shaken. There was no other information so I assumed that it was just a burr that I needed to dismantle. Looking at it I could see 4 horizontal sticks in the frame which would interact with what looked like a vertical central burrstick. Time to investigate and see how they interact. Whilst I love this sort of puzzle and have a MASSIVE collection of these interlocking cubes from Alfons Eyckmans, I do often really struggle to solve them due to getting terribly lost. 

There certainly is an interesting mechanism inside - I got a clue to this when I picked it up from my armchair and the key to the Popplock T13 was hanging from the bottom! There appear to be magnets inside!

Within a few moves!
I quickly became engrossed and realised that there was more to this than met the eye. The central piece rises up but the bottom piece is not attached to it. Whilst that was distracting, I did not know what else I could do and just carried on exploring. One evening in front of the TV left me going round and round in circles with the pieces quite well trapped amongst each other. I had to be careful not to be too noisy - 3D printed puzzles do make a certain scratchy noise when the pieces are moved and I did not want to upset "she who must be flinched from". I was also making lots of my usual muttering noises which she also finds very annoying ("Do you have to breathe like that?" I often hear). I got stuck that first evening but had a breakthrough the following one:

I had a key piece - now what? I got sidetracked trying to remove the cross pieces for an evening before abandoning that as fruitless. There are clearly magnets in it (both the interior of the Bot as well as the key) and it was going to be important to work out how they should be used.

Mrs S was very amused to see me rotating and spinning the bot whilst trying to stroke various parts of it with the magnets. Nope! That was not working for me - time to Think© - ouch!

At this point, I noticed something (no I can't tell you what it is) and this led very nicely to another discovery and then some experimentation produced a whole new challenge. I was off again. 

The remainder of the puzzle required more discoveries, more think©ing and more experimentation - I got quite good at manipulating the burr sticks during this and only got trapped 4 or 5 times. After my 7th or 8th Aha! moments I was finally able to cure Burr Bot's indigestion - it's a kind of radical way to do it (similar to what I see at work many days). In medical terms we have had a laparotomy (opening the abdomen), gastrotomy (opening the stomach), before delivery of the unwanted contents.

Not a spoiler - it was always obvious this was going to happen
It would appear that Burr Bot has swallowed a shark. No wonder he was feeling a little under the weather! At this point, I did think I had finished but there was still some unused parts of the puzzle and something was still gently rattling. After the next step (which I did wonder whether he would survive) I also had the coin that keeps his heart beating:

So much fun!
Time to take the photos and then reassemble it all before trying again to make sure that I properly understood it. A mark of a thoughtful design here, is that the reset of this wonderful puzzle is not just a reversal of every step that has been done so far. It can be reset very easily and then just needs a reinsertion of the key into the top. Fabulous!

I am very grateful to Andrew for finding the spare parts lying around to make me a copy. I can see why he won a prize in the design competition - it is a wonderful odyssey with personality and fun as well as a really nice sequence of discoveries, experimentation and thought. I am looking forward to working on Burr Bank which is supposed to be even tougher and more fun.

Thank you, my friend!


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