Sunday, 23 January 2022

Snap Right To It

Snappy burr by Jerry McFarland
Yes, as soon as you see a picture like this then it's immediately obvious this was made by the incredibly talented Jerry McFarland.

At the very end of last year Jerry contacted me again to let me know that he had got sidetracked yet again! Yes, Jerry seems to have a very short attention span - he could make a fortune churning out his old puzzles to the new hordes of puzzle lovers that have joined this hobby over the last couple of years and when he produces and is happy with a new puzzle then he does make a bunch. But...he just can't seem to keep his focus on making more of the same and his incredible 3D visualising brain ends up wandering off into more thoughts of what can be achieved by interlocking pieces of wood. Over the last few years he has been very distracted by the possibilities of magnets and has created some of the best and most fun puzzles I have ever played with. 

Apparently he thought he had run out of ideas and then something new sprung to life in his head (I really wish something would show signs of life in my head - I am completely empty, Mrs S will confirm it). Previously some of his puzzles have had the added bonus of being very nice fidget toys as you get to make long sequences of magnets and burr sticks move after a single push. This time he made something that has a fidget toy inside and whilst it can be played with whole as a fidget toy (very satisfying it is too) but the aim is to remove it and play with it outside the puzzle. Jerry did not think it was  a terribly difficult solve but thought it would be fun...he really wanted some feedback - I am delighted and flattered to be one of the few given a chance. My McFarland collection really is quite wonderful now.

A snappy move reveals a hint of a serial number
On unpacking, even Mrs S admitted it was beautiful. It has been made with Mahogany, Walnut, Cherry and Kingwood with the absolutely characteristic finish that marks one of Jerry's creations. Then Mrs S lost her brownie points by saying it's "just a cube" like most of my other puzzles. She was unmoved when I told her that it was actually a cuboid and even then not a proper cuboid due to the side edges being slightly recessed. I wonder why Jerry did that? It became obvious later. Dimensions are 4.01x2.92x2.92".

I couldn't resist a little exploration even if Mrs S wanted me to do some chores instead. I very quickly realised why it was called Snappy burr (or at least one of the reasons). The fidget toy inside is controlled by some really powerful magnets and it snaps back and forth by pushing one way and the other and surprisingly the Kingwood pieces on the top and bottom spring in and out as well - this has a lovely coordinate motion with magnetic attraction and repulsion too.

I spent several days enjoying that movement whilst searching for anything else that might be possible or released by the initial movement. I had a few ideas but nothing was happening. Time to check with Jerry whether I was being silly (something I do very frequently). Jerry provided a little hint which confirmed my initial thoughts and what I had been looking for before. It was not really obvious what else could possibly move - Jerry has taken with his recent designs to putting false interlocking sections that look like they should prevent a movement but in reality don't. I had been exploring some of these pieces and made a discovery about them but had not put 2 and 2 together. Once Jerry sort of reassured me that I was thinking correctly, I tried something new and OMG! that was an unexpected thing to happen! No wonder I had not found it easily - there are some really strong magnets involved.

Another reason for the name is part of that move I just found and also what happens when you reverse it - the puzzle snaps back together with a very sharp click. It's another aspect of the fidget toy in this. After I had amused myself with it for a while I tried to see where that move had led and started dismantling bits. It doesn't come apart completely without thought. I had to work out a few movements to make some space for clearance and then out came a section. Then I managed to get a second section off. I stopped there - I was sitting on an armchair with a cat on my lap and did not want to lose track of pieces or lose anything down the cushions. 

All pieces and a fidget toy
Later in the week I managed to find time to completely dismantle the puzzle - it is not hard to do once you have worked out the initial few steps. The fidget toy is just as compulsive to play with outside the whole puzzle. I am truly delighted to have number 2:

I think Jerry is making another 8
I had scrambled all the pieces but, as with most of his previous designs the insides of the pieces are marked with what position they should go in to ensure they all fit together and align properly. Despite this the reassembly was not straightforward - I did know where everything should have gone but, having constructed the various sections according to the labels, it was not immediately obvious how to get them to slide together. On several occasions I realised that my last section could not be slid into place and I had to dismantle and try in a different order. It took an extra half an hour before I managed to "SNAP" it back together with a very satisfying clack.

Jerry has designed something very different to his previous puzzles - it's not terribly tough but it is stunningly beautiful and wonderfully satisfying. I intend to use it as my fidget toy for quite a while before I put it on display in one of my cabinets.

Coming soon from Pelikan

Coming soon from Pelikan puzzles
I have received a wonderful new bunch of gorgeous puzzles just a few days ago from Jakub at Pelikan puzzles. The race is on to solve them as fast as possible so that they can go on sale.

Here we have (from the back L to R):
Belopo (Alfons Eyckmans)
Jakub's cube (Alfons Eyckmans)
Euklid version 2 (Dr Volker Latussek)
Pedals (Alexander Magyarics)
Seven Woods (Stewart Coffin)
Victoria (Christoph Lohe)
Hummingbird (Osanori Yamamoto)

They all look fabulous and, as always have been beautifully made. Several of them will be seriously difficult - I have an original Jakub's cube from Alfons and have not managed to solve it yet (I sort of got distracted by a pandemic).

Sunday, 16 January 2022

I Cut this Right Down to the Wire

Loki - on the blog for a third time!
Well, we very nearly had no blog post this week. I have been desperately trying to solve something all week and getting absolutely nowhere. My biggest puzzle has been how to run our on call service as more an more of my colleagues either catch Covid and have to isolate or are household contacts and have to isolate. Almost every single day, I get a message that someone who is due to be on call cannot do their assigned duty and need to find an alternative.

Someone suggested on Facebook that I should shine a bright light through the Ages burr from Brian Young and see if I could notice a mechanism or possible movement that might be possible either before, during or after the 2 obvious moves. I got a nice bright torch and shone it across the puzzle towards me, side to side and away from me. I could see the pins that I had seen all along and nothing new. The same old third rotational move is possible (due to a pin) which I am reliably informed is not part of the solution. After a couple of evenings of shining lights, I had to give up - there is nothing new visible. Brian did suggest that the light in Australia was pretty bright but not required for the solution. I guess that Ages will spend another couple of years next to my puzzling armchair before I shelve it. It wasn't cheap so I don't want to put it away without solving it.
What a filling
Broken propellers
I also have a bunch of 2D packing puzzles designed and printed for me by the incredibly talented Alexander Magyarics. I got cocky because I had solved 2 of them after a little while and quickly moved onto the rest. The 2 above look fairly simple but after 2 weeks, I still cannot solve them! I may have to take them to work and force one of my colleagues to solve them for me!

I have also been desperately working on the Loki lock from Boaz Feldman. I had spent weeks and weeks doing the same thing again and again. I have previously said that I could turn the key (which obviously wouldn't work) and sometimes turn the key and be able to remove it whilst turned (occasionally I couldn't reinsert it which was a worry). My madness did not improve until Goetz sort of dropped me a hint that wasn't a hint. I felt rather foolish as I have given this advice to lots of other people and was a little ashamed not to take my own advice. Having used the "not a hint", I was able to continue with the challenge and found "stuff" to use on other "stuff". It was all very exciting and I learned why you shouldn't do these sort of challenges on an armchair with a cat on your lap. There are small pieces involved and if lost down the side of an armchair would make solving it very difficult. Losing them inside a cat would mean a day or two of waiting and a very unpleasant "sifting" challenge at the "other end". Yuk! I used my puzzling non-skills and finally had opened the lock:
I was flushed with success and then crashed back to the ground when I realised that the trick I had used to open it would not work in reverse. OMG! I had an open padlock and couldn't close it again. I have been trying to close it every evening since then (2 weeks). Boaz lent some encouragement and explained why the reverse process wouldn't work and peering closely inside (using my torch again) reveals that he is an absolute master of tricky design and manufacture. 

After 2 weeks, I contacted my tame (but not toilet trained) locksmith mate, Shane and he was helpful enough to make me think about how the lock worked but not helpful enough with a clue - he basically didn't really help at all! In the end it would appear that he has absolutely no memory at all of how he solved it! I was still left to my own devices trying the same thing over and over again. Of course, they wouldn't work and I had to think©.

This afternoon, literally just 20 minutes before starting to write this blog post, I tried something ever so slightly different and yesssssss! I managed to reassemble the lock. Finally after a week of struggling I have something to write about. I nearly missed my schedule.

Loki is a devil of a lock puzzle - Beautifully made with several steps to the solution and including one of the oldest tricks in the book taken to a silly level! Go buy it, you will love it! You should also keep an eye on Andrew Coles' website for the Mind the Gap lock - I loved it and it would appear that Allard thought it was quite fun too. It should be released for sale soon.

Now I need to lie down for a little bit and recover my nerves...except I still have a backlog of toys to play with and really not very much time to do it. Better get to it quickly then.


Sunday, 9 January 2022

Brian Tops the Chart Again

The best of 2021 - Abraham's Well
Yes, I am ever so slightly ashamed of myself that my review of this amazing puzzle has happened in 2022 and not when it arrived in July 21. Somehow Allard managed to obtain and solve his copy within a few days of receiving his copy and yet mine remained next to my puzzling armchair for months and months in various stages of solving until New year's day. My excuse? A small virus thing sort of impeded me, an abundance of other distracting toys got in my way and a lack of brains got in my way. BUT primarily I took so long because I kept getting stuck and could't work out the next steps and did not want to cheat by asking for help or, heaven forbid, use external tools or force. The solution videos were sent out to owners after a few months of letting us stew and I even kept away from those too. In the end I managed almost all of it without help but did need a sneak peek to see whether I had done it right according to Brian's rules (I had broken one or two, sob!)

When this thing arrived in July, the first thing that springs to mind is that it's surprisingly heavy for an object of only12x8.5x8cm in size - it weighs in at 425g. Whilst there is obviously a bit of brass in it, the external view must hide a rather decent volume of metal. The next thing that springs to mind is the sheer quality of the product - it is simply stunningly made. The brass parts are polished beautifully, the wooden exterior has been laser etched and everything fits together beautifully. The well looks like a...well. There is even a piece of rope hanging inside. The cats showed an annoying interest in the rope and at one point in my puzzling it was distinctly wet giving a hint that someone/thing had tried to swallow it. In fact, I was fairly certain that it was frayed and slightly shorter one evening when I returned to play.

Initially nothing moves apart from the bar holding the rope (which rotates freely) and all that you can do is turn it over and over in your hands and admire it. In examining it carefully something changes (you can hear it happen) and suddenly a piece can move. It's not fact, it is the obvious thing to happen even if the reason why is not obvious. I quickly put the moved piece back and lock it back in place. Try again and find that the move is repeatable. Examine further and more movement occurs. Put it back to the beginning and it's not repeatable every time. Why not? What am I doing differently when it works? I cannot quite understand it so I proceed with the discovery. More movement and I have pieces - Yay! I need to understand how that happened so I try to reset to the beginning and I cannot! Stuff is in the way now. Oh boy - we're really on now. Time to continue and hope that I can get instructions later for the reset.

I find a tool and get more pieces - quite a LOT of pieces. I have no idea which of these pieces will be useful to me either next or later. I use one of the tools and and use it to move more "stuff". In the end when I watch the solution videos, I realise that I used the wrong tool at that time. I don't actually think it was cheating as there was no force. I just did not notice something that would have provided a clue about which tool would have been useful. Partly I blame my middle aged eyes for that oversight - it was a pretty subtle clue and without exceptionally good light and a magnifying glass, there was no way that I was going to see that. In any case, I had made my next discovery.

More movement but not in a useful way. Had I missed anything? Turn it over and over and have a look at every surface. I did see some oddities that I did not know what to do with (no tools would fit) and I was left moving it again and again. Time to put it down for a while and come back to it fresh. I got side-tracked by other things and came back several weeks later. Playing again, I am left doing the same movement over and over without any change (yes madness is never very far from me). Suddenly =, for no obvious reason the movement stops - I have no idea why. Panic! Wiggle stuff. Turn it over and over and wiggle more and phew, I can now move it again. Definitely time to think©.

Thinking doesn't get me very far because I am not good at it but I manage to lock the puzzle up again several times before a little observation comes in useful. Doh! Why did I not notice that? A combination of moves and I have a new tool...except it is just out of reach. Don't bash it he said but the temptation is high. Those little spikes on the surface of the puzzle are quite effective at stopping you thumping the puzzle - they hurt! Think© you fool - Aha! Clever bastard!

Now my small pile of pieces is getting quite big. I have to keep them in a little bag to stop losses down the sofa or cats swallowing them. Here I get stuck again for a quite a while - months in fact. In the end, I complete the next step in the wrong way. I would be very surprised if many people manage to do it in the way that Brian intended. The process I used relied on me realising that certain pieces were the exact size and shape to be used as a tool when in combination (yes, Brian intends you to actually build your tools as well) and having worked out the tool construction, I ended up using a little force to complete the next step. As the instructions state, no force is needed but there was absolutely no way that I would have deduced that. I would be very interested in hearing how others achieved that crucial step - drop me a line via my Contact page or leave a comment below. Once I had seen the solution, I saw that the intended approach was incredibly elegant but there was no way I would ever have thought of that.

Now I have even more pieces and am not sure what to do to go further. Observation is absolutely crucial here and I had run out of brain power. More months go by...I pick it up every few days/weeks and cannot find a tool to do what I need to do. The temptation to make my own from something not included with the puzzle is high but I avoid it. Until New year's day - I decide that I have to right my review and I look up the final part of the solution. OMG! That is very well hidden. The movement that I wanted to do is correct and I feel slightly vindicated. The puzzle is finished and I have found the artifact that was hidden inside. 

Reset is "just the reverse" of what you have done before. JUST? Easier said than done. I have managed to reset it a few times and at this moment, it sits next to me with me unable to complete the final movements - I just cannot seem to visualise what is required and we will keep trying it.

Should you buy this puzzle? Hell! Yes! It was my number one for 2021 for a very good reason - the quality is superb, the puzzling challenge is incredibly varied and fun. Allard certainly loved it and recently Steve has also written positively about it. I am certain that most of you are better puzzlers than me and will be able to solve it the correct way without assistance. It has taken me ages to get to the end and I loved it. Now I need to get back to the Ages puzzle which has taken me even more of an age...I have found only 2 moves so far and the elusive 3rd still evades me after 2 years.

Ages has taken me ages!

Saturday, 1 January 2022

Happy New Year - My Top Ten(ish) of 2021

The desk has only gotten worse despite threats of terrible consequences

Happy New Year everyone! Doesn't time fly by? Have I had fun in 2021? Yes, I think so. I (in fact the whole world) had hoped that last year was going to be better than 2020. In terms of world events, it probably was a teeny weeny bit better. We started to get better at treating Covid-19 and the vaccines were rolled out and were definitely shown to be extremely effective. Unfortunately, the vaccines also showed off the darker side of humanity (I guess the whole pandemic, mask and isolation thing did that too). Hopefully 2022 will see the beginning of the end of this blasted thing and all of us healthcare workers might get a bit of a respite and maybe live in fear a little less.

Now for was a VERY good year for acquisition! I spent a fortune and managed to get myself a bunch of fabulous new toys to play with. For solving it was less good - I seemed to have very little time to play and my solving mojo deserted me for quite a while. I struggled to concentrate on anything much let alone complex puzzles.

   Last year's new feature has now become a yearly regular event (I hope), the PuzzleMad saviour/foreign correspondent has sent me his top puzzle(s) of the year (vintage version) - over to you Mike...

Foreign Office – Vintage Puzzle of the (yester) Year

Tower of Babble, by Leonard J. Gordon, circa mid-1970s to mid-1980s

Tower of Babble gets my vote for Vintage Puzzle of the Year for the simple reason that I underestimated it. This is a 3D packing puzzle in which seven variously configured pieces need to fit snugly into a hexagonal column. The column is three units deep. Sounds pretty simply, right? I thought so too. My original challenge with this puzzle, however, was getting several of the individual pieces back “together” after they had somehow come unglued (and then mixed up of course). To make matters worse, Tower of Babble was in a bag together with Gordon’s other similar puzzle, Infernal Triangle, when the disaster occurred. There was thus a complete mess of intermingled pieces, many broken, from both puzzles. It was a physical manifestation of the Babel story, which I guess is somehow poetically appropriate. The only thing I could think to do in this circumstance was to email Rob Stegmann and ask nicely for an assist. Rob has a phenomenal collection of puzzles from this period and I knew he had Babble because it was on his ‘assembly’ page. If you scroll to Babble on his page now, you will see the pieces and assembly sequence, with a note directed to yours truly (Ed - wow! You are proper famous to be mentioned by Rob! One day I hope to be mentioned too). Rob graciously sent me detailed photos of all the Babble pieces, and I was then able to glue them back together in the proper configuration. Getting them back in the hex column, however, took me forever. It got to the point where I was compelled to double-check my handiwork. But eventually I got them packed, and my respect for Babble went up appreciably. This thing must have a single unique solution, that’s my only excuse. At any rate, it’s a cool little puzzle. The graphic design work is pretty neat, and the fact that the packaging is part of the puzzle is a nice touch. It’s also colorful and festive. So, in honor of cheap plastic puzzles of a bygone era, and of metagrobological collegiality, please accept Tower of Babble as 2021 Vintage Puzzle of the (yester) Year. (Ed - awesome...thank you)

Foreign Office – Antique Puzzle of the (yester) Year

No-Jump-O, circa 1899

For the three readers out there (Ed - there are a LOT more than three!) who care about really old puzzles, I’d also like to highlight a great antique puzzle I had the pleasure of acquiring this past year: No-Jump-O. This is a sequential movement, or combinatorial, puzzle of the type that I am currently into. The  challenge is to place all the markers into the triangular tray and move them around until they match the pattern shown on the box cover. It is not very difficult to solve, but it is fun to play around with. Because the ‘switching’ area at the bottom right of the tray holds three pieces, you can make progress quickly (the cover photo looks like it is meant to be two, but the actually puzzle easily permits three). This puzzle had some of the markers missing when I got it, so I cut some replacements from a dowel and painted them as close to original color as I could manage. The “white” ones had long since lost their pigment. 


Not many puzzles come with a sworn affidavit
Final point of interest: note the affidavit on the inside box cover, swearing to the fact that the puzzle is universally solvable. That’s kind of interesting. You can find this puzzle in one of the Slocum books, with better and more accurate information than I’m giving here. Like most puzzles of this type, you can make yourself a working copy with a pocket full of coins, piece of paper, and pencil.

Ed - thank you so much for all your contributions and help last year. You have gotten me out of a hole several times and your very different view and approach to the subject matter is refreshing for me and I am certain for the readers as well. Here's hoping that 2022 is a great year for you.

Here are my own fudged sort of top 10ish puzzles of the year:

12) Jerry Obscures The Solution

Obscure Burr
You can pretty much count on anything by Jerry McFarland appearing in my top ten(ish) puzzles of the year. His stuff is just sooo original and clever and the workmanship is unique and stunning. In 2021 Jerry created the Obscure burr which I struggled to solve. Others had solved it (Bill Cutler and Five Sinatras' Brent) but they had done it by cheating - shock horror! they used lock-picking techniques to beat the locking mechanism. I knew that I could do that but wanted to solve it properly. I needed a clue - the solution was a mathematical one which is not one of my strong points but once I had that small hint, I solved it and had a fun time taking it fully apart and reassembling it. I wonder what Jerry is working on now? His mind never stops!

11) Twisty Challenges Worth Waiting For

TwistyTex's incredible 3x5x7!
Casey Weaver is a hell of a nice guy and a master and modifying/extending Rubik cubes. He had promised me one of his 3x5x7 Ultimate Shapeshifter cubes for a rather long time but he got very busy and then we got a little virus thing going on. I had almost forgotten about it when I received a message that it was ready - YIPPEE! When it arrived, I was blown away with the quality and ease of turning. I gathered my courage and scrambled it and promptly realised that I had forgotten the standard approach to this type of twisty and had to work my own method out based on building blocks using the AI cube approach. It took me quite some time to work it out and was a very frustrating exercise in failing to work out the correct algorithms for a considerable time. Eventually, I found the right approach and happily have solved it at least a dozen times since. It takes pride of place amongst my handmade Twisty puzzle to the right of me at the desk. Thank you Casey, for a terrific gift! Maybe one day I will be brave enough to ask for one of your shape mods of this puzzle? Shudder!

Butterflower cube
Over many years of the blog, I have often extolled the virtue of new twisty designs that are created by combining the movements/cuts of more than one geometry of puzzle. The Butterflower cube was a wonderful combination of edge turning (Curvy copter type) with corner turning (Dino cube type) - it required some extra thought and I definitely had some fun solving it. It is not too difficult for anyone who has mastered the basics.

10) The Funnest TIC Ever!

Definitely best to buy in pieces
Aha! Brilliant!
Richard Gain advertised a few of his Switch Cube for sale in September and after it was heartily recommended by several brilliant puzzlers and especially as an assembly challenge, I couldn't resist and bought a copy asking for it to be sent out in pieces. This challenge very nearly broke me but after continued encouragement from puzzle friends, I kept at it and the Aha! moment was amazing! If you can convince Richard to make any more then you should buy it without hesitation and if any of the fine craftsmen out there want to make it in wood then just tell me how much money you want and it's yours!

9) Bolted by Phil Wigfield

Beautiful Brass
After Allard showed off this puzzle from a new UK based designer and craftsman, I couldn't resist having a try for myself and...Oh boy! I was not disappointed! Phil's work is immaculate and a fun voyage of discovery. The Aha! moments are wonderful and clever - I cannot wait to get my hands on the latest one (I don't seem to have the time recently to buy and my puzzle budget has gotten a little tighter the last few months.

8) Three Sides To Osanori

Octopus 33
Den Cube
Osanori Yamamoto has figured on this blog a LOT over the years and has appeared in my top tens quite frequently. This year his designs were frequent and wonderful. He is probably best known for his packing puzzles based on a 3x3x3 cube with limited opening to insert the pieces (often with diagonal obstructions) and Sudachi was one of the most fun of these this year. However, he also designs lots of other types of puzzle and 2 of them were so wonderful that I have to include them in my top 10(ish). The Octopus 33 is a "simple" sliding piece disassembly puzzle. Often this type of design can be either infuriating or simple to solve but the Octopus 33 was amazing in that it had a sequence of discoveries, one of which was stunningly unexpected, Finally the Den cube is an interlocking puzzle with 3 fairly simple identical pieces locked together in a frame. The aim to remove them was very like untying a knot without properly being able to see the shape. It was lovely and even a fun reassembly challenge which was unexpected. You can always rely on Osanori (and Pelikan) to produce something wonderful every year!

7) Christoph Does It Every Year

Key Trap
Mini Lock 2
I have said on this blog many many times over the years that Christoph Lohe designs fun puzzles! There is something about what he creates - they always have something interesting and challenging about them without being impossibly tough and a test of patience through trial and error. His designs, beautifully made this year by Pelikan (complete with a collaboration with the master of the TIC, Andrew Crowell) gave me such a lot of pleasure this year that I could not resist including them in this hall of fame for 2021.

6) Packing With Alexander

Colliding Galaxies made by Pelikan
Magneteam made by Eric Fuller
Pillar made by Brain Menold
Pepper Castor made by Pelikan
OMG! Where do I begin? Alexander Magyarics had an incredible year! He collaborated with both Pelikan, Brian Menold and Eric Fuller to produce some of the most incredible packing puzzles. He has taken a leaf out of Osanori Yamamoto's book and taken simple finishing shapes (mostly cubes) and asked us to place them inside a box with very limited entry holes. They look easy and yet are anything but a simple solve. The best of them require a wonderful logical set of thoughts to solve them and definitely NOT random poking and prodding to get them arranged. The three cube based puzzles that I picked above are not necessarily the only fabulous designs - I could easily add a few more. The workmanship from those 3 fabulous crafthouses are absolutely stunning. Then, much to my amazement, Alexander branched out into non-rectilinear puzzles and Jakub and Jaroslav had the courage to attempt to mass produce them - what an amazing feat! Pepper castor wasn't the only one but was my favourite. I cannot wait to see what they do in 2022.

5) Locking Me Out For Ages

Mind the Gap
Within a few weeks of each other I received some beautifully modified brass padlocks. Mind the gap from Andrew Coles should be released to the general puzzling public soon and I can heartily recommend it - the use of a new shape of lock and some substantial alteration makes for a nic Aha! sequence. It is not terribly tough but the logic and implementation is wonderful. Loki by Boaz Feldman stumped me for several weeks. In the end, Goetz sent me a sort of hint that was not really a hint and it made me look at my puzzle a lot closer before noticing something wonderfully hidden. After that, my sequence of discovery was fun and led to finally opening the damn lock! Now I cannot reassemble the bloody thing so I think more thought is still required. Both are wonderful!

4) Monkeying About With Ali and Steve

Can you tell the difference?
When Steve and Ali get there evil minds together, fabulous fun things happen. I cannot believe that they managed to design and mass produce 2 ,ore in their wonderful Brass Monkey series. Both of these look identical but have completely different mechanisms. BM4 (left) left me gasping out loud that I couldn't believe "that they had done that" - the mechanism is one that takes many of us MPPers back to fun times. Then, out of the blue, BM5 arrived and left me gasping out loud that I couldn't believe that "I had do do that". Stunning mechanisms for both - not hard but great fun and absolutely beautifully made as always. It was very tough to move this to position 4.

I also had to throw in one of the TwoBrassMonkeys' plastic productions. The polar burr designed by Derek Bosch was my 10th in the series of helical burr puzzles and it was my favourite so far. This was designed to have the highest number of moves yet in one of these and despite this, I found it a challenging but still fun puzzle to solve. If you get a chance to buy just one of these then this is the one that I would recommend.

3) Sequential Discovery Cubed Box by Junichi Yananose

Definitely not just an interlocking cube!
This incredible fourth puzzle in Juno's sequential discovery burr series (first here, second here and third here) is a tour de force of unexpected movements and tools. The sequence has plenty of Aha! moments as well as at least one "what the hell have I done?" moment before you realise that all is Ok. It has a couple of difficult to fathom moves (one of which was so difficult that I missed it and had to be told by the genius that is Derek that I needed to look again - once I found the special sequence, I was truly blown away by Juno's brilliance. I cannot imagine where he will go next.

What a series!
Whilst I am blabbing about Juno, I have to mention the latest two additions to the Grooved 6 piece board burr set. Numbers 5 and 6 were released towards the end of 2021 and they took the complexity and fun up to a whole new level! They were simply awesome and they make for a fabulous collection (hence the group photo).

2) Stickman PuzzleBox number 35 - the One Hand PuzzleBox

She's ready to blow! Should I pull the grenade pin?
Who can resist a Stickman? I would buy one if offered but as a gift, this was an amazing show of generosity. Asher Simon designed it as a combination box and packing puzzle which took me a whole year to solve. There is an incredible Aha! moment in the solution which I would like to believe was the reason I took so long but we all know that I am terrible at packing puzzles. An astonishing design by Asher that has been beautifully made by Robert. It will take pride of place in my collection.

1) Abraham's Well by Brian Young

A work of art!
Brian Young always designs the most incredible sequential discovery puzzles and Abraham's Well was his only production this year. It is an amazing feat of creation (that took 3 years to complete) with pieces made from wood and metal, all hand made by Brian. I am not quite finished yet but what I have done so far has blown me away! I expect to finish this on New Year's day and am therefore going to bend my rules and include it in this year's top ten (they are my rules so I will do what I want with them!) The sheer quality of workmanship that has gone into them is nothing short of astonishing. Brian decided to beat the puzzle flippers (who he utterly hates) by making sure that supply was definitely not going to be a problem. I love this! Here's hoping that New Year's day brings me success.

Do you agree with my top 10? If you have any different thoughts then please comment below or even use my Contact page to tell me how wrong I am. I look forward to your thoughts.

Happy New Year to you all!

I really hope that you all keep safe and stay well despite the chaos that is unfolding around us. I look forward to entertaining and maybe helping many of you in 2022.

Sunday, 26 December 2021

A Simply Incredible Gift!

It lasted a year!

         The Stickman(no 35) - the One Hand PuzzleBox aka Pandora's Box
At the end of 2020 I received a fabulous gift from the incredibly generous Asher Simon. I offered money but Asher wouldn't say yes and insisted that this was a gift for the effort I had put into my blog and he wanted to know my opinion of it as a puzzle. He had been working on it for quite some time with Robert Yarger aka Stickman. After I said yes thank you lots and lots of times and offered again to pay, I waited and watched the tracking and waited and waited. It arrived in the UK and got stuck somewhere. Now, those of you who have had dealings with customs department will all get that chill in your bones. 

Instructions/Info included
I don't know what they saw but I guess their X-ray machine may have thrown up some red flags. There are, after all, a LOT of magnets in this puzzle and Asher had said there was something inside especially for me (maybe this enticed them as well?) After being held hostage for quite a few weeks my package arrived with another sign to chill the bones...there was the "inspected by customs" tape on the box. In the meantime, Allard had already received his copy and solved and reviewed it. He is a MUCH better puzzler than me which is another reason that I have had to wait the best part of a year to be able to write about it. Mrs S kept the package in quarantine for a few days, as she has for all our post since the pandemic began. I can't really argue with her logic and am too frightened of her to even think about it.

Slide the lid and a grenade pin pops up!
The box lid will not slide any further
A few days after it arrived I got to open the box where the full horror of the situation was revealed. Customs had slid open the box, and pulled all the pieces out and then proceeded to try and force things back in and tried to force the mechanism. OMG! Instead of 9 pieces, I had 11 and a very unhappy PuzzleMad. I couldn't even work out where the broken pieces were supposed to fit together...Sob! I reported the catastrophe to Asher and he was mortified! It was not his fault at all but he felt guilty and was determined to make it all good. Luckily for me he had a spare copy which he packed up and a couple of months later sent out to me with dire warnings for the customs department and he included a set of instructions/solution specifically for the customs meatheads so that they would not need to force anything like they had before. This time it arrived completely untouched by any other human hands. Thank goodness for that! I take the obligatory photos and marvel at the design and craftsman prowess that went into making this. The lid slides inone direction only and meets a little resistance. Encouraged by the comment to Allard that a little force is required to open the lid, I gave it a push and could see that presumably a hollow in the lid had housed a bevelled piece that was pushing up into it. The little force pushed the lid over that bevel and what can only be described as a grenade pin pops up. Oh boy, the temptation is huge! Do I pull that pin? What will happen? Hopefully nothing will break. 

Whilst part of me wants to just admire the puzzle for the rest of eternity, that is not going to help me solve it or even understand why it's a puzzle. It's time to be a brave little boy and pull the pin:

After the "explosion" there are 9 pieces with lots of magnets pushing and pulling all over the place. 

Look at the precision of those pieces! Look at all those magnets!
Even arranging the pieces so that I could take the photo was a challenge...they kept moving and either clicking together or repelling out of the correct placement. No Stickman box is complete without the Stickman logo somewhere inside and here it is - branded onto the beautiful wood box.

The usual logo inside the box
OK, here goes! Not only is it a box but it's also a packing puzzle. Apparently, if I pack the pieces back in and get them in the correct orientation then the magnets will trigger a hidden mechanism that will unlock the covered compartment. Yay! This should be fun. But let us not forget that I am rubbish at boxes, rubbish at packing puzzles and generally rubbish at puzzles! Mrs S often asks why I keep buying puzzles that I cannot solve and I shake my head and tell her that I don't know - I have to own up that I have an addiction. My name is Kevin and I am addicted to puzzles! There, I feel much better for that.

One of the main "features" of this challenge comes from the name..."one hand". Yes that dastardly designer did not just make a complex 3D packing puzzle which would be tough enough for a man of my limited skills. He also insisted that this puzzle should be solved using just ONE HAND! OMG! I discovered almost immediately that the way I thought some of the pieces should fit together was quite difficult - they really wanted to spring apart from each other and as soon as I added an extra piece or two, I found that either I didn't have enough fingers or my joints didn't point in the right direction to hold everything together - maybe it should be called the Stickman double-jointed box? After a few days of attempting the impossible I read the rest of the instructions and realised that I had been doing it all wrong (this explains quite a bit of my home life). The puzzle should not be solved by dexterously holding together a bunch of repelling pieces before stuffing them in the box - they can/should be inserted into the box with one hand one piece at a time. Aaargh it gets harder and harder! The last paragraph of the instructions says:
"This puzzle is far more diabolical than it appears"
No kidding! I have spent MONTHS on this - it has been sitting on my desk since it arrived in March. I have had it right next to me ever since then so that every week after writing my blog, I can pick it up and try again and again. Hell! For most of the last 9 months I have been completely unable to put the pieces back into the box! Yes, it is that difficult. At some point during the first couple of months I spent a happy few hours making a Burrtools file from the pieces so that at least I might be able to leave the pieces in place. Except, to my horror, I discovered that there are 900 different assemblies of those 9 pieces in the box cavity! In the end I had to go back to my photos to and the video to at least find how to put the puzzle back to the start. Yep, this might take me quite some time.

One thing that bothered me about reading Allard's review was that he mentioned a distinct Aha! moment and I had not come even close to one of those in many months. I was not trying to exhaustively work my way through the BT solutions as that might be construed as cheating and to me was just too much like hard work...especially as I frequently had to retrieve pieces from under my chair as they shot off when I ran out of fingers in my "one hand" to hold them inside. What was I missing?

In the end I opened up Asher's beautifully illustrated solution book which he had left for the customs guys should they need it. It walked me through the reassembly back to the beginning. Well that was very nice but wasn't getting me into the second compartment. Over the last few months I have become quite accomplished at reassembling the puzzle back to the start (I must have done it 50 or 60 times).

Last week, I looked at the next page of the booklet which I had been studiously avoiding and OMG! You sneaky bugger! How had I missed that? Rule number one of puzzling...Look at everything, don't trust the designer at all, things are often not what they seem. The booklet showed me something new and I had a whole new avenue of puzzling open to me. Immediately after that Aha! moment there was another. I think that if you don't try something straight away then you might get lost amongst the possibilities but luckily I did and then I made a major breakthrough. Sheer genius! 

The lid is off and there is a very ancient coin inside
It appears that this is an ancient Greek coin because Pandora's box is Greek mythology. I do wonder whether it was this coin that might have excited the customs officers and made them take my puzzle apart.

The mechanism of the lock is absolutely ingenious and absolutely foolproof. It works every single time.  If you are offered the chance to play with one or even better, to buy one than jump at the chance - it is a Stickman and it has been designed by a master.

Asher, thank you so much for a whole year of excitement, complete with highs and lows and a monumental Aha! moment. This is probably one of the most difficult puzzleboxes that I have ever seen. It will certainly end up in my top puzzles of 2021!



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