Sunday, 17 June 2018

Et tu Juno?

Or even Junichi and Yukari wind me up!

The Heart Case - Mrs S lurved this one!
I was delighted to receive a nice package from Australia earlier this week after watching the very quick passage halfway around the world. It moved 20,000km very fast and then went through Her majesty's excise and customs department VERY slowly. In fact, it seemed to go through them twice before I was presented with my ransom. It finally arrived just after I read on Goetz' site (and in a nice email from him) about his enjoyment of the puzzles he bought from Junichi and Yukari Yananose's Pluredro shop.

I am sure that you are all wondering why I have slipped into French for the title of today's post but rest assured that I am not aiming to make this a french blog (my French is very poor to my eternal shame). My title is actually Latin!!! Those few words were uttered by Julius Caesar to Marcus Brutus in Shakespeare's play when Caesar realised he had been betrayed by a friend. When I was emailing Yukari about the purchase and delivery of these puzzles part of the conversation ended up with a cryptic message that there was something very special specifically for me in the Heart case. I was intrigued but not sure what to expect. Little did I realise that the delightful Japanese cum Australian couple would be poking me and laughing at me!

In the package were two of Juno's most recent creations - they looked stunning when announced on their blog and I just couldn't resist - one of them was the third in the suits series which has begun with the Diamond case and the Club case (both reviewed here - remember the title of that post!). Mrs S has been in a very good mood recently because I bribed her for her birthday! Let us just say that her expensive handbag collection increased by 3 and my bank balance went into freefall for her birthday and she will not be able to complain about my puzzle purchases for a considerable period of time (like maybe a year!!)

She was actually quite pleased to see the heart case and wondered whether I had bought it for her. I quickly agreed that it was all hers but I would look after it for her. It is a stunning piece made from Rosewood, Jarrah and Koto and measures 86 x 83 x 56mm (so a nice hand filling size). I was quite intrigued to find out what was inside that was going to be a nice surprise for me so this was the puzzle I started on. Initially, nothing seems to be possible and I had to examine it more closely. In the process of doing so, I was able to make something begin to happen and a pathway of moves was begun. After about 5 minutes I seemed to have made a nice sequence of moves and then no more. At that point more was visible inside and one little feature caused an Aha! moment and I made one final move before it was open. I had this:

The lid off and another heart with Juno's stamp on it
I was very pleased - I am not very good at "cases" and was pleased that this one was solved. It did explain the rather funny cartoon sequence that Yukari had drawn for their site. It was bedtime and off we went with Mrs S pleased with her handbags and the heart-shaped puzzle.

Quite a deep puzzle
I awoke the following morning just wondering whether I had missed something! There was supposed to be something particular for me inside and unless Juno was giving me his heart (unlikely I hope) I had not found it. Then it occurred to me that the puzzle was quite thick and the mechanism I had seen did not use much of that thickness. Then I realised there was something else under the lid that I had not used during my solution...Yes, you idiot, you have NOT solved it! Immediately after breakfast yesterday (after going to the gym with Mrs S) I went back to my intriguing puzzle and explored further. This puzzle is a "sequential discovery puzzle" as it has tools to use! Using the tools for a bit revealed the true solution to the heart case and then all was clear to me. It also made me roar with laughter...

Here is the real cavity of the "sequential discovery puzzle"
The reason for my laughter and the Shakespeare quote as my title? I am now quite famous for claiming that I "don't collect boxes" and many people on Facebook have pulled me up on it. I even claimed in my review of the Diamond and Heart cases that I had really tried to maintain my principles but Allard forced me to break them. At the end of that post, in the comments, my friend George Bell (brilliant puzzler and mathematician) had left a supportive comment confirming my feelings:
"Lol! It's not a box if you can't fit a loaf of bread inside!"
I definitely could not fit a loaf of bread in any of these cavities and hence they are NOT boxes but this time Juno had thought of a way to defeat me again. The "special something" that was in the puzzle cavity was revealed:

Not only a loaf of bread but a fully laden hotdog too!
A rather wild looking George has been twisted into saying something that I don't really want to hear! I could not believe what I was seeing (they had been packed quite well so they did not rattle around and give me a clue that there was a second cavity). I thought that Juno had been on my side calling these puzzles 'cases' and not boxes but he has betrayed me! LOL! I have to repeat:
"et tu Juno?"


(Whilst you are following links, you should visit George's Etsy store. I have played with his Housing crunch puzzle as a prototype as well as the final version and can confirm that it is fabulous. The peg solitaire also looks very interesting and I will need to get a copy of that for myself soon)



Quartet Box

Quartet Box - Yes, a box! Sob!
Next up I have to discuss the Quartet box. This was also released recently by Juno and Yukari and I could not resist it. It's a definite box, so why couldn't I resist it? Firstly, the Ixia box is still beating me and I needed another with these wonderful gears on them...maybe it would help? Secondly, the description said that it took six months to make and looking at it, that implies that there must be something spectacularly complex inside. Finally the description sort of implied that it was sequential discovery and I certainly DO  collect that sort of puzzle. Plus of course, I feel the need to support my favourite 2 Japanese Australians!

Taking this one out of the packaging actually made me gasp aloud! It is simply gorgeous! The colours are fabulous and it immediately becomes apparent that this is a rather complex construction. It is made from Burmese Teak, Jarrah, Koto, eight species of timber for the gears, metal parts and magnets. It is a nice size at 98 x 98 x 58mm. Having recovered from my shock at the contents of the Heart case I moved on to exploring this one.

The gears all turn and interact as you would expect except there is a sensation of magnets taking hold occasionally as you turn them. As I moved things around I pushed and pulled at the lid and of course, nothing happened. I felt the urge to see what was underneath the gears - this may have been a mistake:

Gears off and I was none the wiser
The gears are held on with magnets in the centre and the circular track in the lid holds a little pin. Again, it is not clear what this pin does. I put them all back (randomly because I had not taken a picture first - yes I know...I am not terribly bright). Nothing appeared to have changed but also I was no further forward. Time to investigate other facets of the construction then. The box walls were not solid like the other puzzles I have from Juno; they appear to be created like a brick wall with overlapping sticks and this makes the puzzle just a little bit "squishy". It is an odd sensation playing with a squishy puzzle box and not immediately obvious why. There MUST be a reason for it but for the life of me I could not work out what it was:

Side details
Whilst watching a movie with Mrs S who was pleased that my current puzzles don't jingle ( I have still not solved all of the new wire ones from Jean Claude and Wil). I noticed a little something during my play which led to a further play and then some movement. I wasn't getting any further and decided to move the gears around a bit and try my initial moves again. After a lot of moving "stuff" around something really really surprising happened! I have NEVER seen a box do that before! The move that occurred was astonishing and even Mrs S showed mild interest when I showed her. At this point, the lid had detached from the box but would only lift a tiny bit. Something was holding it on. I was completely bemused by all the movements that had occurred so far and this led me to try an even stranger idea...and it worked! The lid moved more and raised off the puzzle. I had a cavity:

Mechanism carefully hidden!
I was very pleased with myself but something was nagging at me...where was Juno's stamp? Looking at the lid of the puzzle there was an obvious further step to be done but no obvious way to achieve it. I tried using one of the gears but that was not going to work and I obviously needed a new tool. Here I got stuck for quite a while before remembering something that Goetz had written on his site about these puzzles. I tried something new and nearly dropped the puzzle! If the movements before had been unusual then this was simply astounding! A tool was available but not reachable so...try something else/different? Aha!!! Even the tool is beautifully made! Finally, I was able to see the true cavity of the puzzle and Juno's branded mark and a little note:

Thank you for the message
I have opened and closed it a few times and have yet to completely understand the gear section of the puzzle - there is quite a lot to explore and understand with this puzzle.

This puzzle is not cheap at £270 but let me say that it is well worth every single penny! The workmanship is amazing and the construction is totally unique. It looks and feels gorgeous and has a solution sequence that is amazing and fun. I absolutely love it! This was very difficult to make and I suspect will not be available again, so go and get one whilst stocks last - you will NOT regret it.




Are things really that bad?

I love receiving emails from you and welcome them via my contact page (or email kevin@the website). I was delighted to hear from Asher who questioned whether all is Ok between myself and the present wife (she IS doing Ok for a first wife!) and made some suggestions for me. I have to say thank you so much, Ash, for your contact AND your concern and also for suggesting that I try not to put myself down so much. Let me try and explain to him and you a little about me. I don't often do personal stuff but I feel a public reply may help.

Mrs S and I have been together for 28 years and married for 24 of them (as of July). I have to apologise to everyone (and her) if they feel that I have aired our "issues" on this blog - we actually don't have any - the angry violent Mrs S is all a charade for your entertainment! We are very happily married despite the duration and my terrible habit of filling the house with toys and making jingling noises all the time when she wants to watch TV. I love it that she gets so excited about shoes, handbags and jewellery and I encourage her to indulge herself or I indulge her myself as I enjoy them too. She actually enjoys my hobby even if she doesn't participate as long as I don't clutter up the house. We are very playful both together and apart and it has been commented by others who meet us for the first time that our banter is hilarious. The taking the p!$$ out of each other is all part of the fun - we both give as good as we get and have a lot of fun in the process. I really wouldn't be publishing stuff on my website if I wasn't happy for her to see it. In fact, she has actually suggested things to put on the site a few times. We both have different interests but are delighted to support each other in those. I tell her frequently that my habit is much safer than drink, drugs or a motorbike, much more acceptable than gambling or getting a girlfriend (girls tend to run away from me for some reason!) and this hobby keeps me available to her much more than if I took up golf or sports car racing. To that, she has to grudgingly agree!

Ash also commented that I should not put myself down so much. Yes, I am aware that I am a senior doctor and work in a major UK teaching hospital so I really cannot be as dim as I claim! For me, this is all a wonderful piece of fun! I am a 50-year-old (and a bit) man who spends most of his spare time playing with toys and then writing about them online. I am basically a very old kid at heart whose hobby is TOYS! I have to say that I love what I do but do find the whole thing rather hilarious. My solution success rate is based purely on trying sooooo many puzzles and playing for so long that the solution eventually just happens (I have been working on a few of them for over 5 years!) I am quite good at disentanglement puzzles now, but still feel like a beginner at many puzzles (Yes, Derek, I am still a newbie!). To all my readers, please take my writing as a big dose of fun and humour, as it is intended. Enjoy your lives as I do and enjoy your families alongside the toys (just as I do).

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Jean Claude Invents a New Sub-genre

A whole new bunch of wire puzzles
Over the last year, a number of my email conversations with Goetz has ended up with the 2 of us discussing the fact that we often seem to struggle with the reassembly of wire (+/- string) disentanglement puzzles. Goetz several times used the term "entanglement puzzle" to describe a puzzle that has more of the challenge when trying to put them back together. We both noticed this phenomenon with a number of the puzzle designs from Aaron Wang and I think that Jean Claude Constantin might well have taken this to another level!

The group photo above is a bunch of the recent designs from JCC which he made for my wonderful friend and puzzle pusher, Wil Strijbos. These puzzles are mostly prototypes but if they are enjoyed by the few people Wil has sold them to (including me and Allard) then they will be made available in larger numbers for Wil to sell. I don't have names for them and so have named them in descriptive terms. The one feature they all share in common is the use of the U piece (and sometimes two of them). This U piece is a very interesting topological shape and allows for some incredibly interesting moves - to me, it almost acts like a Möbius strip providing a sort of continuous surface to play with and makes the solution of many of these very tough. They vary considerably in their difficulty level and quite a few of them seem to be very easy to disassemble and VERY tough to put back together - hence, as Goetz has stated before, some of these are better named as "Entanglement puzzles". Needless to say, Mrs S has been distinctly unimpressed at the amount of jingling that has emanated from me in the evenings and also has complained at the creative use of swear words whilst watching TV in the evenings.

The imaginatively named O-U-Rod!
All of these puzzles are beautifully made out of very heavy gauge anodised steel wire/rods and will stand up to a beating if you should happen to give one to an orthopaedic surgeon. I started with this one (O-U-Rod) and solved it pretty quickly. It is a very nice little sequence of moves that are really quite unexpected but not tough. It took me about 5 minutes to take it apart and after leaving the pieces for a while, about the same to put back together. This is a suitable puzzle for a beginner but also good for experienced wire puzzlers because of the unusual moves.

A perfect starter puzzle
I did hope that the rest would be a bit more challenging and I wasn't disappointed!

Rod-Chain-U
 My second puzzle (attempted immediately after the first one) came as a bit of a shock! A little casual exploration (basically fiddling with it and not paying too much attention) revealed that there a few new moves that can be made with the interlinked chain and these moves can get quite confusing rather quickly. Again, I took it apart in a fairly short period of time...about 15 minutes, but in doing so, had no real idea of how I had done it. Note to self.....
"Always pay attention when taking puzzles apart! Especially when they don't come with solutions".
I had these pieces in my hands and only a small idea of the final position when they separated. I laid them down on the sleeping cat and admired my enormous if inadvertent, skills.

More complex pieces mean more complex assembly
OK...after 15 minutes, it was time to put it back to the beginning. Except I couldn't do it! The interesting possibilities did lead to an assembly of sorts but the ring and chain were inverted in the U and this was not hard to take back apart. Everything I tried failed and a little panic crept in. Mrs S laughed at me and told me that my "Plug face" was being revealed. In the end, I had to go to bed with this in pieces and come back to it another day! I hate doing that because the longer I leave it the less chance of success. After work the following day, I picked it up and failed many times. It looks so easy and really didn't take long to disassemble! It took the whole evening that day to get it done...PHEW! That is a very sweet puzzle with some very unintuitive moves and a hugely challenging entanglement phase.

O-U-Oval-String
 My goodness! My naming skills are incredible! This was my third puzzle from the batch. It has string. String means danger! Beware of the string puzzle....it will hurt your head and may even hurt your ego!

The O-U-Oval-String is another simple construction but does not come apart easily. There are quite a few moves in the sequence and these moves are very hard to remember. I most definitely attempted to concentrate on the sequence very hard whilst I took it apart. BUT this is a really difficult thing to do. I had no real technique for the disentanglement and so just tried lots and lots of different moves (some of which involved multiple loops of the string). As is usual for me being a true professional at these, it suddenly fell apart in my hands:

I have no idea how I did this!
The disassembly was slightly longer here but still only about ½ an hour. The reassembly was another matter entirely! There are a LOT of things you can do with these pieces and I think I did ALL of them many times before I had a fantastic Aha! moment. It was ecstasy - only a puzzle but the pleasure and relief I got from putting it back together was incredible. I would suggest this is not for beginners but any decent puzzler will love this one.

Spiral-U-U
The final one today is the Spiral-U-U which looks pretty simple but really isn't. I left this one a bit because it is particularly jingly and I didn't want to anger Mrs S any more than I had earlier after Big Steve's latest puzzle arrived (see my New arrivals page) and really pissed her off! The combination of two of the Möbius like U shapes as well as a spiral actually made this one a serious challenge to take apart. It took me a couple of evenings and a good burn from the laser burning stare. As usual, there are a fair number of very subtle moves that need to be done and as usual, I had no idea how it happened. I suddenly had 3 pieces in my hands and yet again no idea how.

It looks so easy
This puzzle remains in pieces! I have tried to put it back together for several days now and am no further forward than the first time. Very deceptive - it is a medium disentanglement puzzle and a VERY tough entanglement puzzle. I will keep at it but I may end up leaving this in pieces because Wil NEVER EVER gives solutions. Don't even ask for one as it will end badly.

I will write about the others in a later blog post and hopefully even solve them all. At least one of the other string puzzles is proving a real challenge to take apart.


Sunday, 3 June 2018

The Stickman Hexagram Box

The Stickman Hexagram Box (number 33)

Rob Yarger has always released his boxes by randomly picking names from his subscriber list and offering the lucky winners the chance to buy his latest offering. He has thought for a little while that this may be unfair and so, starting with the last box, he moved to a first come first served method to allow all-comers a chance of buying if you are on his mailing list. The other big advantage of the new system is that he is no longer kept waiting and out of pocket whilst collectors take time to reply to his offer. However, some collectors have thought the new system is just as unfair due to the vagaries of time-zones meaning that boxes are sold out before they wake up in the morning.

Unfortunately for Rob, there is no truly fair way of doing this.  I personally prefer his original approach - the random drawing allows for true collectors to get a chance without worrying about being asleep. I would prefer that Rob actually control the sale personally so certain people who know him very well and have collected for years do not miss out. I know it is biased that way but Rob should be able to treat his friends special if he chooses. I am not close enough to get special treatment but I think there are some who should get it.

The Stickman Hexagram Box was released this new way and went on sale at about 8am UK time a few weeks ago. I had just put in a Spinal anaesthetic and done a Lumbar plexus block (don't follow those links if you are squeamish) on a patient and positioned her for a Total hip replacement when the phone on the work surface vibrated. I looked up to see the notification on my phone and grinned thinking I had got an offer and had plenty of time. The sedation infusion was started and we went from the anaesthetic room into the OR. Having re-established my monitoring and done our WHO checks (it's mandatory!) I had a moment to look at my phone to see what was on offer before writing the notes. Hmm! Looked nice and I clicked to look at the details. OMG! nearly sold out already. Click click clickety click and Phew! I was several hundred $$ lighter. Thank heavens for mobile phones!

I duly received a tracking number and happily watched it move across the USA and then over to the UK. Then it just stopped moving - held by customs, released and then held again whilst they thought some more about how much ransom to charge me! After a week of fear, it began its'  journey to Sheffield and I held my breath when it's journey to me suddenly changed to address not known! Aaargh! The UK side of the delivery was left to Parcel-farce and despite my having lived here for over 15 years and received deliveries from them throughout that time, they seemed to have forgotten where my house was. The following day after my missed delivery, I phoned the local offices and let them have a piece of my mind. I was informed that the reason for the inability to deliver was that there was no house number on the package and they didn't know which house it should go to. I informed them of the number and they assured me it would arrive the following day....It did not arrive despite me waiting in for it. Very odd! Even more odd when the tracking said that they had tried to deliver it and there was no one in. The instructions were to go to the local post office to pick it up (and pay a fee too).  Sigh! At 5pm I finally held a box that most certainly DID have the house number on it in 2 places! I hope that your deliveries are less fraught than mine are.

The Hexagram box is limited to 40 copies (including some in a "lumpy" finish) and is back to the Stickman roots requiring only a few steps to reveal the inner compartment. It is somewhat smaller than the recent boxes but absolutely stunning with 2 colours of wood and a with each face being an inverse of the other.

I am not very good with boxes - I cannot say that I never buy them but I am very selective which I buy (this is more to try and preserve my finances than for any other reason). There are just 4 moves to find the compartment and despite this, I think I took about an hour to open it. It is a rather nice sequence and at least 2 of those moves were very unexpected to me.

Very clever - I love the branded motif.
I am aware that a few well-known collectors missed out on this and I am truly sad about that. I hope they find a way to add it to their collections.


Sunday, 27 May 2018

The Heat is On! Some Surprisingly Difficult Puzzles.

Radiator I
I have had very little puzzling time the last few weeks despite having some annual leave! DIY (and the clear up after it) plus a return to a busy week at work have prevented much puzzling recently. So the heat was on for me to find something to blog about. A few evenings ago I decided to pick up a couple of the wire disentanglement puzzles that I received from Aaron Wang. This bunch are particularly complex and have made me pause a little before getting the courage to have a go. If you are keen to try some of Aaron's puzzles then many fabulous examples are currently for sale on Puzzle Paradise now (all are fabulous puzzles but I can particularly recommend the Lucky Lantern and the Libra twins). When Aaron showed off his latest productions I couldn't resist and bought all the ones that I didn't have and they have been sitting waiting for me for a while. I have been playing with one for a week or so now and recently this one dropped into my lap for evening play. Luckily for me the Whack! Ouch! situation is not too bad because this one is not jingly.

It is called Radiator for good reason...not only does it look like one, but it also laid the heat on as I tried to solve it. This is the first (and easiest of 3) which I feel I have to master before I attempt the silly ones:

Radiator II
Radiator III
I had been expecting these to be N-ary puzzles and spent a frustrating 5 minutes playing with Radiator I and trying to find a repeating sequence. Eventually, I realised that this one was a "simple" disentanglement. All I needed to do was unloop the string and ball. "Simple"? Maybe for a genius like Aaron but not for me. I realised the first evening what was sort of required but kept getting stuck with the string very badly looped up around the helices of the radiator. The string seems to be only just long enough to allow this to be solved which is a help as well as a hindrance. It is helpful because you can tell that if you are rapidly running out of string and manoeuvre room then you must have attempted something wrong. But the hindrance is that you have to position everything just right to allow yourself the space to solve it. I am very grateful that Aaron now uses the lobster claw clips to allow easy reset of these puzzles if you get in a mess. If that was not the case then these would become impossible knots quite quickly.

After my second evening of play, I had my Aha! moment and realised what was needed to remove the string. After I had convinced the cat on my lap not to eat the string or play with the wooden ball, I delightedly held up the pieces to show them off to Mrs S (she showed not the slightest bit of interest or encouragement). The solution to Radiator I is very logical and needs just a bit of investigation and then some proper logical thought (not something I am particularly good at):

Beautiful - a nice start to the set
As usual, I attempt the reversal of the solve and get stuck. The reassembly is another nice logical puzzle and should be the reverse of the disassembly but due to the complexity of the main piece, I struggle to visualise what is needed. I found myself getting half way there and as I continued it would magically reverse itself and fall apart! The reassembly took me over an hour! I love this puzzle - very clever idea and just the right level of complexity. Aaron has labelled it level 10+ but I think it is probably a Level 9 - the next ones will be MUCH harder!

Mobius Ring
The Mobius ring is slightly different from the others in that it arrived in a box and also arrived incorrectly assembled (different to the picture on the front). The incorrect assembly was rectified after a quick email question and here is what we are trying to disassemble. When I saw this one in a picture from Aaron it looked very familiar and I asked a question or two. After a single reply, I knew that I had to buy it because it took a couple of my older puzzles and raised the complexity to new heights. This REALLY turned the heat up! A long time ago (January 2017) the Puzzlemad foreign correspondent, Mike Desulets, reviewed the Russian heart puzzle by Jean-Claude Constantin and later I reviewed the Diskette puzzle - both have similar mechanisms to the solution.

Russian Heart
Diskette
As you can see, they have the common feature of a double intertwined loop of wire with the string loop straddling both parts. The solution is very satisfying and you should all run out to Tomas Linden's Sloyd store to buy the Russian heart to experience the lovely Aha! moment. The Mobius Ring takes that same basic premise and adds an extra separate mobile ring of wire across the puzzle to add a whole lot of extra difficulty.

Having enjoyed the other two puzzles so much last year, I picked up the Mobius Ring first and very rapidly realised that I was in trouble. That damned extra ring makes a huge difference. It really gets in the way. I played with this every evening for a week and was very thankful for the lobster claw release mechanism. Finally, after a week of work, I had my two pieces:

OMG! That was VERY difficult!
So far I have not managed to reassemble it from scratch. In fact, despite having disassembled it 3 or 4 times, I can only do so whilst generating a bit of a tangle in the process which eventually undoes itself at the end. I cannot claim to fully understand the solution yet and plan to keep playing with it until I do!

Soma Tube
Finally, I have to end with another surprisingly tough puzzle! Except I really should not have been surprised! I have previously extolled the incredible brilliance of Laszlo Kmolnar - his packing puzzle designs have truly delighted me (even as someone who is notoriously bad at packing puzzles). When the Published professor of wood, Brian Menold, released his latest puzzles, I could not miss the Soma tube designed by Laszlo. My copy was made from Bolivian Rosewood and Maple (with an acrylic lid). Yes, it is JUST a Soma cube (which I proved to myself by taking about ½ an hour to assemble). I have said before that every puzzler should own a Soma cube and I stand by that - now I have two.

With this version, the aim is to assemble a cuboid (with a corner missing) which is actually quite a simple thing to do. My Burrtools file tells me that there are 1520 ways to make the correct shape but there is only one way to assemble the shape within a box through a T shaped hole in the top. Laszlo, you are a truly evil genius! I sat down at our dining table with this and spent the best part of a day working on it (moving a little periodically to prevent pressure sores!) I have to admit that it took me 2 days of effort before I found the solution! The Soma cube is relatively easy and all the other shapes that can be made are a nice diversion. The Soma tube is a surprisingly VERY tough variant which nearly broke me. It is sitting next to me assembled and I am hesitant to take it apart again - I think I will put it on display in the solved state!

My goodness! That was tremendously tough!
Now after those very difficult puzzles I really need to find something easier to work on for a rest. Maybe the next 2 Radiator puzzles? Maybe the latest twisties I bought are the right difficulty level??? Or maybe not.....



Sunday, 20 May 2018

Is it Easy? Hell No!

The MF8 Son-mum cube
This week has been my first annual leave after my operation in November. I think that leaving it 5 months without having any time off is too long! I was all set for a rest but it was not to be. "We" had been discussing the terrible state of my study for a while and "we" had decided that enough was enough and it was time to do something about it! With visions of a huge bonfire in my garden, with a slight tremor in my voice, I asked what she intended as a solution? Ikea had opened a store in Sheffield last year and Mrs S had decided that one of our spare rooms could be used for puzzle display. Yay!!!

You can see why she was upset!
The small stretch of visible desk is to allow the cats to jump down from the windowsill.
The weekend before my annual leave we had a trip to the shop and navigated hundreds of screaming children before I discovered to my horror that Ikea is also known as "storage central"! We duly ordered some Billy bookcases with doors and extra glass shelves to be delivered (they would never fit in my Mini) and much to my disgust, she homed in on the chests of drawers, other items called Skubs and various items of storage. Another 6 chests were added to the delivery along with assorted other stuff and the following day a delivery occurred (yes, on a Sunday). The garage was even more of a mess after that!

That's a whole lotta flatpack!
My week then began with a DIY frenzy - chores first and then the assembly began! Firstly, as the title of the post says, I thought that it was going to be easy but, as usual, I was wrong! Each of the bookcases weighs the same as me and needed to be brought from the garage into the house down a long path! After nearly killing myself I invested in a sack trolley which helped. I have always had great respect for craftsmen and people who do physical work for a living! After 3 days of lugging stuff around and assembly, I was sore all over and towards the end, if I dropped anything it was going to have to stay on the floor because I couldn't bend down to pick it up again! The construction was not challenging but yet again I was reminded why buying a house from Barrett homes was a bad decision...the floors are horrifically uneven! They were all over the place leading to a major challenge getting everything lined up and level. It took nearly 3 days but I finally had a secondary puzzle cave. Time for toys to be placed inside. I started with the dining room...those toys which she found particularly annoying even if they are my most beautiful:

All nice and level!
Some of my most prized beauties go in first.
After the puzzle cabinets were constructed it was on to the rest of her storage purchases. As a result, the desk is still a mess and I am about to go back to work! My physical fitness and strength have, however, improved a lot!

Back to the puzzling! Not only was the DIY much harder than I expected, but the puzzle for this week was also MUCH tougher than I first thought. At the top of the post is the Son-mum cube made by MF8. The original design was by Mike Armbrust as the Shallow Mixup Cube. My copy was purchased from the HKNowstore (it is also available in N America from Puzzlemaster). I couldn't resist it because my experiences over the last couple of years with various Mixup cubes has been really good - they are amongst my favourite twisty puzzles.

As with the other Mixup puzzles they are special because of their ability to have the centre row and columns turn 45º and yet still allow the other faces to turn. This allows edges and centres to be interchanged which becomes quite confusing and also allows some wild shapeshifting.

Just 2 turns made.
As you can see from the picture above, this particular puzzle has the centres split into a 9 segment grid and all the segments can be split up leading to a very interesting variant on the 3x3 Rubik cube:

What have I done?
The first attempt was fun! I quickly managed to return it to cube shape and found the bandaging to be fairly easy to get past. After that, a straightforward hunt to recreate the centres also proved to be a very easy challenge once I had seen the secret of moving pieces about. No algorithms were required at all! Just very simple intuitive moves. Having recreated the centres and it was just a quick 3x3 solve and I was done! Fantastic! It had only taken me about an hour for that first solve - easy peasy!

Oh boy! That first solve had lulled me into a false sense of security. I did it again to make sure that it hadn't been a fluke...let's just say that it HAD been a fluke! My next attempt left me with a parity i.e. a position that is otherwise impossible in a standard 3x3 due to the reduction process:

A single flipped edge is not usually possible.
Time to engage the little grey cells (the few that haven't been pickled in gin yet). I recalled the original Mixup cube and after about half an hour of fiddling about (one day I will start to take notes on my puzzle solution methods so that I remember techniques used in the past). Eventually, I worked out a nice simple set of moves (hardly complex enough to be called an algorithm) which fixed the flipped edge, then another 3x3 solution and it was done - easy peasy? A little less so but not too bad. Not being very bright is a major shortcoming for me! I should have stopped there but no...I had to do it again.

I hit a brick wall! I seemed to be completely unable to return it to cube shape! The outer centre pieces were not lying flat and for some reason, there were only 6 of them sticking out. Had there been 8 then I could have lined them up and done an equatorial ¼ turn and had everything flat again with just the edges and very centres to swap. But with 6 of these pieces sticking out, I could not simply flatten them. I began to sweat and mutter under my breath! Again and again and again I failed! Suddenly after a couple of hours...aha! I now knew how to create and move them about. Still no algorithms needed...just fiddling about until things were right. The rest of the solution progressed without any parities and I breathed a sigh of relief!

Stupid boy! Did it again didn't you? These things are like an itch for me...I just have to scratch. The next scramble was a struggle yet again to return to cube shape but I managed it after a few minutes. Suddenly I thought to myself, "You've cracked it. You're a genius!" Wrong! I sat back in horror when I saw this:

Just 2 corners top swapped
Equivalent to 2 opposite edges swapped
These 2 pictures are an equivalent parity...both are impossible in a standard 3x3. It is usually impossible to have 2 corners or 2 edges swapped. This parity occurred for the first time and caught me by surprise - I had no idea such a thing was possible.

I was stumped! I thought that it must have been either due to the centres being recreated the wrong way or possibly due to the whole equator having ALL the edges and centres swapped but how to fix it? I tried everything I could think of until after 2 or 3 days and about 6 hours of attempts, I found a method. It certainly is not a pretty technique and I am not entirely sure why it works but I think it rotates all the equatorial edges and centres by 180º. With a huge sigh of relief, I can now put this one down.

Should you buy the Son-mum cube? Not if you are a beginner! If you have been playing with twisty puzzles for a while and have some experience of the Mixup cubes then definitely buy one of these. They move well and are fun to work out the basics. That killer parity may require some help and I have seen that there is a thread on the Twisty Puzzles forum about it already.

Tomorrow it will be back to work for a rest!


Sunday, 13 May 2018

When is a Box Not a Box?

When it's an Assembly Puzzle!

It's NOT really a box!
The MPP guys are all out in Spain with Nigel at a 3 day extravaganza known as the Spanish puzzle party #1 and I am all alone back in the UK (Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear, I didn't mean to ignore you!) I am writing a blog post so that you all have something to read this weekend whilst Allard is gallivanting. Why am I not there? Unfortunately, I could not get those days off work and the cost was prohibitive for me when I consider that I have just been to Ikea for a puzzle display purchase which was never going to be cheap. Plus, Mrs S had just been absent in Edinburgh visiting her family and I couldn't immediately abandon her on her return - the fear of a Whack! Ouch! is just too great! From the pictures appearing on Facebook, the guys all appear to be having a great time.

Today, yet again, I am blaming Allard! A few weeks ago he wrote a review of a lovely little cube-shaped wooden thing from Japan. He had spotted in on Torito's site and combined an order with Big Steve. It is called the Kopa (or KO) box but don't be fooled...it is NOT really a box! This is an assembly puzzle which just happens to be cube-shaped and has a cavity. A puzzlebox is defined by being an article intended for storage of items which needs an unusual sequence of moves to open it. This puzzle is different...it has a central drawer that can be removed but there is no bottom in the drawer so anything stored will just drop out when it is pulled. Plus, a very big PLUS, this arrives in the disassembled state (as in the photo above) and the aim is to form a cube. It almost has maze-like properties.

The puzzle easily comes apart to reveal these pieces
The two outer pieces just pull apart and the central drawer can slide out. one outer piece and the intermediate are eternally linked by a dowel which sits in a square track around the edge as you can see above. When Allard was so enthusiastic about it, I contacted my usual puzzle pusher and asked whether he had any spare copies lying about. Of course he had one and Allard brought it back for me on his way back from Wil's King's day gathering. It duly arrived here and I couldn't resist settling down with it that very evening whilst "she who frightens grown men" and I watched some TV. Whack! Ouch!

The first thing I realised was that this thing is beautiful and then I realised that it wasn't going to be a pushover - it does slide together quite easily if you take the drawer out:

Easy peasy! Only if you don't include the drawer.
As soon as the drawer goes in the puzzle becomes much more difficult and just as Allard said, after about 10 minutes I was convinced that it was impossible. Sneaky bugger has got me to buy another impossible object! You can reach a stage where it is almost there but there is a cm or so still showing and no obvious way to get past this. I reread his review and realised I was at that early denial stage and that I should keep going. Now with this puzzle, nothing is hidden, there is no secret hidden mechanism. The entire thing is based upon 2 dowels moving around the edges of squares...in fact, there are 2 pairs of these dowels which seem to interact. This puzzle won't be solved by randomly moving the pieces because there are not many moves possible.

There are actually 2 really nice Aha! moments here. The first is when you notice a feature and have a sudden realisation that it could possibly go together if you can organise the captive pieces with the free piece in a certain way. How on earth can you make that arrangement? Think laterally? Think sideways? Backwards? What about inside out? Well, there is a particular thing that you need to do and suddenly a whole new set of possibilities opens up. Even then, I couldn't close the cube (NOT a box). The next Aha! moment is just as delicious...a sequence of maze moves lines it all up and suddenly with a lovely craftsman made slide it forms a cube with the drawer inside:

Genius!
I have to say thank you to Allard for introducing me to this lovely and very clever NOT box/cube. It is a genius idea and beautifully implemented as one would expect from a Japanese craftsman. All in all, it took me about 45 minutes and Mrs S was actually impressed when I showed her the genius idea. She even told me that I was obviously brighter than I looked which is quite a compliment from her except, now that I think about it, this does imply that she thinks I look rather dim! I think I hide my lack of brains quite well! At the moment, both Wil and Torito is out of stock of these but I think Endo-san is being encouraged to make some more. If they do come up for sale then they are well worth your hard-earned cash.



When is a Cube not a Cube?

When it's a Shapeshifting Cubic Cuboid!

The Duo Axis Cube
A recent purchase from Calvin's HKNowstore included a bunch of cubes made by MF8. For some reason, my usual twisty supplier is unable to get MF8 puzzles but I can heartily recommend Martin's Puzzlestore for almost all other manufacturers. One of my recent purchases was one that I had seen back in 2014 on both HKNowstore as well as the Twisty puzzles forum and had been fascinated at the look of it but not really that interested in purchasing as it was nearly $200 as a handmade mod. I had completely forgotten about it when I recently saw that it had been mass-produced by MF8 and I added it to my "must buy" list. In that intervening 4 years I had completely forgotten even what was the nature of the puzzle.

After opening my nice package and admiring the contents, taking my photos and frightening myself to death with the Son-mum cube and especially the Unicorn cubes, I put the Duo Axis cube in my work bag to show off to my surgical colleagues who I am gradually convincing that I am extremely crazy but gifted. Whilst we were waiting to be given permission to start a case (we needed a post-op critical care bed), I took it out and investigated what it was. I could not recall the exact nature of it but knew that it was related to the Axis cube that I enjoyed in the past. One of my most read posts is my "Twisty puzzling advice to a beginner" discussion which focussed on where to go after one has mastered the basic odd and even order Rubik cubes. The shape modifications are a really fun challenging next step on your puzzling path and the Axis cube is a fun one to try and is now available as a 3x3 as well as 4x4 versions.

Too many layers
Looking at the puzzle above something did not look quite right - there were too many layers and some odd diagonal pointing pieces that didn't seem to line up with anything when turned. Over a few minutes of showing this off to my rather horrified spinal surgeon, we both came to different conclusions: I realised that this puzzle was NOT a cube...it was a cuboid modified into a cube and axis transformed at the same time! My colleague realised that I was completely nuts! Both of our realisations were correct! The puzzle we have here is actually a 3x3x5 cuboid which in my discussion of the classification of cuboids is a shapeshifter which will be made even tougher by the Axis transformation. Having realised the nature of it, there was nothing else but to scramble it:

Holy crap!!
Once I had scrambled it for a while I saw that those diagonal parts that would not line up with anything were not separating from each other (the 2 middle yellow parts - one with mf8 on it are 2 of them). It actually required me to use some simple 3x3 algorithms to make these line up and then I could get a full scramble. It looks really fearsome like that and luckily also quite attractive as it may be staying that way! Having seen the look of horror on my surgeons face, I then went off and anaesthetised my patient and only much later did I get time to play.

This "NOT a cube" is a really fun challenge for any twisty puzzler who has gone just beyond cubes and simple mods and is looking for something extra. As soon as you have mastered the basic cuboids (Floppy cuboid, Domino cuboid and Shapeshifter) then you are ready for this. The puzzle turns beautifully and is only spoiled by a tendency of the centre caps to fall out (which is easily fixed). Those split axial pieces add a nice extra challenge to it and the solve proceeds logically. It is very important to keep the base puzzle firmly in your mind because after any turns of an algorithm it is impossible to look at the puzzle and see what is next. This needs a good mind's eye. I definitely think that this is a great next challenge for anyone who wants something extra.

Congratulations to AJ and MF8 for some great challenges - this, and the other 3 above look fantastic. I do hope that some of AJ's other mods are mass produced because he makes some stunning puzzles which are just out of reach when handmade.

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