Sunday, 19 January 2020

A Great Tonic For When I'm Under the Weather - Dominola

Another vintage puzzle - Dominola
My good friend and the singular PuzzleMad foreign correspondent, Mike Desilets, always comes up trumps for me just when I really need it. I seem to have been poorly for quite a while (12 days and counting) with a spot of puzzler's lurgy that just won't go away! Mrs S is complaining about the 'drowning in mucus' noises at night and keeps asking why I feel the need to gargle with it when she is trying to get to sleep. I, of course, am completely unaware of my horrific sound effects and have to add being woken up multiple times a night by being kicked or shouted at to my woes. Needless to say, puzzling has been a bit tough and every time I settle down to work on something I lose consciousness before I get anywhere. Just as I was getting desperate to find something to blog about, Mike dropped me another wonderful email about an old and interesting puzzle that he has been working on. Over to you Mike...


Aloha Kākou Puzzlers,

This time of year I, like you, fantasise (Ed - we are NOT getting into my fantasies here!!!) about all the puzzling I am going to get done in my time off. That never really happens. Instead, new puzzles flow into the house at an accelerated rate and the backlog grows (OMG! Tell me about it!). I also continually get hung up on certain puzzles that catch my interest. Many of those end up as blog posts, and today I have one such for you. Once again, it isn't the puzzle, per se, that has me hung up, but rather the full family of puzzles it belongs to. We’ll get to all that shortly.

Today’s puzzle is called, rightly enough, Dominola. Not to be confused with my editor’s current Dominola, Mrs S. That is a completely different blog post for a completely different kind of site (We are NOT going there! She won't let me). And you’ll have to pay for it. I am of course referring to the domino-based puzzle designed by Eric Everett way back in 1935, or so. The extent to which it can be considered an original design is open to question, and we will get to that further down. My usual slapdash patent search turned up nothing on the puzzle itself, but the phrase “Dominola, unique puzzles with many solutions” was duly copyrighted on June 10, 1935. Mr Everett then applied for a trademark on the name DOMINOLA in a distinctive if unimaginative san-serif font on June 29, 1935. The name Dominola (in a different font) had been previously registered as a trademark by one John M Haddock on April 7, 1903, for a card game. It appears this earlier trademark had expired by the time Mr Everett applied. Unlike patents, trademarks are considered “abandoned” under US law after three years of non-use. Said use, must be continuous, ongoing, and demonstrable, otherwise the mark goes back into the stew pot. 

Dominola packaging.
Eric Everett’s Dominola puzzle consists of a complete set of double-six dominoes and a two-sided playing board. A double-six set consists of 28 tiles, 7 of each number. In keeping with the times (see Embossing Company post from way back), and likely the target price-point for the puzzle, the tiles are made of embossed wood. If this post makes you want to add a set of dominoes to your collection, I recommend an antique set of bone over ebony with brass spinners. They seem to be plentiful on the British and European Ebays, and are reasonably priced considering many are over a hundred years old. Anyway, wooden tiles are quite fit for Dominola and the coloured pips add a nice splash of, well... colour.

Dominola instructions - no surprises here.
So you already have a bargain with this puzzle, in that it comes with a full set of dominoes. You can both play dominoes AND solve Eric’s two puzzles. That’s right, two, because the playing board is two-sided, with a different puzzle on each. Look at the pictures below if you don’t believe me. Now, the objective of the puzzle is to lay down the tiles, ends matching of course, in such a way as to complete a continuous circuit. In essence, this is an edge-matching puzzle. Although the dominoes have “numbers” of pips, there is no mathematical element to the solution. The pips could very well be replaced by symbols or just colours for that matter.

Lack of maths does not mean the puzzle is easy. It actually requires a respectable amount of work. Why? Glad you asked Kevin! (Hahaha!) Picture a simple tile rectangle. It would be pretty easy to make this circuit with the dominoes. Plenty of solutions and only one constraint, continuity. Now picture a figure-eight; one crossing. All of a sudden you have a constraint, though a minor one, and thus slightly fewer solutions. Add more crossings and/or interconnections and you quickly introduce all sorts of complicated co-dependent constraints, and the number of solutions drops rapidly. These new constraints typically involve three, four, and even five-way linkages of same-numbered pips. It's an interesting and underappreciated fact that all of the tiles in a pip-number set are not equal. The double-sided tiles (1-1, 2-2, 3-3, etc.) are, in a sense, unique in the way they function. When you are working on your homework assignments (below), you’ll quickly discover that the placement of double-sided tiles requires especially careful consideration. (Homework? But but but...I'm poorly!)

The complete double-six set provided with Dominola
Mr. Everett does offer the puzzler an olive branch of sorts, in that four tiles are pre-set on each board. This gives one a starting point, at least. In the case of the purple side, the fact that two of the pre-placed tiles have one pip is highly significant and immediately rules out certain arrangements. There is still a lot of work to do, but the pre-set tiles at least stimulate thought in an analytical direction, or they should anyway. That becomes the real fun of this puzzle.

I must confess, I have never been a huge fan of edge-matching (Me neither). All too often it is simply a seemingly endless trial and error search tree process; not much to think about other than keeping track of what you’ve already tried so you don’t spin around in circles. I had that mindset and expectation when starting out on Dominola. I quickly realized, however, that domino tiles are not anything like the conventional three, four, or six-sided geometric tilings we are used to. They have, as you can see, two ends, each of which can form three potential connections in as many cardinal directions. They are fundamentally “end-matching” if you will. While most edge-matching puzzles build into a solid shape, domino tile end-matching forms open patterns (and also shapes, if you want to take the maths approach). This makes them intrinsically interesting to a recreational aesthete such as myself. You have to admit, Mr. Everett’s designs are quite eye-catching. But more importantly, the properties of domino tiles, and thus how they match, opens up opportunities for true problem solving.

Purple side
Orange side
So solving Dominola involves more than just trial and error. But don’t worry, If you are a lover of trial and error, there is still plenty of it. Despite what I just said above, I could not find a method to fully “solve” the puzzle through algorithm or artifice. I still think it is out there, I just didn't have the patience or smarts to figure it out before resorting to brute force.

Orange in play.
There are certain rules that should be helpful, though. For example, given the layout of Everett’s purple board, every tileset (7 tiles of a given number/colour) must necessarily connect its tile ends in patterns of either 2-2-3, 5-2, or 3-4 (3-4, for example, means 3 interconnected tiles connected in one place and 4 in another). These are the only possibilities, and they apply to all seven tile sets. So if you find you have laid down, say, two connected tiles of a certain type, you cannot then lay down four connected tiles of that type, or else you will have one lone member leftover with no partner. You would need to go with a 5 or a 2 and a 3, assuming the circuit allows for these. Keeping this in mind, and constantly checking against the three fundamental set patterns, you can prevent yourself from creating some clear dead ends. It should allow you to select out a large number of losing arrangements as you work a certain approach. That said, there are still an infuriatingly large number of ways to get it wrong, even avoiding the obvious dead ends, and you won’t often find out until you get to the last few tiles. (My goodness that is a complex thing to think through!)

Consider, if you will, the perplexing lattice design below. I concocted this mostly for the cool interior-exterior optical illusion. I also thought that it would make a challenging puzzle. But is it actually solvable? Take a moment and analyze; see if you can figure it out in principle, without laying down any tiles.

Mike's Lattice Challenge.
The way to figure this one out is to first break the puzzle down into its components and analyze those first. You’ll notice if you stare at it long enough that the lattice is composed of two equivalent halves, mirror reflected. Looking at either instance, you will also eventually see that the layout necessitates a string of seven connected tiles (six is technically possible, but this doesn't help the situation at all, since it leaves an orphan). You can arrange a seven-string once on a layout, but you cannot do it twice (which becomes increasingly necessary with two mirror lattices) unless the two strings are interconnected. There is one way to connect the seven-strings of each half, but it creates an insoluble dead-end. That explanation probably won’t make sense until you dig into the problem. The bottom line is that this lattice cannot be completely tiled, and more importantly, that you do not need to systematically attempt every possible tile combination to know this. (I'm pleased that you told me that! I am fairly certain I would have spent many hours trying it!)

As my indefatigable editor and I have said to you many times, Puzzlemad is a full-service blog. No, we won’t check your car’s oil level, but we do enthusiastically support our fellow travellers. Thus, we present you with a free digital copy of Dominola for your use and enjoyment. The purple side is downloadable here and the orange side is here. I drafted these on an 11x17 board, so use your best judgment when printing them out at work. I used the Dominola tiles as a gauge, and they are a bit smaller than modern standard tiles. Fiddle with the enlargement/delargement (ed - is that a word?) settings and it should work out. You get what you pay for, so please don’t bother contacting the Puzzlemad customer service department. It's Mrs S’s mobile. (Whack! Ouch!

True metagrobologists are by this point wringing their hands and scowling mightily.  Of course they are correct, Eric Everett did not invent this type of puzzle, and it is less than certain that he even originated the Dominola designs. I haven't seen them anywhere else, but of course, I have a meagre puzzle library. Those of the readership that have shelves and shelves of puzzle books, old ones especially, please feel free to research this issue (Ed - I actually have almost no books of puzzles at all). But regardless of Dominola design origins,  the idea of making symmetrical circuits using dominoes has been around a very long time, probably nearly as long as dominoes themselves.

One puzzle book that I do own is Slocum and Botermans’ The Book of Ingenious & Diabolical Puzzles. It contains a selection of eight historical domino circuit puzzles (see page 59). I haven't tried all of these yet, but they look very interesting. The important thing to remember is that each one has its' own dynamic. They do not all behave the same way, and rules you might have developed to help you solve one will not necessarily be useful on another. You really have to think about each one on its own terms.

Since my decades-old copy of Adobe Illustrator CS3 was all warmed up making the Dominola boards, I went ahead and drew the Slocum and Botermans set, just for you. FULL service, my friends. Now you have no excuse at all. Tramp out to the corner market and order up a double-six set and some chips get puzzling. These eight designs will unquestionably keep you busy. Download them all in a single zip file from here.

Although none of the puzzles in this post requires arithmetic, there exists a whole array of domino puzzles that do. If you have that Slocum and Botermans book I’ve been referring to, you can study several pages of them. I would also like to make special mention of a third sort of domino puzzle. This is the use of dominoes to perform simple computation. Here’s a quick link to get you started - a half-adder from 2007. I think others have improved on it since. This will be VERY interesting to a certain narrow segment of the puzzle community.

Even the great Sam Lloyd had something to add to the Domino puzzle sphere - he published an article which you can read below:

I hope you have good eyesight!
To wrap up, I found Dominola, and the whole family of domino tile-matching puzzles, to be both fun and challenging. They go a step beyond any edge matching puzzle I’ve done previously, in a good way. Eric Everett did what many puzzle producers do, take an existing idea, tweak it a little, and package it in a way that is attractive to consumers. It is a great puzzle to own for the collector, although I suspect there are not many copies floating around, even fewer in good condition. More importantly, Dominola led me into the larger, deeply historical world of domino-based puzzles. This has not only caused joy (and frustration) but has saved me a significant amount of cash. If Mrs S finds out about this, I think Kevin will also save a lot of money, and also curse me to the grave. (Luckily for me, she doesn't read any of my drivel at all - otherwise I am a dead man!)

Ok boss, bring us home...


My goodness! You have completely opened up a new sphere of puzzling to me! I had never even contemplated dominoes as a source of puzzles! I will need to get myself a nice set and have a play once my post Xmas finances have settled down a bit. The nice vintage domino sets I have found on eBay are quite pricey!

Thank you so much, Mike, as always, for helping me out in my hour of need! I will hopefully be back to full strength puzzling very soon or Mrs S may well euthanase me with her bare hands and teeth!

I hope that this has been of interest to all you puzzlers out there? I certainly found it quite fascinating and will certainly be trying some of these challenges myself.


Sunday, 12 January 2020

Juno's Ring Case

But Why Is The Ring Outside?

Ring Case by Junichi Yananose
Yukari announced that there was going to be a couple of new puzzles released on Boxing Day and with the description of the puzzles posted I knew that I would be spending my money and hopefully Mrs S wouldn't be watching me! Quite a few puzzlers that I had been in touch with were eagerly awaiting the day and several of them failed to realise that Juno lives in Australia and is thus 12 hours ahead of the UK and 17 hours ahead of the US. So whilst watching TV on Xmas day and idly surfing on my iPad, I suddenly noticed that the new releases had gone live and BAM! I had 2 new puzzles on the way - Mrs S had not even noticed me move my fingers...I blame the champagne for that!

A nice big box cleared customs quite quickly (after a ransom was paid) and the lovely little beauty above was revealed. It is apparently designed to hold a ring - hence the name Ring Case. I showed it to Mrs S and suggested that we put one of her nice rings inside for safe-keeping and to give her a nice fun challenge if she wanted to wear the ring. She stared at me for a few seconds and suddenly I lost consciousness! A few hours later when I woke up she told me never to blaspheme like that again - she suggested that certain pieces of my anatomy could be put in the case - she would be happy to put it/them through a mincer to help with any "fit" issues! Gulp! I decided against going any further with my foolhardy idea. I also had a nice look at the other puzzle in the box, the Unbalanced 6 board burr which I could not resist at the same time:

Unbalanced 6 board burr
A ring found in the packaging
During quite a bit of 2019, "She who frightens me to death" has frequently complained about me not collapsing down the boxes I receive and leaving a pile of them (with packing peanuts or bubble wrap) in our dining room/storage area. At one point she got quite annoyed and after a series of Whack! Ouch!s I took them to the recycling and vowed to keep everything tidy in the future. Thus I took Juno's box and emptied out all the bubble wrap and dismantled the box and put it somewhere to be disposed of. Whilst flattening the bubble wrap I found a small bubble wrap envelope which looked and felt odd. I unfolded it to find a very nice looking (but probably fake) pink sapphire ring - it was probably a lot cheaper than the lovely ring with a similar stone that Mrs S received when my mum died. I was perplexed! Why is there a ring outside the ring case? Very odd indeed.

The lovely puzzle is made from Victorian Ash (main body) with side panels of Jarrah and the lid a combination of American Rock Maple and Jarrah (apparently inside there are more pieces made from Burmese Teak, Jarrah and metal. It really is a very attractive thing and a nice size at 81 x 81 x 53mm. It actually would be perfectly at home in a woman's jewellery collection.

On Facebook, a few people who had already received their copies had enjoyed opening the case but were struggling to remove the ring (which I already had) so I set to exploring. I realised that the lid would eventually slide off revealing a, dare I say it...cavity. But it is a case and NOT a box! There is almost no movement in the lid but some interesting things happen to the feet. In fact, the things that happen to the feet depend on the orientation of the puzzle when you manipulate them.

Over about 30 minutes I played with my feet and made some lovely fun discoveries. It is absolutely beautifully made - everything works well with the clever use of magnet in places and I suddenly managed to slide the lid back part way only to have it stop dead. Finding the move to remove the lid completely was what I thought might be the final step. It certainly stopped me dead in my tracks!!! I suddenly realised why the ring had been on the outside. Juno has had another laugh at my expense! Apparently, the Ring case IS a box - how do I know? Because there was a loaf of bread in there!

Aaaargh! Juno made me a bread ring!
I roared with laughter at this! The joke that was started by George Bell has continued for 2 years now and is a fantastic little source of fun between Juno and me! He has actually created a little loaf of bread and stuck it to a ring shank - even Mrs S found it funny!

Despite having gotten this far, I could see that the ring was still held captive by a steel rod. I needed to find a way to shift that rod to retrieve my precious ring. This step took me a good 20 minutes extra and was very unexpected and exceptionally clever. It involves a mathematical object which I particularly like. Eventually, I had my box/case fully solved:

Which should I put back inside?
The sequence of moves that are required is very lovely - it is not a really difficult sequential discovery puzzle, taking only about an hour in total but it is great fun and very nicely made. It genuinely could be used to hold some jewellery even though Mrs S declined - I put both rings back inside:

Both held nicely by the rod
I have enjoyed solving and unsolving the puzzle many times over the week. At £95 it is a bargain and I think that those of you who have not bought it should do so quickly - there are 14 left as I write. This is a sequential discovery case/box (grrrr!) with anything from 172 to 348 steps to completely solve and made from beautiful woods. Once finished, you will have 8 separate pieces plus several held captive in the case. Below is a photo of all the pieces - it is hidden behind a spoiler button - DON'T click the button if you don't want to see all the parts - you have been warned!





Sunday, 5 January 2020

There's a Right Way and a Wrong Way

Secret Burr
Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all enjoyed my New Year's Eve post with my top 10-12 or 13 (or maybe a lot more) puzzles of the year? It was a fun one to put together - do you agree with my selection? Do you think any of the puzzles shouldn't be in there at all? Let me know by commenting below the post. For the first post of the new year (indeed the new decade) I will be starting slowly and gently with a nice little review of a gorgeous puzzle made by the Doctor of wood, Eric Fuller. The Secret burr is a remake - Eric has kindly agreed that there are a few classic puzzles that he (or others) have made over the years which many newcomers to the puzzle world have never had a chance to play with or buy. This puzzle is a design by Marcel Gillen (famous for the Chess pieces which have been reproduced beautifully by Hanayama - still available individually here). The original version of the Secret burr was made in very limited numbers back in 2002 (way before I got into puzzling). Of course, I cannot resist a beautiful burr and the description sounded very intriguing:
Unique in that it's difficult in both assembly and disassembly, there are two locks inside the burr that interact much like Cutler's Ball Bearing Burr. Instead of steel bearings, Secret Burr uses small wood rectangles
How can anyone resist a burr that has two separate hidden locking mechanisms? I had solved Allard's copy of the Ball Bearing Burr at a recent MPP and had found it interesting but not terribly difficult and wistfully wished that I had bought a copy. So when Eric released these to the world, I jumped...quickly! I might also have bought a copy of Oskar's paperclips too (I have been trying to buy a copy of this one at auction for years).

I just couldn't resist another of Eric's re-releases!
Oskar's Paperclips
I am a sucker for gorgeous wood and there were a few varieties of the Secret burr available - I immediately homed in on the Bloodwood, Sapele and Walnut which is stunning (only 13 copies of this were produced) - there are still a couple of copies of the Cherry, Walnut and Figured Maple version still available as I write.

This one arrived just before Xmas which helped defuse Mrs S' ire at yet another puzzle package. She knew that she was going to receive yet another nice handbag for Xmas and couldn't complain at me receiving a few small splinters of wood too.

I set too immediately after our evening meal on Xmas eve (it is our tradition to have a classic swiss fondue which gives me a wonderful cheese buzz - Mmmmm!) I was almost disappointed that within a few seconds I had managed to remove the first piece without really doing much more than wiggle it all about a bit:

2 very interesting locking pieces
I had no idea how the puzzle locked, so I put it back together again and fiddled to lock it and then tried to work out what I had done to unlock it. Every time I had done it with just wiggling - that CANNOT be right! Eric (and Marcel) doesn't do puzzles that open randomly. I was doing it the wrong way.

I kept the first piece out and explored the way it had been locked and, with a bit of turning about, I found a second set of locking pieces. Now that is very interesting...a small thought started to brew. I wonder whether the 2 mechanisms might interact in some way? What if I do this? Followed by this?
AHA!
Now that is rather clever! There is definitely a right way to solve this puzzle and it takes just a bit of thought to work it out. You cannot avoid solving it the wrong way first because that gets you enough information to then work out what should be done. If you have bought a copy then make sure that you don't just disassemble the whole thing after the initial random removal of the first piece - take the time to explore the 2 locks that Eric described. They interact and it is that which is the real puzzle here. Once you have worked it out then go ahead and completely dismantle the puzzle, scramble the pieces and attempt a reassembly. Even this is not terribly tough but is still a lot of fun.

A 13 piece burr - or is that 17 pieces?
I am certainly delighted that I bought this remade puzzle. Eric has done his usual masterful job on the pieces and his choice of woods is fabulous. Remember that he has a couple of copies still available just now. This is not necessarily a puzzle for people seeking a high-level burr, it is a puzzle for people seeking a nice exploration and a bit of thought about how it locks together. There is the easy way (which is wrong) and the right way which is beautiful. Thanks mate!

Hopefully, 2020 will bring a whole lot more fabulous new toys - I am expecting a delivery from Juno to arrive tomorrow which will include his first sequential discovery puzzle of the year (still available for the moment). Although even if there are no new puzzles this year, I have a fairly large backlog to get through anyway!

Once again - Happy New Year to you all.


Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Happy New Year - My top puzzles of 2019

Happy New Year Everyone! I hope that the new year and, indeed, the new decade will be a great one for you!

In 2019 I seem to have done rather well (especially in terms of the amount of hard-earned cash spent) in my accumulation of toys. Mrs S is less than enthusiastic but as long as my study is kept tidy she tolerates it...barely! 

I am always triggered to start writing this post when I receive the annual email from Peter Hajek asking for a puzzler's top 3 acquisitions (for his end of year puzzle party). My aim in this post is to highlight the very best puzzles of the year - I only include puzzles that I have actually managed to solve this year in this list - if I receive a puzzle in a previous year and solved it in 2019 then it stands a chance but others that I have bought this year but not solved will not be in my list this year.

I try to make it a top 10 but that is totally impossible and so I cheat by bunching puzzles into groups too. It might not be technically right but it's my blog and I'll do whatever I want as long as Mrs S lets me. Whack! Ouch!

So let's start off by breaking a rule straight away!

Fabulous Puzzle Not Allowed In This List


This year Mrs S and I celebrated our suffering of 25 years of wedded bliss (Whack! Ouch!) and to commemorate that we gave each other some lovely gifts. Mrs S received some specially commissioned jewellery and I, at last, received the one(?) puzzle I had lusted after for quite a lot of years. I managed to get a copy of Miguel Berrocal's Goliath. This has taken me months of wheedling and cajoling and it finally arrived in time for our anniversary. Why is it not in my proper top 10? For 2 reasons mostly - first of all, I have really had an incredibly busy year this year and had no real time to spend on a puzzle of this magnitude. Mostly I have not solved it because Mrs S is very frightened of the weight of it - it is MUCH too heavy to solve on my lap in my armchair during my evenings in front of the TV. Mrs S won't allow it in the kitchen for fear of a tile or granite catastrophe. I, therefore, need to organise a space in our dining room and this has not happened yet. Hopefully, in 2020 I will have the chance to explore this beauty fully.

Drum roll..................And now on to my "Top 10ish puzzles of 2019"



Continuing with breaking the rules lets start at number 12!

12) 136 Minute Cube/205 Minute Box
136-minute cube solved and ready for reassembly
Reassembled as the 205-minute box
The sequence cube was an incredible design by Aleksandr Leontev which he shared with me at the beginning of the year and when he tried to make a copy discovered that it proved to be impossible to construct in a stable manner. As a compromise (which probably actually saved my sanity) he created a variant with only a single removable piece rather than entirely dismantleable. This was called either the 136-minute cube or 205-minute box depending on which pieces were used. Those numbers were supposed to denote how long it should take but in my case, the numbers were considerably higher! It was a wonderful piece of 3D printing and a masterpiece of N-ary puzzle design.

11) Rex Beats Me

Kusing 25
Rex Rossano Perez has continued to produce top quality sequential discovery puzzles made from laser cut acrylic. I received the Kusing 25 as a wonderful surprise gift earlier this year and which I solved without understanding initially. It took me another 3 weeks to decide to cheat and open it up and look at the mechanism inside. Even with being able to see inside, it took me a good ½ hour to fully understand the mechanism. It is a work of absolute genius and beautifully implemented

10) RDS Interlock Puzzle

RDS Interlock PLUS
My Bulgarian friend Stefan worked with the genius that is Derek Bosch to produce a full analysis of the RDS interlock puzzle and produced a wonderful set that included all the pieces needed to make all the possible constructions. In total, there are 27 assemblies possible with the provided pieces and I had a wonderful time trying to find as many as I possibly could. This was made all the more challenging by the dexterity needed to hold all the pieces in place whilst placing more into the puzzle. Inside the outer shell is another puzzle which is also great fun, the 4 Dimensional Trapsticks which has only one assembly which took me 3 days. Apart from the superb puzzling provided by this multilayered puzzle, this was made all the more special by the incredible 3D printing by Stefan (in my opinion he is the best in the world) and especially the fact that this was given to me as a gift. Thank you, my friend! 

9) Ternary/Quinary Cube
Ternary/Quinary Cube
Johan Heyns has been producing wonderful wooden creations for a few years now and I have managed to obtain quite a few of them. He has also developed a fascination with the N-ary puzzles and after a discussion with Aleksandr Leontev, he produced a batch of Ternary/Quinary cubes. These gorgeous puzzles smell as good as they look and provided a wonderful challenge. Arriving in the Ternary form, they require 170.2.2.2 steps to solve and then the maze plates can be flipped into a Quinary form which requires 1251.2.2.2 to solve - a fun challenge...EXCEPT that I had not paid attention to how my plates were originally orientated and had the additional challenge of assembling it into a fully functional puzzle - it only took me 3 or 4 hours to work it out. After I had put it away, we were informed by Jack Krijnen that this puzzle actually has 4 challenges as the orientation of the maze plates can be mixed and matched. Brilliant puzzle!

8) Combination Lock
Combination Lock
The Combination lock is a wonderful sequential move puzzle that I bought from Diniar Namdarian. I actually hesitated to buy this puzzle along with the others because I was feeling a little guilty at the amount of money that I had spent! Diniar argued with me and I am soo soooo glad that he did. The combination lock here is a reproduction of a classic puzzle produced by the Combination Novelty Company and designed originally by DE Dow. I finished off my review with the statement that if you order other puzzles from Diniar then make sure that you pick up a copy of this. No matter how many times I have solved it, I struggle to do it again. Brilliant!

7) Brass Monkey #3
Brass Monkeys all lined up
My very good friends, Big Steve and Ali have formed a wonderful puzzle company which produces items of quality! The third in their series of Brass 6 piece burr puzzles (BM#3) was released this year and apart from being beautifully made, it is also a lovely clever challenge which might also be rather painful to solve. As a set, they look incredible on display and the weight of them makes Mrs S nervous when they are played within the kitchen. It was a wonderful challenge which took me a while. Whilst you are at their Etsy store, you should also buy a copy of their Nova Plexus and the Hyperboloid burr or to save on postage in North America buy from PuzzleMaster.

6) Fidget Burr
Fidget Burr
Whenever Jerry asks me if I am interested in offering feedback on a new design, I just say yes! I don't think about it - the answer is always gimme gimme gimme. After a little exchange of PayPal and a long wait as the Royal Mail holds things hostage, I get to play with a puzzle that is classic Jerry (you can tell who made it instantly). This puzzle can double up as a fidget toy - it has magnets in like the last few that he has designed and it makes a wonderful noise as you move pieces around. It is quite a challenge to find the second move with this one and when you do, the Aha! moment is wonderful. Even after the very well hidden move has been found, there is still a real challenge ahead to fully dismantle the puzzle. It requires a lovely piece of logic to solve and then reassembly is just as much fun.

5) TICs Galore
A BIG bunch of TICs from Bernhard

Let's not forget the rather large number of TIC's that I bought from Brian! This is just a small selection

Andrew Crowell has taken the puzzle world by storm! He has been designing Turning interlocking cubes the last 2 years like the world was about to end! They vary in complexity from relatively challenging to totally mind-boggling. I absolutely adore them! Initially, I wanted to receive them fully assembled into beautiful cubes and work out how to take them apart but now as my skills have improved I can actually appreciate the challenge of them entirely as assembly puzzles. Some are still kicking my butt but it's a very enjoyable failure. Of course, absolutely no-one makes these as well as the incredible Brian Menold! who's choice of glorious woods is inspired!


4) Derek & Eric'S Marvellous Split Mazeburr
Magnificent Mazeburr
When Derek showed me his designs for a new version of his Mazeburr puzzle (I had previously adored the rhombic version) and promised me that I could have a 3D printed version if he could perfect the design, I was over the moon. I love to have series’ of puzzles and this would have been great. Then the Doctor of wood, Eric Fuller, decided to have a try at making one, I knew I had to have a copy. In fact, whilst pacing the Post-operative care unit, looking after a bunch of patients at 6pm, the email came in and I took the required 60 seconds on my phone to buy a copy. It was stunning in wood and the booklet that Derek had designed to go with it provided a whole lotta fun for several months. I’ve only scratched the surface with it but it has to be one of the best designs and creations of the year!

3) Pelikan Packs A Whole Lotta Brilliance Into 2019

A Whole bunch of Packing puzzles designed by Osanori Yamamoto

When Jakub and Jaroslav team up with the amazing Osanori Yamamoto then you are absolutely guaranteed a fabulous puzzle! It will be beautifully made and the puzzling will be just the right level of difficulty - a stunning challenge to go back to again and again. The pictures above are not all they produced this year but they were some of my favourites of the entire year. I am generally not good at Packing puzzles but these are making me change my mind - they have just the right number of pieces to ensure that trial and error are not required and we are left with a puzzle that is a delight to solve.

Incredible designs by the unbelievably talented Volker Latussek

Of course, there were a number of puzzles designed by Volker Latussek this year and 2 were produced by Pelikan - The Dunant was an amazing and very interesting challenge which was one of the very few where I began my review with the words "Go buy it now" as the very first thing I wrote. It is a tremendous and very difficult challenge which took me a few days to work out with a wonderful Aha! moment. Then also by Dr Latussek, there was the Harun/Guillotine puzzle. My copy was a wonderful gift from Allard of the basic Rombol version but both Eric and Jakub produced more beautiful versions. This also is a tremendous puzzle finishing out the year of wonderful puzzles from Pelikan.

2) Juno’s Sequential Discovery Puzzles
The most amazing sequential discovery puzzle of the year - the Slammed Car

Sequential Discovery Board Burred Box
Chubby Crocodile - being attacked
Juno had an incredible year - he produced a bunch of sequential discovery puzzles which the world swooped on very quickly. They rapidly gained acclaim from puzzlers everywhere including on my blog - Slammed car, Board burr and Crocodile. The Slammed car won the 2019 Jury grand prize in the IPP design competition and for very good reason - it is a Tour de force puzzle with so many steps and a very complex end step which kept me stumped for many weeks. The quality of the craftsmanship and the extent of the puzzling make this one of the very best puzzles of the entire year.

Juno has released (on Boxing day) a new SD puzzle which may be of interest to you all - the Ring Case is a box/SD puzzle and is still available at the time of writing - you may want to check it out as there is a chance that it might end up in next year's top ten.

BUT Juno is beaten out of the top spot this year by another fabulous challenge that may be a surprise to many of you:

1) Skewby Copter Plus

Yes, my puzzle of the year for 2019 is not made of wood! It’s not a burr or an interlocking puzzle! It’s the best twisty puzzle I’ve ever seen - an amazing work of design and manufacturing ending with a fabulous logical challenge. It’s the Skewby Copter plus, designed by Diogo Souza and manufactured by MF8,  is an incredible hybrid of the Curvy Copter Plus (an improved unbandaged version) and a Skewb. It is so complex that one needs a plan just to scramble it and end up with a horrific mess. The approach to solving it is a multistage process which is logical and fun. There are no complex algorithms as the solution uses basic principles. There are several fun parities to contend with as well and I think, one of the best puzzles ever designed and produced.

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.


Usually, I try and show off some photos of the "State of the Union/Collection" but at this moment in time, my study has relapsed into being a huge shithole again with puzzles and papers everywhere. I will, no doubt, be forced to tidy up again before long and then I will endeavour to update my collection photos.



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