Sunday, 2 May 2021

Sorry - no post today

For only the third time in 10 years there is no blog post today.  I’m afraid I’m much too ill today to puzzle or write about them. It’s not Covid related. I hope that normal service will be resumed next weekend. 

Sunday, 25 April 2021

I Needed To Think Even Further Outside the Box


I couldn't resist it...yet another design by Alexander Magyarics. I have been watching this week as he seems to be on a design roll - I think at least 4 if not 5 new designs of his were published on Puzzlewillbeplayed this week alone! Having received a nice bunch of puzzles from Eric a few weeks ago, I have been gradually fiddling with them as time allows. I wanted to get back some of my burr solving mojo and jumped in with the brilliant Spy (reviewed here and still available). After that I tried my luck with BurrBon, the rather fun little 6 piece burr inside a 6 piece burr that was brought to us all because I drew it to Eric's attention on Facebook after the design was shown off by its' creator, Tim Alkema. Eric said that it was extraordinarily difficult and I soon found out that was the case...I failed! Trying to find something for today's blog post, I moved on to the other item from Alexander - the MagneTeam. For a moment I was worried that I had bought a duplicate puzzle - there is a very similar design I reviewed a while ago called Super Magnetic from Pelikan puzzles with an identical box but different pieces and the challenge to pack them inside. I really struggled to solve that puzzle and adored the incredible Aha! moment after I got it some 5 hours later. 

4 simple pieces
The MagneTeam has been stunningly made by Eric with incredible tolerances (0.002in - why can't he use metric measurments? I have no idea what 0.002in looks like!). The box is a lovely pale Ash and the 3 larger pieces are Granadillo - they need to be placed inside such that no gaps are visible. Just like Super Magnetic the top of the box has a plus shaped hole and the bottom a minus shape. This requirement is a huge constraint - surely this will make it fairly simple? On top of that the shape of the larger pieces effectively means that they can ONLY be inserted into the box and placed vertically - another huge constraint. This must mean that this will be quite a quick easy solve? Oh hell no! Remember guys, that I am a bear of very little brain and solving puzzles is really not my strong point. I seem to find that I am MUCH better at buying puzzles than solving them. 

Starting outside of the box, I realised that there are a huge number of 3x3 assemblies with these 3 pieces but quite a lot less with the vertical arrangement constraint - I was getting there! Errr no. After 4 hours over 3 days of trying I had not found the solution. What was wrong with me? This was the easier of the challenges. I took it to work and handed it to my ODP (anaesthetic assistant) whilst I was doing an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm repair and I periodically watched what she was trying to do. All of a sudden, I had an epiphany! Alexander designs his puzzles very carefully with pieces intended to fool you or throw your thought processes the wrong way. I suddenly realised what I had been missing.

Helena failed to solve it and told me in no uncertain terms that I HAD to show her the solution right away! Gulp! I did explain that I had so far failed as well but whilst waiting for the surgeon to do a particularly awkward suture line deep in the pelvis, I had another look and completely amazed her by solving it right before her very eyes and before the surgeon was able to cause any more blood loss.

Take my word for it - this is solved!
It has to be on its' side for the photo to stop a piece dropping down
What had changed? How had I managed to solve it this time? I realised whilst watching Helena play that I had been trying to do it entirely outside the box and using my virtual 3x3x3 grid had completely missed that one of the pieces after dropping through could then move outside of that small grid. I had actually assembled the correct positions of the pieces many many times whilst trying to solve it but had not been able to think outside the box in a fully unconstrained way - sigh! Really not very bright.

Helena was amazed at my prowess - this is quite a delightful feat for an old man like me in front of a pretty young thing like her. Unfortunately that was very short lived - I then explained the next phase being to repeat the process with the 4th piece (made from Morado). She looked at me expectantly and basically said "go on then". Let's just say that the admiration in her eyes faded very quickly! In fact it was just like being at home with Mrs S looking at me with disappointment in her eyes! Eventually after another 3 days of playing with it I finally found the correct solution. It really is a significant challenge with the entry of the final piece requiring 9 moves to get into position. Unlike the Hydrant puzzle from Alexander, the addition of the 4th piece actually requires all the pieces to be rearranged and not just find a way to pack it into the same arrangement.

What an amazing design! Beautifully made as one would expect from eric and a significant pair of challenges (especially for those of us who are 3D challenged). It is still available as I type and well worth adding to your collections.

Mrs S is currently quite pleased with me (well, partially pleased). I did manage to repair our Dualit toaster - it needed 4 new heating elements and a new timer switch - I fixed it yesterday without making a mess and without killing it. She is ever so slightly disappointed that I did not do the repair whilst in the bath and with the toaster plugged in! 😳 Especially after she went to all the effort of buying all that extra life insurance for me!

Yay!! I did not get electrocuted!
Stay safe everyone! Whilst the UK is currently doing very well, things are going really badly in parts of Europe and horrifically badly in India. Get your vaccination when it is offered to you - they are all extremely safe.

Sunday, 18 April 2021

Taking it Slow but NOT Easy

Matrix by Émil Áskerli
Unfortunately work has interfered with my puzzling and blogging this weekend - the NHS never stops and never sleeps and as the pandemic begins to ease again, the workload to try and catch up with the backlog is going to increase. Unfortunately I am missing a virtual MPP and having to write this review in advance.

My friend Johan Heyns unfortunately decided to abandon making puzzles (except for his own enjoyment) and selling them on his store which is now shut down. I am very pleased that in the few years that he was selling I managed to buy quite a few of his creations (starting with the phenomenal Really Bent Board Burr designed by Derek Bosch). Most of Johan's puzzles had a number of features in common - he made them from sticks which he cut very accurately and then glued together (this is really obvious in the photo above) and also almost all of his creations were supplied with a stand especially designed to hold a particular puzzle. Some of the stands are almost as complex as the puzzle itself and I distinctly recall that one of them needed assembly and it took me ages to actually work out how to put just the stand together!

Stand perfectly designed for the puzzle
Tray of shame! Matrix always present.
Back in 2017 I bought the Matrix puzzle from Johan. It looked interesting as a stick burr that was combined with a complex frame made from interlocking boards. This puzzle does not have a particularly high difficulty level with a solution requiring only 45 moves to remove all pieces ( Despite this so called ease, I have been completely unable to solve it for years. Many puzzles like that get shelved and brought out periodically to be tried again (and again and again) being put away between attempts each time. The Matrix, however, was different...the moves were really quite interesting and I always seemed to be making progress but then getting stuck about 15 or 16 moves into the solution. I couldn't bring myself to put it away and it would always end up returning to my tray of puzzles I am "currently" playing with. It has been on that tray in the living room for 5 years being picked up and fiddled with every few weeks/months. Always always, I would get stuck at exactly the same spot. Maybe I was down a dead end? It seemed unlikely that one would be this long but I could not find an alternate path and have remained fixated on this blasted puzzle for years.

There is something really special about the designs from Émil Áskerli - Eric made the Clamped cubes back in 2017 (if Eric makes something you can always assume that itis a very interesting puzzle)

Clamped cubes
Clamped cubes pieces - looks simple?
I also received a gorgeous version of Émil's Tvan from Johan and it also remains compulsively unsolved but stunningly beautiful on display.

Tvan on stand
This week, I have had to medicate one of our boyz and he is not enjoying the process. In the evening, by the time I get to settle down with a puzzle, he is usually clamped to my lap and I realise that I have forgotten to put out any of my new acquisitions to play with. So this week I have been forced in the evenings to continue playing with Matrix - after all, it has been within reach for 4 years!

Each day I have repeated the same sequence of moves and been unable to get any further until Thursday when I have a fabulous Aha! moment. I've found a move...a REALLY complex move that involves the frame shifting along with several of the sticks. I don't know why I found it this time. I suspect that I must have been holding the puzzle in such a way as to squeeze it and initiate the move. Johan doesn't use a smooth lacquer to finish his creations and this may have created some friction which made it harder to find the hidden move. Having found the new move, I was on my way and I quickly laid a pile of pieces on the purring boy. It soon became obvious that I was never going to get this back together again without Burrtools and have spent a happy few hours creating the solution file.

At long last!!!!
Absolutely brilliant puzzle! I hope that Émil continues to design and that other craftsmen will make his designs. I know that Johan has several other hobbies and a grandchild keeping him busy. I will miss getting puzzles from him as they are very different to those produced by others. I hope that everyone who went to the MPP had a good time? Hopefully we will be able to meet and play in person soon.

Finally, I know that some of you have subscribed to my email list to get these articles emailed to you. Unfortunately, Google has announced that it is withdrawing this service very soon. I apologise for this - I am still looking into making a jump away from the Blogger platform (as Steve C has done with his Boxes and Booze site) which has become increasingly frustrating to use. This is another factor motivating me to jump ship - hopefully I can find the time to do it sometime soon. 

Sunday, 11 April 2021

I Have Not Burred For a While

Juno's 6BB Oddly Extended Burr (possibly #1 of several)
You very nearly didn't get a blog post to read today. There is an odd bug in Adobe Lightroom 4 which causes the app to hang if there is a video file in the folder that you are trying to import from. I have spent the best part of 2 hours trying to get my images in and edited. Only by sheer fluke did I work out what the issue was and manage to get it sorted. I have lost even more of the small amount of hair that I had left!

Over the years I might have bought a few of Juno's puzzles! I especially like his SD puzzles and they have appeared in my best of year many times but I also seem to be rather addicted to his burrs as well. He particularly seems to be able to design interesting board burrs which remain very stable during the disassembly process. It appeared that there was a limit to how interesting a standard 6x6x6 board burr can be and so Juno looked into elongating the boards to make an 8x8x8 puzzle. My interest was peaked when he stated:

"If the length of the board burr pieces is simply extended from 6-unit length to 8, we can not expect higher numbers of movement for assembling and disassembling since the filled area (block) strongly restricts the possible movement. Simply extending the blank area (voids) also causes another issue since it makes the puzzle too unstable when being assembled. Then, how about extending the length of the pieces and partially extending the blank area?"

Juno realised that this would greatly increase the number of possible interesting puzzles and also ensure they had decently high numbers of required moves (up to level 24 for the first piece). The first release in this series (I do hope that there will be more) is a mere level but is still a fabulous puzzle.

The page on the Pluredro store (the puzzle itself is in the archive area now that it has been sold out) states that the size is large. I obviously didn't read that bit and when the box was opened and puzzle unwrapped from several metres of bubble wrap, I got a huge shock...its huge! I know that he extended the dimensions in Burrtools but OMG...this puzzle is 12.8cm in each dimension and weighs 360g. To prevent his board burrs from having any risk of snapping along the wood grain, Juno always uses his own home made plywood. This is not just any old white plywood from the DIY store this is gorgeous stuff - he uses PNG Rosewood (aka Amboyna) and New Guinea Walnut. The Walnut has a very interesting feature in that depending on the direction of the light it varies in colour from deep brown, through light brown to a yellowy silver colour. It took me a while to realise that the centre wood was the same in all 6 of the boards but just looks different for each of them because they are oriented differently.

It has been quite a while since I played with a board burr (in fact, I have not done much burring at all) and it took me a while to get used to the thought process of exploring without getting hopelessly lost. The difficulty level is perfect for me - as a board burr it is possible to see everything that is happening during the interaction and almost plan where you want to go. There are a number of blind ends but not too many to get me hopelessly confused and lost. There is a definite rhythm to the disassembly of this as certain sequences are needed several times as other boards are unlocked. Despite the very extensive holes in the centre area of the boards it stays very stable. At several points it looks like a rotation may be possible but it never seems to happen and you don't need multiple hands to keep everything aligned whilst you progress. I really enjoyed this one - with my back and forth approach to solving all burrs, it took me about 3 hours to find my way right to the end:

There is a LOT of space in these
Even when 2 or even 3 pieces have been removed it remains pretty stable. There is absolutely no way that I would ever be able to assemble this from scratch but I was delighted to realise that even after so long without burring, I was still able to reassemble this without BT (even if I did have a bit of a struggle working out how to get the penultimate piece back inside). Of course, I have created a BT file for it. That is an essential part of the fun for me! Now the puzzle is how I am going to get this into my display cabinets? The Juno section is pretty packed already!

Spy by Alexander Magyarics
I had several puzzles saved up to be delivered from Cubic Dissection by Eric's wonderful assistant Sara. I had finally spent more than the required £200 and they came winging across the pond to me. Mrs S loves the neat packaging but she was very unimpressed that 4 arrived at once! The first puzzle from the four that I wanted to try was Spy by Alexander Magyarics. I think this is the first of his puzzles that Eric has made and I hope that many more are coming. I have bought a LOT of Alex's puzzles from both Brian and Jakub over the last couple of years and can honestly say that he has become one of the best designers in the world (he is delightfully humble about it too when I get to chat with him). It is not just about producing something with a high number of moves...Alex designs things with a nice achievable level which has the solution masterfully hidden and/or with just the right number of blind ends to make it challenging. When Eric offered up several of Alex's interlocking type puzzles I just clicked the add to cart button without hesitation. 

Spy is another of Eric's gorgeously precise creations made with a box from Figured Maple and burr sticks made from Yellowheart, Purpleheart, and Chechen. It is 3" in every dimension (Americans don't seem to understand metric yet) - the joinery is incredible. Reading the list of woods reveals something missing - Eric says this:
"Spy is an Interlocking Puzzle with a secret. Four Purpleheart and Yellowheart pieces packed into a Figured Maple container...simple, right? Perhaps a closer look is in order. With a level solution, Spy is definitely hiding something! Even disassembly is a difficult task"
Having bought this purely because it was designed by Alex, I started with this to establish why Eric was so enthusiastic as to take the risk making yet another "straightforward" caged burr. Very quickly it becomes apparent that there is nothing straightforward here...the 4th wood is revealed as a piece hidden inside which blocks a lot of movement but also the burr sticks are not based on a 2x2x6 grid. Several of them have single voxel protrusions meaning they are based on a 2x3x6 grid which hugely ups the ante on the interaction possibilities. Movements which look like they should be perfectly possible just won't happen and this is not helped by the presence of 5 extra protruding voxels from the interior of the frame. 

At several points during the solution process it looks like there might be a rotation but it is never possible and the sequence is delightful. I spent at least 5 hours before I had managed to disassemble it and was quite surprised that even after one of my cats dislodging the pieces from their careful placement (he turned them into a heap of wood), I was still able to reassemble this one with only a little bit of trial and error. I must admit that there is no way on earth I would be able to assemble it from scratch but scrambling the pieces did not hinder me too much having effectively learned a rough assembly path. Yet again Alex has designed an absolute masterpiece - it is still available as I type. Go and get one whilst you can.

The 4th wood type is revealed
A stunning puzzle (both design and craftsmanship)
I still have quite a few burrs in my "to be solved" pile but am pleased to have got by burr mojo back again. They are still amongst my very favourite puzzle types.

I do have a new Stickman to play with as well but I think this will take me several weeks or even months.


Sunday, 4 April 2021

Like Plastic Sudoku

Bird 11 box
I have survived my week off without electrocution! Luckily for me, the spare parts to the toaster remain unavailable and hence my bathtub electrocution has been avoided narrowly. Instead, Mrs S has forced me to work in the garden (something I absolutely hate) in the hope that I will either be struck by lightning or the exertion will kill me off. However I am extremely proud that, according to one of the post-Covid studies I am participating in, my "fitness age" is down to 39! Yes, I have managed to shave 15 years off my age by working out regularly on our rower. This has dashed Mrs S' plans to cash in on an insurance policy. Phew! It's a shame that it usually feels like I am going to die when I get up after the bloody exercise! 

Back to the puzzling:
When I placed my order from Mine, he also had a couple of Yuu Azaka puzzles available at the same time. One I had bought from PuzzleMaster already (I reviewed it here) and the other I ordered from Mine. This one is Bird 11 and is a sort of packing puzzle...except really it's not. I bought it because I had really enjoyed all of his previous creations - they have been packing puzzles with a twist...something that makes you think differently. They are not about randomly placing shapes in a tray or box until something happens; they require an Aha! moment which often catches you by surprise. Who can resist?
11 very odd birds to fit in 11 very odd nests
This puzzle is much less colourful than Yuu-san's previous creations. It has been very nicely made from good quality plastic and acrylic. We have a grey tray with 11 nests/cut out holes in it and 11 very deformed chickens that need to be placed in the nests. It looks pretty simple!

I set to straight away and started placing the birds. At this point it becomes clear that the shapes have been very precisely thought out by the creator. Certain pieces will only fit in certain nests and usually will only fit if flipped right side up. Quite frequently, it looks like a piece will go but her wings/legs are a couple of mm out of alignment and it ain't going to go. The only thing to do is start placing pieces and work your way through. This has been rated by Mr Asaka as only 2 out of 5 so it is not that surprising that you race through placing more and more pieces before suddenly hitting a wall and one won't fit in any of the remaining spots. In fact having placed 5 or 6, none of the rest would fit anywhere. That's interesting! Tip them out and start again. Obviously with shapes like these there is no way to remember what you have tried before so starting from scratch gets you nowhere...again. This time, instead of starting from the beginning again, I take a blocked piece and attempt to find where it will go and remove the offending blocking piece. This leads to a cat and mouse race around the board often looking great but ending up with pieces blocked. After an hour or so I manage to reach a point where I have one piece left to fit into its nest:

So near and yet so far!
I put it away for a while and try to think© for a bit (ouch). I come to a conclusion and one evening whilst chatting to Derek we realise together that this puzzle is going to require pen and paper or a spreadsheet and being systematic. I ma not great at being systematic so I put it aside for a couple of weeks. Yesterday after finishing my stint in the garden I decide this puzzle needs to be put to  rest and being too stiff to lounge on a sofa with a puzzle, I sit at a desk with the Bird 11 and take notes. 

It takes about 30 minutes to get all the information tabulated and I start placing the birds in their correct nests. Once you can see the pattern on paper then it is quite satisfying. This puzzle is rather like a Sudoku but made of plastic. In the end I found it quite satisfying despite my initial disappointed reaction when I realised what was going to be needed. 

You are certainly not likely to solve this one by randomly placing the pieces in the holes. You need to think and plan and unless you have an incredible memory you will almost certainly need to take some notes. I agree with Yuu-san's rating of 2/5 but don't let that low difficulty put you off - it is actually a nice diversion.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

PuzzleMad Saved by Something Out of Stock!

...or Don't be lulled into a false sense of security
the suffering still continues

Phew! I cannot buy it just now!

Now that must be one of the most confusing of my blog titles! What on earth am I driveling on about this time? It has been quite some time since I had some time off work (5 months) and whilst the government has said that NHS workers can carry over unused/cancelled annual leave, my employer has said "use it or lose it". Gulp! I booked some time off and hoped that  it would be approved (I write the on-call rotas and not the day to day rota). Luckily the boss said yes and here I am with some time to myself - yay! Then the "real boss"...the one with the violent Scottish genes and the nurse training to make full use of them told me that I was not going to be sitting on my arse (ass to the Americans) playing with toys - boo! She has a full list of DIY for me to do including putting up blackout blinds, redoing the silicone seal in a bathroom, tidying the shithole/study and most importantly repairing the toaster. Yes, you read that correctly! We have a 20 year old Dualit toaster which is now failing to toast or burning stuff. At £190 to replace, I have been putting up with it and then realised it can be fixed at home with a suitable screwdriver set and some Cajones. I know I have the screwdrivers and I can see my cajones in the pickling jar on her bedside table. I was a little perturbed that she said that it was vital that it be fixed this week and when I did it, I was NOT allowed to unplug it from the electricity supply when I did it and in fact, to be absolutely certain of a perfect outcome, she wanted me to sit in a full bath of water whilst I performed the essential maintenance! She said "it would be fine". After a little hesitancy, I went to the website to buy the required heating elements and timer. 
YAY! Out of stock! I will survive to blog another day.

5 Mononoke
A few months ago, Mine posted a bunch of new tray packing puzzles (and a special wooden 3D packing puzzle) on FB and took orders from a lot of eager puzzlers. Every time these sorts of tray puzzles come up I prove to be absolutely dreadful at them and swear not to buy any more and every time someone produces some more that look interesting from a distance across the internet I fail to hold my discipline and buy them in the hope that I will find the skills to solve them. Usually I am wrong and end up buying yet more stuff that I cannot solve! The tray puzzles offered by Mine looked really interesting in that most of them had quite low numbers of pieces and they had very interesting shapes which would make for a nice challenge to work out how they might interlink.

I started with the 5 Mononoke - until I looked it up for this blog post, I thought a Mononoke was a sheep or goat or something like that but apparently they are vengeful spirits who can make people suffer. As a tray packing puzzle this is quite appropriate in my hands! These pieces can interlock in very clever ways but in doing so they leave some ½ spaces which then leads to difficulty packing the next one(s) into the tray. There will obviously need to be some gaps after the packing is done but there is very little spare room. I spent 2 whole evenings swearing under my breath at this before I had my aha! moment. It should be fairly easy I thought, but for me - it wasn't and I struggled. Nothing new there then but at least it was better than repairing an electrified toaster whilst in a bath!

5 Fennec Foxes
Again, I couldn't resist this one! It was only 5 pieces and they were so cute! Actually, if you search YouTube for the real Fennec foxes then they really are cute. The pieces are quite long and complex with the legs offering some interesting interlocking opportunities. Oh boy! This one nearly beat me -  I could not work out any logical way to save space here at all. It is possible to get 4 in place in lots of nice interesting interlocked ways and then always get stuck with plenty of room in the tray but always spread over several areas. Swearing is mandatory despite Mrs S glaring at me with disapproval written all over her face. But I do find that the swearing helps - after another couple of evenings, I found the correct combination of swear words (in appropriate languages) and the 5 foxes settled into place. Another puzzle solved before electrocution.

6 Ayakashi
I am a little worried about Mine! He has named another puzzle after monsters. This fabulous packing puzzle again consists of interesting shapes that can interlock in interesting ways. Each of these interlocking approaches tends to leave small gaps between them making for the real challenge. The tray is quite large and the 6 pieces will fit in that with ease but the aim is to decrease the size of the tray by using one of two inserts. This immediately makes the puzzle a whole lot more challenging. 6 pieces should be harder to place than 5? I thought so but going against that thought, the pieces were much less complex than the previous 2 puzzles. Maybe I would have more/faster success with this one? Hell no! That definitely was not going to happen. It is interesting how the human brain works (OK OK maybe just my feeble brain). Whilst playing with these pieces I got fixated on finding the most space saving ways to interlink them that I could and very rapidly found this:

Beautifully packed with minimal space wasted
Bloody useless!
I found several variants on the picture above and it was very exciting - unfortunately it was also of no use whatsoever and I couldn't for the life of me get it out of my head. I kept going back to variants of these combinations in varying positions in the two possible tray shapes. Yes, there was more swearing and no it didn't help. It took me 4 days before I solved the first and even then it did not help with the second solution. Amazingly the second solution was very different to the first and took me another couple of days of work!

I am truly awful at these puzzles and yet I keep coming back to them for extra suffering. This batch have actually been great fun. The low number of pieces and the interesting interlocking shapes meant that there was more to it than random trial and error. Of course, I did start with random trial and error but then realised that thinking© would be more useful. It was really quite tough to get into Mine's mind (which is quite warped) but very rewarding when I got there. As always I got fixated on a dead end that I am sure was placed there deliberately. I have a few more of these tray puzzles to play with but they look considerably tougher with more pieces or non-orthogonal shapes:

All three of these puzzles are double sided for twice the suffering!

Whilst I have your attention, you should go to the Pelikan store and buy one of the last few remaining Chamburr puzzles. I am amazed that they are still in stock as that particular puzzle is one of the best of the last release (reviewed here).

Sunday, 21 March 2021

An Entirely New Type of Puzzle?

The recent collaboration between Chris Lohe and Andrew Crowell
Last week's post showed off the recent releases from Jakub and Jaroslav at the New Pelikan Workshop and I am pleased to see that many of you did read my drivel and have bought the wonderful new toys when they went up for sale. In fact two items are sold out already (if you did miss out on anything then I am sure that they will eventually be stocked by PuzzleMaster). I received all 7 of the puzzles and I am always very aware that Jakub is waiting for my reviews before he puts them up for sale so the pressure to solve and write is very high. Luckily for me this time there were two of the batch that were sent to the Zen puzzler himself, Ken Irvine, for review and I did not have to be too fast with these. Ken is a master of the design and solution of interlocking puzzles and is very uniquely placed to give an opinion of the two beautiful lumps of wood and if you read the blurb on the Pelikan site on them, then you already know that Ken was extremely enthusiastic. I did, however, really want to try them and give an opinion for you all (even if I am not sure why you even read my stuff let alone pay attention to what I think).

First of all, let me say that these puzzles are absolutely amazing and you should buy them straight away - unfortunately the Cyburr has sold out already but in my opinion the Chamburr is the best of the two and certainly MUCH more difficult. Stop reading this right now and rush over and buy - you will not regret it.

I have waxed lyrical about Christoph Lohe and his designs many many times over the years - he has a very unique talent for designing puzzles that are just the right difficulty level and really interesting to solve with some very long and difficult to find sequences but always fun to work through - he is almost a savant. Then we are all aware of the incredible effect that Andrew Crowell has had on the puzzle world. He has taken the rather small rarified area of Turning Interlocking Cubes (TICs) into the stratosphere in terms of interest and difficulty. So...when these two incredible puzzle designers team up I just have to sit up and pay attention! This is should definitely prove to be something simply spectacular and YES it is incredible - it is almost like they have developed a whole new category where the interlocking puzzle is combined with the TIC without making something that is impossible for humans.

Starting with Cyburr (this is the one you should pick up first), we have a gorgeous cube made with a Mahogany frame and Maple burr sticks. It has been beautifully finished and the initial moves are buttery smooth. There are a number of choices possible at the beginning and quickly you can home in on the correct path. Some puzzles I find are spoiled by having too many blind ends or some that go much too far before petering out. I like a fascinating sequence with a few side paths to explore but not too much risk of getting hopelessly lost. During the pathway through this disassembly, there is a wonderful dance as the pieces are weaved around each other inexorably towards an exit. The exit this time seems possible at several times as the burr sticks get less and less interwoven but even when one is separated from the pack then it still cannot be simply pushed out. This is where Andrew's wonderful skill has come in...rotations are required. Not too many that it is possible to get hopelessly lost and entangled. He has designed it so that rotations are actually very difficult to achieve and are only possible with exact positioning of all 3 of the pieces within the frame. This is not going to happen by accident - it requires thought©. The Aha! moment is wonderful. Two rotations are required and the pieces are ready for your exultant photo:

Stunning precision on that craftsmanship
The reassembly is a serious challenge! This puzzle cannot be solved by Burrtools but the process of disassembly should take you back and forth enough to lay down a decent muscle memory to allow you to scramble the pieces and still be able to put it back together again. If I can do it then all of you (who are considerably cleverer than me should manage it). I do agree with Ken that this puzzle is probably too difficult to be sent out as pieces to be assembled from scratch - only a very few of us could manage that. The Cyburr has a sequence 38 moves to remove the first piece which is a prodigiously high number especially as 36 are linear before the first rotation is required. If you see this up for sale again then buy it!

Next up is the Chamburr (I am not sure why it is named this but for me this is the "Champagne of the interlocking cubes" - it is stunningly fun and really quite a tough challenge. I did not know at the time that this was the harder of the two and this was the one that I started with. Again it is beautiful with the frame made from Merbau and the three burr sticks made from a lovely warm Pink Oak. It is slightly less aesthetically pleasing than Cyburr purely because it doesn't have the completely filled face that the other does. But it is stunning. The movements of the pieces are smooth and again there is just the right number and depth of dead ends to explore. The Chamburr is slightly easier at the beginning than the Cyburr but gets MUCH more difficult about ⅔ of the way through. With both of these puzzles, Pelikan has made all of the internal edges of the burr sticks and the frames very sharp which I suspect is to prevent any illegal rotations being found but the adverse effect of this is that finding some of the linear moves can be quite hard as the pieces need to be held just right and everything lined up perfectly for them to slide on each other. This can be a little infuriating at first but it does mean that finding the linear moves is more than just pushing and pulling the pieces randomly. It is more that the moves need to be thought out and planned. After 10 or 15 minutes of play with each of these puzzles I came to appreciate the precision and sharpness of these edges and used them to my advantage.

The Chamburr has a couple of very interesting rotations that are possible at about the ¾-way mark and apart from a bit of a panic when I thought I couldn't undo them, I realised that this made for a fun dead end and quite a bit more exploration without risking getting lost. After realising my misstep, I continued. The linear part of the path for this one is VERY complex and several times I got to a point where I could not backtrack without a huge re-exploration of that part of the path. I must have gone back and forth over that section of the solution 10 or 15 times before I understood the dance path of the pieces and could repeat them easily. After 43 moves (amazingly, all of which are linear) the first piece can be removed. This is a stunning odyssey before the remaining pieces can be taken out of the frame with a rotation:

43 moves to take the first piece out!
Despite the fact that the initial part of the solution is linear, this is by far the toughest of the two. It is incredibly difficult to find your winding path through the moves - these pieces dance about in and out of each other and the frame but the pathway is really well hidden. The requirement for the rotations is the icing on the cake - it makes the puzzle constructable and also means that if you get stuck you cannot just go to Burrtools and make yourself a solution file. You HAVE to persevere with it and work it out. It is worth it - just keep trying and you will understand it eventually.

Reassembly is just as challenging - the rotations are easy to find but then you have to backtrack through that very well hidden pathway. It took me several hours over 2 evenings to get there. This is a candidate for one of the puzzles of the year for 2021 - AMAZING!

At the moment the Chamburr is still available here - buy it straight away and if you find Cyburr up for sale again then don't hesitate.

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Celebrating 10 Years Helped By Pelikan Puzzles

The upcoming release from Pelikan
I am going to start today's blog post all sentimental and maudlin. If Allard can do it then certainly I can too - I am MUCH more of a sentimental fool than him. Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of my very first post on this blog. It was really just an announcement of an intention to write about puzzles and then the following day (14th March 2011) was my very first puzzle related article and I started with something special - the original Revomaze series. It was these gorgeous lumps of heavy metal that got me hooked. I needed to find a way to take my mind off an unexpected near death experience and these were it. Of course, any true bloke who gets interested in a new toy will take to the forums and those bastards lovely ladies and gentlemen got me hooked on more and more puzzles. Within a few months they had forced me into taking the huge leap to my first really "expensive" puzzle (Tom Lensch's version of the Mazeburr). Yes, I was hooked! I wanted to publish at least once a week until I either ran out of puzzles, ran out of steam or Mrs S murdered me and I have actually managed that for 10 whole years (Mrs S really has come close to ending the blog though). Initially I was publishing 2 or even 3 times a week but that gradually settled down to my usual weekly schedule. I had been advised by a blogging guru to set a schedule and stick to it - apparently your readers have certain expectations and you should try not to disappoint them. Indeed on a few occasions if I dared to be late then I would get an email asking if everything was Ok and where was their weekend reading? I settled into a routine and have managed to write something every week apart from on 2 occasions - I think I can be forgiven for missing the day after my mother died and also last year when I was really ill with Covid having caught it at work. 

In this 10 years, bloggers have come and gone but the people/puzzlers behind them all remain - this is just a hobby and people have to live their lives. I am very proud to stand alongside Allard in completing 10 years of entertainment for the community. In that time there have been 619 posts on my main site plus 138 on the associated New additions page (this was the only way Blogger would let me set up a separate page) and my pageviews ramped up quite quickly. As of publication today I have received 1.9 million pageviews and now that so many have occured after my mother died I can now convince myself it wasn't just all her. My most viewed posts are on the Hanayama Cast Quartet at 23,300 views followed by my post about twisty puzzle parity at 22,800 views. 
Puzzlemad main site
Puzzlemad New stuff page
I was achieving 10-15,000 views per month but the last 15 months have seen a sudden increase to 30,000! Unbelievable that so many crazy people out there want to read my drivel! My readership is truly global which boggles my tiny mind. 
What happened at the end of 2019?
It has been the community out there who has kept me going. The trouble with blogging is that it is a huge effort to do this week in and week out and it often feels that you are shouting out into the void. Over the years many of you have contacted me or left comments on my posts as well as been in touch via my personal Facebook page. It is those moments of contact and feedback that make it all worthwhile. I do not try to monetise this hobby - I  gratefully receive a few $CAD each month from PuzzleMaster if you buy from them via a link on my site but that is the only income I get. To be honest, I am not really interested in the idea of earning money from my hobby. I am lucky enough to work in a position where my income is secure and I want this to remain a hobby. I have turned down offers of sponsored posts, advertising and SEO posts. For me, this should be all MY work. Except (and it's a very BIG exception) for the guest posts provided for me by my wonderful friend and foreign correspondent, Mike Desilets. He has come up with the goods for me when I was either too busy or had nothing prepared. I also like to think that he provides a great view of an alternative side to this hobby. He certainly collects, solves and writes about modern puzzles but primarily he has shown off the more vintage side that I have very little knowledge of. I am exceptionally grateful to him for all his efforts on my/our behalf.

The desk is out of control! She says I MUST tidy up!
I hope to continue this wonderful hobby of puzzling and blogging for another 10 years at least as long as you will keep reading and as long as Mrs S will let me. I have a serious space problem - and have rearranged my collection many times and expanded from one small study into another room. When I mention taking over another room, the laser burning stare moves to between my eyes and I can smell/feel burning coming from my forehead. The conversation closes abruptly at that point! 

Now on to today's puzzle reviews. For my tenth anniversary post, I am so pleased to have received early copies of the upcoming releases from Jakub and Jaroslav at Pelikan puzzles. This particular batch is absolutely stunning and has some really special and unusual puzzles in it.

Pepper Castor

Top view
Bottom - the pepper casting view
This beautiful puzzle screamed at me to be tried first. It's a design by Alexander Magyarics, it's beautiful in Zebrano and Padauk and most importantly it's based on a triangular grid. Very few puzzle designs (other than 2D packing puzzles are very made using a triangular grid. I suspect that this is primarily because it is harder to design them with it being very hard to tell during the design process whether there will be unwanted rotational shortcuts. Also there are very few craftsmen willing to put in the time and effort to make the required jigs to these accurately. Here we have the perfect combination of a talented designer who has obviously done his homework and ensured there are no shortcuts as well as some of the best craftsmen in the world!

This puzzle is named after the pepper shaker/castor because of the pattern of holes on one end and it quickly becomes apparent that they are there for a reason. My first reaction during my early moves was that this was seriously fiddly. Then I realised that changing the orientation of the puzzle made certain moves easier to control and then I discovered that after 3 or 4 moves, my ability to backtrack was gone! I was stuck with a piece packing out and unable to visualise the internals to reset it. Oh well! Better carry on then. After about a ½ hour of progressively more anxious swearing, I removed the first piece and then the other two. There was no Aha! Moment as I had no idea how I had achieved it. I took my photo and realised that I had scrambled the pieces! At this point, it became quite apparent that this puzzle is a very special variant on the usual Magyarics theme... he had created a fancy low piece number interlocking packing puzzle. Very similar to many of his others but with the twist of a triangular grid and holes top and bottom.

Incredible pieces!
Repacking was a serious challenge, first reproducing the shape to fill all the gaps in the box and then working out the sequence. Finally actually having the dexterity to do it was a nice added bonus. This is a terrific puzzle as well as a gorgeous one!


Rattlesnake - you can see why
No release from Pelikan these days is complete without another wonderful packing puzzle from Alexander Magyarics. This beauty is stunning with a Wenge box complete with fairly large but quite restricted opening and 3 pieces to be placed inside made from Zebrano. As usual, the question I always ask myself is:

"there are only 3 hard can this be?"

Well, either I am stupid (probable) or this one has a serious challenge to it (quite likely). Several times I tried to get 2 pieces inside the box only to have one rotate inside and then block all other movements. Nearly gave me a heart attack at one point when I couldn't take the pieces out that I had placed in the wrong positions!

Not only is the opening fairly restrictive but the shape of the rattlesnake piece also ensures that the approach to insertion is very limited. In fact, there are only 4 orientations of that piece that will allow it to be inserted. What is more, the medium sized piece only has 7 possible insertion methods. I tried to be fairly methodical and realised quite quickly that I was unable to keep track of the possible combinations. Starting with that large piece, I ended up randomly looking at assemblies that sort of fit the 3x3 cube and discarded the ones that the second piece could not be inserted. This gave me quite a few possible assemblies which I made outside the box and then tried to simulate the disassembly. This took me several hours because I got fixated on one particular orientation of the snake which looked fantastic but would not assemble in place. Time to Think© again! Getting past my fixation proved a real challenge. I found another series of very nice assemblies but could not seem to get them to work until Aha! There was a wonderful moment when I noticed a possible move that is very very well disguised. I had worked it out. Getting the pieces into the box was then a bit of a dexterity puzzle as well. This is wonderful, right up there with the very best of Alexander's designs. It looks so simple but really takes some thought.



Now that is a complex construction!
I'm sure by now you all know that I adore the 3x3 cube based packing puzzles with unusual piece shapes and restricted entry into the container. I have lots of them from Osanori and Alexander and am always in the lookout for new variants. Imagine, if you will, yet another one, beautifully made by the guys at Pelikan but making things much more interesting the box has captive pieces which hook over two of the sides which can slide into any of the three positions on each of them. This means we have a similar type of packing puzzles but where the box can effectively change shape before and during the solution process. It also means that we have seven challenges where the "sliders" have to end up at different positions (the eighth potential configuration has no solutions). This is a puzzler's dream - beauty and multiple puzzles in one. It has been superbly constructed with a gorgeous Pink Oak box, Wenge captive sliding pieces and vibrant Purpleheart pieces.

These seven challenges are definitely not trivial, in fact I've only managed to solve 3 of them so far. I don't think that I have found the "best/longest" solution to them so I will have to keep looking. This one definitely needs to be solved outside first before attempting to fit it inside - but the captive sliding pieces make the thought processes much more difficult. This puzzle is absolutely fabulous and great value for money - go buy it now!

First challenge solved - YAY!


Akku - looks formidable straight away!
Dr Volker Latussek has been providing some fabulous puzzles to Pelikan for a few years now. They are all extremely clever and challenging - some so clever and challenging that they are beyond my abilities (blush, Euklid for Nick remains unsolved). In this release we have Akku (I am not sure why the German word for battery is the name of this puzzle - maybe Dr Latussek will comment below). This consist of a wonderful Acacia box and some very precisely crafted Maple pieces to be packed inside. There are 9 L shaped pieces to be fitted into the interior of the box. The cavity is 4x4x3 units in size and each L is 3x3x1 unit meaning that there will be just 3 holes in the packed puzzle but with such a large awkward shape the assembly will need some rotations to get the pieces into the restricted opening.

This is how it arrived - I cannot put it back this way!
The puzzle is shipped in a special shape that Dr Latussek instructed and I took the pieces out of the box for the photo only to find that I could not get them back into that shape again! This was going to be a foreboding of what was to come. I spent quite a while trying to find how to assemble a 4x4x3 cuboid from these pieces and even this was a struggle. In the end I resorted to Burrtools to try and find the possible arrangements - there are 6 ways to assemble the shape. Time to pick one and get it into the box. Easier said than done! This is a serious puzzling challenge. After 2 evenings of attempts, I finally worked it out - wonderful idea. Think of how best to rotate an L shaped piece and then see what you can do with it. My solved picture is behind a spoiler button - it doesn't give a lot away but there is some info in the picture that might give more of a hint than you want - you have been warned! Don't click the button!

Fake Cube

Fake Cube - this is beautiful and looks impossible
This glorious work of art has been made from Acacia and Padauk. The aim is to assemble the complex pieces into a cube shape which can be stood on its' corner in the stand - these 10 identical and oddly shaped pieces need to assemble into a 6x6x6 cube. Just doing the simple maths tells me that this doesn't add up - each piece is 18 voxels in volume  with 10 of them making 180 voxels in total and the 6x6x6 cube will be 216 voxels - quite a large discrepancy. Hence the name...the Fake cube needs to be assembled so that just the exterior looks like it is complete and hides the holes inside and on the walls adjacent to the case. This reminds me of a stunningly beautiful and much more complex version of the Half-cube puzzles from Vinco. Yet again, I removed all the pieces for my photo and couldn't put them back into the packing position (I love how all of his puzzles have a specific arrangement for transport). I have not had long enough to play with this puzzle - I have managed (by pure luck) to make a shape that will fit into the case but clearly not correct as there are lots of holes visible on all sides:

I'm fairly certain there shouldn't be gaps there
The more that you play with this the more compelling it becomes. Initially it seems to be quite unintuitive and a whole lot of random trial and error but as I played I realised that the way the pieces fit together was extremely constrained and I needed to work with this constraint to create at least 3 complete faces and 8 (out 12) complete edges which would be visible. in the case once complete. Easier said than done! I have not had enough time yet to solve this one but I think with a few more hours of trying I will get there. It is a seriously difficult assembly/packing puzzle but like most of Dr Latussek's creations, it can be solved more with thought than trial and error. For once I am hoping that my thinking© might actually help here.


I have not yet had time to play with this one and will review it properly as soon as I have. When the "TIC master", Andrew Crowell gets together with the master of interesting interlocking shapes, Christoph Lohe then I have to pay attention! These puzzles are very reminiscent of several of the best interlocking puzzles of all time (Lucida and Identical twins by Osanori) but almost certainly are going to be significantly tougher to solve. Chamburr is made from Merbau and Pink Oak and looks fabulous with Pelikan's usual perfect accuracy.


Another that I haven't yet played with. Like Chamburr, it is a collaboration by Andrew Crowell and Christoph Lohe but this time made from Mahogany and Maple. The aim is to separate the pieces from the complex frame and I have no doubt that it will involve some complex rotations in the process.


On loan from Shane
Just a quick (and not terribly happy) sidenote. Not everyone in this community is great - I am incredibly proud to have in my collection the complete set of Hales puzzles and they form a centrepiece in my collection. I am very aware that these are effectively just on loan as the agreement with all of Shane's puzzles is that they should never be sold and should be returned to the creator when no longer required. It would appear that there is one deceptive person who has been skirting the edge of the community for a few years and due to his terrible behaviour has been shunned by pretty much everyone. If you want to learn some new interesting swearwords then ask Eric Fuller about Niko. Niko uses a number of aliases and has duped puzzlers and craftsmen into giving or selling cheap and has even tried to hack Eric's site. He has a blog which is pretty rubbish and uses it to deceive quite a few naïve puzzle creators into giving him copies of their creations which he has then flogged at huge profit. He has now managed to con a holder of Shane's Viper puzzle out of someone when they were at a low point in their life and has put it up for sale at an exorbitant price.

Please do NOT buy this puzzle from him - he is an untrustworthy conman and does not own that puzzle to sell - Shane wants it back. If you are contacted by him then just refuse to continue to speak to him. He has several names that he uses including first names of Niko, Nick or Nicholas and surnames of Azerty, Nicolas or Demarquez. He is not worth your time - all of us puzzle bloggers have ceased contact, he has been banned from all the auction sites and most craftsmen including Eric and Wil Strijbos are refusing to deal with him. This says it all!


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