Sunday, 21 April 2019

Assembly of Puzzles - a Toughie but a Goodie

Puzzle Splines
It's a bank holiday weekend here and I am really not up to much! Sniffle! Cough! Splutter! Groan! Yes! I have Man-bonic plague! Today's blog post nearly didn't happen. Not because I have been feeling like death for over a week now (I did manage to go to work and infect a large proportion of the operating theatre staff) but because I managed to infect Mrs S too and it mutated into something much worse...She-bola! As a result of this plague in the Sadler household death nearly did visit me in the form of a vengeance-seeking woman! Luckily I am just fit enough to evade her grasp/knives/lasers!

Today, I am focussing on some assembly puzzles that have finally fallen to my feeble skills recently.

The puzzle above is the latest offering from Michail Toulouzas - offered by my friend Bernhard Schweitzer. It is the Puzzle Splines which is a relatively new idea from Michail. It was offered either in Sugar Maple with Pink Ivory splines or, as in my copy, there were a few made from Wenge with the Sugar Maple splines. I cannot resist contrasting woods and chose this. It is pretty big at 11cm across and forms effectively a cube with triangular outcroppings from it. It certainly is stunning and quite heavy.

I initially thought that it would be a kind of disassembly puzzle and one at a time pushed at the vertices and saw that they could be slid off the cube:

A couple removed
6 different splined corners
So far this has not been too puzzling - the remaining cube is rather rattly and I realised that this could also be separated into pieces - not easily, however - there seemed to be a little coordinate motion and twisting required. Should I take some notes? Draw some diagrams? Nah! I'm far too sick to go hunting for a pencil! I wanted to stay sitting down and keep going. I soon had 3 more pieces:

Yay! An assembly challenge!
Even in my totally befuddled, drugged to the eyeballs state, I was able to see a few of the possible assembly patterns of the basic frames and managed quite quickly to assemble something that had an interesting position of the splines that even I could tell was impossible to assemble the remaining corners on. Back to square one. Luckily there are only so many ways to assemble the frame and on my second attempt, I found an assembly that worked. I had solved a puzzle under the influence of a very strong cold remedy...maybe I should solve all my puzzles that way?

Flushed with success at assembly, I threw caution to the wind and climbed the arduous mountain of (13) stairs in my house to the upstairs puzzle room and retrieved the Kubikub 2 puzzle that I had bought a few months ago from My lovely Turkish friend, Yavuz Demirhan. He sells his puzzles through his Etsy store which is well worth keeping an eye on for future updates.

Kubikub 2
This is a pretty simple design consisting of a gorgeous Wenge frame and 3 sets of double conjoined cubes made from Padauk intertwined inside and flush with the surface of the frame. The puzzle is not as simple as it would initially appear as it requires 13 moves to remove all 3 pieces from the frame. When I first received the beautiful puzzle, I fiddled a bit and realised that the disassembly was not going to be the challenge - I could remove the pieces pretty easily and then having learned the moves and preserved the orientation of the pieces and frame, I knew that reassembly at that point would not be terribly tough. So it went back on display until I was ready for a proper assembly challenge:

How hard can it be?
I scrambled the pieces for the photo and left them a few hours whilst I lay down to feel sorry for myself. An hour later, feeling not in the least bit refreshed having drowned in mucus, I set to work on the reassembly challenge. I realised at this point that the frame is not symmetrical which makes this a considerably tougher challenge. Idle random moves hardly ever solve a puzzle in my experience and they certainly didn't do it this time. What they did do is show me that there were only a few positions of the frame where both ends of the double cubes could be flush with the surface of the frame. Then it was a matter of working out where it would be possible to arrange all three of them so that they could be flush. I was on my way - actually being logical! Not at all like me...these are damned good drugs!

It took me another hour to find a very fun little sequence where the first 2 of them would fit in place and then how to move them in such a way as to accept a third. Yet another assembly puzzle solved despite my feverish brain. I should get sick more often - what am I saying? Ignore that!

Finally - I went back to a puzzle that has kept me busy for nearly 3 months - Goodie! Yes, it really is a goodie!

Goodie from Stephan Baumegger
Goodie was an unexpected gift in the package from Stephan when I purchased the incredible Hydrant puzzle (reviewed here). It had been Stephan's exchange puzzle at the 38th International Puzzle Party last year in San Diego. He had designed and made this one from Zebrano and was rather pleased with it.

I, of course, was also delighted! I had an extra unexpected puzzle! It was gorgeous, made from beautiful wood and looked like a nice but not too tough challenge:

7 pieces to make a 5x5x5 cube
How hard can it be?
This is a dissection of a 5x5x5 cube with only orthogonal cuts and I was sure that it would not be terribly hard. Lord help me! How wrong I was! I sort of got a hint that it might be quite tough when, having taken my photos of the pieces, I tried to put them back into the box for transport to and from work with me...I couldn't get the bloody things back into the box and close the lid! Am I really that rubbish? Erm...yes! Sob! I took it to work a few times in a bag because, to my eternal shame, it took me a month before I was able to pack the box properly!

There are some rather interesting pieces which scream that they should go together - and I dutifully fell into Stephan's trap:

2 mirror image pieces
They slot together like this
Having got myself fixated on this I worked on this puzzle many evenings for 2 months. I did try a few other ideas but I was getting nowhere and was starting to suspect that Stephan was laughing at me. I must have spent many many hours on this getting nowhere but always going back to those two pieces that fit together so well. In the flush of my success from the other 2 puzzles above, I decided it was finally time to solve this bloody Goodie/Baddie! Another hour went by and another and I began to tear out the last few strands of my remaining hair when suddenly I had an epiphany! OMG! Aha!

You sneaky b.......! How could I have been so stupid? Scrap that! I know I am stupid but how can I have been so stupid for quite so long? Aaargh! Only the drugs helped me solve it - I need more!

It's a Toughie but a real Goodie
If you get a chance to try this puzzle then jump at the chance!

Have I finally cracked my inability to solve assembly puzzles? No, I don't think so. My brain has been altered by a befuddling virus/plague and then further addled by some very strong medication - I seriously do not recommend puzzling on drugs!

Now, what shall I work on next? I am far too sick to go outside and partake of the peculiar British habit of gardening on a bank holiday weekend! I need to stay indoors and exercise by lifting small cubelike structures.

I should also sit down with Burrtools to put this thing back together - it has been sitting in pieces on my desk for 10 days!

Terrax has lots and lots of pieces!

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Robert Sends a Twofer Which Scares Me!

The Incredible Stickman Dwemer Construct Puzzlebox
Well, here I am running late! Mrs S has been away most of the week visiting the outlaws and, as is usually the case, she times it for just when my workload goes through the roof! I think she does it on purpose! Instead of having plenty of time, home alone, to play with all my toys and write a nice blog post, I have been up to my eyeballs in work and even spent all day yesterday writing our on-call rotas! I only just finished up this puzzle this morning after doing all the chores that "she who scares the bejeezus out of me" had set for me to do before she gets home.

Yes! It's a box! And No! I was not tricked into purchasing it! My cardinal rule is if I have the opportunity to buy a box from Stickman (aka Robert Yarger) then I just hand over the cash! Mrs S doesn't know that but let's not tell her, shall we? This particular box was offered out quite some time ago and it took Robert a good bit longer to complete the design and make the batch than expected. The wait was more than worth it! It really adds something to my little collection:

My Stickmen (including a Stickboy and a Stickman apprentice) - plus a few other beauties.
The Dwemer Construct Box is named after an ancient lost race in the Elder Scrolls, well known for their skills in crafting mechanical items.

This incredible construction is big...REALLY big and pretty damned heavy too. It has a handy top rail which is perfect for carrying it about. Every time I played with it I lugged it out of the display cabinet and then put it back after I had got stuck - Mrs S would not tolerate it being left lying around in the living room!

Looking at it closely it is clear that a huge amount of work has gone into it and pretty much all of it is crafted from wood with only a few well place brass screws holding components together. Lots of things turn and can interact with other pieces in mysterious ways. Not all are visible either - requiring a fair bit of deduction/guesswork during the process. It is very quickly apparent how the lid is attached to the box and what is required to allow that lid to be removed...the issue is making it happen! None of the appropriate parts are able to move in appropriate directions as they are blocked by other parts of the puzzle.

I worked on this, on and off, for a couple of months and kept getting stuck. They always come with a wonderful spiral-bound booklet but I try not to use that unless absolutely necessary. My stubbornness has left my Stickman Perpetual Hinge unsolved for more than 5 years! There are four phases to the solution of this puzzlebox and I got the first within a day or so. Step 2 took me over a month and then the others the same again. Some of the moves require a bit of a leap of faith..."Am I really supposed to be able to do that?" Eventually, (yes I did peek at the booklet just once) I had the release mechanisms all aligned correctly and I gently lifted the lid off to see why the puzzle had been making so many rather loud rattling noises whenever I picked it up and moved it from display to living room:

Inside is a bag of bits - including a screwdriver!
I said this puzzle is a Twofer! Robert did us proud with this one and this explained the delay. Not only do we have a beautiful large complicated box to solve but we have all the pieces inside to construct a second challenge - "two fer the price of one"! In fact, this was very nearly a "threefer" - he has ideas for another challenge but did not have time to make it - it is possible that the third challenge is made available sometime in the future (obviously we all expect to pay for it if it happens). After the solution to challenge one is a rather startling page in the booklet:

OMG - I'm gonna have to be brave!
This morning I spent a happy hour or so playing with my bag of bits and the screwdriver - this left me with a rather horrific worksurface with even more bits than I would have believed possible:

OMG - I have locked the cats out of the room! I can't afford any mishaps here!
The quality is simply stunning - everything is so perfect. The instructions for the disassembly and new assembly are step by step and quite easy. I have a small issue with an alignment of one piece in the new challenge that I am waiting for an answer from Robert but I suspect I have made a schoolboy error.

Even seeing the construction process for the second challenge amazingly does not give away how to actually solve it! I know how some of the pieces interact but have no idea how to open the box.

Probably another 3 months to solve this one!
I'll keep you informed of my progress through challenge two.

Now Mrs S has just arrived home from Edinburgh and I had better finish this and pay her some attention - if I don't then we may not make it our 25th anniversary and I won't be allowed to keep the Berrocal Goliath that is my present for lasting so long. Plus, I actually think I could do with a little bit of relaxation for the rest of the weekend - what little is left!

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Rex Makes it Super Complicated

.......And Beats Me!

Kusing 25
I have now received 2 of Rex Rossano Perez' wonderful puzzles as gifts now. I wrote about the first one which was given to me by my friend Ali and Rex himself here in September last year and then another 2 of them which I bought from Rex here. They are beautifully made puzzles cut from Acrylic and the common feature is that there is always a Filipino coin inside needing to be released by some mechanism or other - it may be a maze, a sequential discovery puzzle using tools provided or a sequential movement/sliding piece puzzle. I successfully solved the first 3 and was terribly chuffed because the internal mechanism of these is pretty complex. On Facebook Rex has designed and produced (in limited numbers another bunch all with a similar theme and I am quite keen to try out some more.

The Kusing 25 was another gift from Rex and after a very long trip around the world, it arrived in early March. After the obligatory photos I set to playing with it and within a few moments dropped a tiny piece/tool out onto the cats head and lost it down the side of my chair cushion. After a fair bit of cursing, a scratch from the unimpressed cat, I retrieved it and had a look to see where it came from and what I had done to get it to come out of the tiny hole. Much to my chagrin, I was completely unable to put the piece back into the puzzle! The hole from which it had dropped had closed over and nothing I did would allow it to be reinserted! You can see where this tale of woe is going, can't you?
Having failed to backtrack, I decided to continue puzzling and see what could be achieved by using that tool in the two suspicious looking holes in the bottom of the puzzle.

As if invited by the designer, I inserted the tool into one of the hoes and twisted randomly...nope no change in the puzzle. On to the second hole and suddenly the slider was able to move back and forth. Twisting around I could stop and start the slider moving and at times was unable to twist the tool anymore. I played with this for a whole evening and nothing seemed to be happening! On evening 2 I persisted in my random fiddlings and noticed that despite keeping the tool rotated in one place the slider seemed to sometimes move and sometimes not move. At some point during this, the coin was suddenly able to move inside the puzzle - I had absolutely no idea why!

Manfully, I persisted in further random movements for several days and, all of a sudden, the coin dropped onto the cat! YAY! I think! It was solved! Except it really wasn't. A puzzle is NOT solved until it has been done, undone and done again. The important thing is to understand how it works - I wrote about this here and here. It was time to try and reset it back to the beginning and try again - GULP!

Solved it! Except I hadn't really! No idea how I got this far.
I have spent the last 3 weeks trying to reset this blasted puzzle and somehow managed to lock the coin back inside without understanding how but could not get the coin locked under the window and certainly not get the tool to stay in its small receptacle. To my eternal shame, I ended up undoing the nuts on the puzzle and gingerly pulling apart the layers!

OMG! That is an incredibly complex and clever mechanism! I am absolutely amazed that I managed to remove the coin by accident. It took me about a ½ hour to understand all the steps and then another hour to get the pieces all back into position! Damn! That takes some dexterity!

Starting with a fully reset puzzle, I went through what I thought was the correct set of moves and it seemed to be working when suddenly a new piece fell out! That wasn't supposed to happen! Back to pieces it went and I saw my silly mistake and this time it was a functioning puzzle.

With the benefit of hindsight/maliciously dismantling the bloody thing, I am now able to retrieve the coin almost at will and then put it back. The toughest part of it is the reset - getting the tool back into its little hole.

This is an amazing and complex sequential discovery/sequential movement puzzle which really beat me and is well worth obtaining if you can. Don't expect to beat it quickly or easily!

Alfons Beats Me Too!

I am completely addicted to interlocking cube puzzles and I could not resist buying another 5 of them from Alfons Eyckmans. Apart from having very little time to play, I have worked on several of them and not gotten very far. Yesterday I had an hour to spare and Mrs S allowed me to play with one in peace. Eventually, I produced my lovely pile of pieces and created a Burrtools file! Unfortunately, I cannot put it back together unaided!

Lovely pieces!
My computer has been trying to find the solution and after working for 16 hours so far is nowhere near a solution. It just recently announced that it might take another 1.2 years which is probably more time than Mrs S will allow me to have a pile of pieces lying around! My iMac is 12 years old and kinda struggles with complex tasks!

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Juno's Follow Up is very Different and Still Fun

Grooved Board Burr #2
Yes, it looks very like the beautiful board burr from Juno that I wrote about just under a month ago but it is different in several ways. Just a couple of weeks ago the follow up to the Grooved board burr #1 was released and after I told everyone on Facebook and on the blog about it, it sold out within a couple of days (I am sorry that you will not have a chance to buy it now except at auction).

Version 1 of the Grooved Board Burr was extremely difficult and had a very well disguised critical move that took me 3 months to find (and I am aware of others who have had serious difficulty with it). I could not resist buying version 2 because 1) I love a series of puzzles, 2) I cannot resist beautiful wood and 3) I wanted a similar fun challenge.

No 1 was fulfilled as this is number 2 and Juno has mentioned the possibility of a 3 and 4! Number 2 is obvious - this thing is stunning! Juno has made his own plywood boards with Bubinga and European Beech and added Bamboo dowel pins. It is a gorgeous rich colour with amazing grain in all the layers. It is the same size as the previous edition at 86mm across each side but quite obviously much heavier (I did not realise that Bubinga was so dense). The immediately obvious difference from number 1 is that all the outer surfaces are whole and no grooves are visible at this stage.

I set to one evening this week (I am seriously struggling to find time to solve things at the moment and only just solving something in time for the blog each week) and noticed very quickly that there are less dead ends but there is something very odd about the first few moves. The dowels are on the face of the boards and not the insides and the Burrtools grid was very odd! A normal 6 board burr is based upon a 1x4x6 grid for each board and version 1 was based on a 3x12x18 grid. I have not quite worked out how to model version 2 but I think it will need boards based on a 4x24x36 grid which fills me with horror as I consider a burr only complete when I have modelled it in Burrtools after dismantling it.

There is a certain rhythm to the early part of the disassembly and after the first section, I found a very wild move that looked like it would make the whole thing very unstable but oddly it held well together. I got stuck here for a while and this was the point that I realised that the puzzle was also a maze! A rather fun second section began next and even that is not straight forward - it leads easily to an almost but not quite solved dead end because one can scoot right past the correct turn without realising it. The Aha! moments with this are wonderful and not terribly difficult. After the ardour of the first puzzle in the series, it was actually a pleasant surprise to work my way through this one in just a single fun evening. Juno did think that this one was 10 (or even 100) times easier than the first and I agree...but it is still great fun.

Look at that maze!
If you look closely at the dimensions then you can see that this is not a simple "base 3" grid
I do hope that there is a number 3 in the series as the addition of grooves and dowels make for a very different puzzle to a standard board burr. As with everything made by Juno, they are all beautiful on display. I am so sorry that you can no longer buy a copy of either of the puzzles but look out for them in the various puzzle auction sites as they will come up for sale in the future I am sure.

As for puzzles on display...after last week being forced to tidy up the desk, I took some new photos of the state of the collection. Things are much better arranged now - what do you think?

Starting on the left-hand wall of my study:

Vinco's, Eyckmans', Many MANY Pelikans and a Crowell or two and maybe a Vanyo
MrPuzzle, Many from Brian Menold, Many MANY Eric Fullers and an assortment of N-ary plus metal overflow
There appear to be a few of the newcomer Rex Rossano Perez on the desk behind the computer and a new one yet to be solved.

Above the computer and on the right side of the study:

Very special MrPuzzles, Assorted lovely interlocking puzzles (including some unique ones) and heavy metal!
Hand made twisties, books. a friendly Koala and interlocking cubes
I have a cupboard with a huge number of twisties and a pile of sequential move puzzles and an embarrassingly large number of wire puzzles from Jan Sturm and Aaron Wang:

I really MUST find a better way to display these!
Luckily Mrs S allowed me to expand into a spare bedroom and unlike Allard, I did not push my lovely wife into a garden shed!! The 3 display cabinets upstairs have some of my most treasured and beautiful puzzles as well as some rather special plastic puzzles that I don't want to pack into drawers:

These are some of the most spectacular puzzles I own from many designers and craftsmen.
Can you work out what they are and by whom?

Plastic, glass and disentanglement overflow
Mrs S seems to have allowed a few of the most spectacular (but not too huge) puzzles out of the puzzle rooms into the living room - I don't have so many there any more and my pile of puzzles I am working on is still an unholy mess on the floor but I think the living room looks like there's a puzzler around:

I appear to have a few K-cubes and Goliath...AT LAST!
The most gorgeous puzzles that Brian Menold has ever made

3 rather special cubes from Jean-Baptiste's Arteludes store - these were made by Maurice Vigouroux
I am rather chuffed at the beauty of my collection! I even have room for quite a few more. Whack! Ouch! Nothing is due at the moment least for now! 😉

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Simply A-Maze-ing puzzles from Eric and Yavuz!

Split Maze Burr
For several months now I have been chatting with the genius (yes, you know that I am referring to Derek Boscch) about his latest ideas. Some he seems to struggle with but I always know that he will get there eventually. One design that I loved the idea of from the very first mention was the Split Maze burr.

The original Maze burr was a wonderful design by Kagen Schaefer (now Kagen Sound) which predated my puzzling addiction but when Tom Lensch produced his own (more versatile) version I couldn't resist it and it retains a special place in my heart as the first ever seriously expensive wooden puzzle that I bought - I wrote about it here in my two year celebration. I went on to buy a copy of Derek's Rhombic version and absolutely love it even if it fries my brain keeping track of so many faces. It was probably the first sign for me how much of a genius he really is.

When he told me about his exploration of a version with 2 maze pieces per side I was at first amazed and then hopeful that he would be able to 3D print a copy for me to play with. Later on, he showed it to the Doctor of wood, Eric Fuller, who said that he would look into making it in wood and acrylic. Very surprisingly, it did not take Eric long to work out all the kinks of the construction and Derek continued to work on a computer analysis of the best plate/maze combinations and a puzzle booklet to go with the commercial production.

Eric's update (with quite a few stunning puzzles) went on sale just about 2 weeks ago with 61 copies up for sale. I was rather fortunate in that I had been assigned to be the "duty floor anaesthetist" that afternoon, providing cover for the theatre suite (17 theatres) and the recovery room and hence would likely be free when the site went live. At 5pm dead, I had set a todo alarm to check Eric's site and in between boluses of a vasoconstrictor for a patient, I quickly checked the site and made a purchase on my phone...thank heavens for the mobile internet and Apple pay! There were several other simply amazing puzzles going up but I had my eye only on one and after my recent splurge decided that I really should stop there! The rest of them sold out in a few hours as did the simply GORGEOUS version of the Casino puzzle which I had reviewed here and which was last years puzzle of the year from Pelikan.

A week or so later, I had a third Maze burr for my collection:

Maze Burrs - the box is for the fully disassembled Cubic version from Tom with extra plates
The Split Maze burr is made from Granadillo, Birdseye Maple and Acrylic with metal screws as the maze pins and measures 9.9cm across each face. There was a downloadable pdf with a whole bunch (50) of challenges ranging from 31 to 382 moves. Derek has offered to make a nicely printed and wire bound booklet for sale to people who bought this puzzle and I am hoping will also provide a huge bunch more challenges as a pdf to download. This will make this a very good value puzzle despite the $189 price tag. It was set up as problem 1 when it arrived:
The premise is exactly the same as the other Maze burrs. Each face has a shape cut into it with a pin protruding through from the layer beneath. Only one of the faces has a pathway from the shape to the edge allowing a face to slide off completely. As each piece slides back and forth it will make room for adjacent faces to move if the track will allow it.

Even with the low-level puzzles I found this a real challenge - trying to keep track of 2 mazes per side is a huge challenge for my feeble brain and it did require a number of backtracks before I was finally able to get it. Once the first puzzle is solved then the acrylic maze piece with an exit can slide out of the puzzle.

The exit maze slides off
At this point, I discovered a catch - the pin plate could not come out - it was blocked by the acrylic piece on the side (you should be able to see it on the right in the picture above) and I then had to continue the maze movements to allow that blocking piece to drop and then could remove the pin plate. This means that there is often 2 challenges per set-up and thus even more puzzling fun.

Yay! Solved puzzle challenge 1
Inside is a nice little bag containing an Allen key to allow the pins to be unscrewed. After that, the other pins need to be unscrewed and then the plates removed so that the next challenge can be accepted. Having these unscrewable pins is a huge advantage over the original Cocobolo Maze burr from Kagen as it means that at any time that you get lost or confused then it is just a matter of unscrewing some pins and then resetting the puzzle. It also means that the puzzle does not need to be moved through the full solution in reverse to set up each challenge.

Once fully disassembled then one can fully admire Eric's masterful craftsmanship - it is simply superb:

Just gorgeous!
So far I have worked my way through the first 8 puzzles and am enjoying the progression - it certainly starts to get very very tough for me as I approach challenges requiring 50 moves - I suspect that I will never get above 100! If Derek can provide a whole bunch of level 30-60(ish) challenges then I will be a very happy man. Thanks to Eric and Derek for another fabulous toy for my collection!

I do not know whether Eric plans on producing any more of these - he doesn't usually rerun a puzzle unless there is a huge demand - I am sorry if you missed out after they sold so quickly.

Front - the cube is 1 voxel off the frame on each side
My friend Yavuz Demirhan has been at it again! He released a bunch of gorgeous new designs on his Etsy store a few weeks ago and I jumped at the chance having been tantalised by them when he showed them on Facebook a while ago. The first that I bought and solved was the Maze cube (currently sold out) which consists of a cubic maze made from Sapele with Wenge slipfeathers which is partially seated in a frame made from the same woods (but with the woods reversed). The maze is seated on 3 maple dowels on each of the 3 faces and the cube needs to move through 3 mazes simultaneously to be taken off the frame. It is 8cm across each face.

The aim is for it to be seated fully inside and flush with the frame. There is apparently only one solution to this. I initially did not understand and took the cube off without too much difficulty and then put it back to the same position and thought I had solved it really easily! Silly me! I then repeated it and realised that there are at least 2 paths to seat the maze cube in that starting position. At this point, I had my "Doh" moment and realised there was more to it than that. A proper analysis was required!

After a good 2 hours of working my way through numerous starting orientations and playing with various directions, I was finally able to say that I had beaten it. It is a lovely thing to look at and a delight to play with - not too tough but just right. The final position is hidden by the show/hide button. If you don't want to know the orientation of the maze in the final position then don't look:

Mrs S Makes Me Tidy Up!

If you go to my New Additions page then you will see that Mrs S bought me something very special for our upcoming anniversary. After it arrived she rather pointedly told me that my puzzle room/study was a shithole and I could not really disagree with her. She said that until I tidied it up, I was not allowed to play with any of my wonderful new toys. I could not say no after her present arrived earlier this week. The shithole is no longer a shithole!

Yes, I really do need to sort this out!

After several hours I had this:

Much better.
The rest of my collection has been partially reorganised - I will show this off at a later date.
A Whack! Ouch! has been temporarily put on hold - phew!

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Stretching my Abilities

Stretchy 12 Burr
In mid-February, Juno and Yukari announced that 3 new burrs were going to be put on sale and I instantly jumped over to have a look. There is something special about Juno's work - he has a tremendous mind that seems to come up with brilliant stuff all the time and then, unlike a lot of what goes up on Puzzlewillbeplayed, he critically looks at the design to see whether it has anything specific to mark it out as worth making and us purchasing. Only a very small number of his designs seem to get out into the world for which my bank account and Mrs S are very grateful! Of the 3, I could not resist adding the Stretchy 12 burr to my collection and playing with it fairly soon after arrival.

For those of you who follow me on Facebook, it does look like I buy absolutely everything but believe me, I do choose only puzzles that I think I might be able to solve or that will be fun to play with. My eyes immediately jumped to the description:
This diabolical puzzle requires 15 moves to remove the first piece from the assembled shape and another 19 moves to remove the second piece. 
The puzzle and its pieces have 7-unit length. Just before the first piece and the second piece is removed from the assembled shape of the puzzle, it stretches to a 13-unit length. Every single piece moves during the assembling and disassembling process. It’s quite a transformation of the shape.
Most of the movements follow the X or Y axis but very rarely the Z axis. Find a flat surface and choose a stable orientation of the puzzle and then, you can easily push and pull puzzle pieces.
The fact that a higher number of moves is required for the second piece removal and the enormous changes in conformation during the solve process made it very interesting to me. The kicker, however, is the last paragraph - a burr puzzle that can be solved on a flat surface struck me as something that I really had to experience.

When it arrived the first thing to strike me was the size - this is a fairly large burr at 10cm across in every direction and the fact that it is a mixture of boards and sticks too with boards made from his own home-made plywood. Not just any old plywood (this is layers if American Black Walnut surrounding European Beech - very striking) and the burr sticks are rather substantial made from rather gorgeous PNG Rosewood (aka Amboyna or Narra). Every part of this puzzle is substantial and an absolute delight to fiddle with - pieces are loose and slide easily. The construction is such that it is relatively easy to see inside and see whether certain moves might work or what is blocking a particular slide.

The initial exploration produces some wild expansions of the puzzle which is great fun. I was bearing in mind the X-Y axis claim and found an orientation to explore in. After 12 or 13 moves I was stuck! There were quite a few moves possible with several potential branch points but none seemed to lead anywhere. This stayed on my armchair for play for weeks with me getting nowhere - what was I doing wrong?

I began to get rather desperate! The weekend was coming up and I was at risk of having nothing to write about for you, my slightly less crazy than me, readers. Yesterday evening after a nice day out with "the frightening one" I sat down to watch TV and play with it. At this point, I reread the description and saw the "rarely Z axis" words - Aha! Now I looked afresh at what I had done and at multiple points on my pathway I pulled upwards and pushed downwards with no effect until I saw that if I move this one piece over here...
Wow! How had I missed that? It opened up a whole new sequence and my first piece came out. Phew! I might just have a blog post for you. Then it was a matter of discovering how a really large number of moves might lead to the removal of another piece - there were a lot of possibilities but one approach immediately stood out and was successful. Brilliant!

The remainder of the disassembly proceeded quite easily and seemed to remain very stable right up to the end which is very unusual.

The pieces are stunning!
In my rush to disassemble it for the blog, I had not paid any attention to the disassembly order and orientation for anything other than the first 2 pieces and after admiring the beauty of the wood and workmanship, I was forced to resort to Burrtools for the reassembly - but if you are careful then you might not need this yourself.

It is one of the most enjoyable burrs to play with and explore - there is one left on Juno's Pluredro shop and it is well worth adding this puzzle to your collection.

Just made available.
Whilst you are there you might want to consider buying one of the remaining copies of the Grooved 6 board burr #2 which was released yesterday. It looks fabulous and if it is anywhere near as good as the 1st version which I reviewed here and Allard reviewed here, then it will be a wonderful and fun challenge. I couldn't resist and it is winging its way to me now.

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Cubes, Cubes, CUBES!

Or How a Fixation is My Undoing

They don't look much like cubes! From the left:
HypnoTIC, OcTIC, PackTIC and StarTIC #2
Many of you will have seen the shiny new website and the latest gorgeous production run by Brian Menold, the "published professor of wood". It included yet more of the amazing designs from the incredible 3D mind of Andrew Crowell. Andrew has been shall we say, rather prolific recently! Bernhard who is the world's foremost expert on Turning Interlocking Cubes has mentioned that there have been at least 27 new designs recently from Andrew and I, of course, wanted to get as many as I possibly could because I have a cube fixation! At least that is what Mrs S thinks. I reviewed the previous TIC from Andrew and Brian here and of course, it was fabulous. When Brian released another batch of four, I jumped straight away and the four beauties pictured above arrived.

StarTIC #2
You will have realised straight away that these don't look like cubes! Brian asked whether I wanted them sent out assembled or disassembled and gave me a little advice. Only StarTIC #2 arrived assembled - it is a cube in a frame. I started with this one because I always find disassembly much easier than assembly and wanted to give myself a little headstart for the blog. made from Walnut and Maple, there is 1 easy to find move (it works under gravity) and then another fairly easy to find but rather unexpected move. At this point things get interesting. Opening up spaces in the interior further pieces can move and then the inevitable and confusing rotations begin. Oh boy! This gets fun very quickly! During the disassembly, several pieces have to rotate and I found it fun to explore. I think it took about an hour to take it all apart and as a starter puzzle, it was perfect.

Looks very innocuous
Having scrambled the pieces, I set to reassembling which was definitely a tougher challenge. I had very rapidly forgotten the orientation and managed to confuse 2 of the similar-shaped pieces. Reassembly took me well over 2 hours and quite a lot of swearing. Why swear? Because if I could not put it back together again there was no solution and Burrtools would not be able to help me. Plus, remember that I am rubbish at assembly! I have to say that 3 hours plus of puzzling for $60 is pretty good and I had a beautiful wooden ornament/worry bead to display/fiddle with.

OcTIC - notice the reinforcing pin where a joint may get stressed
Next up was the one that Brian suggested would be the easiest and definitely best sent out in pieces, OcTIC. Not sure why that particular name when there are 5 rather than 8 pieces but he was right for it to be the starter. There are 2 nice large chunks of cube which are a good pair to begin with and not much of a problem working out how they fit together. Having done that, it becomes fairly obvious where the remaining pieces fit inside even if they won't just slot in. My fixation on the cube shape was my undoing! I could work out how to put most of the pieces inside (even with the nice easy rotation move for one of them) but I could not get all of them in. Everything I tried ended up with one piece outside. My fixation was killing me! It took a couple of hours before I finally let go of the initial cube shape and started with other pieces first. Then I discovered another unexpected rotation and a lovely sliding sequence before my Aha! moment was complete - beautiful!

It took an embarrassingly long time!
So I was 3 days into my puzzling when I got sick and ended up with a nice pile of new deliveries and no energy to open them! 2 days later I was back and puzzling again! I went with the HypnoTIC cube which Brian had said was pretty tough but doable as an assembly puzzle.

HypnoTIC pieces
It has vibrantly stunning woods and also a couple of those nice brass pins. I found that I could fathom the positions of the pieces pretty quickly and progressed quite rapidly. In fact, within a few minutes, I shouted my Aha! and was very pleased with myself until Mrs S pointed out that I had not made a proper cube:

Oh dear!
Embarrassed, I started afresh and every time my assembly ended up with this. I could not for the life of me see any other way to assemble this puzzle. This was supposed to be "not too bad" and I was in danger of having yet another unsolvable puzzle in my collection! Time to go to bed and try again another day. The following evening I continued to get stuck at the same point. It took me a whole extra evening before I overcame yet another fixation! I had quickly found a very nice way to assemble the initial cube starter shape - it fitted together beautifully with an easy sliding motion and I was convinced it was correct. Only after 2 evenings of failure did I reassess and realise that my easy start moves were wrong and there was an alternative (harder to find) starter:
Looks great? WRONG!
Ashamed to say that it took 2 days to find this!
Having done this the next 2 pieces fit in with multiple rotational moves and setups but a very satisfying search. The last piece fits in ONLY if things are absolutely perfectly aligned. It requires a very subtle rotation and position - if you are out by a degree or 2 and not aligned right then no chance. Another day to find this and finally after many hours AHA!

OMG! It nearly killed me!
Wow! What a challenge! I was exhausted and feeling very stupid but also exhilarated about the new skills I was obtaining. Again, fantastic value for $60. Finally, it was time to attempt the tough one, PackTIC...

A packing puzzle with rotations? Hell yeah!
 Again, a gorgeous choice of woods and I could see that with so many smaller pieces to be packed inside that this might be a little challenging for my tiny brain. As usual, I started with the larger pieces and immediately struggled. Each of them could fit into the larger cube but would not leave enough space for the other one to go in and extend the full 4 unit length across the cube. I gradually found a second method of adding a long piece but it still would not leave a channel for the other to pass through. Uncharitably, I did start to think that Brian might have put the wrong pieces together in the box but I quickly shrugged that suspicion off. I was fixated...YET AGAIN! It took me the whole of Saturday evening before I could even put the first 2 pieces into position! Damn! I am rubbish at puzzling!

Having worked out the 2 big pieces it was time to work on the smaller one. How hard could they be? Stupid boy! There are a number of ways that 2 or even 3 of the small pieces can go inside and once or twice I found a technique to get them there. After that, I either discovered that the space for the final piece was split into 2 sections or it was impossible to put it in there. The sequence and positioning took me another 3 hours and the Aha! moment was fabulous! I could not believe how clever that assembly was. Brian was right that they should have been sent out in pieces. Only just before writing this article did I finally solve it - nearly missed my deadline! Phew! Another stunning cube for my fixation and to reinforce to Mrs S that all my toys look the same!

Packed them in! Brilliant puzzle!
If Brian or anyone else produces these again then just say yes and hand over your cash without question! They are wonderful additions to anyone's collection.

Finally able to take a collection photo!
Now how should I store them? Assembled or not? It's a bit of a dilemma.

I might have received a few more of this series of puzzles from a certain German "enabler" friend of mine. How many? More than I am letting on to and enough to make Mrs S very VERY angry! OMG!


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