Sunday, 15 September 2019

A New Kid on the Block...

Makes His Premiere Puzzle

Premiere from Terry Smart
I have known Terry Smart for quite a few years now. He appeared in the various Facebook puzzle groups around 2013 (as far as I can recall) and seemed to be as good at buying puzzles as I was and just about as bad at solving them! My excuse is that I am not very bright but his excuse was that he spends a huge amount of time off-shore on oil rigs and and doesn't have access to all his enormous collection for very long. He also freely admits that he is more of a collector/hoarder than a solver. So, not only does he have less time at home than me, but he also doesn't necessarily aim to solve everything.

I remember in 2013 he and I began to develop a little bit of an interest in understanding Burrtools more so that maybe we could use it to design puzzles of interest. I managed to make a couple of designs but really had no idea what I was doing and gave up after a month or so. Terry, on the other hand, kept at it and produced quite a few nice designs and interestingly gave them all wonderful Greek and Latin names...he's obviously much better educated than me too! As far as I know, none of them have been manufactured for the puzzling community to enjoy as yet.

It was with great interest that I watched in the last 12 months as Terry became very interested in starting to manufacture puzzles. Unlike many puzzlers, he chose to try the woodwork route rather than 3D printing which kept me watching with fascination as this is exactly what I want to do on the off-chance that I am ever going to be able to retire from the NHS (at the moment my retirement age is supposed to be 67 which fills me with horror as it is soooo far away). Over the last year we have been chatting intermittently on FB messenger and I have seen him spend ENORMOUS amounts on beautiful equipment from the US and then add a huge customs ransom on top. I was staggered at the amount of spending on something that might go nowhere! In private, he showed me a picture of the design he had produced which I thought was rather advanced for a beginner - the frame was incredibly complex - it would need to be glued to perfection and the tolerances would have to be perfect to get a working puzzle. The trouble with puzzle making is that every tiny error in alignment can be magnified further along a stick until you end up with a non-functioning puzzle once all the tiny errors have been added up.

Just a week ago, he showed off a completed puzzle which looked fabulous...it looked like it had been created by one of the established "masters". A bunch of us expressed interest and Terry wanted a quick assessment by someone with knowledge, experience and puzzle skills. Unfortunately he could only find me and I quickly agreed to evaluate his first produced design which is fittingly called Premiere. I couldn't resist it - it is one of my favourite types of puzzle - a 6 piece burr in a frame! He had attempted to make 4 but, after one broke and the others failed to work, he was left with just the one working copy and during the week it arrived chez moi whilst I was out at work.

So, how is it? I can hear you all screaming at the internet (those voices again!). The puzzle looks lovely - the burr sticks are Maple and the frame is made from Jatoba aka Brazilian Cherry. It has been waxed and lacquered and feels beautifully smooth. The burr sticks have had their external ends all chamfered nicely and amazingly the endgrain all matches perfectly (Terry admits this was more luck than anything else). In the frame, all the glued joints are perfectly aligned and no join can be felt. For a first attempt (or for any attempt) this is BLOODY AMAZING!

What about the solve process? This sort of puzzle is one of my favourites for a reason...it is never too high a level and the process always tends to be fun without being too arduous. In places a few of the moves are a little tight but no real force is required and this is no more than I would find happens with puzzles from Alfons or from Pelikan. There are a number of moves possible and a few blind ends. I got to a point where it looked like a stick or two could be removed but the frame got in the way and I was unable to find another move further along that track. A few rewinds to the beginning revealed that one stick was a little awkward to click into place (possibly due to the very sharp/perfect internal edges catching) and I worried that this was the reason that I was unable to progress. Back and forth I went, peering inside the puzzle to see why the move I wanted to make wasn't happening. In the end, I saw that the move wasn't happening because it was impossible and the wrong move entirely! As I have said...not very bright! Now what? Think©!

I thunked and realised that there was another delightful set of moves to try which I had not noticed the first few (10 or so) times. After this, I had a breakthrough and a piece came out followed by a few more. At no point did it collapse in a heap which was very satisfying. I had a lovely set of pieces for a photo:

Even signed and dated like those by Alfons or Eric
Reassembly was just as much fun. I had some recollection of how it had come apart but had scrambled the pieces and lost my orientation on the frame. Nevertheless, I was able to reassemble the puzzle in just a ½ hour. Wonderful! The puzzle is not quite perfect but is 99.99% there - maybe a tiny adjustment of the interior tolerances or an internal chamfer?

So what is my verdict for this "new kid on the block" or "new kid on the burr"?

AMAZING design! AMAZING craftsmanship!

Even though he is a friend, I would say that he is someone to watch. His skills will continue to evolve and I am sure that his puzzles will be very collectible. He already designs some fabulous puzzles but if he can make them too then we might have another Alfons or Stephan on our hands. Just look at the detail on these pieces:



Terry is planning on making another 10-20 of the Premiere puzzle available within the next month or two and I advise that you should all consider getting hold of a copy! I will be watching out for future designs being produced.



An assembly puzzle that I am supposed to solve logically?

Logical progression
Eric Fuller has been at it again! He has produced lots of womnderful loveliness to tempt me. Unfortunately, I have spent all my pocket money over the last few months and only had a little bit of change left over. A difficult decision was required and I made it quickly - I had been facsinated by the Logical progression puzzle that had sold out before I got a chance to buy a few months ago. Eric had gotten permission from the designer, Rick Eason, to make another batch. I had missed out (even in just an hour) on the Walnut version but luckily there were (and still are) a few copies of the Maple version left - I snapped it up and it arrived yesterday.

I'd seen it at the MPP and shied away from disassembling it and failing yet again to assemble something in front of all the guys. At home, I just went for it and now wish that I hadn't:

What on earth have I done?
This is supposed to be logical? Lord help me! The cats were very interested in all the protruding dowels and, in an attempt to prevent a lot of chewing occuring, I quickly reassembled it. Something tells me this isn't right:

Less to chew on!
I'll let you know how I get on...IF I get on.



Sunday, 8 September 2019

It MUST Be a Box if...

1. It has bread in it and...
2. I cannot solve it without help!

Juno's Slammed Car
Junichi Yananose is an evil genius! He produces wonderful beautiful prize-winning puzzles and absolutely adores winding me up! There had been a rumour of a sequential discovery puzzle from Juno for quite a while and I was given advance warning at least 2 months ahead by Yukari so that I could save up and the moment the notification email went out from Juno and Yukari's Pluredro store , I immediately shot to the website and in the middle of anaesthetising for a rather long boring operation, I surveilled, I thought, I hesitated at the not inconsiderable price and I came to the conclusion:
Who am I kidding? Of course you need this in your collection! Juno has never ever sold a dud yet!
Duly ordered before the op was over, I waited a week for it to arrive and then after paying Her Majesty's hostage ransom, I finally had this wonderful wooden sculpture in my hands.

The detail is fabulous!
Obviously a fair bit of CNC work here.
I set to straight away with the cat on my lap and immediately made a nice discovery...which led to another discovery and another and another. This was great! Both me and the furry boy on my lap were fascinated at all the pieces. So much so that I had to tuck them under my thigh to stop him running off with them. Like most cars, there is a bonnet to open (that's a hood to you Yanks) and a boot to open eventually as well (that would be trunk!) There are also things to be done that you really shouldn't do to a real car (unless you like expensive bills from the garage) then, of course, when you open the inside of the car there are all sorts of interesting things inside...

They fell out 'guv'! Honest! I didn't break your car!
So, in an evening, I had first a detached wing mirror, a bonnet, a number (license) plate, a spanner (wrench), another wing mirror and a battery... This car is going nowhere fast! Here I got stuck for the rest of the evening.

The following evening, I had one of those "Danlock moments". This is the decision where you want to do something but you really are not sure whether doing it is a good idea, or whether it might get you into real trouble! It is always embarrassing emailing a puzzle craftsman to tell him that you have lost something inside his puzzle and can you send it back for him to extract it? After a few minutes of contemplation, thinking© and failing to find an alternative, I did the necessary move and it did nothing but it wasn't stuck inside thank goodness! What if I... BINGO!

I was into the next stage and I had a few more pieces and some very interesting places to use several of those pieces. Here I got stuck...for weeks and weeks and weeks! On FaceBook I saw with dismay that many of my puzzle friends were finishing their puzzles and were delighted with what they found. I kept at it and found something interesting but it didn't help me.

This puzzle has lots of holes and small parts and even my blind puzzling friend, Ed, solved his! Aaaargh! Why could I not do it? I had thought it was a sequential discovery puzzle and I am supposed to be just better than rubbish at those. Apparently, I was wrong...the other puzzlers were all revealing a cavity and inside a bloody loaf of bread (not one covered in blood!) which showed exactly why I couldn't solve it! I CAN'T solve boxes for the life of me! I got a hint from another FB friend, Jay which showed me another feature of the new area but helped not one bit in progressing. Then Ed suggested I start to multitask (those of you who have solved it will know what this means) and I tried that for a while. Now, I am a proper bloke! Not covered in tattoos, I have a rubbish brain that cannot do more than one thing at a time - I struggle to walk and breathe at the same time so this final phase of solving was going to be tough.

I tried for another week and was laughed at by several guys for failing! I'm used to that as it happens to me all the time at the MPP. I was asked to think why something that might be unnecessary might be present and I could not come up with an answer that helped...at first. But the more I looked at it, the more something occurred to me and I tried something new...
AHA!
The gleeful shout earned me an evil glare from "she who was getting pissed off at me whining about being rubbish" and "she who had started asking me why I buy stuff I cannot do". Suddenly I had the full realisation that:
  1. It's a box (the loaf of bread is proof)
  2. I am completely rubbish.
  3. The puzzle is 100% brilliant!
Juno, you ARE an evil genius! The torture was both horrific and wonderful at the same time. I am not into S&M in any way but I loved the torture here!

We have a cavity and a rather stale loaf of bread!
I can see why Juno won the Jury Grand Prize for the Slammed car at the IPP. It is amazing! I am slightly horrified that a whole bunch of puzzlers were able to solve it at the IPP in just a few hours but they are all much better puzzlers than me.

At last, I can move onto some new puzzles that might have arrived recently - hopefully, Mrs S will allow me to live long enough to try.

I cannot wait for more puzzles (of all types) from Juno! This is one of the reasons that I keep buying, playing and writing! I love it! This is not available any longer. All 120 copies sold out quite fast so you will need to wait for one to come up in an auction - it is well worth buying when it does.

Friday, 6 September 2019

An apology

Dear Puzzlers who made a purchase based on my recommendation. I have been informed of an error in the construction of Petit Pack from the New Pelikan Workshop. I know that I should have picked this up when I solved it too easily and had to choose some constraints to make it tougher. I let Jakub know as soon as I found out and he has released a statement with a plan to put it right.

Jakub and Jaroslav have said the following:

Hi Everybody!
As I've learned today, Petit Pack has a mistake. We'll have to make new boxes - we are working on it. 
The New boxes will be placed on our website and customers will be able to order either with a new order or they'll be delivered free of charge. A new update will be coming in 2 weeks. 
Sorry again! 
Regards,
Jakub and the Pelikan team.

I also apologise as I should probably have picked this up.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

A Tale of Two Puzzles

Damn! He's always in such gorgeous places whilst I am in dreary England!
As always, Mike Desilets is my saviour! The PuzzleMad foreign correspondent drops me a line with a wonderful article just as I need one. I have actually solved a few puzzles recently and do mean to write about them soon but work keeps me busy, Mrs S keeps me doing DIY and after a trip to Birmingham yesterday for the 39th MPP, I cannot spend too much time today on the 'puter without risking the wrath of Khan Mrs S! Mike has a review of a puzzle that I have not managed to get hold of yet as well as one that I previously discussed. I'll hand you over to his capable hands/keyboard now - take it away, my friend:

Talofa puzzlers,

This foreign office edition comes to you direct from beautiful American Samoa (Ed - sigh!). Before we get started, a general announcement: if there is anyone on Tutuila reading this and wants to get together to talk puzzles, find me at Sadie’s until Sept 8th. I brought some toys, of course, and a modest puzzle party is therefore possible. (Ed - do let me know if anyone joins you?)

Now for the content. As it happens, yet again, this is not the article I originally intending to submit to PuzzleMad. I had something else brewing (and nearly complete) but was waylaid by some intractable math issues (Ed - it should be Maths for Mathematics). That put me off my mark and the original article now seems to be growing long legs. In the meantime, my experience with Hanayama’s pair of newly released Vesa Timonen-designed puzzles compelled me to write this alternative post. These puzzles are, of course, Cast UFO and Cast Slider. Although they have not been on the market very long, avid puzzlers among the readership likely have hands-on experience with them already. Perhaps you have solved them, or perhaps you’ve just done due diligence research in anticipation of the inevitable purchase (Ed Mrs S is not happy with this plan at the moment!). If you are at all serious about this pastime, then you certainly need to have both these puzzles. If, on the other hand, you are just testing the waters, then the words below may possibly help you along your path.

A word of caution. This article contains minor spoilage on UFO. I think, however, that it only repeats spoilage previously committed in Kevin’s original post on the topic. I, therefore, consider myself absolved and refer all negative commentators to my charming and indulgent editor (Ed - I'll back you up!). If you want to enjoy untainted puzzling, as I always do, then I suggest you stop here for now and come back at the appropriate time.

Part of the reason I thought this material would be post-worthy was the very fact of two puzzles being released back-to-back by the same designer. Although the puzzles could not be more different in terms of design, the timing of their release naturally invites comparison. So let’s begin with UFO. Kevin covered UFO previously, so I apologize (yet again) for any redundancy. As you might expect, my thoughts align pretty well with those of my treasured editor (Ed - treasured? WOW - Blush!).

I think no one will argue that UFO has beautiful aesthetics. It is very nicely symmetrical, except in one aspect, and could not better represent its namesake (there were other options, of course, and I would like to have been in the Hamayama board room during the heated naming debates, dodging the hurled teacups and balled-up graph paper flying between the “UFO” and “Saturn” contingents).  UFO consists of a four-part ball encaged within a two-part discoidal outer shell.  The puzzle is instantly attractive and a joy to fondle. The fact that it is a Vesa Timonen design is also a huge draw for many of us. Mr Timonen has fully 10 Hanayama designs under his belt (I’ve read) and remains one of my very favourite designers. Needless to say, expectations were high for this puzzle.

Cast UFO sighted in Samoa.
Now, UFO was rated by Hanayama at a Level 4 difficulty. This usually bodes well in my book. My top picks from Hanayama are usually in the 3 to 5 range. There is a lot of variability within that range, clearly, and if you’ve learned nothing else from Kevin and my efforts, it is that puzzle difficulty ratings are approximations. Especially so in the Hanayama world. And lest ye forget, difficulty ratings are part and parcel of puzzle marketing. Please don’t be naïve (or cynical) on this count, my friends. But anyway, a Hanayama Level 4 to me almost always means happy puzzling.

Unfortunately, dear reader, this is about where the good times end. I engaged with UFO intensively over a period of a week and a half, including some very lengthy sessions. I think like nearly every other person, I spent an inordinate amount of time on the “first” and most obvious solution path - that which teasingly suggests the two halves will somehow slide apart (Ed - yep, me too). Given the number of possible orientations and alignments of the four internal pieces, there is quite a lot to explore here. At some point, though, doubt creeps in. It was at this point that I went to read what Kevin had to say on the matter. Consulting my editor’s work is a bit of a cheat on my part, and uncharacteristic of me actually (Ed - it's nice to know that at least someone pays attention to my drivel), but the idea of continuing to working for hours and days on a false path was just too much to take. So in light of his review, I stopped working on path one and tried some other things. I found another interesting possibility and worked on that for another very extended period. This turned out to be closely related to the actual solution, but it was never going to happen the way I was doing it.

You won’t see it like this until you’ve done some work.
This went on for a long time. At a certain point in every hard solve, I become irrationally convinced that my puzzle is broken. Against all odds, I have somehow received the one-in-a-million copy with incorrect tolerances. The only remedy for this psychosis is to recall that EVERY Hanayama puzzle was hand-assembled in a Chinese factory. Hence, it WILL come apart. Obviously, I have tattooed this insight onto my forearm, Memento-style. Otherwise, I would have fallen down a very dark hole by now, spending all of my free time writing angry missives to innocent puzzle designers. This observation also makes you realize, if you think about it, that there are a handful of Chinese factory workers who are absolute, unparalleled experts at assembling very complex puzzles like Cast Quartet, etcetera. 

My second gambit didn't pay off, and I may or may not have broken a fingernail in the process. By this point, I had run out of ideas and was reduced to random acts of demi-violence (Ed demi? is that smaller or greater than semi?), the last resort of the nearly-defeated puzzler. Nothing was happening and after significant prying, shaking, and spinning of the internals, I did the unthinkable and went for the solution. This is a very rare thing for me, as my shelf of unsolved puzzles will attest. I still refuse to look up the damnable and grotesque Cast Vortex, several years in and am currently astride an ultra-marathon solving effort with Cast Hourglass (Ed - me too!). My time on Hourglass dwarfs anything I have done on my last dozen puzzles (combined), but I will never, in my lifetime, so much a glance sideways at its solution. 

Cast Eyeball
So what is the difference with UFO? Why did it defeat me where so few others (and zero Hanayamas) have to date? Well, the steamy, doleful tropical environment may have affected my morale, that is true. But ultimately I think I became convinced that my only remaining chance at solving it was dumb luck. I was not going to deduce the mechanism, that was clear. I don’t honestly know how anyone could. Like my esteemed editor before me, I leered into UFO’s most private crevices in search of a clue. I saw what you all saw, and it really didn't mean much to me. The internal pieces were clearly not identical. But converting that into a mental model of the interior? I was at a loss. At the end of the process, having tried the things that the puzzle allows one to do, I felt I had arrived at the uncharted shores of the black box. This is not my preferred style of puzzling (generally - there are notable exceptions). I don’t really know what people are saying when they claim to have “solved” a completely hidden mechanism puzzle. They mean that they have gotten it apart, of course, but... so what? If your concept of puzzling is to shake a puzzle around until your random movement releases the lock, then I have good news for you. It gets much better! Now let me be clear, I don’t necessarily group Vesa’s puzzle into that category. But that is where the puzzle brought me mentally. I think it also had something to do with the disconnect between the Level 4 rating and my Level 6 effort, the use (by design or otherwise) of teaser non-solutions, and just generally everything I know about previous designs by the great Finn. The simple fact is that Cast UFO is perfectly calculated to unwind a man. I believe others have shared this experience. 

Now, good readers, understand that your dutiful foreign correspondent has a very full queue of puzzles to solve, study, and just possibly write about (Ed - I am looking forward to receiving copious articles very shortly! 😈). Some times you have to do what you have to do. That is no excuse, and I am not proud of my actions, but I beg your indulgence this once. You can be sure that I will complete some form of puzzle penance in the near future. Some good deed or other - I’ll think of something.

Having the solution in hand, or in mind as it were, I eventually managed to get the pieces separated. The tolerances, for a cast puzzle, are very tight and it took a significant amount of work to get the first piece out. Everything has to be just so, in the extreme. Even with precise placement, the action can be difficult to induce. Over time this gets easier, as always. (Ed - not for me - this is not one of my favourite Hanayama puzzles of recent times)

Having now seen the internals, I can certainly appreciate the brilliance of the mechanism. This is an ingenious design and I struggle to understand how Vesa can come up with such things. It really is a fascinating object and I’ve enjoyed taking it apart and reassembling a couple of times. But in the final analysis, as you may have gathered, I did not actually enjoy UFO as a puzzle. It is certainly not a Level 4 puzzle, and I think it would be wrongheaded in the extreme to knowingly give it to any youth or non-puzzler as a gift. Unfortunately, many well-meaning parents will buy UFO for their kids, possibly putting many young people off mechanical puzzles altogether. I doubt this was Hanayama’s intention, and it makes me seriously question the intensity and/or quality of their product testing program. There should be no mystery in gauging puzzle difficulty. It's a statistical question, at the base of it, and susceptible to good estimation. All you really need to do is collect data from a random sample of solvers. The impression given by many of Hanayama’s ratings, however, is of a consensus arrived at by a small group of professional puzzlers/designers who are perhaps too close to UFO for the task. I don’t know this to be the case, and my preemptive apologies to the very good people at Hanayama, but I can’t think of any other way to explain UFO’s rating.

Were UFO to be reclassified upward, it would at least be more accurate for the consumer. But I still would not have found it enjoyable. The rating is actually a minor matter. It is the aforementioned limitation of the solving process that is critical. Notice that most Level 6 puzzles, by and large, involve complete transparency. Hiding the mechanics is only one road to difficulty, after all, and in my opinion, makes it much harder to craft a “fair” and fun puzzle.

Cast Slider - unslid
Enter now Cast Slider, the very latest Hanayama release. My experience with slider could not be more different from UFO. Slider, as you surely know by now, boasts only three component pieces. When assembled, the two “sliders” move smoothly past one another until stopped by their respective pins. The movement is really very dramatic and at full extension, the puzzle seems barely articulated, held loosely but securely by the centre piece and its two symmetrical slots. 

The radical dynamic action of the puzzle makes it a real pleasure to manipulate and is in stark contrast to the compact and somewhat inaccessible UFO, which is not unpleasurable itself, just differently so. While the kernel of UFO is securely encaged, and thus problematic, Slider seems like something that should come apart in short order, if not immediately, of its own volition. As an object, it comes off as a little more puzzling, to me anyway. I can see everything, but I still don’t understand it.

Once you try to solve Slider you’ll find that it is no simple matter to disengage the pieces. I think this took me about 30 minutes, off and on, to get apart. Several nearby acquaintances, all of them too smart for their own good, never managed it. For me, it was extremely enjoyable and gratifying. Where UFO brings you to your wits end through sheer intransigence, Slider sets up a reasonable challenge, brings you to the point of consternation, then pays you off handsomely. The fact that Slider is so gangly and capable of several different configurations helps mightily in maintaining a puzzler's interest. UFO, the fixed object, defies exploration, excepting the false path of course, which is only rubbing salt in the wound.  Slider is completely transparent. There is nothing hidden and its mechanics are plain for all to inspect. Yet still, it confounds. UFO, as mentioned, keeps things very close to the vest. You can’t see how its constructed, which means you don’t know how to get in to see how its constructed, which means... 

Cast Slider, practising contortionist.
Among all its other good qualities, Slider presents you with both a take-apart and a put-together challenge. It is almost assured that you will struggle to get it back together, at least at first. Reassembly is not trivial in the least. I think if one were handed this as a pure put-together, it would be very tough, probably more so than as a take-apart. Replay value is also initially quite high. My second-time solve still took a fair effort. The third was faster, and so on. UFO, once the secrets of the ingenious mechanism are revealed, is no longer puzzling to disassemble or reassemble. Fiddly as hell, yes, but not really puzzling.  

Finally, Slider has the advantage of being a good social puzzle. It is fun to pass around, catches peoples interest, and can be solved within the period of an average social gathering. Fun for all ages! UFO, don’t even try it. I’m guessing it would be a real party killer. That’s not a ding against UFO; there are countless outstanding puzzles that shouldn't be foisted on non-puzzling friends. It's just an observation for the record and a word to the wise.

Cast Slider dismantled.
If you are somehow unsure where I stand by now, let me sum up. I found Slider to be thoroughly enjoyable on all levels. It is an essentially flawless design and among the best I have seen recently. As far as I can tell, it is completely unique and original in the extreme. I have not come across anything like it in my travels. That really says something. Over the years we’ve come to expect this level of originality from Vesa Timonen to the extent that perhaps we even take it for granted. But it is not at all easy to be truly original in puzzle design, especially in the few-piece take apart category. There are many good designers out there, professional and amateur alike, but Vesa is a “great” designer in my book. History will decide, I suppose, but I’ve already made up my mind. 

UFO, despite the aspects that I personally find flawed, is also a supremely original design and a fascinating object to study, if not solve. It is yet another testament to Vesa’s abilities, by comparison, to which, no one would argue, the PuzzleMad staff are double-dyed dolts. (Ed - "double-dyed dolts??? Not sure what that means but it sounds like a good description of me!)

To wrap up, what we have from Hanayama and Vesa Timonen is a study in contrasts. UFO and Slider are painfully dissimilar in almost every respect. The only place they approach one another is in apparent difficulty rating, being just a single increment apart. Again, that should tell you something about the value of difficulty ratings. Even when accurate, they are often just an ordinal proxy measure for “solving time required.” More important attributes like cleverness, ingenuity, personal enjoyment, replay value, sociability, etc., will remain unknown. But perhaps that’s for the best. Those are the things we discover during our work.

Finally, let me conclude further with a quick note on Cast Hourglass. I know this puzzle has caused a good deal of suffering out there, but for those of you still in the throes of solving, I strongly encourage you to keep at it and push through the pain. The puzzle is extremely difficult, no doubt, but it is also supremely rational and therefore within your grasp. Disassembly is a huge challenge and reassembly doubly so. But there is nothing hidden, so there is also no excuse. A little old-fashioned THINKing will serve you well, whereas tinkering around aimlessly will get you nowhere. I am not yet home on reassembly but am so close I can taste it. Tremendous thought and persistence need on this one, but rewards to match. Good luck. (Ed - I am hopelessly lost!)

Ok Kevin, get us out of here so we can enjoy the rest of the weekend...



Wow! What a great article! I really must get hold of a copy of the slider - I had a quick fiddle at the MPP and that (along with your article) made me very determined to buy a copy for my own use. Thank you so much, Mike, you always seem to bail me out at just the right time! Good luck with the Hourglass and I look forward to your maths-based article soon!

One side-effect of a visit to the MPP where I foolishly agreed to bring along my Happiness cubes again for the guys to enjoy was that at the end of the day the puzzling swines left me with a bag of UNhappiness! They had dismantled all 5 cubes and left them mixed in a pile and the bunch of packing puzzles from Tom Lensch, Pelikan, Brian Menold and Johan Heyns had all their pieces hidden amongst each other. Aaargh!!!

Nooooooooo! Not again!

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Blame the Royal Mail For the Delay in Your Puzzling!

Latest Pelikan Offering
Many of you might have noticed at about midnight last night (BST) that Jakub and Jaroslav put up a bunch of new puzzles for sale on the New Pelikan Workshop. I think that they were hoping that they would go up a week ago but thanks to the Royal Mail, the date had to be put back. I do apologise! Why should the Royal Mail affect the sale of puzzles from the Czech Republic? Because Jakub always offers me the opportunity to buy the puzzles a week or so in advance and in return I write some of the descriptions and a mini-review for his site. This does mean there is a big pressure on me to photograph and solve them as quickly as I can after arrival so as not to disappoint the hungry puzzling masses.

Jakub posted out my batch of puzzles on 7th August and they left his country on the 9th. After that, there was a note on the tracking that they had arrived in London and there it stopped. It usually takes only another 48 hours to be delivered at this stage. The Royal Mail tracking site acknowledged their existence but not that they were in the UK. They were nowhere to be seen. This can not be blamed on Her Majesty's Customs and Excise department as, for the moment at least, we remain in the EU and no Customs should be due. Yes, the Royal Mail had lost them. After 10 days I even phoned them and they said this was not trackable in the UK (a lie). After another 3 days later it suddenly appeared at my house to my (and Jakub's relief - he really wanted to sell this batch of puzzles). The pressure was really on now - I had to solve them quickly so that you can buy them. As I type here it would appear that one, Petit Pack,  is already sold out. So, without further delay, here are my thoughts on the latest batch.

Petit Pack by Osanori Yamamoto

Petit Pack
Another lovely packing puzzle by the Master, Osanori Yamamoto. Pelikan has made this available in 4 gorgeous wood choices (A Cherry box and choice of Bubinga, Wenge, Purpleheart or Padauk pieces). The puzzle should be received by you with the pieces in the configuration above so that you get no clue about the eventual solution. There are just 3 pieces to fit into the 3x3 box.

3 simple pieces - I chose Purpleheart
These puzzles are a great challenge with a low number of pieces to fit in a box open at diagonally opposite corners with no gaps visible in the bigger hole. The first time I did it, I think I cheated by introducing pieces through the smaller hole and I found the challenge relatively easy. Next, it occurred to me that there might be more of a challenge if I place all pieces into the box via the front hole. This way the packing puzzle requires a lovely dance of the pieces around and has a lovely Aha! moment as you find the right order and the moves. The sequence is fun to find and at level 7.2.2, not terribly tough. It is perfect for beginners and experienced puzzles and, of course, if you are a packing puzzle collector then it's an essential purchase.

Solved it!
This one took me about 10 minutes for one approach and another 15 for the best solution
It is interesting to me that this has sold out so quickly whereas the others released by Pelikan have not. This puzzle is my least favourite of the releases this time - it is still a great little challenge but not as good as the other recent releases from Yamamoto-san including Petit ring and Pack 012.

Dunant by Volker Latussek

Dunant
Let me start off this review with these words:
GO BUY IT......NOW!
This is an absolutely amazing puzzle! Just another packing puzzle? Hell no! This is in part interlocking puzzle and part sequential movement puzzle. It is wonderful and seriously difficult. It was entered into the IPP design competition this year and it says a lot about the other entries that this did not win and award. The Aha! moment with this is a multiple and prolonged event. It is available with an Oak box and either Ovangkol or Mahogany pieces.

Initially, when you invert the box you pull out 3 pieces that simply slide in and out easily but clearly are nowhere near the solution as they protrude from the box in the start position. I initially thought that this was impossible until I realised that the 2 larger pieces can be divided up until we have 5 identical pieces.

Looks impossible here
The + shapes split in two - maybe there is a solution?
I spent a long time searching for a configuration that stands a chance of fitting in the box by searching outside the box. Even this is a tough challenge as I discovered when during a very long (7 hour) vascular angiography case I gave this to the nurses and radiographers to play with. It was fascinating to watch them all fail to even find a position that was possible. In the end, I found 2 conformations that might possibly fit inside the constraints of the box only to discover that I could not get them through the pretty large opening at the top. This was going to take a very complex sequence to get them into the box and then get them organised appropriately. I think there must be at least 3 Aha! moments in the solution and quite a lot of groaning too. This puzzle is wonderful - for €36 it's a bargain!

No! I am not going to show the solution here! Find it yourself and ask me by email if you need help.

Party by Klaas Jan Damstra

Party
I cannot resist puzzles designed by Klaas! Both he and my friend Chris Lohe seem to have a marvellous eye for a puzzle with a wonderful balance of interesting shape and fun solution without being impossibly high level or impossibly difficult.

Party is a wonderfully picturesque puzzle with a burr appearing to float in the middle of a frame. Just a three-piece burr held in an open cubic cage, how hard can it be? Well, let me tell you that it's part simple, part tough and completely fun…just like a party should be. In most good parties there should be dancing and that's just what we have. The disassembly sees the three pieces moving around and about each other in a fun way with a few but not too many choices to lead you astray.

I had an interesting and promising conformation and rotated the puzzle to look at the back when a piece dropped out onto the bemused cat on my lap. Needless to say, it didn't stay in the starting orientation! After a few more moves the remaining pieces were out and at that point, I had a wonderful realisation…all of them were identical! Wow! What a lovely and clever design!

I did not know until after I had removed them that the three pieces were identical
The real challenge comes later. Having scrambled (even if by accident) the pieces, the reassembly is a really pleasant but doable puzzle. It took me about 45 minutes and left me with a big grin – I finally had solved something (after my weeks of failure with the Slammed car and Eric's burrset) and really enjoyed the process. This puzzle is available in several choices of wood. I chose Maple frame (when Jakub posted my blurb I realised that the frame is actually Cherry) with Ovangkol which has a gorgeous grain but it is also available with Purpleheart or Wenge pieces. All are lovely!

Well worth a place in your collection even if you are not a burr fanatic.

Rattle Twist III by Osanori Yamamoto

Rattle Twist III
I already own The Rattle Twist duo (I & II) made for me by a very good puzzling friend and I was very keen to investigate this 3rd one in the series (there are even a 4th and 5th published). These puzzles are all designed by the amazing Osanori Yamamoto and his devious mind manages to produce wonderful challenges with very few pieces which may or may not require rotational moves. As a quick interesting feature let me show you that this definitely has rotations in the solution:

Mine arrived doing this and who knows where it should have started!
This puzzle shares the same pieces as the original pair but a different plate for them to be arranged within. There are 4 different woods available and I couldn't resist the Cherry (again, in my blurb for Jakub I thought that it was Maple) and Purpleheart combination. The other options are Padauk, Merbau and Bubinga. Challenge to fit just 2 pieces in a simple frame? Shouldn't take long? I thought so and I thought wrong (as usual) – it took me several hours. There's at least one rotation and the pieces get caught amongst each other blocking most moves. Eventually, I had to stop and think© about what I needed to do and how the shapes would do it before solving it. As is usual for me I tried random moves but this just would not work for me here. The moves are quite well hidden.

Finally managed it - only 2 pieces and it still took me over 2 hours!
This is a lovely idea and I'm pleased to own the third in the series – so beautifully made by Pelikan too.

Merlin by Stephan Baumegger

Merlin
Merlin is a serious work of art for serious puzzlers! This tremendous puzzle was designed by the genius Stephan Baumegger at the request of Dave Holt (The Metagrobologist) to accompany the Arthur and the Excalibur (also Cubic caged burrs) in the theme of TH White's “Once and Future King”. This gorgeous burr consists of 8 burrsticks in 2 sets of 4 and Merlin's wand passing through too. This is a high level burr at 64.7.3. The burrsticks move but they are heavily constrained by the wand which can only move along 2 constrained paths. I have not managed to solve this yet (and may not ever manage it) but this is one incredibly beautiful puzzle which will be fun to try, fail and then put back on display.

This is available with either Purpleheart and Wenge burr sticks or Merbau and Wenge sticks - either choice is fabulous and will provide you with many many hours of puzzling. I was particularly fascinated to read the account written by my friend James Cardinal on Facebook as he solved his copy (from Stephan) - read it here:



This latest batch from Jakub and Jaroslav are all superb - my favourites are Dunant,  Party and then Rattle Twist III. The Merlin is a stunning addition to your collection even if you never manage to solve it. Go out there and give Pelikan your money...I did! Much to Mrs S' disgust - no Whack! Ouch! ...Yet.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

I Am So Bad at Boxes!

Yes, it's a box and it doesn't look too difficult!
I am sure that the majority of you will recognise the box pictured above and you will all laugh at me when I say that I could not open it! For those who don't immediately recognise it, it is a burrset made by the Doctor of Wood, Eric Fuller. A few months ago he released a bunch of these in different woods and due to work pressures, I was not quick enough off the mark to get one of the more gorgeous sets. However, I was just able to buy a copy of the Cherry, Ash, Walnut and Birch set just before they all sold out and have to say that I am not in the least disappointed. It is simply gorgeous even in the more mundane wood choices. Eric has put all of his usual magic into the manufacture of this set - the joinery is simply perfection itself and it looks beautiful. The lid lifts off to reveal a lovely ordered set of burr sticks which have been perfectly engraved with their piece number for selection according to the booklet of challenges.

27 beautiful burr sticks plus a "filler"
How many burrsets does one need? This is slightly embarrassing to answer - at the moment, I must say that at least 4 is the correct number!

The "42 piece burrset" by Jerry McFarland - aka the Caramel Case
314 solid burrs as well as many many additional holey burrs! Plus Jerry added an extra stick

The Ultimate burrset - by Jack Krijnen
637 challenges varying from Level 1 to level 8

The Level 5 burrset Mr KY Wu
162 possible level 5 assemblies

Eric had made this set using the exact same pieces as the Ultimate burrset which I already had above. So why did I buy it? Apart from being unable to resist Eric's work, this was named the Pen-ultimate burrset because it had been modified. The ultimate set was based on sticks made from 2x2x8 stock. The extra length on each stick made the assembly challenges quite a bit tougher in places as the lateral movements during the solution can be quite restricted. For this set, Eric had created the burr sticks from 2x2x6 stock and to enhance the puzzling the set had been analysed by the amazing genius that is Ken Irvine (check out his brilliant new blog here).

So having established that I already have more six-piece burr challenges than I will ever be able to solve (have I told you all that I am rubbish at assembly puzzles?), the next question must be where is that booklet of challenges for Eric's set? Yes, I asked that too! I had not actually read the full description of the item before clicking buy and only after it arrived did I realise that this Burrset was also a box. Apparently, there is a hidden drawer in the box which contains a booklet of challenges - hence this is a box too. It is very well disguised but when looking and feeling the box closely it is obvious where the hidden drawer is and of course, it is locked tight. So no puzzling until I can open the box...GULP!

I take out all the burr sticks from the set and admire them and search for hidden mechanisms inside...NOPE! Then I realise that stick 0 and the red stick are both solid and hence one is superfluous...or is it? Eric would not just put an extra stick in for nice packing in the box. After all 28 sticks pack as a nice 7x4 array but if there were just 27 sticks then that could easily be nicely arranged in a 9x3 array and not need the extra stick. Plus, why is one made from a different (and rather gorgeous) Padauk piece? It's pretty clear by the presence of a magnet embedded in it that that is critical for unlocking the drawer. There must be a hidden mechanism that requires the use of the magnet. I set to exploring what I could find with this magnet and there were several very nice Aha! moments. I found hidden magnets, I found that things could be done by using magnet on magnet and there I got stuck! For ages and ages! All over the internet, I saw puzzle friends opening their drawers and starting on their burr puzzling and I couldn't begin. My howls of anguish spread wide and I was encouraged by others to continue and not over-think it. The puzzling continued...but not with success.

Eventually, Eric was on FB and saw that I was on-line. He sent me a message and asked what I had found and could do. I gave a hypothesis of what else I thought I ought to be able to do and he indicated that I was correct...but my set would not do that. I was sorry to inflict pain on Eric but his response was one of absolutely superb customer service, he told me that in my set I obviously needed a stronger magnet and the following day he posted out a replacement key-piece (no extra charge at all). A week later I received another stick with a MUCH stronger magnet embedded in it. I immediately put it to the test and the much-expected movement that I had been unable to perform with the smaller magnet was now easy for me. So I did it and tugged on the drawer and...and NOPE! Aaaargh! As I said, I am RUBBISH at boxes. Yet again, I spent several evenings with my usual game of doing the same trick again and again and again and, like a mad man, expecting something different to happen at some point. Of course, it didn't and I still could not play with my burrs! Eventually, I caved in and asked Eric for a bit of help, wondering whether there was another issue with my burrset (it is very common amongst us addicts to state that if we cannot solve a puzzle then it must be broken - that gets stated many many times at the Midlands Puzzle Party).

Eric confirmed that there was more to the opening than I thought and gave me a particular but not descriptive clue which I (surprisingly) understood but could not immediately follow through with. He then said something key:
"Remember that I like to make things look like they don't move when they do 🙂"
Within a few moments of that I responded:
"Holy shit! Just found it! Damn! That's well hidden!!!!"
I have to say that I feel that I got my money's worth out of this puzzle and that is before I even got to play with the burr sticks!

OMG! At last!
Now I was able to explore the set further. There was a nice Cubic Dissection logo sticker in the booklet and the booklet itself provided the full analysis that Ken had made of the Ultimate set with shortened sticks and also including the assemblies that do not end with solid burrs:

There are rather a large number of challenges to work through:

  • The Ultimate burrset with stick-length of 8 had 535 unique solutions with voids whereas the Penultimate set here has 708 - that alone will take me most of the rest of my life!
On top of this, there are an enormous number of other assemblies possible which will provide interesting puzzling - potentially another 20,322! Homing in on the slightly more challenging ones, Ken's analysis states that there are 3,479 piece sets that require a minimum of 2 moves and a maximum of 3 moves to remove the first piece, 51 sets that require a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 5 moves for the first piece and 3 sets that require 5 moves.

Not only is the analysis an amazing and very complete piece of work, but it has also been beautifully set out in the booklet and, as long as you have good eyesight (a problem for us "older" puzzlers), then it is a work of art as well as a fabulous puzzling resource:

At last! Very small print but gorgeous and a lifetime of puzzle challenges in there! Don't tell Mrs S!
Finally, I have been able to challenge myself to assemble something. As you would expect from Eric, the burr sticks fit together absolutely perfectly! It is a pleasure to play with this set - I will assemble a few and then it will be stored for my retirement when I have a whole lot more time on my hands.

A burr assembled and the Cubic dissection sticker proudly stuck on the interior of the lid



Still unsolved - probably a box!
Finally, as proof that a puzzle is a box...Juno's Slammed car which has now sold out after it won the Jury Grand prize in the design competition in Japan, was sold to me as a Sequential Discovery puzzle which I adore. However, Juno insists that it is also a box which we have established today that I am truly awful at solving! He says:
"The puzzle has an internal cavity and it is also categorized as a puzzle box. To make the definition of the puzzle clearer, we put a loaf of bread in the cavity and it helps you to realize the goal of the puzzle."
The loaf of bread is another dig at me after George Bell stated that a puzzle is a box if you can put a loaf of bread in it and there have been several of Juno's puzzles where he has had a joke at me with this. I received my copy of this a couple of months ago and have watched in amazement as everyone has solved it around me (including my completely blind friend Ed) and I zoomed off to almost the end of the challenge and have been stuck there for weeks. Yep! It is definitely a box - not because of the bread but because I am completely unable to solve it! I will keep on working on it and hopefully before the year is out will have opened it - some puzzles take me months or even years of effort! Thanks, Juno!




Sunday, 11 August 2019

Jerry Makes a Fidget Toy

Oh, and It's a Puzzle Too!

Fidget Burr
Yep! Free the lady is the aim.
Jerry McFarland and I chat quite frequently and I was most pleased to hear that he is being kept busy making BurrNova 3D (aka Magnetic Madness) puzzles after it won a prize in the Nob Yoshigahara design competition at the 2018 IPP. After the prize was won and I wrote my review (review of the 2D version here) many people contacted Jerry to get copies and he has been kept very busy producing copies for people. At the same time, his mind never stops - he has improved my version 0.8 (prototype) a number of times and is currently on version 2.5. Whilst discussing the possibility of upgrading my prototype to the latest (mine had seized up due to weaker magnets and British high humidity), he also dropped on me that he has been thinking about other ways to use wood and magnets and make fun puzzles. He has a mind like a trap that just never stops! In fact, he told me that he struggles to make lots of copies of older puzzles because he gets easily bored.

After some too and fro by email, a pair of boxes arrived much to the anger of Mrs S and much to the eager pleasure of the furry boy cats who lurve my boxes! The first one contained my new improved BurrNova and I could see the improvements immediately and also appreciated the use of Mahogany in place of Maple:

Version 2.5 on the left and prototype (now returned to Jerry) on the right
The new puzzle was in the second box and when I showed it off to "she who is getting rather pissed off with the constant puzzle deliveries", she did state that she was sure that I had one of those already. I corrected her but I can sort of understand - Jerry's work has a certain look...it is completely unmistakable. Yes, she is right, I do have several of Jerry's masterpieces in my collection and hence a number of puzzles that look similar. I emphatically stated that every single one of them was extremely different and she sort of grumpily accepted it.

This latest puzzle (prototype again) has a number of names: Fidget burr, Dollar burr, Chin burr or BurrNova parallel - reasons for most of these later but I think only the first 2 may stick. Yet again, Jerry added a little whimsy to the whole thing by adding the free the lady in distress element to it. It is very offputting to pick up the puzzle and see a girl staring out of it at you - Mrs S says he's got a sick mind! Immediately I found out why it is called the Fidget burr - pushing that very inviting central key piece results in a wonderfully loud and (if you're not expecting it) surprising automatic sequence of moves of 4 pieces around the edges:

Just one push leads to a whole sequence
After this, something else is possible...or not, depending on which direction you pushed the key piece and then nothing, nada, nichts and bugger all! There are inviting notches in pieces and the appearance that other pieces of the puzzle may move. I spent a day or so exploring these other pieces and realised that all is blocked. It is at this point that the name comes into play. I was singularly failing to get any further in solving this but had a wonderful time pushing it all back to the start and then Thrrrrrrrrp! setting it off again! This is a beautiful fidget toy with the added bonus of making a lovely racket that annoys the hell out of the present wife. I seem to recall that at one point she threatened to throw it out a window - disgraceful!

I fidgeted away with it for nearly a week and thought. This is an exercise that does not come easily to me and I find quite painful. I recalled other puzzles that Jerry had made and decided to try something that had worked in one of them. Suddenly I had a new move! Yessssss! In my surprise, I sat back and reset it by accident. Slightly stupid and disappointing but at least I knew what was required. It would appear that this is a fidget toy, a burr and a dexterity puzzle.

Having made the crucial hidden next move, I wondered whether any more like that might be required. Searching for them just ended up with me resetting the puzzle a few times so I looked elsewhere. The next move requires either knowledge of others of his puzzles or a very close examination of the pieces that are visible. Surprisingly, I managed this step quite quickly and found myself with a partially dismantled puzzle and a frightening step to do next...I had to remove the automatic section with its very strong magnets. All is there to be seen and it quickly came out and was set aside.

Finally, after nearly 2 weeks of play, I had a nice pile of pieces or "kindling" as Mrs S has taken to calling these sorts of puzzles:

Fabulous! The mechanism is edited out so no use peaking!
The attention to detail is wonderful, right through to the initials and year as well as a perfectly cut out hole for the princess to sleep in:

Such attention to detail!
No clues here - all details edited out

Of course, this puzzle was going set me a further challenge! How to put it back together. Jerry expected this to be quite tough and even sent a sealed envelope with a suggested approach on it. I initially tried without the instructions but could not remember what went where and looked at them after a short while. Jerry's approach did not help me at all! After an hour of trying to repeat what he had said, I gave up and went back to searching for my own method. I was eventually able to work out where the specific pieces went and then using a fair bit of dexterity I was able to assemble the automatic section in the centre of the frame in a rather fun 2 or 3 stage process which led to another of those wonderful Thrrrrrrp noises again and the rest of the puzzle was assembled. Finally back to the beginning and I had to report back. Jerry, this puzzle is a winner! Lovely idea, beautifully made and quite a challenge of both thought and dexterity in several places. I loved it.

But...........why is it called the "Chin burr"? Apparently, the reason for this name is that the final step in the reset of the puzzle needs more hands than we have. Jerry solved that by using his chin! I laughed at how dense I was but had to admit that in my case I would have called it a "nose burr" (think about it!)

This puzzle is NOT available as yet - please don't pester/ask Jerry for a copy as he is not making them for sale just yet. He is still working on it and may improve it further and it will probably be seen in an IPP design competition occurring in the next year. When it eventually does reach a stage where he is happy with it, it will definitely be worth buying.

Now I should probably put it away before Mrs S goes ahead with her threat to chop my fingers off if I keep making that Thrrrrrrp noise!





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