Sunday, 25 October 2020

A Picturesque Challenge

Ansel by Brandon Wolf
Brandon Wolf (aka Puzzled Wolf) started out as a puzzle blogger (and still writes some very interesting stuff pretty regularly but as a gentleman with talent (unlike me) he took the jump into designing his own puzzles and then even creating them (I am not sure whether he actually has the machinery to do the creation or has a tame craftsman who does it to his specification) and Ansel is the first of his designs to be released.

The rear surface - not much to see here.
It was announced in May and I somehow completely missed it and a reservation list started in June (also missed) before the first copies being sent out back in July. Yep! I missed that too!

The first that I heard about it was when a review showed up on the Five Sinatras review site and Brandon received a magnificent score of 5 Sinatras for the overall puzzle. Of course, by this time the whole lot had sold out and I figured that this was one I would have to leave on my wish list without any real hope of ever getting a copy - I don't do auctions any more to protect my finances. Luckily for me and a further 80 puzzling punters, Brandon decided to create another batch and, by this time, I had gotten myself onto his mailing list. A week ago, a copy showed up and after my dalliance with Juno's masterpiece, I quickly moved onto this.

The Ansel (named after the famed Ansel Adams) is beautifully presented in a lovely box (which I duly threw away because space is an issue) and inside a lovely walnut reproduction of what looks rather like an old Kodak Instamatic 133 camera (Mr Adams certainly didn't use one of those for his iconic artistry). Damn! I'm old! I actually remember using one of these and putting flash cubes on top for indoor photography (those cubes were bloody expensive and were limited to 4 uses each!) The aim is to open the viewfinder to allow you to take a photo. There's a nice thumb cutout on the bottom to allow you to manipulate the viewfinder but at the beginning nothing works - it is all locked solid.

In the lens opening there is a drilled hole which obviously needs manipulating somehow but in the absence of having sharpened talons/claws, there was no way to use it. The instructions warn the puzzler not to unscrew the nuts and bolts so I didn't. The only other clue is a tiny hole in the side of the puzzle which the use of a torch reveals a dark hole and maybe something shiny inside. Now what? There really isn't very much you can do at the beginning but remember that it has been classified as a sequential discovery puzzle and therefore, by definition, a tool or several needs to be discovered to allow progression. As someone who is not terribly bright, it took me 3 days to make the first move and discover the tool. 

Once the tool has been found, there is an obvious next step and after that I found myself real confused. I managed to make stuff happen and then make it unhappen. Yay! Sometimes I could make it happen and then not unhappen and sometimes it would happen in a funny direction and un or not unhappen. Lord! I was confused! Time to get systematic and maybe draw a diagram of what might be happening inside. This sort of forced me to properly think© about it and helped me discover the next key feature:

Viewfinder partially open
I had opened the viewfinder but all old photographers know that there's no way to take a photo like this so there's obviously more to do. Pull the tab harder? Yes, I did that quite a few times but this does not help even if it does make you feel like you are at least trying something. After thinking a little more, I realised that I couldn't actually get out of this position. A flurry of furious moving and shaking and wiggling and tilting and swearing ensued and phew, I could reset the puzzle. My sketch of the internals was clearly wrong...there is obviously a lot more to the internals than I had thought. Try again and think© harder - do what Allard would do! Yes get stuck on it for a long time with something caught inside! I was so glad to see that he's not terribly bright either. 

Back to the drawing board and I had a really improbable idea of what must be inside. So if I do the first moves like this and carefully move the viewfinder slider like this and wiggle the cat on my lap in a certain direction and ooooh! Look at that...I have an old configuration but it 's not quite the same. What next? At this point there is a really lovely set of moves that make my diagram much more complex and AHA! Oh that is unexpected - I can take my photo:

Viewfinder open - no spoilers here
In fact there is something extra to it but I cannot tell you what. 
I love it and agree about the Sinatra count. I would categorise it more as a sequential movement puzzle but there is definitely an element of sequential discover to it. Back-tracking to the very beginning took me quite a while as my diagram had not been quite correct and it took me some time to work out my error. I think that after a further 2 or 3 solves, I had it fully understood. This is a nice clever puzzle with just the right difficulty level - once the social distancing thing is no longer necessary (hopefully early 2021) I will bring this to work to torture surgeons, nurses and medical students with.

Take care out there guys! The second wave is well on its' way here in the UK and hospitals (including my own) are gradually being overrun with cases again - less critically ill so far but that always lags a couple of weeks behind. A lot of Europe looks to be in terrible trouble again and the US has well and truly lost its' paddle. Hopefully the upcoming removal of the orange stain on America will lead to some decent health/pandemic management policies. Don't under-estimate the severity of this virus - I have a mild version of "long Covid" and Mrs S is also stricken. Even if you don't get ventilated or die, you can be ill for a very long time! Keep your masks on and keep a safe distance from others.

Sunday, 18 October 2020

Juno Shows SDBB Master-y of his Craft

Juno's SDBB Master - just a 6 piece burr? Definitely not!
Stunning grain colour on it.
It is NOT a box! It is a Sequential Discovery Burred Box...Master edition.

Juno said:
"This is the most complex sequential discovery puzzle we have ever produced"
Who could possibly resist that?

Previously, I have gushed about Juno's earlier puzzles in the SDBB (sequential discovery burred box) - series (SDBB original here and SDBBB here) and they have appeared in my Top 10ish each year they have come out (No 2 in 2018 & also 2019). Rumour got out that he was making a final one in the series this year and that it was going to be the pinnacle of his crafting career. The hype was amazing and it was being discussed by all and sundry on line. Juno and Yukari had had a real problem with their site going under when they last had a big new release and they had boosted the server several times since then to cope with the strain. They also put out a request that people don't hammer the site and refresh every few seconds to try and purchase one of these new and wonderful puzzles. Needless to say, that request failed as it appeared like the entire world logged on to at 7am Brisbane time a few weeks ago. Yet again the site fell over spectacularly. I really have no idea whether any site could cope with such an onslaught (We all know that Eric had similar problems a few months ago). After an evening of intermittently trying to log on and getting nowhere I gave up and went to bed a little despondent that it probably wasn't going to happen (and I know of several other Brits who did the same). At this point I have to say "Thank Heavens for being a Middle Aged Bloke"! As a man of a certain age who likes to keep his fluids up to protect his kidneys, I suffer from the perennial side-effect of having to get up to release the fluids into an alternative receptacle (loo) at about 3am. Much to the disgust of Mrs S, I padded to the loo with my mobile phone and quickly checked what was happening at Pluredro. Oooh! I got on straight away and there was a clickable buy link. Click, click, PayPal, click and Yeeehaw! I went back to bed a few minutes later with a very large grin on my face and the following morning I was able to inform Mrs S that she had bought me my birthday present for this year. Of course she was totally overjoyed - Whack! Ouch!

The whole set of Sequential Discovery Burred Boxes
They were dispatched very quickly by Juno and Yukari and they arrived at the few in the UK who had been successful in the middle of this last week. I had paid my customs ransom immediately to ParcelFarce and it was due to arrive on Wednesday. I was very excited when I saw that Goetz had received, solved and written about his copy on Thursday and he said straight away that it is the best puzzle of the year - I had very high hopes.

This puzzle is BIG! Quite a bit bigger than its' predecessors at 133mm in each axis and is made of PNG Rosewood, Jarrah and assorted metal pieces. It looks, to all intents and purposes, just like a rather enormous and very beautifully coloured 6 piece burr. This time Juno has finished the ends of the burr sticks in a stepped manner rather like the signature work from Brian Young - to the right you can see the Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other made by Brian.

There is no indication externally that there is anything special about this puzzle. Until you start to play and straight away there is a huge hint that something different is inside. The Jarrah can be seen inside and suddenly you get just a hint of the fun that is about to happen. The second step, just looks you in the face and you feel compelled to do what is obvious and are rewarded with a burr stick removed from the contraption and an obvious compartment in it, which of course won't open despite the obvious handle to pull.

You can see just a hint of what might be in store just there.

First piece has a cavity
No, of course it won't open by pulling!
Ok, that won't open so what next? Go back to the puzzle and drop something on a sleeping cat - he doesn't seem to mind at all and the next step is possible - the cavity is open and inside is a lovely little tool. So far it has not been terribly difficult but a very nice sequence of Aha! moments.

Below is a very slight spoiler so I have put it behind a button - only click if you feel overwhelmingly excited to see a burr stick cavity.

Now I have another interesting tool and wonder what to do with it. Look around and the next step is obvious - the tool is used and another cavity is revealed. I don't want to spoil too much for people here. Gradually more and more tools are found and you need to work out how they have to be used. At one point I exclaim with delight as a particularly lovely movement occurs which was totally unexpected. Juno has put everything into this puzzle. After a little while we have all 6 sticks separated and then the task remains to open the remaining cavity - there is one cavity per stick and each one requires a different mechanism to be opened. Each cavity provides a new tool but as you move through the puzzle it becomes tougher to work out what to do with the tools - sometimes even use more than one at a time. I've been asked to hide these next photos behind a spoiler button. Don't click if you have the puzzle but not solved it yet - there is no real giveaway in the picture but I've been asked.

Interestingly, some cavities can be opened in whatever order you fancy revealing tools that need to be used later. I and a certain other friend definitely opened a few the wrong way and was left at the end with a tool that we had no idea what to do with and, having found the infinity symbol prize, still had an unopened stick. Well that's not very bright - time to think© and retrace my steps before a really big clever Aha! occurred. There is a particularly beautiful way to open one cavity that really hits you when you do it properly.

Finally, when you have worked out the entire correct sequence, the only description can be "GLORIOUS"! You will have found a whole lotta beautifully made tools and a whole lotta clever locking mechanisms and got a nice prize of an infinity symbol which makes a change from a loaf of bread!

The burr can be assembled without all the pieces inside which is a nice little extra challenge if you haven't done the "back and forth" thing like I did which left the assembly indelibly marked in my brain.

4 cavity covers and a burr
The full reset of the puzzle is delightfully doesn't require a full backtrack of every move. Place the various tools in the cavities and close them before the fancy burr reassembly is done and then it is ready to
do again and again and again! I never get bored with doing this one. The sheer complexity of this puzzle is staggering (it is simpler to solve than the Slammed car but much more complex too) and I am amazed that he managed to put so much into such a small space. Mrs S has excelled herself with  my birthday present this year - it will very much make up for the fact that on my birthday I have to Covid swab myself (yuk 🤮) and have blood taken as part of a study

My verdict? I love it! A candidate for puzzle of the year? Most definitely! Will it get to number one this time? You will have to wait until New Year's Day 2021 to find out.

Unfortunately these were all sold out after about 5 or 6 hours and I know that a good few people were disappointed. Juno cannot possibly make enough for everyone and some people will need to look at the auction sites to get a copy. Good luck to all of you who try - I hope it doesn't cost you too much.

Sunday, 11 October 2020

He Freed Me...Again

 This Time From A Box

Free Me 8 aka "The Reptile Puzzle Box"
it's a box this time
Joe Turner has created a few (6 so far before this one was released) fabulous sequential discovery puzzles and I was lucky enough to get hold of a version 5 in 2018 which made it into my top 10 puzzles of the year. It had lots of steps with quite a few moments of fear where a puzzler is left wondering whether the move he is considering is really a good idea and is going to lead to a trapped piece or lost ball bearing. I loved that frisson of fear!

As a previous customer, Joe contacted me to ask whether I would be interested in buying a copy of the Free Me 8 - this would allow him to gauge how many to make and avoid disappointing too many puzzlers (I am aware that recently the competition to buy certain puzzles has been extremely high leading to desperate puzzlers overwhelming websites). Now, you may be wondering what happened to number 7? Well me too! It would seem that Joe has had trouble with the tolerances of Free Me 7 and has had to put it on hold until next year to allow him to complete this project as well as some personal projects he wanted to make before Xmas this year. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance of obtaining another of his SD puzzles. However, I had to delay his sending it out to me...I had spent quite a lot at that time and Mrs S was starting to get urges to set fire to things again. I asked him if he would wait for a few weeks until after he had returned from his summer holiday before sending it out and of course he was OK with that. This probably saved me from a very painful insertion of puzzle into an orifice and then being burned alive on a pile of my puzzles. Unfortunately by delaying the arrival I had to endure watching pictures of people receiving their toys and tales of how good it was.

Finally it arrived and I was able to look and play. The first thing that you will notice is that it is a BOX! OMG, Joe has forced me to buy a box when I don't collect boxes - luckily it is a sequential discovery box rather that a traditional box and hence perfectly OK for me to add it to my collection.He has apparently wanted to make a box for several years and this was his chance having taken a class last year. He made quite a few (100 out of Cherry for sale and another bunch from Walnut or Maple for family and friends) - it took him 9 months from idea to finishing production.

As with the previous puzzles the coin is visible
These are a LOT more complex than the previous Free Me puzzles with 84 parts to each. The card that comes with it tells the puzzler to open the box and free the coin (just like before) and also informs that no force, no banging, no spinning, or use of gravity tricks is required. Thoughtfully he also added that no burning is required which I insisted on showing Mrs S.

On top of the box are a bunch of cute laser cut and etched lizards which will no doubt play a key part in the solution. Helpfully, to ensure nothing gets broken there is a slip of paper informing that the small lizards are fixed and not to be manipulated. The finish is beautiful and there is nothing obvious to do at first apart from to fiddle with the lizards and see what they do. Trying not to give anything away, it becomes obvious straight away that lizards are well attached but have some play in their attachment. Trying not to snap them, I make 2 discoveries and promptly get stuck. I discover magnets here and there and have no idea what to do with them. Things can happen but it seems to make no difference. I am stuck after about 10 minutes! I am rubbish at boxes. I put it down for a little while and come back to it later. Aha! That is interesting - I have found the third move and now other things seem to be possible. I play with magnets again and it is open - but NOT beaten.

I have opened the box but the coin is still trapped.
At this point I reveal my inexperience at boxes...I am stuck yet again. This time I am stuck for several days. I manage to have another Aha! moment a few days later and get somewhere but it still isn't complete.

There is a real twist to this puzzle box which I don't want to reveal for fear of spoiling things for people who follow. Needless to say, after I did the next step I got a giant big surprise and realised that I had a whole extra stage of the puzzle to solve. This was entirely unexpected and a huge bonus, there are many layers to this puzzle which just keeps on challenging you until you finally manage to complete it. Absolutely brilliant voyage which kept me going for over a week in total - well worth the wait.

Coin out!
If you get a chance to obtain a copy or even just play with one then jump at it. The workmanship is great and the mechanisms very finely tuned. It is definitely a candidate for my top 10ish of 2020. It may have been a completely awful year for life and health and the world's economies, but it has been a really great year for puzzling.

Now I need to have a little play with something that is definitely NOT small! Big Steve and Ali's latest creation (the KickStarter thatI discussed here) has been brought to life and has arrived Chez moi. Mrs S was distinctly unhappy when the delivery driver handed her the package - 4lb of "metal mayhem" is really not her idea of something good and amongst her grumbling she threatened all sorts of physical violence upon my person including a hefty Whack! Ouch! and much more interesting, once she had seen the contents of the package, she decided that next time she meets Steve or Ali she wants to see how much of the puzzle can be inserted inside said gentlemen. Luckily for them, I will store it unassembled so that there won't have to be any insertion of any pieces sideways! As a nurse she has the training and the anger to get these pieces ALL the way up! 

A lovely carrying case
I think those brass pieces will completely fill Big Steve's descending colon! 
I am not too unhappy about her plans...for once, they don't involve pain for me and it will be fun to see Steve suffer after what he did to my happiness cubes last year! Hopefully I can drag her to an MPP after the pandemic has run its course. I'd start running now if I was you mate! 😃

Sunday, 4 October 2020

What once was lost, now is found...

Calvin O. Brown and Setko.

Setko reproduction courtesy of the Puzzlemad Workshop, Hawaii Branch.
Hi guys, at this very moment, I will be working anaesthetising the elderly old ladies of Sheffield who have broken their hips ot the young crazy ones who have gone out in the pouring rain on their motorbikes and lost control at high speed. There's always someone who needs putting back together...even on a Sunday. Luckily for me, my good friend and PuzzleMad foreign correspondent (pretty soon in this strange world we won't be allowed to use the word foreign) has stepped in at exactly the right time with a fantastic exposition on a puzzle and story I have never come across before. Thank you Mike, over to you...

Aloha Kākou Puzzlers,

The last few foreign office submissions have been rather light fare. It was fun writing those, but in all honesty, it was mostly procrastination when I should have been working on this present post (Ed - I really enjoyed them!). I’ve been “working” on this post for well over a year, and I’m sure by the end you will be wondering why, to which I can only reply that you’ve probably never tried to write something interesting and half-intelligent for an international audience containing an abnormally high proportion of geniuses. It’s a little intimidating. Let me just say this: Kevin and I don’t intend to metagrobologise (Ed - is that a real word?) indiscriminately all over your computer, if it can at all be helped. Hopefully the long lead time has led, in some small way, to a better post.

We return, once again, to the less-traveled realm of the vintage mid-century puzzle. As you know by now, I have a particular attraction to this under-appreciated period. Many of its mechanical puzzles clearly benefited from the broader design aesthetic of the period. This is pleasing to those of us who believe that a great puzzle should also strive to be a beautiful puzzle. Those that follow, I think, achieved that end.

Zig-Zag, a Calvin O. Brown original.
First up is Zig-Zag. Zig-Zag is the invention of little-known puzzle designer Calvin O. Brown (1907-1970). Mr Brown was president (and founder) of Set Screw and Manufacturing Company, originally based in Bartlett, Illinois. Set Screw was established by Mr Brown in 1935 and remains in operation today, still family owned and operated. Moreover, one of Calvin’s granddaughters runs Setko, an offshoot company and direct descendant of the original Set Screw. The current Setko does not make puzzles, but rather various specialty screws and fasteners. The Setko name, however, was originally established by Mr Brown for his puzzle line, once it had developed into a marketable commodity. You’ll see it in that context for anything pre-1972. Fellow (and far superior) collector Rob Stegmann has a very complete collection of Setko puzzles. I am nearly there, only one more to go I think. Rob and I also have one Setko that you will never find. More about that further down.

Detail from the Zig-Zag patent, showing goal state.
Calvin O. Brown was an innovator in his field and was awarded a number of patents throughout the 1950s for various set screw innovations, including both the screws themselves and their manufacturing process. At precisely the same time, he also patented four puzzles, mostly of the peg-jumping transpositional type. One of these was Zig-Zag, filed in 1955 and awarded in 1957. You can check out the full patent here.

Zig-Zag with box and instructions.
Tannins in the walnut clearly affecting the box, except where shielded by pegs (top) and the price tag (bottom).
Zig-Zag is really a very fascinating puzzle, and I think that had it been introduced during the golden age of puzzling, it might be counted as one of our classics. Like the best of the early puzzles, its superficial simplicity belies a confounding complexity. Let looks at how it works.

Zig-Zag consists of two types of peg and the puzzle board consists of 15 holes and a trough. The pegs need to be arranged in the trough in such a manner that, following the placement rule, the receiving holes are filled in an alternating, or zig-zag, pattern. The placement rule is where the action is, of course. And it’s quite simple. For a given arrangement in the trough, you must alternately 1) place a peg in a hole, then 2) place the next peg at the end of the trough. Repeat, placing the third peg in the next adjacent hole, then the fourth peg to the end of the trough.

That’s sounds pretty simple, but what you soon learn is that the pegs placed at the end of the line come to the front very quickly, and they must be in the correct sequence to maintain the alternating zig-zag above. Did you pay attention to this second order arrangement when you placed the pegs? Perhaps. But soon you also find that you will encounter a third order arrangement that must also work currently. The puzzle is to find this deeply nested ordering. At least for me personally, the third and fourth order was at the very periphery of what my brain could keep track of. It required work, analysis, and a modicum of trial and error. I spent a solid 20 minutes, as I recall, in deep thought, homing in on the solution. I was quite ecstatic when I solved it (Ed - I think that this sort of thing may be beyond me - I am terrible at sequential move puzzles). The correct starting sequence of pegs in the trough, once you find it, does not look like it should produce any kind of ordering whatsoever, but by following the simple replacement rule, the alternating zig-zag pattern materializes.

The solved state.
Although this entire puzzle is based on one exceedingly simple rule, its potential complexity goes up dramatically as you add more pegs to the line-up. Observe that you hit the second arrangement (the pegs you put at the end) after working through the first run (15 pegs). The second arrangement is half as long (7 pegs). Following that, you have a third tier that is half again as along (3 pegs). Then a fourth, which is extremely short, but since it is so deeply nested, it is anything but trivial. If there were 24 pegs, you would go yet another tier deep. If there were 100 pegs, you would be nested seven deep. That is nearly unfathomable. Mr Brown chose exactly the right peg count, in my opinion, at 15. It is just right to deeply stimulate the mind, yet is solvable in a reasonable amount of time. There is also a very satisfying balance between deductive analysis and trial and error. Few puzzles hit this mark so squarely. If you read the full patent, Kevin, you will find that Mr Brown describes another possible version which consists of 18 pegs in three different colors. This sounds very interesting and I am surely going to give it a try at some point. But all things considered, the Zig-Zag version that he ultimately produced was undoubtedly the right choice, especially for public consumption. (Ed - it also helps that it looks beautifully made)

After about here, you really need to think.
How far will this arrangement get you?
I am fond of sequential-type puzzles and have played with many, but Calvin Brown’s Zig-Zag was a truly new experience for me. It seems to exercise a different part of the brain than most other puzzles in this diverse branch. Researching my modest puzzle library, I could find no prior example of this puzzle. That, plus the fact that Mr Brown took the time and effort to patent it, suggests that it truly is something new and original. It certainly was for me, and that tends to happen less and less for me these days. To my thinking, this puzzle is not a variation on a theme, it represents a new theme. That gets me very excited. It’s the whole reason I do this. (Ed - and this excitement comes through and keeps me interested in stuff I don't have myself)

In the US, you can find Zig-Zag on Ebay semi-regularly. There are plenty of copies out there, so don’t overpay. But know also that this is a very high-quality puzzle. I have a lot of peg puzzles from this period and I can tell you that they do not come any better. Having pegs made by a machine shop that produces high precision set screws is clearly the way to go. Calvin knew this only too well and he originally used his puzzles as a marketing tool for his screws. If you get your hands on one of the Setko advertising puzzles, you will find that they use actual hex cap screws. More on that aspect in another post. The playing board is solid American Black Walnut, "Prince of Woods". Let me qualify that for my wood-enthralled editor, Prince of “North American” Woods (Ed - hahaha!). If you are ever honoured to behold the use-worn black walnut stock of an eighteenth-century colonial flintlock rifle, you would understand my bias (Ed - I am not likely to come across one of those in 21st century Sheffield!).

The back, with original tag. The collector side of me loves these details.
So that is Zig-Zag. Now we turn to a much different Calvin O. Brown design. This one is lovingly referred to by Rob Stegmann and myself as the “Lost Setko.” Why? Because this puzzle was never actually produced, as far as either of us can tell. It is the only puzzle that Calvin patented by did not see fit to add to his Setko line. That is unfortunate, but I have an idea why he made that decision. 

The patent was filed in 1953, making it one of Mr Brown’s earlier puzzles. The full patent is here, if you want to have a gander. The patent actually includes two distinct, but related, puzzle designs. We will be dealing with the simple circular example on the right (see below).

Illustrations from “Lost Setko” patent.
Puzzles that were patented but never produced are a mysterious breed. In order to fully experience these puzzles, you generally have to make them yourself. Given my deep appreciation for Mr Brown’s work, it was inevitable that I was going to make myself a copy of this puzzle. I’m no master craftsman, Kevin will attest (Ed - you are a whole lot better than me!), but if it can be made with a wobbly table saw, rusty drill press, and some sandpaper, then I can manage (Ed - I only have sandpaper!). Peg puzzles are squarely in my boathouse.

To keep my reproduction (I realise an unproduced puzzle can’t be reproduced, but just go with it please) authentic I used a nice scrap of Black Walnut. I then bought a cheap Setko puzzle and harvested the pegs. My version is probably as close as one can get to what Calvin would have produced. My only innovation was to mark the special holes with small brass inlays. Setko typically brands a circle around special holes, as shown in the patent drawing.

Calvin O. Brown Patent No. 2,778,641.
Beautifully turned pegs from Mr. Brown’s shop
The Lost Setko is comprised of a circular arrangement of 11 holes and five pegs; four of one colour and the fifth a different colour. Probably the most enjoyable part of the manufacturing process, apart from inhaling wood dust, was figuring out how to make the 11-sided regular polygon, or hendecagon. And guess what Kevin? You can’t! Not mathematically exactly, at least, since the internal angles of a hendecagon are an infinitely repeating decimal (147.27272727272... ad nauseum). But you can make something close enough. I used the method illustrated by Anton Ernst Burkhard in 1698, courtesy of the Wikipedia page linked above. This gave me the perfect excuse to buy a new protractor and compass (Ed - I cannot resist a bit of maths). To the right is Anton Ernst Burkhard’s 1698 copper engraving showing a handy technique for approximating a hendecagon. It works.

On the playing board, two of the 11 holes are marked. These marks denote the starting and finishing positions for the odd-coloured peg. Let’s call it brass, since that’s what I used on my reproduction. The brass peg starts in one of the marked holes, with two silver pegs on either side. Using conventional peg-jumping, one solves the puzzle by forming the exact same arrangement centered on the opposite marked hole. It’s a clever idea. Like Zig-Zag, this sequential movement puzzle was new to me.

A single simple circuit will obviously not be enough, but it's a good place to start.
The first time I tried to solve this puzzle, I futzed around for quite a while trying to out-think it. I assumed there was some hidden-in-plain-sight trans-configuration necessary. In a way I was right, but I was really over-thinking it and got nowhere on the first try. During my next session, I figured it out rather quickly, using a more straightforward process. I suspect Mr Brown didn’t move forward with this puzzle because, upon reflection, he considered it too simple. A significant number of people would surely discover the solution on the first try, I agree. This would tend to discourage production. Also, unlike every other puzzle Setko produced, the lost Setko has almost zero replay value once solved.

Although interesting and original, this puzzle is simply not on the level of Zig-Zag or the two transposition puzzles he also patented (and eventually produced). That said, I had great fun with it. I’ll also freely admit that it got the better of me the first time around. I think Rob solved it much more quickly, unsurprisingly. I sent Rob an early, more rudimentary reproduction in mahogany a few years ago. Rob, if you are listening, I have a copy of the improved version with your name on it. (Ed - Rob deserves this for the huge contribution to our community. His site is a constant source of information and enlightenment to me).

The Lost Setko in its (likely) native packaging.
What about the other ‘lost Setko’ described and illustrated in the patent, the one shaped like a figure 8? Great question. I hope to have some information to report on it in the near future. I have a piece of wood about the right size, so once I achieve critical-motivation, I’ll make a copy and give it a play. Yes, I could just analyse the patent diagram and probably figure it out, but where’s the fun in that? This is a mechanical puzzle blog, after all. Kevin would have my radish if I did something like that. Also, I really want to draft those intersecting heptagons. (Ed - Radish???? Why on earth would I have your radish? Where do you store it? I have a first class honours degree in anatomy as well as my medical degree so I know that you don't have a radish as part of you and I really don't fancy having to reach inside if you have inserted it somewhere!)
A few thoughts to conclude. Calvin O. Brown died quite young by modern standards at 62. This is unfortunate for many reasons, not the least of which is that he would likely have continued to give the world original puzzles, had he the time. There is a lot more to say about Mr Brown’s puzzle endeavours and their evolution, and I have only scratched the surface here. I’ll offer a minor teaser, though, and mention that his puzzles eventually went “national” and formed the backbone of Stancraft’s ‘Hoyle Bookshelf Games’ series. But despite commercial success, it is clear that puzzles were not just a business venture, they were a true passion. Based on the originality of his design work and his attention to quality craftsmanship, we can recognize in Calvin O. Brown a kindred spirit from another era.

Black walnut, among its many superior qualities, takes a high polish.
Progressive sanding down to 1500 grit followed by linseed oil does wonders.
(ED - OMG that's absolutely stunning! Well done.)

Ok, Kevin, that’s all for today. Give our fine readers their well-deserved sendoff!

Wow! Thank you so much - this was an amazing exposition on a fabulous vintage puzzle. I am so grateful for your help keeping me publishing when I get busy and providing an aspect of puzzling for the readers that I know next to nothing about. These look really amazing - both from a puzzling point of view as well as the beauty of lovely wood and polished metal. Once my bank balance has recovered from my recent splurge of purchases (Big Steve and Ali's Kong puzzle on Kickstarter and hopefully I will have got a copy of Juno's upcoming puzzle too) then I will have to have a look out for a nice copy of the Zig-zag puzzle on Ebay. Hopefully I will get home at a decent time to be able to advertise this on social media.

Keep safe everyone.

Sunday, 27 September 2020

Pelikan's New Puzzles Reveals Mrs S' Warped Mind

Upcoming releases from Jakub and Jaroslav
They are absolutely stunning!
I really don't know how they do it! Jakub and Jaroslav at the New Pelikan Workshop seem to produce a nice big batch of gorgeous new puzzles every few months. Despite this prodigious production schedule, they never seem to compromise on quality at all. These are all absolutely stunning!
The current batch of puzzles arrived at the end of last week whilst I was on annual leave. Time off work is not the same as it used to be...we no longer seem to go anywhere due to the virus and my only movement has been from kitchen to conservatory to living room (with a bit of exercise on my rowing machine in between). Unfortunately, I did still have some work to do - I had not done any paperwork filing for 2 years and the overflow was everywhere. Sorting it, scanning it and putting everything away took me the best part of 3 days and left me with my ears ringing from Mrs S shouting at me for being so badly organised. I also needed to continue to move all my "stuff" to the new computer. Despite this work requirement, I have been able to work through as many of these new toys as I can as quickly as possible. The pressure is always on to get to it so that Jakub can release the new puzzles to you all.
A caged 5 piece burr by Stephan Baumegger is always something to be excited about. He has designed a lot of these (several with a King Arthur theme) and they have so far all beaten me. This gorgeous burr consists of a frame made from Oak, an Acacia vertical 5th burr piece with a gorgeous mushroom planted on top. Mrs S spent a whole morning making lewd comments about it, frequently reducing me to tears of laughter which did not help me solve it - NO! I will not tell you what she said (use your imagination and remember she has been a nurse!). The horizontal burr sticks are made of Wenge completing a stunningly beautiful puzzle (even Mrs S said so). This is a caged burr intended for all puzzlers and NOT just the diehard burr-freaks. The movement is very smooth with no catching and the solution reveals itself to gentle exploration. Of course, there are some blind ends but they are not so deep and involved that one might end up stuck in a dark alleyway unable to get out. As more and more moves are made the interior shapes are revealed and it is possible to plan your pathway.
A perfect difficulty level
After about an hour (and 20 moves) I managed to remove my first piece and then stopped and back-tracked to the beginning. Back and forth movement through the solution allowed me to understand what I was doing and even after the first piece had been removed, it was not a trivial sequence to remove subsequent pieces. The end result was laid out in front of me for my photo and I actually managed to reassemble it from scratch a ½ hour later. A lovely caged burr for all puzzlers which will look fabulous on display once you are done. Just keep your minds out of the gutter!

See the complexity of a piece
For me, this is my absolute favourite of the batch from Jakub. There are several reasons for this: it’s a burr and I lurve burrs (especially if they have something special about them which you’ll see later), I lurve beautiful wood and the Jatoba here is gorgeous (there will also be a Zebrawood version), I lurve burrs with captive pieces inside (Goetz describes this as the Burr zoo) and finally this giant 6(7) piece burr is the next one in the group published by Stephan which I have described in the past as being a 6 piece burr based on a 3x3x8 burrstick. 3 of them had been in my top 10 of the year in 2015. Just like the Talisman burr, this has just the right difficulty level. There’s a lovely maze to explore and a few blind ends to get caught it. This burr took me a few days to find one of the key moves - it was just a little tight and I kept catching an edge but eventually I found it and proceeded until it was in pieces - at one point during this the alligator comes out snout first as if to bite you for entering his lair - lovely touch as it even has a mouth.
Such complex pieces and the detail on the alligator is delicious
The assembly is huge fun as well. Working it out from scratch is beyond me but having spent a while with the disassembly a scramble and reassembly is a fun and definitely possible challenge for any decent puzzler.

The question is - do I put it on display with the other Pelikan puzzles? Or should it go with the other 4 of Stephan's special 6 piece burrs?

Gorgeous aren't they?

Pumpkin 2
Pumpkin 2
I had seen on Facebook that Osanori Yamomoto had added a version 2 to the Pumpkin 1 puzzle and immediately wondered whether Jakub and Jaroslav would be producing it. I wasn’t disappointed when they they said they were and it arrived in the current batch. I couldn’t resist trying it straight away. The box to be packed has a similar opening at the front but the presence of a unit hole diagonally opposite tells me there’s going to have to be a fair bit of dancing around. Again, this puzzle has only 3 pieces which, for me, adds to the attraction. The entry is limited by the diagonal roof making things potentially tougher...but another effect of this is that it could also allow for a cavity to be hidden underneath - my initial exploration found quite a few possible assemblies into a 3x3x3 cube shape with a few of them excluded straight away by the fact that they required an impossible orientation of the pieces (it cannot be inserted through the hole that way around). I got sidetracked by a nice assembly that would require a rotation of one piece but couldn’t make it work and went back to the drawing board. 
He loves puzzling!

In the end the solution to this one is a nice combination of logic and thought along with some random experimentation. I find it best to start in the solved position and try to hypothetically work my way out of the cage rather than the other way around.
The whole process was made much tougher by a wildly enthusiastic cat constantly blocking my view by lying down on my hands! Eventually he solved it for me and posed triumphantly for a photo. This puzzle is extremely logical once you visualise the constraints that Osanori has set.
I have previously described the Galette by Osanori as the hell part of packing “heaven and hell”. I had first come across the Galette puzzle as an entry in the IPP design competition in Paris at which it was one of the top ten vote-getters. I had spent quite a lot of time on it in the competition room in Paris and had singularly failed to find a solution. I had bought a copy from Tom Lensch and solved it by pure luck after months of effort back in May last year. I was interested to see whether this beautiful version by Pelikan would still be a challenge.
It looks like a simple packing puzzle with 5 tetromino pieces to be inserted into the covered rectangular space inside the frame. Rotations are possible (even required) around the z-axis but there is no way to stand a piece up on its edge. This is explained by the name - Galette is French for Wafer. The extra little twist to make this really tough is that the entry to the packing space is only through a 3x2 unit space in the lid or through a 1 voxel space in the lower edge. The extra interesting feature is that the bottom edge entry is part of the packing space - there are 21 voxels available and 20 voxels in the pieces - where is the gap supposed to be?
Still a very nice challenge
This time, I found it quite a lot easier to solve but only because I knew where that crucial gap needed to be. If you don’t know this then you have 11 possible assemblies to try and insert in the 2 holes and only one of those is possible. Here, there is the challenge of finding the assembly and then working out how to put it in the box through the 2 small openings. Even knowing where the gap needed to be, it is still a significant challenge - well worth the puzzling effort plus the woods that Pelikan have chosen are gorgeous for display purposes. Anyone who buys this will see straight away why it won the accolade at the IPP design competition.
Shrinking Soma
Shrinking Soma by Dr Volker Latussek
When this unusual puzzle by Volker Latussek arrived, I was rather at a loss of what to do with it and I sent off an email to Jakub to ask and a few hours later received an email from Dr Latussek with instructions. There is a lovely diminutive complete Soma cube (everyone should have one) in a box that is far too large for the completed cube (it is 4x4x4 to the Soma's 3x3x3) - the pieces just seemed to fill the bottom half in a haphazard manner.

The explanation was that this is an “anti-slide puzzle” which is something I’ve only ever attempted maybe once in my puzzling history. The aim is to place all the pieces in the box so that the entry to the box (4x4) is filled and held up by a pile of the other pieces. However this isn’t the entire story…the solution is only complete when the construction that you have made is completely stable and will not slide at all. Once you have created your potential solution then shake the box vigorously in all directions to see if any pieces can move. If they can then you’ve failed. This doesn’t sound too difficult does it? Well maybe for you, but constructing an upside down flat mushroom in a box proved a massive challenge for me! I managed fairly quickly to find a shape that will not slide inside the box but if I placed it upside down it was not going to fill a 4x4x4 space and the "hovering" pieces would drop down - yep, complete failure!

I love this addition to my Soma collection but have so far in a week of trying completely failed to assemble a non-sliding shape. It’s really really difficult. The pieces of a Soma cube are very simple and this does not allow many shapes that can interlock and hold up a stable roof. If anyone knows of a general approach to this sort of puzzle then please let me know.

Euklid for Nick

Euklid for Nick
Stunning Purpleheart and Padauk blocks
That's not right!
You all remember that I struggled hugely with the original Euklid by Dr Latussek but really really enjoyed the significantly less difficult Euklid for Kids. Every now and then the puzzling genius that is Nick Baxter contacts me to ask a serious question about a puzzle that I have reviewed. Somehow he never understands that my approach to puzzles is NOT logic and's just random movements and hence, everything is difficult for me. He really wondered why I had had difficulty with Euklid because apparently he had found 22 different solutions (to my shame, I still cannot find any extras). Volker then decided to create a new variant especially for Nick that DEFINITELY only had one solution and should cause him to sweat a little to solve it. It is gorgeous, it seems to have the same box as the previous 2 versions but this time has 4 identical Purpleheart blocks and 3 smaller Padauk blocks which need to fit under the lip of the box entry. I have not had much time with it so far but - it is worthy of the name - I know that he has solved it and a post will appear about it on my friend, Steve's blog before long. 

The collectors amongst you will need to buy this to complete the set. The rest of you will want this because it is a bloody good puzzle that has a unique solution and is damned difficult. I hope that one day I will manage to solve it.
Which are my favourites? It is difficult to choose but I adore the complex 6 piece burr from Stephan and cannot resist the Talisman because a caged burr that is not too difficult is a wonderful thing (I need to try and get the images that Mrs S left me out of my head) and I cannot resist the 3x3x3 cubic packing puzzles by Osanori. The Euklid for Nick is my next favourite as it is just so difficult for me and the pieces are so beautiful and simple. You, of course, should buy them all when they come up for sale soon.
As the second wave begins to ramp up in Europe (the first wave never stopped in the USA) I hope that you all manage to stay safe and keep puzzling in your nice comfortable homes as far away as possible from the madness that lies outside.


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