Sunday, 8 December 2019

Brian and Ken Broke It

Then Brian Teamed Up With Andrew to Make a Cluster - I Said "F$&@"

It's a Soma Cube...but they broke it!
I've discussed Ken Irvine a few times on this blog - he's a sort of evil genius (a name which he is positively delighted to have received) who seems to be brilliant at solving puzzles and amazing at designing them too! In fact, his wood-working skillz are pretty impressive too (Sigh! I wish that I had some talent in some field or other!)

Apparently, Ken had a wonderful idea to fiddle with the classic Soma cube (a puzzle that everyone should have in their collection). He decided that it was much too easy having a 7 piece puzzle to make a cube in one of 240 different ways. In his delightful/annoying way he decided to make it a 6 piece puzzle that only had one assembly! He named it the Broken Soma because he took the 3 voxel L-shape and broke each of the cubies in half before fixing them onto the 6 remaining pieces. Hence it is a "broken soma". Except, we all know the real reason it is so-named...it only takes a short ¼ hour or so before anyone playing with it decides that he has taken a perfectly reasonable puzzle and BROKEN it! It seems bloody impossible! The puzzle was debuted at the Rochester puzzle party earlier this year where several people, including Brian Menold, tried and failed to solve it over the 3-day party. Eventually, Brian solved it after getting home and this seemed to be the response that most of the extremely skilled puzzlers at this event had to this delightful design.

Brian asked Ken for permission to reproduce it to which the response was a resounding yes. I had a little play with Allard's copy at the last MPP and after about 30 minutes was completely convinced that it was impossible - this proved to me that I was quite correct to have ordered a copy myself and couldn't wait for it to arrive (the Royal Mail seemed to have lost track of my package for a week or so). I am always delighted to try anything new from Ken's evil twisted (but clever) mind and of course, anything made by Brian will be stunningly beautiful even if it remains unsolved and in pieces for a while. I bought a copy made from Olivewood and Moabi which looked stunning on Brian's store and is even more beautiful in the hand.

I have carried this with me to work as well as played at home for several weeks. In my usual fashion, I went about it by randomly trying to combine pieces and of course failing every single time. There was always a piece sticking out or a small ½-voxel gap in a wall. I tried combining the half pieces and tried putting them at the ends of edges and nothing would work at all. Ken had certainly broken my Soma! I gave it to people at work to try and they were all convinced quite quickly that it was impossible. This includes a consultant and clinical fellow foot and ankle surgeon who are quite used to taking a fracture random assortment of funny shaped bones or fragments and putting them together into something vaguely foot or ankle shaped - of all the types of surgeon I work with, their 3D visuospatial ability is pretty much second to none. Between the two of them, I challenged them for an hour or so and they also were convinced my puzzle was broken. I also gave it to my anaesthetic assistant and one of my senior anaesthetic trainees to attempt during a rather long case. They are also pretty good at 3D reconstruction (having gotten very used to using 2D ultrasound and creating a 3D mind view from it) and yep...they declared it broken too!

At some point during all this torturing, I sat down and took Allard's advice and actually had a think©! Apart from causing a severe headache, I had a very nice realisation...there is something you need to figure out before it will be solved. You may well solve this by chance, by random piece placement but this is actually quite unlikely. Once you actually think, you realise exactly what is required and you can quite quickly assemble a cube.

This photo really gives almost nothing away!
Just look at the beauty of these woods!
The Aha! moment is simply wonderful. It is not the feeling of exhaustively working through every possibility (my memory is nowhere near good enough for that), it is the feeling you get from a sudden realisation that you know exactly what is required and can do it in minutes. Brian and Ken have created a masterpiece...I would say that every collection should have a Soma cube as well as a broken one. Thank you so much, my friends!

It's a Cluster F$&@!
Another genius who has been collaborating with Brian is the incredible Andrew Crowell. I have tried to make sure that I get a copy of almost everything he designs. This is courtesy of either Brian or the world expert on Turning Interlocking Cubes, Bernhard Schweitzer. Not everything that comes from Andrew's warped brain is a cube - he has designed a few other shapes but in common they always share the common feature of requiring some really complex interesting rotations. I am still struggling with a couple of PackTIC designs despite months of work. When Brian showed off on his site the Cluster puzzle which whilst not a cube still requires a bunch of rotations, I couldn't resist - plus my fetish for gorgeous wood meant that I just had to own a small amount of Patagonian Rosewood.

Surprisingly, this puzzle is still available in Yellowheart or Peroba Rosa for a very reasonable $54 - go and get it now - you really won't be disappointed.

I had left this one until I had solved the lovely fun FantasTIC and then set to. The fact that it is not a cube shape makes it both easier and harder for some reason. I was able to discern what I thought was the placement of the pieces fairly easily and then try and find the order of insertion and the correct rotations to get them in place. Except...this wouldn't work for me. I am a bear of very little brain and so kept trying the same thing. After a couple of days of failing to place the last piece and not realising that the gap was not the right shape, I suddenly took note and decided to start afresh. This time, I realised my stupid mistake and then was forced to hunt for another assembly entirely. Because of the odd shape of the intended final puzzle, I found this quite tough and discovered the alternative placement of the first piece entirely by accident. Aha! Now on to the main rotational placement. I had discovered a very interesting move that would allow entry of other smaller pieces but there seemed to be no way to get both of them inside...stuck AGAIN!

A few days later, I went back to it and thought to myself:
"What if I...?"
OMG! That is amazing! Who would have thought I would have a railway inside the puzzle or is that a Scalextric (remember those?) - there is a totally unexpected sequence of moves in there and it made me chuckle when I found it!

It's a cluster - brilliant - go get one
Well, I had better leave you now - Mrs S has just returned from a few days visiting the out-laws in Auld Reekie and if I don't sit and chat then she may get really upset at the pile of puzzles that have arrived in her absence as well as a few more that will be arriving soon! After a trip to the homeland, she packs a mighty Whack! Ouch!


Sunday, 1 December 2019

Getting into the Groove...

Definitely Not Bored with Board Burrs!

Junichi Yananose' Grooved Board burrs
Clockwise from front right - number 1 to 4
At the beginning of November, I woke up to an email from Juno (actually, I am sure that it is Yukari who sends them out) informing me of the release of their 2 latest puzzles and amongst them was the one I had been waiting for, the grooved 6 board burr #4. I am a bit of a completionist and, having the previous 3 in my collection, I would really have to add number 4 to it. But not only for the collection...I had actually really enjoyed the solving of the previous ones in the series and Juno had claimed that this fourth one is a hybrid of the designs used previously. Number 1 was reviewed here - the ideas were so new and the movements are so well hidden that it took me several months to solve it, number 2 here - nowhere near so difficult but still a lot of fun and finally number 3 is reviewed here - this was one incredibly difficult puzzle. I was very much hoping that the fourth and possibly last in the series would be as much fun and a good challenge.

Grooved 6 Board Burr #4
As you can see the puzzle is beautifully made Hickory (the first time Juno has used this wood) with strengthening and ornamental splines made from Rose Alder. This is back to the method used with number 1 rather than the use of Juno's rather lovely home-made plywood used in number 2 and 3. It is a nice handy size for puzzling at 87mm in each direction. The description of the puzzle on the store was that there are round and flat pins that engage with the grooves on each of the X, Y and Z axes, making the interactions and movements quite complex.

I received my copy at the same time as the Sequential discovery board burred box and could not resist playing with that one first. To my shame, this one almost got forgotten after the arrival of some fabulous toys from Brian Menold but when I came to putting those away, I found #4 waiting for me on my desk. Off to play!!

Initial movements are quite constrained and it looked like there was going to be a nice time just finding my way through a little maze without too many choices. Then after the first 3 or 4 moves that I found, the possibilities opened up massively and, despite a very large separation of the pieces, the puzzle remained nicely stable (often a huge problem with board burrs is that as pieces separate out, the possibility of inadvertent rotational moves can make the puzzle very unstable and even prone to collapsing). Realising that there might be quite a complex solution, I returned to my habitual, to and fro method of exploration with me returning back to the beginning many times. As the puzzle opens out it becomes clear that the grooves and pins are very different from the previous puzzles, the pins are on the sides of the plates as well as the interior and also the grooves can be just pin-length as well as form pathways with intersections. very interesting and totally different from the previous puzzles in the series.

I was fascinated to find an extra unexpected early solution to removing the first piece using a rather complex rotation and tilt move. It actually removes the same piece as the correct solution and I would say should be treated as an extra challenge for you to find as well as the correct linear only solution. I was rather pleased to see from his site that Goetz (entry 2019-11-23) had also found the extra solution. The rotational shortcut is pictured below under a spoiler button - don't click the button if you are considering buying it for yourself.



Having removed the first piece this way, I put it back and continued with the "correct" approach. It took me several days to find a very clever compound movement of several pieces leading to an even more precarious but still interlocked position. It looked like a piece would easily fall out from here but due to the flat pins and grooves, they were all held firm. I got stuck here for a day until I realised that the design was based on a 3 unit voxel and occasionally only a partial move was essential. My Aha moment was wonderful when I found out how to remove the first piece in the designer's intended way.

Even after the first piece was out, the puzzle remained stable and now even more movement was possible. For some reason I found the second piece extraction to be a very logical sequence - there were quite a lot of possible pathways but I homed in on the correct one quite intuitively. With piece number 2 out, I backtracked all the way to the beginning and started again (a little difficulty with my very poor memory cost me an extra evening of success). With 2 boards removed, it remained stable and the continued path to full disassembly was just as much fun.

Some very fine woodwork here. Juno's customary brand now visible.
The amazing detail of the design was now visible with very fancy grooves in unexpected places and of unexpected sizes. Look at these pictures to see it.

A maze pathway groove in one piece and some odd notches on others.
Usually, with complex board burrs (in fact most complex burrs), I am completely unable to do the reassembly myself without help from Burrtools. For me, this is an essential part of the fun of these puzzles - I have quite an extensive collection of BT files and creating more is an enjoyable experience. This time, I had kept a note of the orientation of the pieces and order of removal and surprisingly was able to retrace my steps all the way back to the beginning. With a level of 28-10-5-3, this was a really fun challenge. Just like the previous ones, the BT file required me to use a 18x18x18 voxel grid. In fact, whilst this did create a usable file, it would be more accurate if I had doubled up the grid to 36x36x36 because some of the pins and grooves are more than 1 but not quite 2 voxels deep.

This is one very fine puzzle! To my mind, as a collector, this is essential for anyone with al the others. If you only want one then this is one of the best of them. Number one is fabulous, number 2 a little easy and number 3 impossibly difficult. The perfect difficulty level here and a rather fun path to follow. There is also the extra addition of a hidden rotational solution to find as well.

Juno has 19 of these left in stock - there is still time to get your copy. If you are the significant other of an afflicted puzzler then "why are you reading this blog?" and you should go and buy a copy of this burr for them as a Christmas present...they will love it!



Sunday, 24 November 2019

It's 2019, I Got a Bouquet and It Was FantasTIC!

Is That's a Hat-Trick?

......Erm No. This is About 4 Puzzles and Not 3!

Bouquet
At last, I have finally found some time to play with some toys and might have had some success at last! Yay! I can now tell Mrs S that I do still need to buy new toys as I am solving the old ones. I am not sure she believes me but I am sticking to my story.

I am going to start with the Bouquet which I bought from my good friend Brian Menold's Wood Wonders store quite some time ago (I am ashamed to admit that I got it way back in August and it has sat on, under or next to my puzzle chair ever since then! I love variants on 6 piece burrs (hence I own quite a few burr sets) and a burr with a frame (like Terry Smart's Premiere puzzle which I reviewed here) is completely irresistible for me. The fact that this particular puzzle was designed by another friend, Christophe Lohe, makes it even more special - he has a unique talent for designing puzzles that are just the right difficulty level and really interesting to solve. When I say "just the right difficulty level", I do mean it despite this taking me 3 months to complete!

Brian made a few copies of this in a number of different wood varieties and my rather striking copy is a Wenge frame, with Padauk and Maple burr sticks. It is simply stunning on display - maybe that is the real reason I left that on or around my chair for so long? BLUSH! It is very tactile, a lovely weight and feel to the finish (as we have come to expect from Brian) and I kept failing at it! There are quite a lot of moves possible from the beginning...some of them really look like they are leading somewhere until the trail runs cold and backtracking is required. Not only are the paths quite deep but there are several of them! They all look so enticing that I default to my "Einsteinian insanity" approach and kept getting surprised when nothing happened. Yes, I know, "she" is quite right...I am NOT terribly bright! I think I am supposed to be quite good at puzzling after such a long time but I always struggle.

Round and round and round in circles, I went! Surprisingly never getting bored (this shows how good a design it is) and as always got nowhere. I was obviously missing a critical move somewhere. But where? In fact, I was missing 37 moves (the puzzle is level 23.3.5.3.3)! In shame, I kept doing the same thing and putting the puzzle down for a few hours or days and even had thoughts of shelving it for a while - then in October, Mike published a review saying that he had managed his copy after just a few weeks. I continued my advance into madness and worked on it every evening. There had been a few comments on Facebook about it slightly taunting my prowess which kept me motivated.

At Last!!!!!
Finally, earlier this week I found something - instead of doing the same thing over and over again, I made a few moves and looked inside (visibility is great with this puzzle) and saw a potential opening. What if I???? Oooh! That's nice! Suddenly a new configuration but blocked again for a while. After a little more brain-ache, I realised that there was a certain rhythm to the sequence and then the first piece came out followed by the second. Removing the third and later pieces took a bit of figuring too as I tried to avoid inadvertent rotations and also keep a vague memory of the piece positions.

Wow! That is an absolutely brilliant BRILLIANT puzzle! The movement of the pieces is perfect thanks to Brian's craftsmanship and the design is simply awesome! This is one of the best 6 piece burr variants I have played with. Well done Chris! It is no longer available (due to the excessive time I spent solving it) but if you see one come up at auction then don't ask any questions, just buy it!

2019
Another puzzle which I received from Brian in the same delivery was the 2019 puzzle designed by the equally amazing Klaas Jan Damstra, another absolute favourite designer of mine. I wasn't sure about this particular design but I cannot buy just one puzzle from Brian...I think I may have bought 5 at that time!! Whack! Ouch! Brian made it sound intriguing with his description:
These pieces move about within the frame quite freely despite the rather close tolerance of the frame to the pieces. I was afraid there may be some unintended solutions but I was not able to find any. Not terribly difficult but a pretty good challenge that seems easier than it really is!
When it arrived, and I tried to take photos of it, I was amazed at just how mobile the pieces are! They basically slide around freely all over the place, including lots of rotation of all the pieces. It feels like it is just going to fall to bits but despite all the movement, it remarkably remains intact. It was really quite tough to make it sit nicely for a decent photo - in fact, if you turn it upside down it will not sit nicely to take a picture!

Despite all this movement, it is not a trivial puzzle to solve and there are no illegal solutions either. I played with this one when I got fed up with failing at Bouquet and realised after a couple of days that this also needed to be solved by looking inside. Once I started doing this then the Aha! moment occurred and I said to Mrs S that "I love it when a plan comes together" (that is for those of you old enough to remember the A-team). After 3 or 4 evenings of fiddling I had my 2 pairs of sticks and the lovely pinwheel frame:

That was a nice piece of fun
The reassembly is not a terribly hard challenge but you must remember which orientation to hold the frame and then try not to get the order of the pieces wrong when you put them back.

FantasTIC by Andrew Crowell
I cannot resist buying a TIC (Turning Interlocking Cube) when a new one comes up for sale! My collection is now pretty extensive - not quite up to the level of the world expert, Bernhard but still pretty good. I had noticed that there had been a couple of TICs in the IPP design competition and they looked like they had been made by Brian (apparently they hadn't). The designer initially was not known but let's face it...we ALL know who has been turning out TIC designs like there is no tomorrow for the last year or so! Yes, Andrew Crowell is some kind of evil genius when it comes to these. The sheer complexity and beauty of the designs that just pop into his head is nothing short of incredible. Luckily for the puzzling community, Andrew had allowed Brian to make a nice batch of them after the IPP was complete.

I had bought a few TIC's at the same time as I bought the Bouquet and 2019 puzzles but mostly they remain unsolved as a small pile of pieces around my puzzle chair. Despite that, the new ones looked so gorgeous that I had to have them. If Andrew thought they were good enough for the competition then that was all the encouragement I needed. These arrived at the beginning of November, after taking my photo and admiring the gorgeous combination of Purpleheart, Redheart, Yellowheart and Holly that had been used, I set to work straight away.

They are a wonderful 3 phase challenge...firstly, work out where everything needs to go (this can sometimes be a massive challenge if the pieces are small or not very complex). Secondly, try to establish the order in which the pieces might need to be added to the puzzle and finally, twist your bwain in the same way that Andrew has when he worked out all the required rotations. For many of these puzzles, I even get stuck at the first stage of the solve process! A puzzle with rotational moves always comes with the ever-present worry that a glued joint will be snapped but here, Brian has excelled himself with the very attractive dowel reinforcements in the pieces at risk.

This puzzle lives up to its' name...it is truly FantasTIC!! It is not terribly terribly hard and has just enough to keep you working on it for a good few hours (in my case days) and the positioning/rotation of the pieces follows a lovely logical sequence. That is...until I attempted to place the final piece! I knew where it needed to go but for the life of me, I could not get it into position. I tried to change the order of insertion but that just blocked other pieces. Stuck - AGAIN! Sob! After playing and sleeping on it for a couple of nights, I had the most marvellous Aha! moment! A very unexpected rotation suddenly leapt into my tired brain and I had my cube:

It lives up to its' name!
Andrew and Brian - you are amazing!
I have taken to storing these puzzles (as well as most of the Osanori Yamamoto packing puzzles) in the disassembled state so that I can challenge myself and friends again in the future. I went back to this one to write this article and...Lordy, that's still a huge challenge! One of my favourites of the year!

Hat-Trick by Laszlo Kmolnar
Finally, the 4th puzzle in the Hat-trick(????) from Brian is a gorgeous packing puzzle from another designer I am proud to call a friend, Laszlo Kmolnar. He is one of the most interesting packing puzzle designers out there and I try to get a copy of everything that he designs. In fact, with the names Laszlo Kmolnar, Osanori Yamamoto and Volker Latussek, we have the best packing challenge designers in the world today!

As soon as I saw this glorious creation in Box Elder and Redheart I knew I wouldn't be able to resist. The wood is stunning, the joinery on the box (with the highlighting corners) is gorgeous. Plus, another puzzle from Laszlo HAS to be added to the collection. It was a Top ten vote winner in the IPP design competition which means that there is something fun to the solution and hopefully doable by me.

The box cavity is 4x3x2 voxels in size and there are 6 identical L shapes to be placed inside. It did not take me very long to find a number of possible assemblies but at that point, I stopped dead. The T-shaped slot in the top of the box makes the insertion quite tricky! Pieces go in nicely at first and then we are stuck. It's immediately obvious that rotations are needed but where? There is a lot of space inside for the rotations to be done and I reckon I was stuck on this for a couple of evenings. The Aha! moment was a delight - it took me a couple of hours in total to solve it and with the calibre of the IPP attendees, it will be a perfect difficulty level for them to solve in the competition room.

It's gorgeous packed too!
Phew! That was quite a blog post and finally some decent solving by me! Hopefully, this winning streak will keep going! I have spent a few weeks on Brian Young's Ages sequential discovery burr and to my horror have literally only found 2 small moves so far! Luck! Don't fail me now!!!


Sunday, 17 November 2019

Architest

The Architest Puzzle.
Despite having been off work this week, almost no puzzling has been achieved! Sob! She keeps making me do DIY! This time it was the main bathroom - aka "hers". It needed de-grouting, re-grouting and then silicone sealing plus other numerous household things that never get done except when I am off work! Hours of puzzling...NONE! The PuzzleMad foreign correspondent didn't know how much I would need him yet as always he came to my rescue at the end of last week with yet another wonderful guest post. He always seems to pick puzzles that I wouldn't choose for myself or have not managed to solve and produces something wonderful to keep you entertained for yet another week. I am most grateful to Mike Desilets for yet another fascinating post...


Aloha Kākou Puzzlers,

As you may have noticed, my recent series of guest posts have leaned rather heavily on Hanayama releases. Although this is great for driving up the page hits, its probably time we returned to the lesser-known, out-of-production puzzles that I also love. If your sources of puzzle information are restricted to the major blogs and YouTube, then you may be under the mistaken impression that all cool, creative, and desirable puzzles have been made by high-end craftspersons in the last few decades. That just isn't so. There is a much bigger puzzle world out there to be explored. I can’t remotely do it justice, but some of my past posts should at least give a hint at what is available.  (Ed - and I am extremely grateful to you for broadening my horizons!)

We won’t actually be going very far back in time today, as it happens. Sorry if I got you all worked up. Today we will look at a puzzle from the late 1980s - Architest, The Spiral Stair Puzzle.

The cover.
And contents.
Architest is the invention of architect Tim Leefeldt who registered a trademark for the name in 1987.  It appears the trademark has since expired. If you Google “Architest”, the vast majority of your hits will be for a modern edition of the classic six nail stacking puzzle, currently sold under that name.

The new Architest puzzle - not reviewed here.
Judging from the packaging language, Mr Leefeldt intended Architest to be a series of architectural puzzles, of which The Spiral Stair Puzzle was the first. I’ve looked around quite a bit and unfortunately can find no other Architest puzzles from Leefeldt. Rob Stegman’s compendious site contains only the Spiral Stair Puzzle, which is a strong indicator that there are no other Architests.

Instructions
The objective of The Spiral Stair Puzzle is stated succinctly on the box: “Construct a spiral stair of radial blocks around the post.” Very straightforward (Ed - I'm not so convinced!). The completed helical stairway will have 14 courses, each of which is comprised of three quarter-circle blocks. The challenge is to overcome the sagging and deflection that will occur if the blocks are improperly placed. The miniature edifice is meant to be a running series of cantilevers. and it is thus critical to form tight, properly supported running bonds. In order to build the stairway, it is (ostensibly) necessary to utilize a “key block” which fits into a slot about midway up the centre post, better known to architects as a newel post. Utilizing the key block properly is the crux of the puzzle - that and choosing a proper cantilever between the courses. 

It is not especially difficult to get the stacking correct. The average puzzler will need no more than about three tries. It is a very pleasant experience though. This is one of those puzzles where the difficulty is not the main point. Rather, it is to learn (by doing) about form, force, and structure. The puzzle aspect comes into play because, like all puzzles, there are a limited number of ways to achieve the solved state and a much larger number of ways that will result only in catastrophic failure. 

The spiral stair built;
Architest passed.
Architest is a fairly unique puzzle and I have not come across anything quite like it in my puzzle journey (Ed - me neither). As the name suggests, it is an “architectural” puzzle, which might put it in the stacking/balancing category. Master puzzle collector and compiler Rob Stegman slots it into the dexterity category, but even he would probably admit that this is a bit of a kludge.

Dexterity is not essential for solving the puzzle, its mostly just basic physical manipulation (stacking). I think it could just as easily be called a “put-together” puzzle, with gravity telling you when you have not done that properly. But I am not huge on classification (Ed - I am absolutely fascinated by it and visit Rob's site frequently). I probably would be more so if I had to keep track of thousands of puzzles like a real collector (Ed - Don't say that! Whack! Ouch! Too late!). But that’s not a problem for me presently (YET.....).
The cantilevered side really seems to levitate.
Close-up. It needs a lego person for scale.
Once you have built your beautiful spiral, there remain other interesting challenges. These puzzling opportunities, not included in the instructions, greatly enhance the value of this puzzle. The first and most obvious question is, can the stair be built without the newel post? This means the loss of the critical mid-post support wedge, incidentally. Since I made up this challenge, and since 99% of you will not ever have a copy of The Spiral Stair Puzzle, I feel at liberty to dispense spoilers. If you intend to hunt down a copy, then perhaps reconsider continuing with this post.


(Ed - I have inserted a few lines of a gap here - don't scroll down if you don't want any spoilers)




My first attempt at a three-block, self-supporting spiral came apart at the seam
Excessive deflection due to weak running bond. This stairway is a deathtrap.

It can be done—the free-standing spiral stair with 14 courses.
Dexterity comes into play for this challenge, a steady hand at the very least.
The answer is yes, it can be done, but definitely not with the same cantilever used in the main solution. The steps must be quite a bit narrower so as to increase the vertical downforce and prevent lateral sagging. This, however, means that you have increasingly weaker bonds since there is less overlap between courses. So it is a tricky trade-off, but one that can work for the 14 courses available. It is extremely unstable at the last course and I think 14 may be the limit. Other Architests can be conducted, such as trying to build the tallest possible single and double block spirals. The following images show how far I was able to get: 8 courses for single and 12 for double. Decreasing the step length might allow one to squeeze on another course. At this point, however, although it would be a spiral, it would not make a reasonable stairway.

Single block spiral. Watch your step.
Two block spiral. Significantly higher, but still perilous.
The Architest Spiral Stair Puzzle is a very enjoyable diversion. If you are lucky enough to come across a copy, I recommend snapping it up. It will give you an hour or two of stimulating play and may just expand your architectural horizons. As a bonus, you will probably end up spending hours looking at images of spiral staircases online. Many are so strikingly beautiful they will bring a tear to your eye (even your jaded sleepless eye, boss) SOB! I won’t bog down this article with examples, but I do think this endless stairway, designed as outdoor sculpture by artist Olafur Eliasson, is worth including. I don’t know if you can build this with blocks, but maybe there is a way. It would be a true architest.

Double helix staircase sculpture “Umschreibung” by Olafur Eliasson. It's at the KPMG building in Munich.
If you are like me - don’t worry, only my editor is like me (Ed - hahaha! It's true!) - this puzzle may also inspire you to research the spiral form more generally. That was a big part of the inventor’s intention with this puzzle. There is a virtually inexhaustible literature on all aspects of spirals ranging from the mathematical to the artistic. We here at the Puzzlemad Hawaii Branch Office (Ed - one day I'd love to visit that branch) are committed to providing a full-service blog, so I’m including a PDF copy of one of my favourite works on the topic here. This is a 1903 book entitled Spirals in Nature and Art. It was authored by Kevin’s fellow countryman Sir Theodore Andrea Cook, a gentleman and a scholar in the truest sense. It is a great read and I highly recommend you take the time. The book is no less than: “A study of spiral formations based on the manuscripts of Leonardo Da Vinci, with special reference to the architecture of the open staircase at Blois, in Touraine...“. Even that much-abbreviated abstract should be highly motivating for the genuine puzzler.

Other-than-spiral uses for Architest blocks; pillbox-style apertures supported by strong running bonds.
Other spiral construction puzzles have been released in recent times including the Quadstair by Oskar:
Oskar’s Quadstair, a tight quadruple-helix stairway.

Ed - I have a gorgeous hex version of this made by my good friend Neil.




In conclusion, I have little else to say. It is my deepest regret that Mr Leefeldt was (apparently) not able to continue adding puzzles to the Architest line. Certainly, there is tremendous potential in the concept and my guess is that arches, vaults, and flying buttresses would have been the subject of later issues. As with real architecture, the initial challenge for these puzzles would be understanding the balance of forces, and the second figuring out how to construct an object which is only stable once complete. There is no reason some puzzle-loving architect or architecture-loving puzzler cannot take up Mr Leefeldt’s torch and run with it. The puzzle pieces are just little wooden blocks, after all. We certainly have no shortage of craftsmen in the community who are very very good at fashioning little wooden blocks. With that, I return you to Kevin for the weekly farewell address...


Thank you so much, my friend! As always, you have come to my rescue at the perfect time with something absolutely fascinating on a subject I would never have learned about had it not been for you. I always look forward to your posts for the added value that you bring to my otherwise boring old blog - you keep it fresh and interesting and I am sure that a lot of puzzlers visit more for your knowledge sharing than my old drivel.




Sunday, 10 November 2019

If It's Spherical Then There Must be a Little Trick to It

Maybe I Need To Give it a Little Hug?

Spheres from Stephan Baumegger
A month or so ago I stopped dead in my tracks/iPad whilst on Facebook when I saw an update from Stephan Baumegger. He had produced a new batch of his entry into this year's IPP Design Competition, Spheres. At this, he had won a Top ten vote award from the puzzlers who played with it. Interestingly, when I had initially perused the puzzle list, it had not been a puzzle that had sung out to me at first and I could not even tell by looking at it who was the designer and craftsman. The beautiful inlay, the carving/routing work on the lid and the stone balls did not scream out Stephan to me. When the results came out with a notification that it was my friend who won, I took more notice and decided I would wait for him to announce availability and then pounce on it. Then in October, he announced that a batch was made and I immediately asked for a copy.

Now in early October and September, I might just have had a "few" new arrivals (who can blame me for a post-IPP splurge? I hadn't been to Japan and felt I had to do something to maintain my puzzler status. Mrs S had got just a "little" fed up answering the door to the various delivery men and had little words in my ear about behaving myself and not spending so much. There may or may not have been a laser-burning stare involved and she may also have inflicted a Whack! Ouch! upon my person. I decided that I could not risk the wrath of a "woman of a certain age". The age adds a whole new level of extra "psycho" to boost the extra copies of the violence gene provided by her Scottish ancestry on top of the 2 copies of the X chromosome where said gene resides! Whack! Ouch! Sorry dear! As a result of her admonition ringing in my ears, I asked Stephan to wait until the end of October before sending it. He ended up sending it just before the alleged Brexit date was due to occur in order to avoid any new customs fees.

I took my customary photos and marvelled at the incredible craftsmanship - he had sourced a beautiful inlay made in a similar way to the Japanese techniques and created his usual sticks from lovely woods:

It is just stunning!
Mrs S seemed to have been mollified by the small gap in additions to my collection and I escaped serious physical harm this time. I set to playing with it that very evening and the cats were particularly fascinated by the 3 stone marbles inside. I did struggle on a few occasions to prevent them from zooming off with a beautiful ball. It might have made the solution easier but having played with it for quite a while, I am not entirely sure that it would!

There are 3 copies of each of two sticks which are mirror images of each other, two large balls and one small one. Trying to pack them into the box proved pretty tough from the beginning as I always seemed to need 4 of one particular shape to make a nice packing. Of course, I only had 3. To my chagrin, I then discovered that I could not even get the pieces back into the box in the state that it had been delivered (picture at the top). I had to store it between attempts in a much more precarious way and hope that it didn't tip over and lose any pieces. Stephan suggested that I should "Count the Voxels" which I did with enthusiasm and without any idea how it might help me...It didn't help me!

After almost a couple of weeks without progress, I took it to the MPP and after my shock at having all the pieces of my (un)happiness cubes liberally spread amongst Rich's boxes of disassembled puzzles, I displayed my new toys and let people play. I was rather shocked when Oli said it had only taken him 10 minutes to work it out! OMG! How awful am I at packing puzzles? He gave me a helpful nudge:
Pack the pieces outside the box and ignore the balls.
Ignore my balls??? What kind of a man did he think I was? Mrs S is the keeper of the balls! I get to look at them wistfully every year or so when she lets me! Despite this odd idea, I decided to have a try using his idea the following evening with the aid of 2 boys, I had my wonderful Aha! moment. I could not have done it without Oli's idea and the cats help:

I could not have done it without help.
Masked to hide the solution!
The lid fits on with all inside!
Take my word for it!!!!
If you get a chance to buy this puzzle then BUY IT! It is beautiful. It is the perfect level of difficulty and you need to think without your balls! I adore it and will be challenging some colleagues with ut at work.

Next up we have another couple of beauties about to be released by the wonderful New Pelikan Workshop - Little Trick and Little Hug both by the amazing Klaas Jan Damstra.

Little Trick
Little Hug
These two lovely puzzles will be available soon along with the Osanori packing puzzles that I reviewed last week. These have taken Jakub and Jaroslav a little longer to produce and hence I received them a bit later than the others. They have been stunningly made as you would expect from Pelikan and are rather fun to explore and play with.

Little Trick, is 48x48x60mm made from Ovangkol and Maple and consists of three oddly shaped pieces inside a frame. The movement is silky smooth to explore. The disassembly is not terribly tough at level 10.4.1 and only a couple of short blind ends. It is a very nice challenge if you scramble the pieces and leave them for a while and try the reassembly after you have forgotten how they go together. I often am too frightened to do this but I dropped a couple of the pieces on the floor and could not disturb the sleeping cat on my lap to pick them up and hence forgot how it had come apart. I could have asked Mrs S to pick it up for me but she was already pissed at me for another delivery so soon and I didn't dare risk it. The reassembly probably took me another 20 minutes to work out when I finally got around to it. Not too tough but definitely beautiful and fun.

Little Trick pieces - you could use Burrtools but it should not be necessary.
Little Hug is tiny but gorgeous - it is 40mm cubed and stunningly made from Wenge and Ovangkol with absolutely wonderful grain in it. This puzzle hides the pieces very well and only after a little fingertip poking can you find where one piece stops and another starts. After the first move has been found then all sorts of sliding is possible and then it would appear that rotations are possible. Ignore the rotational sliding and carry on exploring the sliding...it moves from in 2 dimensions to 3 and then there is a rather clever little move available if you spot it. Suddenly you have separated it into 2 pairs of similar pieces which had been held on a ring - the level was 12.3.2.3.

Little Hug pieces - Burrtools could help you but don't bother - work it out!
I had been planning on keeping the orientations in place on my lap after I disassembled it to make reassembly easier. For some reason that never works out for me...a cat knocked them all down the side of my seat cushion and by the time I had fished them out, I had no idea which was which! The reassembly is a really fun challenge - I sort of had an idea roughly what was required but it took me a good hour of effing and blinding at the cat before I had worked out how to place the pieces without blocking the required moves. If I can assemble a puzzle from scratch then it is definitely possible for all you decent puzzlers out there. It is a brilliant but tiny challenge and looks gorgeous!

These puzzles should be available soon from Jakub and Jaroslav's site. Also well worth buying at the same time as the Osanori packing puzzles!




Sunday, 3 November 2019

Taking Osanori to the Next Level

Belt Cube 3
I am extremely fortunate that Jakub (joint head honcho of the wonderful Pelikan puzzles) asks me to write reviews for him and thus gives me the opportunity to buy most of his creations a week or so early. About 10 days ago he offered me the chance to buy another bunch of puzzles by the incredible Osanori Yamamoto. As well as a review he wanted to know whether these would be best sent out as assembled (for dismantling) or disassembled puzzles (for assembly) and so you can blame me for the extra special challenge you will be receiving because I most definitely think these are a MUCH better challenge as put-together puzzles - and that is coming from a rather dense man who is rubbish at assembling things (I might have a problem with the new arrivals from Brian just posted on my Newstuff page.

This time, thanks to Jakub avoiding standard post and using UPS instead my delivery arrived in just 2 days! I immediately set to so as to try and avoid any delays in the release of the new toys to the puzzling community. These are a seriously challenging set of puzzles!!! It has taken me a while to solve them and get the review to you (and Jakub).

I began with Belt Cube 3 (my copy came with a gorgeous Purpleheart box and Wenge pieces but it will also be available with the reverse colouring). This takes the usual packing puzzle which we love so much to a whole new level of frustration and cleverness. With a box/frame and holes in it and a few simple pieces to be placed inside which completely fill the aforementioned holes leaving no gaps visible, we usually have to create a 3x3x2 shape inside which, despite such simple shapes, is quite a tremendous challenge. This time we have a 3x3x3 cube to be constructed and two HUGE diagonally opposite windows to put pieces in and then fill. There is so much space to use that I expected this not to be much of a challenge...Oh, how wrong I was!

I began playing with the pieces inside the box and got frustrated that they kept falling out of the enormous holes so moved on to assembling my cube outside it. Your usual play outside of the box reveals several simple shapes that can be used to fill the visible 2x2 cubes on opposite sides. Getting these 2 cubes opposite each other proved quite a challenge. I found a few possibilities quite quickly and began to try assembling them in the box. Oh boy! That doesn't work quite so easily! I spent a couple of days playing with this with my Bash Street Kids, Plug face on and amusing Mrs S before I had a very unexpected Aha! moment. What I realised was really very clever and just perfect Osanori - he has made a bigger better version of all the puzzles we have tried before. You really don't want to miss this one - the fact that it is beautiful also helps - it will look fabulous on display in one of my 2 (yes TWO) puzzle caves (Whack! Ouch!)

No clues here!
How gorgeous is that???
Not content with giving us one 3x3x3 cube in a box puzzle, Osanori and Pelikan have released another, even more difficult version, rather descriptively named W-Windows. My copy is made from Oak and Wenge:

W-Windows
This one will also be made available in Apple and Ovangkol. The name clearly comes from the fact that it has a nice cubic box with 2 windows in it (not the usual diagonally opposite holes) and two of the pieces have a definite W shape to them. For transport, I made an interesting storage arrangement which Jakub may adopt for sending these puzzles out. At least with this puzzle, the pieces don't keep falling out when you play with them because you WILL be playing with this one for a VERY long time! To my eternal shame, it took me a whole week! There are lots of interesting ways to fill the windows but filling two of them simultaneously is really really tough. Then when you have found all the simple ways of filling those windows, it becomes quickly apparent that you cannot get them inside the damned box. You can get one (occasionally 2) but definitely not all 3 pieces inside. Mrs S suggested after a particularly furious episode of swearing my head off that maybe I should rest for a while.

The W-Windows is a huge challenge (at least for a dimwit like me) and you will love it. Don't be tempted to use Burrtools to cheat...you CAN solve it eventually but you really need to think outside the box before the solution will come to you.

2 filled windows
The Aha! moment is phenomenal when it arrives and then later when you try to disassemble it, there is an extra challenge...sometimes a piece rotates inside when manipulating the pieces which effectively makes it unsolvable until you realise this and rotate it back to the correct orientation. It is a fun additional dexterity challenge to disassemble the puzzle.

The final Osanori puzzle being released soon is a beautiful thing, Rattle Twist V which will be available made from Mahogany and Maple:

Sent out like this - pull the middle 2 pieces out
to get this
The Rattle Twist V is very reminiscent of the Wing Hanger and the King Box also by Osanori and produced by Pelikan and Tom Lensch respectively - I reviewed them both here. Like the other puzzles reviewed, it takes the older puzzles to a whole new level of difficulty and fun. The premise here is a frame with holes in it and a couple of complex burr sticks which need to be slid into position inside the frame but with an impediment to the sliding process making for a more complex dance of the pieces before assembly is complete. I would usually have preferred these puzzles as disassembly puzzles but at the Paris IPP, I was convinced by John Rausch that the best part of these puzzles is the assembly from scratch - as usual, he is right!

This puzzle is unlikely to be solved by simple trial and error, it requires first looking at the pieces and the frame and making a plan for how to go about it. A few false starts will teach you where the pieces can and cannot go and thus the dance begins. The level is only 8.2 (for disassembly) and thus is not impossible - I managed it in a single evening and ended with a huge grin on my face - the end result is lovely:

Solved it! Phew!
Osanori has taken the basic premise of his older designs to a whole new level and made them even more fun than before. These puzzles are not just more challenging, they are also full of Aha! moments and are definitely solvable as assembly puzzles - if I can do them then so can you! They will be available from Jakub and Jaroslav's wonderful site very soon.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend guys.



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