Sunday, 29 November 2020

Plastic Puzzles From Hanayama...

They make me anxious but are still fantastic...

Lucky Cube

Double Cube
Not had much time for play recently after my Pelikan puzzle solving marathon whilst I had some annual leave - Now I am back at work, I have barely touched a puzzle.

I suspect that many of you will have never even heard of these before and yet they are made by Hanayama puzzles. They are not seen very often and I don't think they have been put up for sale outside of Japan. I was captivated when my friend Nigel (the very originator of the Midlands Puzzle Party) posted a few pictures of these last year on his FB page and asked whether anyone had solved one of the last challenges in the book. I had never seen one and asked a question or two and Nigel was very encouraging about them - he even went as far as to say that one was a candidate for his best of the year choice. Nigel is a highly skilled solver and very much a connoisseur. If he says to get something then I really do sit up and pay attention. In fact, he is pretty much responsible for my 25th wedding anniversary present - he put me in contact with someone to help me acquire my grail puzzle - the Berrocal Goliath sculpture. Duly motivated to try them, I found someone selling these in Japan and got in touch - after an exchange of Yen, they were whisked across the planet and arrived Chez moi where I delightedly unpacked, photographed and started to play...

The instructions on the back are not terribly helpful - to this day, I still have no idea what they say:

Does anyone know what this means?
Despite not understanding the instructions I took the puzzles out of the packaging and looked at the booklets that came with them hoping for some more information...Nope! But despite this it does seem quite clear what to do - make the drawn shapes out of the pieces inside. Easy? Nope!

These really are quite pretty to look at and wonderfully tactile. Then I got stuck! (what did you expect?) It would appear that they are really REALLY difficult. Not only are they tough to solve but they are also quite difficult to describe - I have them classified as a sequential movement puzzle in my catalogue but others might call them assembly puzzles. Each of these is a pair of complex plastic structures with shapes that are connected together along an edge. This edge allows them to be flipped and folded into lots of interesting shapes and as there is a pair of them in each box then for some of the challenges the pair needs to be interlocked with each other to make more complex shapes.

Lucky Cube looks like a Hashimoto cube
Really complex pieces
These things make absolutely fabulous worry beads as they fold in and out of themselves. After you have made a few flexes, it is quite hard even to get them to fit back together. There are 30 challenges in the booklet and I have so far only managed about 15 of them. They are even highly repeatable (unlike most Hanayama puzzles) because once you have solved a challenge and moved on it is still just as hard to do it a second time. Here is one of the easy first challenges:

Even this took me a few minutes to work out
Some of the more difficult challenges have a Japanese description which I would love to understand as it may help me work out what to do

The bottom of the right page looks fearsome and maybe the text might help?
My real favourite of these two puzzles is the Double cube which looks a lot simpler in construction with many less faces to the pieces but somehow this does not necessarily make it a significantly easier puzzle:

Double cube - easier than Lucky cube? Not for me!
There are only 14 challenges in the booklet and yet after more than a year with this puzzle I have only solved half of them. It is really really tough.

An easy challenge
Challenge 2 - I couldn't solve again today
Just imagine how tough it is creating these:

So why do they make me anxious? I am terrified of breaking a hinge. They do seem pretty robust and I have spent many many hours twisting and turning without causing any harm but still I am frightened. Also for some reason just trying to solve these puzzles and failing after 15 - 20 minutes, I seem to get anxious. This is not something that happens with other puzzles but somehow is a problem with these and forces me to put them down after a limited amount of fiddling time. Despite this they are great and I cannot recommend them any more highly. Thanks Nigel for the heads up on something I would never normally have gone for.

What I really need is a way to translate the boxes and booklet text into English - any volunteers out there?

If you get a chance to buy these then don't hesitate...just buy - they are fabulous. In fact they are so good that they are candidates for my top puzzles of the year.

Keep safe out there everyone.

Sunday, 22 November 2020

Just in Time For...

Sunday to Post an Article or For You to Buy Xmas Presents

Upcoming puzzles from the New Pelikan Workshop
I have had a few days off work this week which proved to be very welcome. An odd time to take leave you might think but I had to take my allowed leave before December or lose it completely so here we are...Late November, miserable weather and a pandemic meaning nowhere to go. Luckily for me, Jakub let me buy advance copies of his upcoming releases to play with just at the right time.

"Which ones would you like me to write about?" I asked. 
"All of them." he said.
GULP! The pressure was on.

The five puzzles this time are stunning as you would expect and a very nice set of challenges. Whack Ouch! Mrs S was really not very happy with me or Jakub as I spent several hours a day this last week "wasting my time with toys" and not doing anything useful around the house. I, on the other hand, have had a very restful few days desperately trying to solve these in time for today's blog post. The pressure is really on as I don't want to delay Jakub's business and most importantly don't want to be responsible for delaying you getting your hands on these wonderful new challenges.

Castle by Christoph Lohe

This puzzle is the only burr in the upcoming release. It is absolutely stunning made from American Walnut and Cherry - it even has turrets and small windows in the walls. There are 4 burr sticks to be removed from the Walnut frame. It is a classic design by Christoph Lohe who over the years has designed many many burrs with absolutely fascinating shapes and a wonderful move sequence that you discover by careful exploration and deduction. Each movement reveals one or more options for further travel and some very nice clever moves that give a great Aha! feeling when found. The sequence is actually very logical and not too difficult - this would actually be suitable as a caged burr for beginners. Having removed the pieces then it is perfectly possible to scramble them, leave it for a while to try and forget the sequence and then try to work out the reassembly from scratch. That part took me quite a while but even a numbskull like me could manage it.

Four beautifully made sticks to fit inside the frame

Santa by Dr Volker Latussek

Dr Latussek must have a mind like a steel vice! I have no idea how he keeps coming up with these amazing packing puzzles! I have so far completely failed to solve the final one in the Euklid series (for Nick) and then I receive another beautiful challenge. This consists of a 5x5x5 box beautifully made from purpleheart with 12 Acacia pieces to be fitted inside flush with the top surface. There are 2 different types of pieces and each of which consists of 10 voxels. This means that there will be some holes inside but not very many. I am terrible at this sort of puzzle because I just don't know the right way to think - I tend to make lots of random attempts which as you will appreciate seldom gets a puzzler very far.

The random positioning did reveal a few interesting ideas and whilst I was muttering to myself about it, Mrs S suggested I "shut up and get on with it without disturbing her". She could not understand why I was struggling but refused to try it for herself. In trying to explain the difficulty I realised that the best approach to this puzzle is to work out how best to distribute the holes and then find a way that would enable this. Even knowing that crucial fact does not actually help a whole lot. After a little thinking© I noticed something and tried something new. OMG YES! That was really clever. This is a very approachable puzzle and well worth adding to your collection. Now I really must get back to Euklid for Nick! A very minor spoiler is hidden behind the button - only press it if you aren't bothered by a minor giveaway.

Super Magnetic by Alexander Magyarics

Super Magnetic
I have to say up front that I am totally addicted to Alexander's designs! There is something truly special about them. He has taken the type of puzzle designed by Osanori Yamamoto (see below) and added a whole new dimension of fun to them. This consists of an Acacia box which has a plus shaped opening on the top and a minus shaped opening on the opposite side and 4 rather interesting but fairly simple shapes (made from Wenge) to be placed inside such that the opening is completely covered. 

Straight away it becomes clear that there are some serious constraints preventing the pieces being placed inside easily. The big piece requires 4 moves to place it inside and the presence of the other pieces inside will seriously hamper this but placing it first almost completely blocks the entry for the other pieces. OK...time to think© yet again! I thunk quite a lot about this and did it "outside of the box" yet still it didn't help much. With my pea-sized bwain hurting quite a lot, I tried a systematic approach - there are only a few ways that 2 of the pieces can be arranged inside so how can the others be arranged around them? This process did actually help me a lot but still left me with a few options to go to trial and error. 

After 4-6 hours, I finally got it - the Aha! moment was ecstatic and then I tried to put the pieces inside only to realise that there is another dimension to this wonderful puzzle! It takes quite a bit of dexterity to actually make your planned solution work. Fingers won't fit inside easily alongside the pieces and they need to be slid around by gravity all whilst preventing rotational moves which can block things. At one point I had a horrible feeling I had it all jammed up but finally managed to get to the solution. 

I cannot believe how difficult that was!!
Undoing the solution was just as much of a challenge as putting it all inside. This was wonderful!

Triple 4 by Osanori Yamamoto

Triple 4
Oh yes! I love it when Jakub brings out more of these. Osanori is the master of the "simple" packing puzzle. Simple because it is just a small volume to be packed (and often not even fully packed) and often with pretty large entry holes to get the pieces through plus a hole in the opposite side to allow more room for manoeuvring. This version of Triple 4 is made with a Mahogany box and Ipe pieces. It's quite lovely!

This one has a giant big entry hole so should be pretty easy! Maybe for you it is but for me...oh boy! The pieces are relatively complex placing real constraints on the ability to insert them and the diagonal cuts for the hole is a significant restriction to movement. With only a single voxel clear at the opposite side, this made using it to make room rather more complex than expected. Making a cube shape outside of the box was remarkably easy - too easy in fact! I found loads and loads of cubes and many of them met the criteria to fill the holes in the box (after solving it, I put the shape with restrictions into burrtools and there are 26 possible cubes). This approach was going to have to be modified. Maybe I should start with looking at the restrictions for the entry method? Yes, that might just help. After about 4 hours whilst watching TV with Mrs S, I had a major breakthrough and it was solved! Yesssss! Brilliant design!

That is quite a challenge!

Pentaring by Osanori Yamamoto

This simply stunning puzzle from the fevered brain of Osanori-san is made with a Zebrano box and some very vibrant Padauk pieces. Here there are only three pieces to be fitted inside but they are fairly complex and there are 2 rather large holes diagonally opposite each other to be filled at the same time. That single diagonal wall on the entries will prove very important. 

Initially I could find several ways to make the 3x3x3 cube but I couldn't for the life of me find an assembly that would end up with the opposite corners filled. It took me a couple of hours to find a potential assembly only to be stymied by the realisation that one of the pieces was oriented in such a way that it could not be inserted inside the box at all. Back to the drawing board.

This morning I was starting to worry that I would not have anything to write about today - I didn't want to split the post about these up as that's not fair on you and I had nothing else ready. In a frenzy after breakfast this morning, I tried this one again and again and again! I had missed an alternative cube assembly - this was easily done because the positioning of the pieces was particularly unintuitive. Having found a new shape, I had to find out whether there was a sequence that could fit it into the cube frame. Again, I struggled but just in the "nick of time" I solved it so I can reveal them to you. There is a very minor spoiler in the next picture so I have hidden it from you behind a show/hide button:

This is a wonderful challenge with a fantastic Aha! moment.

All of these should be released by Jakub and Jaroslav on the Pelikan Puzzle store within the next week or so. I suggest that you tell your significant others to buy them for you for Xmas or better yet, you do what I do and buy them yourself and let them know that your present is sorted! If you miss out on the selection from them then I am sure that they will also soon be available from PuzzleMaster amongst their enormous Pelikan selection.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends - enjoy your celebrations and time off. Take care everyone! Be safe out there. It takes no effort to put on a mask and it will help prevent this blasted virus spreading further. 

Sunday, 15 November 2020

That Will Teach Me Not to be Too Confident!!!

Groove by Alexander Magyarics made by Brian Menold
Very busy again this week at work and not much time for puzzling. I attempted 2 puzzles and solved only one! I got a bit cocky and thought I could solve one of them pretty quickly and left it far too late - that will teach me!!!

Over the last year or so thanks to Jakub and Jaroslav's fascination with the oddly compulsive packing puzzle designs from Osanori Yamamoto I have found myself rather addicted to packing puzzles. NOT the classic "find a way to stuff all the blocks in a box" packing puzzles (although I seem to enjoy failing at those too - I've still not solved the Euklid for Nick). I have fallen for the rather more interesting interlocking type puzzles that involve only a small number of pieces to fit in a relatively small box but having to do it through a very limited entry hole.

I couldn't resist the recent releases from Brian which had 2 of these puzzles and of course. Brian's wood choices are astounding. The Groove puzzle above is a classic from that genre. There are just 3 relatively simple pieces to be fitted into a 3x3x3 cubic box which has a big "groove" cut out of the top (this groove also has a couple of interesting curly ends which make it even remotely possible to pack. Brian made a couple of different versions - all had this incredibly beautiful Spalted Tamarind box and my copy had Wenge pieces to be packed.

Many of these have the added challenge of requiring that the solution also completely fill the entry hole to the box. This added challenge can sometimes make the puzzle much harder or occasionally make it easier by giving a clue for the possible final conformation of the pieces. In this case, I was very grateful for the extra requirement as Burrtools reveals that there are 2076 possible assemblies of the piece into a cube shape but only the one with the holed covered is actually assemble-able.

Having spent some time chatting to Alexander, I decided to start with this challenge. Even taking the photo of the pieces had to be delayed - it arrived partially packed as you can see in the small picture above and having taken one of the pieces out, I was stuck! The remaining two pieces were locked inside. I could not for the life of me remove them. It took me until the following day to be able to remove them. I am not sure whether it happened in transit or Brian had been deliberately mean but one of the pieces had been rotated in the box and it took me nearly two hours to work out what was going on - I am really not very bright! Once the minor panic was over, I took my photo and set to work. Of course I did NOT go straight to Burrtools! I only did that just before writing this post. Starting outside of the box, I quickly realised that there were a LOT of cubic assemblies and decided to settle on looking for one that covers the interestingly shaped hole - there are 38 assemblies (again discovered just now) which will meet this particular criterion which already helps a lot. However my feeble brain had managed to find quite a few straight away and then couldn't keep track of them - there must be a way to reduce the potential solution set further. Luckily for me there is a very obvious limitation...the groove winds in a clockwise fashion which limits the orientation of the pieces for entry into the puzzle. Thank goodness for that! Another evening of puzzling and I finally had my assembled puzzle:

Thank goodness for that!
I love these packing puzzles so much because there is very little of the random trial and error that is usually involved with conventional packing puzzles. They require proper thought© and attention to the restrictions provided by the puzzle designer. I have quite a large collection of these from both Brian and Pelikan puzzles and am looking forward to yet more - they are terribly addictive!

Corner cube by Andrew Crowell (also made by Brian)
At the same time I could not resist the Corner cube - apparently Andrew Crowell (the master of the Turning Interlocking Cube) has branched out and moved into packing puzzles (this is apparently part of a series called the ARCparent series - how come I haven't heard of these before). My copy is absolutely gorgeous made with a Tigerwood box (look at those stripes) and Curly Maple pieces. The aim, as usual is to place the pieces in the 3x3x2 cavity of the box through the small opening in the top corner and again, the opening must be covered at the end. 

Silly me left this to yesterday evening to attempt (did I tell you that things are very busy in healthcare at the moment and I had not had much time recently?) I looked at the shapes of the pieces and thought that this would not be a particularly difficult challenge. After all, 2 of the pieces are just 1x1x2 blocks! Oh boy! How wrong could I be? I had become a bit blasé about these having solved so many of Osanori's similar puzzles. Last night I actually had a PROPER look at it and, to my horror, realised that there was something rather special here...the entry hole was not a unit size - it is 1½ units in all dimensions which seriously limits the ability to insert pieces or have one sticking part way out whilst you add another. OMG!

After nearly a couple of hours of play, I have to admit that I have completely failed! I have managed to get all the pieces inside once but not been able to fill the entry hole. I am beginning to wonder whether rotations might be required! Part of me hopes so but another part is screaming nooooo!

That will teach me not to get too confident!

Take care out there! There is little sign that the virus is under control yet. The UK might be reaching a second peak and hopefully come back down the other side soon but much most hospitals are struggling to cope and maintain even a fraction of their normal services. Many parts of Europe have horrific numbers and a hospital catastrophe going on. In the US the Orange Idiot has completely given up on looking after his people (surely what should be a president's primary concern) and the numbers being reported there are truly a nightmare scenario with 181,000 new cases and 1400 deaths on Friday alone - please be careful. Go out and about only where necessary, keep your distance from others (especially the elderly, the obese and the immunocompromised) and wear a mask.  There is NO excuse not to wear a mask in public - they do not affect blood Oxygen levels, they do NOT make you breathe in CO2 - if your breathing is worsened enough by wearing a mask, then imagine how bad it will be when you have caught Covid-19! You probably should not be out and about amongst other people! I wear a mask 8-12 hours a day - it is uncomfortable but tolerable.

Sunday, 8 November 2020

Am I Playing A Dirty Trick On You?

Dirty Dozen by Jerry Loo

Just got a little time for a quick review today. As the second wave takes hold I am finding less and less time to play - there is a lot of work to be done as we try to get the urgent cases done (trauma, limb or mobility threatening surgery and cancer surgery) alongside the increasing burden of Covid work. During the first wave the NHS' response was to empty the hospitals of nearly everything except the most sick, urgent or infected but now we are desperately trying to keep other stuff going at the same time - I know that my hospitals are absolutely full with over 1500 beds being used at 105% capacity. Things are made all the harder with up to 10% of our workforce either off sick or isolating forcing the remainder to try and fill in the gaps. This is meaning unexpected changes of duties/days of work and often very long days. Morale is surprisingly good, considering but fatigue is definitely setting in. Please please stay safe, stay home, stay in your home/family bubbles and try to slow the spread to prevent hospitals being overwhelmed - plus the added bonus for you of not getting sick.

After that diatribe, back to the puzzle - I can read your minds...I know that you are thinking "I'm sure he's written about this puzzle before" and you are completely wrong...alright partially wrong. I personally have never written about this puzzle but it has appeared on this blog in the form of a
guest post by the incredibly talented and prolific PuzzleMad foreign correspondent, Mike Desilets. I had bought the original stainless steel version direct from Jerry and had been very happy with it and solved it with difficulty way back in July 2018. For some reason I never got around to writing about it and then Mike managed a full analysis in his great article. Way back in May, I couldn't resist buying a whole bunch of PuzzleMaster's new range of anodised metal puzzles and a nice bunch of them arrived just as I had to go back onto the on call rota. This meant that I never got around to solving or writing about any after the first one, the Chiasma by Yavuz Demirrhan. So, in desperation this morning, I went to my pile of unsolved puzzles and couldn't resist this - it is VERY shiny and VERY gorgeous! This new series from PuzzleMaster is extremely high quality and extremely well presented:

Nice box!
Very well held in foam
The puzzle is an extremely bright orange and the anodisation is stunning - it is a very tactile thing that is wonderful to fiddle with. It deforms a lot as you play but will not fall apart. 
A LOT of movement in it
Ordinarily a board burr with this number of pieces would be a truly fearsome thing to attempt to dismantle but in a way it is not a normal burr. I spent a while playing with it before realising that this was not a simple sequence of moves that would allow disassembly. It was more like a lock where a particular configuration needed to be found before pieces could be removed. In fact, I managed the disassembly in a similar manner to picking a lock - moving pieces into certain shapes with tension (provided by gravity) until something clicked and a piece had engaged partially and then doing it again in another direction until it happened again. 

When picking a lock, it can take quite a few movements before the pins sequentially are all released and sometimes they need to be restarted and done in a different order. A very similar approach is required with this puzzle. I needed quite a few attempts before a piece was removed. Repeating this process in multiple directions and orientations allowed me, over a period of about a ½ hour, to sequentially create a pile of bright orange metal:
Yay! It's not actually that tough once you have worked out a technique!
Having done that, the challenge is obviously to leave a pile of metal with instructions to the wife to put it back together again and put it back in the box........ Whack! Ouch! No, of course she was not going to go along with that plan and she was not going to allow me to leave the pieces lying around for days/weeks/months until I could reassemble them. She has begun to threaten throwing things away if they are not placed out of the way tidily. Oh the stress! Now, when I disassembled the puzzle, I did it in a very haphazard way without really learning the order, orientation or position of each of the pieces as they were removed. I did sort of try to do my usual "back and forth" technique as I do with most other burrs but, as I have mentioned before, this didn't really solve as a burr and I have an appalling memory. I was going to have to solve this by logic or (more likely) luck! 

In my favour, this should be solvable as a logic problem - all the pieces are identical and there is a partial symmetry to them as you can see here:
12 identical pieces
It should be logical. It should be possible with thought©. So far I have not managed it. I might have to go back to Mike's blog post for a clue using his very in depth analysis because thought© is not one of my strong points. Listen out around the world and you might just hear my shout of success - or, more likely, my swearing about my abject failure. Looking closely at the pieces, I think it can be entered into Burrtools which will also be a fun challenge. Wish me luck!

Should you buy this? I have to say yes - it is very pretty and will look lovely on display, it's a fun challenge in both directions and decidedly different from your standard burr puzzle, plus it's very affordable at $25 CAD which in this day of ever increasing puzzle prices is a real bonus.

Stay safe everyone.

Quick edit - after writing the post and setting it to publish after about 30 minutes - I borrowed some of Allard's brain - it's amazing! He is capable of thinking© really quite hard! When I used his brain, it took me about 30 minutes of analysis and I had the puzzle reassembled. I was not sure that I was going to give his brain back to him but then I wandered around in there and you wouldn't believe what goes on in his head! I have decided that I don't want that around here for any length of time so back it heads to Birmingham - I really don't know how Gill puts up with it! Shudder! 🤣🤣

Sunday, 1 November 2020

Alexander Adds Longevity

Yesterday was my birthday - YAY! Another year older - BOO! Unable to go out to celebrate with Mrs S due to a global pandemic - BOO! Had to go to work - BOO! Taking part in a study to help with the pandemic - YAY! As part of said study, I had to take a Covid swab causing gagging and pain in the nose - OUCH! BOO! Had to have blood taken for the study - OUCH! BOO! But, at the end of the day, I spent a nice evening with she who is nice to me for one day a year. We had a curry at home and a very nice gin and tonic - it all ends with a YAY! This article is being written a day early because I will be working on the Sunday - BOO! It is about some wonderful toys from the Published Professor of Wood, Brian Menold and the very unique designer, Alexander Magyarics - YAY!

Today's puzzles arrived back in September - I couldn't resist adding them to my collection because 1 - I like to send Brian some of my hard-earned cash periodically, 2 - Brian uses simply glorious woods for his puzzles and 3 - Alexander is creating some really terrific challenges at varying difficulty levels and all really fun to play with. 

Shuttle is pictured at the top of the post and is simply gorgeous with a HoneyLocust box and fabulous Bolivian Rosewood pieces. As soon as I saw the Rosewood I knew I wanted it - the grain is amazing. This is a packing puzzle as you would expect from Alexander. He has adopted a similar theme to the amazing Osanori Yamamoto and taken a very simple box (usually with a 3x3x3 cavity) and created an awkward set of pieces which need to be fitted inside. Unlike Osanori, the challenge comes with the unusual shape of the entry hole into the box. It is more than a simple packing puzzle as it requires a large sequence of movements to get the pieces inside and then arranged in position. The Shuttle is slightly different from the prior incredibly tough Collator puzzle (which took me weeks to solve) because the aim is just to get the pieces inside the box - there is no need to ensure that the entry hole is completely sealed off. For this reason, Brian thought the challenge was easier. I probably would have to agree but it is still a damned good challenge - it took me days instead of weeks. I loved it! I have also realised that I didn't take a photo of the solved state and so will need to solve it again in the next few days. This has, of course, long been sold out but if you have a 3D printer then I suggest that you print yourself a copy right away - it's fabulous! 

Opposite 1 & 2
Also in that release Brian produced a pair of puzzles in one (I lurve that!) Opposite 1 & 2 - again, with a similar idea to Collator - using each trio of pieces in turn, fit them into the box through the pair of entrances and ensure that all the holes are sealed off. It was available in a number of different woods and I chose the Angelim Pedra Box with Mora and Madrone pieces - again, the grain is stunning! Brian said this in the description:

"Opposite 1 has two possible solutions to get the pieces into the box but only 1 of them will fill the openings with moves of 9.4.5. Opposite 2 has a total of 5 solutions for getting the pieces in the box but again, only one that fills all the openings with moves of 9.3.6."

I set to on this and had a lovely time finding the several different ways the pieces could be fitted inside the box. That part was actually not terribly tough. Finding the solutions that filled the openings (made awkward by having 2 pretty large openings on opposite sides) took me quite a long time - BLUSH it might have been a couple of days! The complexity of the pieces is a major factor in the solution as the way they can be inserted is very restricted. Again Alexander had kept me happily occupied for a long time, the Aha! moment is a delight! This time I did remember to take my photos: It doesn't give anything away to show them solved below:

Opposite 1 solved
Opposite 2 solved
Not a lot of difference externally is there?
So you will be asking, "how does Alexander add longevity?" I could hear you! A few days ago during one of our little FB chats, he told me that there are yet more challenges for these puzzles:
"Using the largest piece of Shuttle paired with any one of the others, create a symmetrical shape"

Oh yes! This was going to be fun and I am truly awful at symmetry puzzles! I still recall the many many MANY months it took me to solve the Symmetrick puzzle:

Symmetrick - make a symmetrical shape
It nearly killed me!
Over an afternoon off work, I found lots of symmetries and most of them were not quite right - they only had either rotational or reflection symmetry when viewed directly from above. If you look at the whole puzzle then on one layer there's an error. With a little back and forth of photos to Alexander, I finally found all the symmetries...two of them with each pair of pieces. That was especially fun. Definitely prolonged the life of the puzzle for me.

Then my next challenge was to use all 6 pieces of Opposite 1 and 2 and construct a 3x3x4 cuboid. This took me about ½ an hour. I did need a fair bit of help from the boyz.

I couldn’t have done it without them
Apparently there are 27 assemblies. I only managed this one. The second challenge is to create a 2x3x6 cuboid. So far this has beaten me (the boyz lost interest after finding one).

I love puzzles with multiple challenges (one reason that I collect sets) and if they are gorgeous then that helps a lot. I can’t wait to see what Brian and Alexander produce next.

Take care out there! Things are getting worse all over the world. I know that my hospital is chockablock full. Working patterns are changing and we don’t want to be looking at each other professionally, believe me!

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.


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